Echoes of Leaving

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Remember the day you first moved out?

It’s certainly hard to forget.  Though a person’s life will always roll forward like an ocean—never stopping or hesitating, always rushing forward—there are occasionally moments where one can actually hear the rustling paper of a page being turned, as one chapter ends and another begins.

That first day that a teenager moves away from his parents is one of those times.  Though it’s usually an event preceded by lots of buildup and preparation, there’s a truly palpable sense of closure when it finally occurs.  It’s one of the defining moments in life, really.  The child becomes an adult.

Though I’m originally from the West Coast, I spent my teenage years in the mountains of North Carolina, where much of my family still resides today.  The first place that I rented out, on my own, was also in North Carolina, about a twenty minute drive from my family; I moved out in the middle of my senior year in high school, to thrust my feet out into the world and to get a feel for how all these strange adult things worked.  That itself was an important move, significant in many ways.

The move that really mattered, though, was after I graduated.  I’d always had an adventurous side; an ache to see the world, a piercing desire to experience everything, and to have stories from wherever I went.  So after graduating, I decided that I would move to California for a while—and that, on the way there, I would travel the entire country, living on the open road and freely moving from place to place.

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I went by myself, with nothing but a car full of stuff, a notepad, a camera and a box of snacks.  Every day, I enjoyed a cup of coffee in a different town.

It was, quite possibly, the defining trip of my life.  I first took off on the morning of December 31st, so that I could begin the trip with a bang…and by a bang, I mean that I started my journey by going to Times Square on New Years Eve, and watching the ball drop—an event which is everything it’s cracked up to be.  After that, I roamed the US highways, going from state to state.  I saw Boston, New Hampshire, Connecticut.  One day I’d be at Gettysburg, the next day I’d be in Hershey.  The next, I might go to Ohio.  Missouri.  Chicago.  Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Everything was open, available and waiting for me.  Every highway exit was an opportunity for exploration.

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But before the trip, there was that morning—the morning of December 31st, the day I truly moved out, the day I took off on my adult life.  It was dark.  There was snow on the ground.  And, of course, there was coffee.

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For those of us who love coffee, our affection for that dark, caffeinated substance is usually more than simply a liking for the taste.  The distinctive smell of good coffee connects us back to memories of our most cherished moments—all those other times when we sat down, took a break and enjoyed a cup.  The coffee I had on that morning of December 31st will never leave my memory.

That’s why I wrote about it.

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Echoes of Leaving is a piece of flash fiction that first appeared in the wonderful anthology The Coffee Shop Chronicles, Vol. 1: Oh, the Places I have Bean!, published by A Word With You Press.  While Echoes of Leaving wasn’t the first story that I published, it was the first one that appeared in print, so it’s always held a special place in my mind.  It was first published in September of 2010, nearly five years ago.

Today, I’d like to share that story with you guys, right here.  While it’s certainly a story that stems from my life, I believe that it’s more universal than that.  I was taking off across the country, sure, but someone else might have been going to college, starting a new job, getting their first house, or any number of other situations.  I believe that this is a story that, in one way or another, almost everyone has experienced for themselves.

You can read the story right below.  Enjoy.

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The day I moved out, my mother made me a cup of coffee. I definitely needed it. It was 5:00 AM and the sky was still black. The ground was covered in snow. It was going to be a long day and I wanted to get a head start on things. I decided to leave as soon as the coffee was finished.

As she sat down across from me, I remembered a similar scene four years ago. It was the first day of high school and as I waited for the bus, she’d made a cup of coffee then, too. It almost felt like reliving a photograph. I looked at her, wondering if she was also remembering that time. She stared out the window as I drank my cup and she drank hers, the familiar warmth of the coffee easing the surreal transition that was about to occur. After 18 years of living at home, I was going to be leaving.

 A long time ago, my mother wrote a poem anticipating this event. I guess everyone imagines it before it happens, both parent and child; it’s one of those defining moments in life. She’d predicted I’d feel a kind of resolve, that I’d have pictured the whole scene in my head well ahead of time. She was right, but not completely. The day when you move out is the kind of thing that sneaks up on you. It’s something you can’t be ready for. All the speeches you planned in your head evaporate like mist on a sunny day.

We’d exchanged no more than a few words. I kept grasping for something significant to say, some way to show how much I’d grown up, to make her feel comfortable with the fact that I was departing. I couldn’t. There were no regrets, I knew that this was something I needed to do, but at the same time it felt more like a chapter in a book than a real moment. There’s nothing quite like that feeling when you first realize your world is truly yours and no one else’s.

So as soon as I finished my cup of coffee, I stood up. Tears were in my eyes, but they weren’t going to be released until I started driving. We hugged goodbye, said a few token words, and just like that, I left. I stole a final glance at the house I’d grown up in, and then charged forward into the real world. My car rolled out of the driveway, chewing up gravel beneath its tires. I whipped around the corner, taking off into the first streaks of dawn. The arrows pointed forward and life was mine for the taking.

Sometimes, as much as you love the comforts of home, you have to leave them. You need to step into the world and carve your place into it. You can’t look back too long, or you’ll never move forward.

All you can do is go.

 

Nicholas Conley, 2010. 

Nicholas Conley - photo from January 2010.

Nicholas Conley

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16 thoughts on “Echoes of Leaving

  1. Enjoyed this , great photos , I could relate to leaving home I traveled to Germany alone at 18. I didn’t really miss home Very fine writing

  2. I know what you mean… Now I’ve moved abroad for four months, I can definitely feel that it’s a good thing to do. Not easy, not always the most comfortable decision, but still… It’s something quite unique to experience.

  3. This is so beautiful. I am reading it from two perspectives: one, as I sit here planning a road trip along Route 66, Chicago to California, thinking about my own upcoming journey, and two, from the perspective of a mom having to let my sons go out into the world, knowing they too need to “carve their place into it.” From the other side, all you can do is let them go.

    • Thank you, it means a lot to hear that!

      Your dual perspective here is interesting to imagine; it must fascinating to see both sides of the coin, in that sense. It sounds like you’ve got a great trip ahead, so I hope the planning is going well. Have fun, and make sure to take lots of coffee pit stops along the way!

  4. This story brought tears to my eyes. Great writing. My oldest son left home two years ago, so I know how your mom felt, but I also know what you must have felt. I left Georgia when I married at 23 to be with my husband, a US Marine. I’ve never gone back, except to visit. My travels and my life away have defined who I am as much as “home” has. As you said, “Sometimes, as much as you love the comforts of home, you have to leave them. You need to step into the world and carve your place into it. You can’t look back too long, or you’ll never move forward.”

    • Thank you so much for your comment. It always is strange going back to visit the place/home/house/town that one came from; so much that is eternally the same, and so much that changes from visit to visit.

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