(Photo by Paolo Raeli)
Since You’ve Been Gone. Not the catchy pop song by Kelly Clarkson, but the title of one of my favorite contemporary novels by Morgan Matson. The book follows Emily, a normally reserved, shy high school senior, and her summer when her best friend Sloane disappears with no explanation. All that Sloane has left for Emily is a list of challenges to complete by the end of summer.
I gave the book to one of my friends, and we gushed over it constantly. My friendship with her had never been stronger with this shared passion: a love for cheesy young adult novels. In the middle of one of our talk-about-books-until-we-cry sessions, her eyes suddenly widened.
“You know, what if we created summer bucket lists for each other?”
Cue the next two months of fiercely brainstorming challenges for the other person. Amidst the torturous month leading up to finals, my refuge was dreaming about summer adventures. My mind may have been buried in my math textbook, but my heart was among the stars.
Last day of school. I ripped the envelope open, as I read dares from “strip naked on a mountain” to “make out with a stranger” to “attend a fashion show.” The next two and a half months, I trained for a charity 5k, which I ended up placing first in for my age range. I learned how to salsa dance. I shot a gun for the first time.
Four days before my break was over. I sat in my kitchen with the most rancid smell coming out of my hair: bleach. This was my final dare, change your appearance dramatically. With my new blonde highlights, I had a full-on, solo dance party in my room to celebrate.
I always thought that the summers depicted in novels were purely fiction, yet here was this period of my life, filled with reckless abandon and the best type of risk taking and unfiltered, boundless emotion. I realized that I should never try to be fearless. Life is about recognizing and reconciling your fears, going, “I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’m kind of scared, and that’s okay.”
Grades are important. Appearance is important. Money is important. But so are late night drives after a fashion show, your makeup smeared and your hair beyond tangled, screaming and laughing and blasting music. So is laying on the concrete with your best friend, looking at the stars, talking about anything and everything. So are long phone conversations in your garage, pacing around the cold floor, talking so quickly you can barely understand yourself. So is holding your heels in one hand, running along the beach at midnight to find your friend's car after a magical night.
So is falling in love, not with the expected boy of your dreams, but with yourself, with life, with the small wonders of summer freedom. So is attending a salsa festival and shooting a gun for the first time and going on a roadtrip. So are bucket lists and cold drinks on a hot day and songs that make you want to dance. So is this wild, unpredictable journey labeled life, and so savor it. Don’t just take a sip, but guzzle it down; feel its marvels dribble down your chin.
I no longer search for fulfillment through others. I am the lighthouse, the compass, the map; I am the journey and the destination. I guide myself to happiness, and I embody joy.
To all of you soul-searching hearts itching for adventure, go get ‘em.