A couple weeks ago, I’m putting trash down my apartment’s rubbish chute, my boyfriend standing next to me. One of the perks of dating someone nearly seven years is sometimes you don’t need words. This is one of those times. I drop the bag, and then realizing I’ve done something impossibly stupid, make a face. I make my I-didn’t-just-do-that face. I make that face pretty often. I don’t say a word, but he knows.
“What just happened?” he asks.
I respond, reluctantly, “I dropped my phone down the chute.”
A couple minutes later, he’s dumpster diving for my cellphone because I’m too short to climb into the trash bin, and he’s too sweet to let me try. I’m thinking, as he’s digging, Why does this always happen to me? When will I finally be a grown up?
When I was a little girl, I kept quotes in sloppy handwriting in notebooks with moons on the front. I caught caterpillars in my parents’ little garden while they planted tomatoes and green beans. I’d stand on the wooden garden gate and silently recite my favorite quotes, eyes closed, soft caterpillar feet almost indistinguishable from the small hairs on my arms. My absolute favorite was from Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Back then, I thought adventure meant a place. Back then, that place was India. It was elephants and women in long skirts dancing with hips and hands. I ached for my adventure.
I went to Costa Rica when I was seventeen. Then, adventure was a rainforest. It was wet socks and burning calves. It was nature’s clockwork rain showers and banana leaves I measured my height against. It was a scorpion that crawled from my mattress the days I spent with a Costa Rican woman as her houseguest. She had wild brown-black hair and spoke only limited English. I spoke only poor Spanish then. We ate dinner, rice and beans—always rice and beans—her and her sixteen sons. Hijos. I knew that word. Sons. When she pointed to them all, near middle aged to toddler, and said hijos, I must have made another one of my faces. I must have looked surprised. She laughed. “Wanting a daughter,” she said, “I keep trying.”
I have roughly two weeks of my grad program left – two weeks. That’s no time at all. And now the big question is: what’s next? Do I apply to teach in China, Turkey, Spain? Do I stay in the Midwest, in the States, marry the man that I love, start a family? Can I do it all? And if I can’t, will I regret what I don’t do? Would choosing home and family be a betrayal to caterpillar young me? My heart is full of indecision.
Lately, I’ve been coming back to my time in Costa Rica. I’ve been remembering the thin flip of that scorpion’s tail; learning to surf on a white sand beach, and not being very good; sleeping beneath the long treetops. I’ve been remembering my adventure. But mostly, I’ve been thinking of her, the woman with the sixteen hijos. I’ve been wondering about her adventure. Adventura. You can’t tell me, sixteen sons in, her life has none. It’s just a different one than mine. And that’s got me wondering if my definition of adventure is too small. If little girl me was too young to see the whole picture. If maybe being a grown up doesn’t mean a loss of adventure as I’ve always feared, but instead an expanding use of vocabulary. Maybe I am not deciding between the adventure of Turkey or the non-adventure of Minnesota. Maybe they are two different adventures. Maybe that’s what makes choosing so hard.
It doesn’t answer my “what’s next” question. It doesn’t make every decision easy. But it frees me a little. It makes family just as noble and exciting as adventure; it makes family one definition of adventure. It makes me a little closer to a grown up than I thought.
Debbie Ernie is a recent graduate from Minnesota State University-Mankato with her MFA in Creative Writing. When she’s not dropping phones down rubbish chutes, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, teaching yoga and English, and spending time with her family and friends. She lives in Mankato with her rabbit, Edmund, and Beta fish, Sirius Blue.