On July 27th, 2010, I turned sixteen. Immediately I got my license. Initially this wasn’t something that I was super excited about. Generally speaking I fear that in which I am not yet well versed. I like to be in control of my life, my surroundings. Due to that fear’s crippling nature, it is something that I have desperately tried to overcome. Though I had no desire to drive, driving was a necessity. I grew up in the middle of nowhere Ohio, and so having a license was important, everything was at least twenty minutes away and my parents tired of driving me to ballet lessons. I turned fifteen and a half amidst a January flurry and got my permit, six months later, my license. It turned out that driving a ’99 Chevy Malibu wasn’t much different than a ’79 Cub Cadet, and soon I relished in this new found freedom.
This memory resurfaced as I was driving back to Columbus from my childhood home not quite two hours away. Before reaching the highway, the radio man played Boys of Summer then said, “We all remember the first drive we took after we got our license”. That moment was never preserved inside of my mind, but I do remember the first time I drove, alone, at night. I couldn’t have been on the road for more than a week and for some reason I was at my cousin Donny’s, a fire or a party perhaps. His place was, like everyone else’s, in the country, tucked away from the world. I drove there, which I don’t remember; I drove back, which I do.
Late July in the midwest means corn. To the left and to the right, it flanks both sides, tunnels of green stalks. Raised in farm country, I love this, the color, the smell, the privacy it creates. That night after leaving the fire I suddenly feared everything that once comforted me about this vast nothingness. It was incredibly irrational, something I even remember thinking at the time, but I couldn’t help the feeling that something/someone was going to pop out of one of those fields and get me. Up until that point I had never been alone, at night, in a car. There was no moon, nothing but headlights to illuminate my way. I drove nearly ninety miles an hour the six miles from his house to mine. I knew it was stupid, the kind of behavior that gets kids killed, but I was terrified. Miraculously I made it home safely, and never once feared the night in that same way again.
That was the first July of freedom and the following July, not long after receiving my high school diploma, I grabbed my cousin and drove twenty-one hours south to Florida. It was the first time I vacationed without an adult, the first time I saw a palm tree, the first time I swam in the ocean and the first time I drove on an interstate. I didn’t ask, I just went, a direct reflection on what my life had been and would be. I had very little money and even less expectation for the trip; it was wonderful, sea turtles and sunrises. We combed the beach well past dusk and stayed in bed as long as we pleased. We spent mornings with the manatees in the canal, afternoons hiking through thickets of dense jungle and evenings on the boardwalk. For a second summer of freedom, it was quite grand. That trip was a small glimpse into the future, a turning point in my life when I realized that my car could take me many miles away from (and inevitably back towards) home; it was no longer just a means to get to town. The world both shrank and expanded. At the time I had no clue just how important this trip would be to my story, how perfectly placed it was in my timeline. I was seventeen when the world was gifted to me. At that point I didn’t realize the significance of such a gift, or that it’s not something everyone receives. Now I do, and I am thankful for it everyday: thankful that I can fearlessly jump behind the wheel of my Sebring towards awaiting adventure, thankful that opportunities don’t scare me, and so incredibly thankful that sixteen year old me didn’t crash that car.
I am grateful that as a seventeen year old I had no money for that trip. From a young age I realized that any budget is enough, God made tents, hotdogs and secondhand shops for a reason. Florida taught me that being young and broke is just an excuse; young people accomplish great things all of the time. I was just a kid who dreamt of sandy beaches and a land unknown, so I went. Less than a year after receiving my license and speeding through the corn, I went and I am better because of it.
July approaches once again and I am existing in my sixth summer of freedom. I am still young, still broke and still running away whenever I can. I have seen so much more than I ever thought possible and have become even hungrier for travel, learning by means of experience. This sixth summer has already been wonderful, living up to a high precedence set by an incredible winter and spring. I got a diploma and a new camera, stayed in the sticks and added two new states to my repertoire. Memphis greeted me with arms wide open and rolls of film sit undeveloped in my fridge awaiting their life. I have shot so much and have so many new stories swimming in my head. Amazingly so, each adventure opens doors to the next and I truly believe that I am on the cusp of something great. My words and my pictures lead the way, I just follow where they’re calling and it can all be traced back to the Florida trip, my mother dragging me into the BMV to get a permit and a childhood of tent camping in mosquito infested woods. For all of those things, I am grateful. For the world I was given, the people I belonged to, the ones who pushed me past my comfort zone, into unknown waters and now stand behind me shoving me forward and cheering me on. Thank you for making me, me.