I am six years old and the fairgrounds is my play structure. The Spice Girls play on repeat as the crowds swarm through excitedly, going from stand to stand, ride to ride, exhibit to exhibit. So much energy and life in this place! So many adventures to be had! I want to do my own exploring and get my parents’ permission to visit the gardens with my friends. We race away through the crowd, taking a short ride on the tram just because we can.
The hours race by as we wander the fairgrounds. I know my way around already but still feel like Indiana Jones or one of the Wild Thornberrys exploring new territory as my friends and I hop from one part of the fair to the next.
I return to my parents after dark, tired but fulfilled by the day of adventure. I don’t understand why my mom calls me by my full name with a clenched jaw and that tone in her voice. She pulls me behind the stand to yell, out of sight of the customers buying pink cotton candy and sweet red candied apples. Their day is not crushed when the bewildered tears spring to my eyes.
I had wanted to stay for the fireworks, to finish the perfect day with sparks of light arcing across the sky with a bang, but now my chances don’t look so good. I ask anyways, though it’s clear they want to send me home immediately. My dad relents. I can tell he feels bad for my mom yelling earlier but I take advantage of the chance to see the spectacle. It would have been the perfect ending to the perfect day but I know the leash has been tightened.
To me this world is exciting and fun, but to my parents it’s a scary place, full of monsters that eat little girls like me. I try to tell them that I’m alright, I can take care of myself. But they don’t listen; they don’t believe a little girl. Instead they teach her that the world is scary, that she can’t go off by herself.
That she can’t be free.
I am nineteen years old. I tell my family I want to go to Morocco to study abroad. I want to stay for a year. It isn’t a question. I am not asking for permission; I am letting them know that I have finally decided upon the location of my year abroad.
It is going to be a nation with connections to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. With cultural complexities I can’t wait to wrap my head around and mountains and deserts and ancient cities I can’t wait to explore.
It is also an Islamic country in North Africa in the year of the Arab Spring, but that’s beside the point.
My grandma tells me I cannot go, she won’t let me. How could it possibly be safe for a young woman on her own? Especially a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed young woman from America? Plus, the culture is so different, surely no one thinks to go there. “Couldn’t you go to Spain or somewhere in Europe?” she asks me.
I nod along good-naturedly, “Actually my orientation will be in Spain, that’s where the program will start. I’m thinking about going early to travel around on my own first though, since I haven’t been to Spain yet.”
I try not to laugh at the dismay in her eyes. She’s genuinely worried for me but I know she can’t do anything to stop me. My parents, thankfully by now, know better than to try.
They say nothing and sit back to see how it will play out. I sit through the dinners and family gatherings, laughing and keeping the groan internal when my aunt implores that if there’s one phrase I need to learn before I go it’s “Don’t touch my clitoris!”
Months later, equipped with a fake wedding ring from my mom, antibiotics and anti-diarrheals from my doctor, and one large suitcase from my closet, I board the plane, flying into the unknown to finally greet the world on my own terms.
I am twenty-one years old. The education that has been both my refuge and my prison has finally come to an end. I am free to begin a new life. The world is so full of possibility I don’t know where to start.
A phone call from a friend presents opportunity and I decide to see where life leads me. I move to a new city in a new state with no job and no plan, just a car full of belongings and an open heart.
I’ve learned you don’t need set plans to move forward in life, as long as you’re always striving for improvement. And it’s often the things that take us by surprise that prove most worthwhile.
The world is not a scary place. The world is my home and I love exploring it. I don’t know where i’m going but I’ll get there, someday. Until then all I can do is enjoy the journey.