Where do you think you are going?

in Indy in '87
in Indy in '87

I told my dad it would be good for my career. I told my mom the truth. “I want to go where everything is my choice, where I can’t blame you or dad or give you the credit.” So it was I found myself at 17 on an airplane flying from Orlando, Florida to Terre Haute, Indiana, a state I’d never been anywhere near. I didn’t know anyone for 900 miles.

I shared a taxi–the Terre Haute airport had only one taxi–with a university senior. I arrived a week early to start a job and the dormitory was nearly empty. Once in my dorm, I called my dad. “Everything is fine…”

“If you change your mind and want to come home, you can,” he said. “Any time. It will be okay.”

“I’m fine. Okay?” I got him off the phone. The open window didn’t help the warm, stale air. I called mom. “I’m here,” I said. Before I left home, she’d said, “If you call crying and want to come home, I’m not going to let you.” Now when I heard her voice I broke into tears, insisted I was okay and not asking to come home. I wanted her to see the concrete baby blue walls, the metal framed beds, and view of downtown Terre Haute from my 6th floor window. In those days, I’d have to take pictures with my 35mm, take them to the drug store, wait a day, put them in an envelope and wait a week for mom to call back.

All I could do then was tell her I was okay. After I hung up I kept crying. I cried myself to sleep. Woke up at 2 in the morning and cried more. Went and got a Hostess Cupcake from the vending machine downstairs, ate it in the dark of my room, and cried myself back to sleep again.

In the morning, I knew I’d made the right decision. This was the right place.

In fiction it is hard to know if you’ve brought the story to the right place. At least it is for me. Did I go far enough or too far? And if it is the right place, can I describe it to the reader in old fashioned words?

2 thoughts on “Where do you think you are going?

  1. So funny. I too got on a plane in Florida (tampa) by myself when I was 17 and flew to my first day of college a thousand miles away. My trunk and I shared a station wagon taxi with three other students. But the whole school was full of first day kids and I wasn’t alone in the journey. That made a difference.

    I too felt like I was where i belonged.

    But how do you know when it’s the right place? I think you have to trust that life, and your story, has brought you to the place where you need to be. It’s right because it is. And because it is, it’s right.

  2. You didn’t say how old you were when this happened but I did something like it when I was 39 — moved from NJ to VA, where I knew no one, to a town I’d never been to before making the trip to rent a room there. It was simultaneously scary and exhilarating, especially when my brother (who’d helped me move) left to go back north.

    That exciting but just-right sense of simple arrival in a story, well, I can’t say I’ve figured out how to write so that I’ll attain it. But I have attained it from time to time, and it feels so great that the prospect of feeling it again is one of the things which keeps me writing fiction.

    One of the most disappointing line breaks I’ve continued to read past recently: …I wanted her to see the concrete baby [line break] blue walls… It actually made me stop reading for a few seconds, during which all sorts of surreal conclusions popped into my head — in all of which “baby” was a noun, or close to one.

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