In Flight: A tale of a mid-life crisis at thirty-four


A truth I’ve known about myself for years: I have a very strong flight instinct. Some people stay and fight, some people flee. I am of the latter.

I’d make a fantastic bird.

“We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!” - Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

There is a culmination of events recently taken place that leads me back to this instinct. When trying to remember exactly what happened, or when perhaps, I can only begin a long list of items bringing me to this truth: I want to leave. I want to leave. I want to leave.

In searching for my most beloved books, as I always do when complex thoughts dominate my mind-space, I realize I’ve read no less than dozens and dozens of traveling books. Essays of people who experience a world, write about it, and sell it to housewives and mothers of small children grounded in their piles of laundry and diapers and weeding. This single fact never yelled at me louder than it does at this time. I want to leave. I want to leave. I want to leave.

Opening one of the biggest inspirations during my mid-twenties, Beyond the Sky and the Earth, I find pages highlighted and dog-eared. This is how I love my books, they answer questions with scribbled notes and sometimes tear-stained pages. I find I’ve highlighted several passages at the start. “It was more than feeling that I was going to wake up one morning soon trapped in my future. .. I wanted to throw myself into an experience that was too big for me and learn in a way that cost me something.” “It wasn’t that my life felt unreal to me, it just seemed very…. small.”

I remember thinking this as I prepared for graduate school in Houston. I remember hating the thought of living in Texas another minute, let alone three years. I remember the moment I decided to move back to the northwest and the intensity of joy that came along with that decision. It was no coincidence I read this book during this transition ten years ago.

My god, has it been that long?

At the time I was seeking, and finding, something worth fighting for. Something, and someone, I could wrap a future around. A home. A family. A dream of the big house and the big yard.

The exact same dreams that are closing in like clouds in a valley. A valley I want to leave. I want to leave. I want to leave.

Aren’t I supposed to want all these things? The house. The children. The stability. The yard. Haven’t I all but just begged/cried/died-a-little to have all this? So why does a quaint flat in England sound so appealing? Why does having two bowls, three cups and two forks seem like all I truly need in a kitchen?

My best friend in Jr. High always wanted to be a mother. It was the thing she was most looking forward to. I was ambivalent at best with the notion of children, but at 12 and 13, it seemed an appropriate emotion. I ran in to her years later at a grocery store, her in the mini-van with two children and one on the way, married and happy. I was planning my escape from Houston, graduate school, still holding the same ambivalence for the idea of reproducing.

At twenty-four, that was also an appropriate emotion. At thirty-four with two children? It is not.

It’s an old old cliche, “Marriage is hard work.” To me, it has never seemed appropriate and down-right wrong at times. “Marriage is hard work.” No. Children are hard work. Balancing work and home is hard work. Losing baby weight is hard work. Marriage? Being with that person you decided you loved more than any current, or future, person in the entire world for ever and ever? That’s not hard work. That’s fucking lunacy.

But we sign up for it. All of us. And we hope to god it works out on the other side.

And it does.

Most of the time.

Or, I suppose, realistically, about half the time.

So you talk to your spouse. You confess the flight pattern. You explain it all in words with tears and hicups and sobs and stammers. There is no logic. There is only emotion, raw and aching and real. No logic to fall back on, to explain, to analyze.

There is only that single list of events, culminating to this place, and a partner wondering what the fuck happened to his wife. And his wife wondering what the fuck happened.

It is not that we’re even in a place most other married people don’t get to. It’s that we are. We are exactly in that place where every single married person has been. And driving home, as quickly and as tearfully as possible, I had only two words running over and over narrating my thoughts, “Fix. It.”

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