American. That’s what it says in the space after “nationality” in my passport. Its navy cover is starting to fray around the edges and the pages are starting to curl at the corners. I guess that’s what happens after being stuffed into my sweaty jean pocket one too many times.
The metal disk bore an unexpected weight in the palm of my hand. It was about the size of a hockey puck, but twice as heavy. My new friend, Carlos, demonstrated his technique by gracefully arcing his disk into a pit of clay several meters ahead. Sparks flew as the metal made contact with an explosive packet.
My American passport has allowed me to cross into countries without question. My American passport has brought with it looks of awe and admiration in some countries, and loathing and contempt in others.
My fingers traced the disk’s cool surface, dimpled from being thrown by others before me. I attempted to mimic Carlos. The puck landed with a thud, not even near the clay pit.
My American passport carries with it a promise of irrevocable freedom, for which I am eternally grateful. But that navy blue book comes with another truth of which we don’t often speak. My American passport comes with expectations. Expectations that I, like all others, want the American Dream. The split-level house and yard to go with it. A practical minivan equipped with car seats. And most importantly, a traditional career that I’ll stay in, happily adding to my 401K, until I’m the ripe old age of 65 and ready to retire. Replacement knees and all.
Sometimes people confuse independence and freedom.
This time, I heeded Carlos’s sage advice, “More strong.” I let my arm swing back and felt my weight drive forward as I propelled the disk into the air.
It made it into the clay this time, but still no sparks. No bang.
There was no explosion when I quit my job either. Everyone kept on living their lives as normal. I don’t know what I expected. After years of having a clear idea of the path I’m “supposed” to take engrained in my mind, I guess I just didn’t expect it to be so uneventful. My parents didn’t yell or try to convince me to stay. They were supportive in every sense of the word.
No sparks flew when I stuffed my backpack full on a one-way flight to South America. And there wasn’t even a small bang when I moved across the world to teach English in Korea.
I’ll be the first to admit, quitting my job wasn’t perhaps the most responsible thing to do. But responsibility is another word that’s often mistaken for independence. They’re far from the same. Often times one cannot be true if the other is present.
In my mind, a mortgage and a cubicle with my name on it seems responsible, yes, but far from independent.
My idea of independence is playing a game with locals in a Colombian bar where I’m the only gringa. I don’t have to wake up early the next day, and the night is full of possibilities. Independence is forging a new life in a country where I don’t speak the language. Each new word I’m able to read in this language so foreign to me is an accomplishment. Independence is hiking to the top of a mountain and looking down at how far my feet have taken me. I own every step.
Independence is not knowing what the next year will bring, but knowing with all certainty that I have the ability to choose my own path and indulge in new dreams along the way.
I drained the remainder of my warm beer and heaved my last metal puck in the direction of the pit.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
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