When I was in college, I drove a red ’97 Saturn, and I loved it. I felt like part of my identity was tied up in this car, this object, and part of me assumed we’d be friends forever. I abandoned the car before it abandoned me, of course. Eventually, I came back to claim it and the engine gave up in spectacular fashion, bombing out on I-75 somewhere in Kentucky during a Florida-Indiana road trip. My friend Anne and I ended up selling it in a roadside auction for $375.
The point here is that I felt a real sense of ownership with that car, one that has since eluded me. I got used to things being temporary: homes, bank accounts, jobs, favorite restaurants, people. Whenever I acquired something, it was with the subconscious sense that it wasn’t for long.
A constant of travel is leaving things behind. Not just the goodbyes associated with departure. The things you own are temporary, too. In Korea, I left behind my pink bicycle. In Buenos Aires, an entire worn-out suitcase filled with clothes I could no longer carry. In La Paz, a pair of holey jeans that I’d loved but were taking up valuable space in my bag.
Much like the compulsion I have that everything needs to be done on a traveler’s budget, I hesitate to believe that I can actually own anything, that it will belong to me unconditionally. Yesterday I was driving our car, a little silver 2001 Golf, and thinking of how I liked its compact size. That thought came with a pang of mild disappointment that I’d eventually have to give it up. Even now, I don’t feel like it’s our car.
But it is our car. We bought it. We own it. We drive it. It threw me to realize that there was no timeline for when we’ll have to sell it off. It’s there until we decide otherwise. Same as the beach. Every single time I walk along Merewether Beach, I walk with an underlying conviction that someone is going to tell me I have to leave, my time here is up. That I’m on vacation. That this beach can’t possibly be my life for as long as I want.
Obviously, no one can own the beach. But I can at least own my experience and settle in, embrace being in one place for a while longer. For the first time in years (years!) my life is not dictated by the expiration date on a visa. Will we stay in Newcastle until the end of our days? I seriously doubt it. But we could, if we chose to. It is odd, being in a place where we are both allowed to stay. Where the decision to be temporary is ours, a choice we can make on our time. Where we can roll down the windows and drive along the ocean, and nobody can take it away.