I thought I had a strong sense of myself when I picked up my life in L.A. and moved to Oklahoma City. It was just for a year, for my boyfriend David’s job. That’s easy. “How bad could it be?” I thought. “It might even be fun.” Sure, I had no friends or family nearby and no idea what I’d do for work, but that was all part of the adventure. I’d hang out in coffee shops, find new brunch spots and hikes, and explore cool corners of the city.
“The place I live doesn’t define my happiness,” I thought, “I do.” Cue ominous music.
The isolation hit me first. It settled in a couple of weeks after we arrived in the form of a stark realization: I was hundreds of miles away from anyone I knew. I soon developed a loathing for the directionless, endless time on my hands. In LA, knowing I had the whole day in front of me with no obligations was a thrill. Now it felt like a burden, a weight I couldn’t shake off. I was lonely and detached, feeling as if my body had moved, but part of me was still floating around a large airy flat in Hollywood. The most fun, lighthearted parts.
Maybe that sounds overly dramatic. Maybe I could have been better at meeting people. Maybe I should have joined a roller derby team or taken up baking. But that’s how it felt, adrift and tangled in fog. And what’s the point in paddling when you’re just as likely to be moving further from shore?
“We should go somewhere,” David says a couple of months into our Oklahoma City sojourn, “for the weekend.”
He’s talking about leaving the next day, which wouldn’t have worked in LA. I always had plans a week out. Here, it’s no problem.
“Sure,” I say, “why not?”
We pick a cabin in the forest on the border of Arkansas and Oklahoma and begin the four-hour drive out of Oklahoma’s flat center to the Ouachita National Forest. As we roll down the highway and I stare out the window, I’m struck by the impish way the light dances off the plains, the soft, rolling hills, and how the sky seems somehow bluer than it does in other places.
The hours roll past. As more and more highway disappears beneath our tires, the tightness in my chest loosens. Like a breath finally getting released. We put on music, and I swing my feet up onto the dashboard. Just outside of the Ouachita National Forest, I open my window. The smell of damp earth and trees fills the car. At first, the only sound I can hear is our tires, crunching over gravel, but as I listen more closely I can hear the rustling of the leaves and the gurgling of moving water in the distance.
The trees are thin and tall, not overgrown and thick the way I normally think of a forest, but there’s an elegant grace to them. Light pours in through the gaps between the branches. I close my eyes, and a breeze sweeps gently across my eyelids. Like the forest is scanning me, checking out the energy I’m bringing into its ancient midsts.