by Beau Burriola -
SGN European Correspondent
Chase pulled the sliding back door of the rented truck down by the rope handle and locked it. The sound of the lock clicking into place sent an excited chill through him. There was something final in the sound of that click. There's no turning back now. In just a couple of short days, he'd be starting his new life.
"Where will you go?" Rui asked him two weeks earlier when he told him he was leaving. They were having breakfast at Guadalajara, the same bright pink Mexican restaurant they'd been going to breakfast at since Chase moved to Tampa four years ago. In between bites of spicy eggs and chorizo washed down with syrupy coffee, Chase described to his roommate how he'd found an apartment in San Diego apartment just one block over from the beach.
"I need a change," Chase said in that same way he'd been saying for months. He's 22, he would say, and he wants to try something else. Rui understood well enough; he'd thought about leaving for years, but never did. Work, school, and people kept him around more than the need to go. Chase's excitement made him wonder again if it was time.
Now, climbing into his rented truck for the journey, there was no big fanfare to the sendoff. Rui waved from their balcony and Chase honked as he pulled away, full of excited anticipation. When he hit the highway with the last signs of Tampa in the passenger side mirror, he felt like he was leaving so much of the crap behind: the bad decisions, the mistakes, the awkward encounters, the embarrassments, the people who hurt him - all of it fell away and was replaced with the calming feeling of starting over with a shiny new beginning. He turned the volume up on the song he had planned for the occasion and sang loudly as he drove, glancing into the mirror to congratulate himself.
Even in the blur of his new life in San Diego, he never forgot that day; not when he started working at the pet store near the beach in La Jolla, not when he started dating a Navy boy, not when he started classes up again. He didn't forget when he was dumped by the Navy boy, when his hours at the pet store were cut, or when he took some time off of school because he couldn't afford it. Before he realized two years had gone by, he was done with the endless peeling sunburns, blindingly sunny days, sitting down onto scalding car seats, and muggy, sleepless, sticky nights.
When Chase pulled the rope on the sliding door down again in front of his apartment, the sound of the latch clicking into place sent that old chill through him. There's no turning back now. When he hit the highway heading north to Seattle, he felt like he was leaving all the crap behind, replacing it with the familiar feeling of starting over with a shiny new beginning. He hadn't remembered to pick out a song for this trip, so he put in the first CD he could find and listened to Radiohead over and over for the first four hours of his trip.
In the foggy newness of Seattle, Chase's new life was plenty exciting. The sea of new faces against the canvas of new places provided the change he wanted. Like the fireworks bursting from Lake Union each Independence Day, Seattle's newness enchanted a wide-eyed Chase, blinding him with promise before fading gently into barely-visible smoke.
"People here seem mean," Chase complained to Marla, his roommate and closest friend, on just one of many rainy and depressing days. As phrases like this do with repetition, soon it was fact in Chase's mind. He began to say how hard it was to make new friends and how he felt like guys in Seattle were only interested in themselves and sex. Marla listened, but she couldn't understand. She liked Seattle just fine, but whether it was because he couldn't find the right people or right places, or because his mind was at breakfast at Guadalajara or on the beach with his Navy boy, Chase never quite set down roots in his three years in Seattle.
When Chase pulled the rope on the sliding door down again and the latch clicked into place in front of his apartment, windy rain blew in his ears. He was on the highway in five minutes, headed down to the Biggest Gay City of all, San Francisco. If any place in this country had something to offer a Gay guy, Gay Mecca had to be it. There's no turning back now.
"It's okay, I guess," Chase said to his brother when asked how he was doing six months later, "but it almost feels like too much."
"Too much what?" was the second question. Chase didn't know what to say. That Gay life felt too legitimate here? That it all seemed too impersonal? That the constant game of seduction and competition was exhausting and stale? His brother wouldn't understand.
"I don't know," Chase finally replied, wondering where to go next.
The feeling of starting over is one that a lot of folks wonder about and a few folks know too well. The clean slate, the chance to strengthen the soft spots of our character before we present them to an entirely new audience, or simply shaking up the staleness life acquires with settling; there are a million reasons to pack it all up and take the first highway out, but as folks who have driven that road have found out - some only after many years of different lives in different places strung loosely together - there really is no turning back, especially from years of false starts.
"O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you, you express me better than I can express myself."
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