When I was in college, I drove with a couple of buddies to visit our other friend at her parents’ home in Iowa for the weekend. Our friend had gone home for the summer to work and save some money, while the rest of us kicked around campus for the break. We had nothing, really, to do with ourselves, so we decided to take a road trip. That’s the kind of thing you do when you’re young and have nothing to worry about and nothing holding you back. We smoked cigarettes out the window and switched drivers at the gas station breaks and sang along with the radio, laughing and telling stories the whole way there.
I’m from suburban New Jersey. I grew up in the shadow of New York City, in an area known for its shopping malls, expensive car dealerships, and The Outback Steakhouse on Route 17. I knew nothing about the Midwest at the time, and as we got deeper into farmland, I asked my friends about the round buildings that dotted the countryside. They’re grain silos, my friends told me, laughing that I had never seen one. I asked them why people in Iowa buy corn at the store when it was literally growing everywhere, as far as I could see. First of all, they said, it’s feed corn for the most part, not grown for human consumption. And second? This isn’t New Jersey. Nobody is stealing the damn corn.
The first night we were there, we went out for dinner at a local restaurant where they inexplicably brought you a side of Ranch dressing with your pizza. Afterwards, my friends and I got a couple of cases of beer and headed to a local park to drink them. After a couple of beers, I couldn’t get over how utterly still and silent this place was. Where were the cops asking us to move along out of the park? Where were the streetlights overhead, or the headlights blaring from speeding cars? Where were the nosy neighbors getting annoyed by the drunk kids? In my tipsy state, I became absolutely enamored with the idea that we could do anything we damn well pleased, and nobody would give a shit because nobody (I mean, nobody) was around.
The idea of all that blessed freedom was too delicious to me. So, I convinced everyone that we should get completely naked and run around the baseball field while yelling at the top of our lungs. After a couple of howling dashes around the bases, it seemed like a good idea to run through the neighboring corn field in the buff. It was pitch black and the rows of corn were just too enticing. We were drunk on shitty cheap beer, and I remember running as fast as I could through the corn in the dark, the leaves slapping against my body as I sang out at the top of my lungs – not a care in the world.
After, we got dressed and walked back to my friend’s parents’ house, exhilarated and a little loopy.
When we got home I noticed that hmm, my arms were a little itchy. Then my stomach. My legs. My neck. Everywhere. It started off slow, but within a short amount of time, every part of me was on fire with red, itchy bumps. My friend took one look at it and declared that I had CORN RASH. Apparently, a lot of kids in Iowa have summer jobs de-tasseling corn, and it’s not uncommon for them to get corn rash on their hands and arms. Me? I literally had corn rash up my butt. Which I guess is what happens when a dumb kid from New Jersey goes to Iowa for the first time. (No, probably just me).
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the feeling that you made all of the important decisions in your life for all the wrong reasons? I do. At some point I decided that the correct thing to do, what was expected of me, was to get married, make babies, buy a house, and settle into a stable career. It’s not that those things were completely at odds with my true self – I can be a bit of a homebody, and my kids are my whole world. But the problem was, I did not understand that I could be myself and still have those things. When I was younger I felt like it was one or the other. Either I was the person who would take off all her clothes on a warm summer night and dash headlong into a dark cornfield – or I was the wife and mom and employee. I could not see myself as both, and that was the problem. And so, I put a big part of who I am away, and I was angry and resentful all the time. I was lost. I failed at everything because in those things I could never give myself the freedom to just be myself.
A few months ago, I was staying for the weekend at a cabin in upstate New York with an outdoor sauna. I was a little drunk on wine, and I ran out across the lawn in nothing but my snow boots. I’m hardly a nudist – I’m forty-two years old and rocking quite the mom bod these days. It was just the feeling of carefree abandon that took over –– an unwillingness to be anything other than exactly myself – that I had not felt for so long. And my god, that felt so fucking good.
And what I have realized is, I don’t want to waste another moment of my existence being reckless with my choices, or failing to recognize the good things when they’re right in front of me, or being anything other than my own damn self. Stripped down, a little drunk, exhilarated, leading the charge into the ridiculous unknown.
p.s. This week I’m thinking about this lovely cover of the Strokes’ Someday. I ain’t wasting no more time.
And don’t forget to listen to The D-Train, The Playlist, a soundtrack for a shit show.