Fire in My Belly

August 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

The way my depression works is funny sometimes. I go downhill really fast, usually within a 24 or 48 hour period, but once I get through it, I have a renewed sense of the fire in my belly, the fire that fuels my drive to keep fighting, to find whatever it is I’m looking for in life.

Sometimes it’s a feeling of fierce desperation, that I need a dramatic change or that I should try anything because who knows what will “work,” what will show me what I need to learn about myself to be happy, to want to continue to exist for myself instead of for my family.

I’m feeling that desperation now. It’s the same desperation I felt when I left alec — the feeling that I can do whatever I want because I’m on my own again, making decisions for myself without worrying about negatively affecting someone else, at least directly. freedom is slavery, but not when it’s paired with a desperate need for change.

I’ve been weighing options, making lists of paths that fit with my skills and interests, trying to figure out what my next step should be. I’ve got nine months to plan, to make things fall into place, so that this time next year I’ll be diving into something new, someplace new.

It’s funny because I never, ever thought I would end up in Texas. Texas was never on my list of ideal places to live, it was never even on my radar as an option. But now I’m here, in a hot, sunny climate filled with gun-toting, anti-education, repressive, paranoid, conservative Republicans. Oh, you’re right… doesn’t really sound that different from Alabama, does it?

I was forced to move to Alabama. I didn’t want to. I actually remember crying when my parents told me that was why we were leaving my beloved Virginia, where I had lots of friends and lived a mere ten minutes from my horse at the farm where I would ride. We were leaving beautiful Virginia for Alabama, which even at my young age of ten, I recognized as the armpit of the United States. We moved into a long ranch house in the country where I took a bus to my all-white rural school where people thought it was cool to smoke, get held back a grade or two or three, and to get pregnant before you can drive. The accents were heavy, the aspirations were low, and the minds were incredibly, painfully narrow. It was *exactly* what I feared when we moved there.

I went through a few stages during my seven years in Alabama. I hated it, and still do, for being the place I lived the longest out of my life, so I feel like I am forced to say I’m “from” there. People always ask, “where are you from?” (not in Alabama, of course, but when I go to school or a new job or am in a big city, people ask) and I either evade the question (because in truth, I’m not from anywhere) or begrudgingly admit “Alabama” with as little Southern accent as I can muster. Usually I get the “good for you! you got out!” look and the topic of conversation is changed, to my relief. But I hate it, deep into my core, that I am forced to say Alabama simply because I lived there for 7 years out of my 25.

I’ve considered saying I’m “from” Tennessee, since I was born there, but I’m really not sure that’s much of a step up from Alabama. If they asked me anything about Tennessee I wouldn’t be able to answer them, which would likely raise eyebrows. I only lived there for the first two years of my life, so I’m thinking it’s not really kosher for me to claim it as my home.

My friend Missy did a photography project when she was in college. She took pictures of her friends in their homes. Most of them still had rooms in their parents’ houses, perfectly frozen from the day that they left for school, so all their childhood mementos were still carefully or carelessly arranged around the space. My childhood room never really existed, not in the same evolutionary state as everyone else’s anyway. We moved so often, my belongings were often boxed and stored when they were outgrown, replaced by the objects whatever new stage of adolescence I was in called for. My room in our last family home in Alabama wouldn’t have been the same as everyone else’s rooms, since I’d only lived there as a teenager so there wouldn’t be that feeling of growth and of childhood and of continuity. Didn’t matter, though, because my parents had already moved into their new strawbale house, so I no longer had a room to be photographed. Instead, Missy photographed me in one of the back lots of a U-Haul place in Birmingham. You can hardly make out my solitary figure among the large trucks.

So where am I from? I’m not from Alabama, or Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, Connecticut, DC, or Dallas. I’m from moving trucks and cardboard boxes. I’m from empty rooms and open roads. How do you tell that to someone, how do you explain that in two sentences or less?

Texas is funny because it’s broken some kind of “zone” barrier for me, like if I can live here, I can live anywhere. In fact, I’m looking at AmeriCorps jobs in Alaska. YES. I said it. ALASKA. And why the hell not? When am I going to get the chance again to just fuck off and get a job in some crazy place? I don’t know how to walk a dog in -8 degree weather, but I could get asha a treadmill and one of those indoor grass pads that they have in SkyMall. I can do ANYTHING and why shouldn’t I? I’m young, I’m single, I’m healthy, I know how to live on very little, and I feel pretty confident I can make a life for myself anywhere, especially since I don’t plan on staying there longer than a year.

Here’s what I’d like to do, my big “grand plan” for right now:

I want to get a job with AmeriCorps VISTA for the next two years. Every year that you work, you get an education stipend of about $5,500 (it’s the equivalent to whatever the Pell Grant amount is), so after two years I would have $11,000 which would be about 1/2 of the amount I owe for my student loads (my last Sallie Mae statement says I owe about $23,300, but I’m not totally sure that’s all of my loans combined).

The education stipend would be a huge help, but there’s more to it. I would be actually helping people, improving their lives or their communities. That would mean so much to me, might even help me sleep at night. I can try for a PhD and museum career later. For now, I want to do something for someone other than myself, at least 40 hours out of the week.

There is a huge bonus for me though.

I’ve developed three different trips that I want to take over the next three years. Doing AmeriCorps would let me take one month out of each year off to travel, because the appointments are only 12 months long and there are always so many openings, that I’m sure I could find one to start after I got back from my trip. They don’t pay you an exorbitant amount of money, but I’m used to living on very little, and I can certainly travel on very little, so I know I can make it work.

Here’s what I have in mind…

Trip 1, 2014:


Trip 2, 2015:


Trip 3, 2016:


I’m going to do them by myself, and I’m going to do them on less than $3,000 (not including airfare). I’m young and I’m capable and I’m goddamn going to live life if it fucking kills me. I’ve worked *so hard* and done so much to get my resume in the shape that it’s in that I think it’ll be okay for me to take a slight detour to do something to benefit other people while giving myself the opportunity to see a world outside of my own. Yes, I’ve already been to Italy, but I’d like to go back. I’d like to return to Greece as well, but that’s not a planned trip yet. Three trips are enough to plan for.

In 2016, when I’m 28, I’ll feel better. I’ll feel a clarity I don’t have now. My desperation to do more and see more and live more will hopefully be sated so I can settle down and get my goddamn PhD. Yeah, I said it. I’m getting it. I will add “Doctor” to my name, Alexa L. Hayes, independent woman from a cardboard box and the open road. There is a fire in my belly and I fucking dare life not to let me live it.


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