He could just go, if he wanted.
That’s what was terrifying about it all. If he wanted, if he truly wanted to, he could just give it all up and leave everyone and everything behind without so much as a goodbye. What was stopping him? He had a car, and some money, and God he certainly had the desire. It always came at this time of year, when the year was changing in the depths of a pale bright winter, that longing to give it all up and vanish. Something about the newness of it all, the possibility, the weight of anticipation that would linger for months until the coming of a spring that would leave him feeling undone and unsatisfied, it made him ache.
But to throw a handful of possessions into his crappy old car and start driving, now there was a thought. To load up the Civic with its busted tape deck and AC that liked to think that it worked but wasn’t fooling anyone, to weigh down the underinflated tires with just enough to keep him clothed and fed for a while as he drove and drove, it was the most seductive thing he could imagine. No more classes, with professors who forgot him and assignments that didn’t matter, no more work, with a thousand dishes to be washed and no money to show for it, no more lonely nights spent painfully alone in an apartment he could barely afford to heat. Just the road, the whistle of the wind both wild and free, and his own thoughts to keep him company. God, think about it.
He would strike out west like the adventurers of old, seeking out the open spaces and the mountains and the endless possibility in between. He would forge new paths untrod by generations of 24 year old losers before him, discover a brave new frontier of unguided exploration, fulfill his dreams like he so obviously wasn’t doing right now in the mindless grind of school and work, school and work, school and work and nothing more. And when the road stretched out before him, sharp as an arrow in endless flight as it winged straight and true through rolling seas of grass into distant mountains, he would feel complete.
Oh there were a thousand buts. But what about school, and all the work he’d put in to get here? What about money, that pesky thing he slaved and slaved for and never had enough of? What about family, and the people who called themselves friends, and the responsibilities that came with both? For every daydream of zooming down an open road away from his worries there were two realities that stepped in to drag him back down to earth. No matter what he told himself, he knew the truth of the situation. He couldn’t just leave, no matter how much he wanted to.
And yet when the pallid January sun shone down on him with no warmth at all, when the wind whistled through the city buildings and avenues to ruffle his hair with the promise of freedom, when the sky and the road and the journey called to him, the tiny flame of rebellion that never left him sparked itself into life again. And in those moments, when the terrifying, heady danger of a brand new year surged within him, Tanner could smile to himself and whisper a private truth that was both affirmation and promise.
“I can’t just pack up and leave. Not yet.”