“I’m going to get out of Kansas,” were the words that spilled from my mouth at the dinner table. My mom had just made us bean burritos – a summer time favorite – and I lavishly spent my day daydreaming about a life where people knew my name and praised the things I’d done. I wanted to touch people’s lives. I wanted them to touch mine in the same way without ever knowing. We lived in a standard Hays, America, townhome with a free-roaming first floor and a cozy basement. My mom was single, I was an only child and we had just moved from a farm to a small farm town. Neither of us had many friends; my mom worked to put food on the table, I saved coins in a soccer ball piggy bank. We had us, nothing more than love and daydreams. With barbeque sauce dripping from my mouth as I chomped on a bite of burrito, I told my mom that I was going to be do better because I wanted more.
I wanted to be different. I was an only child of divorced parents; one worked in the hospital, the other a farmer. We never took family vacations because buying a simple toy at WalMart defined “extravagant spending.” I wore hand-me-down’s from who knows who, I was given an allowance of $1 a week and spent most of my day in a fantasy of my imaginations while the rest of the world went on by. I was already different, but I thought I wanted to be a different kind of different. I wanted to be the different that everybody else was. I did this because I was foolish. I did this because I didn’t like the challenge I was faced with in life so I wanted to hide from it. I wanted to hide from it so much that I distracted myself by focusing on what I would to make my dreams come true.
I filled napkins, computer printer paper, old homework assignments and books with my written thoughts until my mom gave me my first journal at age 11. When it was filled exactly one year later, my mom replaced it without thought. It is the single greatest gift I’ve ever received. I wrote when I was angry, I wrote when I was happy, I wrote when I was bored, and I wrote when I wanted to write. I couldn’t wait to get away from the small town, the same nothing that always lurked around the corner. I dreamt of California, I dreamt of New York and after my high school graduation I made it to the University of Kansas to pursue journalism. The first step is always the biggest step, especially with bad depth perception.
College was great. College was scary. College is where I could be weird and different and loved but it all terrified me. After 18 years of living and dreading where I came from and the person it made me, I wasn’t sure how to be myself. Sometimes I fear I’m still afraid to be me because I've always thought if I couldn’t be the greatest, I deserved to be invisible.
Sophomore year was the year. The year I had depression, the year I had an eating disorder, the year I was jobless, and somehow in all the mess, it was the year I found myself.
ObviYES is the root of this. Without it, I might be back on my parents’ farm with clearly defined biceps by my poor hygiene.
Somehow everything become a mental battle in my head, a battle of both good and bad, perfection and fun. Once I got settled, I feared that I would settle. I’m constantly determined to find something crazier. The summer before my junior year I had three jobs, a volunteer activity and two classes. I was on a real high and needing not to come down, so I breathlessly applied for a summer internship at the Green Living AZ magazine. I was living, working, spending and pushing myself. When I accepted the summer internship in Arizona, my two jobs agreed to let me come back in the fall for work and I thought everything was perfect. I thought that this was everything that I wanted and nothing less.
The summer of 2012 was dry. The entire country was in high threat of wild fires, meanwhile Tsunami’s were happening in Phoenix. It was crazy and I felt mad guilty that my farming parents were struggling to keep their crops alive as I selfishly galloped the southwest on a broken dime. I wasn’t making any money and I hated that I was gone, yet I loved every minute of what I was doing. I was poor, homesick, in love and happy.
The first time without friends, the first time without money, the first time my parents felt out of reach; some doubted my passion others admired my ambition. In the summer of 2012, I had to prove something to myself.
I’ve never been too far from those I loved. Perhaps that’s why I took them for granted. I grew up with family close by, I had friends that were always there, I lived with my best friends and everyone else was always a phone call away. Moving three states away really tested my strength to be on my own. I missed my parents, I longed to be in the comfort of friends and hated feeling like I abandoned everybody but I knew I hadn’t abandoned anyone.
My first bite at the real world was a little bitter. Just like a grapefruit, the sweetness seeped through. I had too much time, too little money, so many fears and even more possibilities.
I wasn’t the fearless 11-year-old I had once been when I told my dad I wouldn’t miss anybody when I left Kansas right where it belonged in my forgotten past. I expected to prove something to myself that summer, and I proved what I hadn’t expected. I proved to myself that I am different. I proved to myself that I’m unable make everything happen on my own. I proved to myself that being more scared than happy isn’t okay.
I thought when I left my western Kansas stereotypical upbringing, I wouldn’t be as unhappy. I thought I would be doing what I loved, everything would be simple and I would be able to give my parents the world. The night I asked myself if this was all worth it was the night I broke my own heart.
My soccer piggy bank doesn’t have many more coins than it did a decade ago. My mom doesn’t have a job anymore. My dad doesn’t have an impressive fall crop. The thing that we do have is love. Love for each other and love for what we do, even when it’s not easy to love it. When I wanted to be different, it was because I thought I was so different than my family. The summer of 2012, I proved to myself that what makes me different is that I’m just as different as the people who raised me to know what struggle is and to never give up. I proved to myself doing what I love is happiness, and in order to be successful I must be fearless. Money can't buy happiness, but unhappiness has a price.