On Being Stuck

The summer between eleventh and twelfth grade was a difficult transition period for me. I had come out of junior year with perfect grades, a slew of extracurricular activities and plenty of self-doubt. Despite the two and a half month break from school, I knew that senior year was quickly approaching and my academic fate would soon be decided in the form of college acceptances or, *gulp*, rejections. Perhaps my parents could sense my increasing anxiety or maybe they just needed a break from their own hectic lives, but either way it was decided that at the culmination of summer our quaint family of four would head up north to experience the rugged landscape of Yellowstone National Park.

Fast forward a couple of months and there I was, boarding a flight to Utah, listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In the U.S.A.” while scanning the change in scenery from L.A. to Salt Lake City. My family would drive the long route from Utah to Wyoming in order to hit up a few other states we’d always dreamt of traveling to (yes, people can dream of going to Idaho). Of course, the crown jewel of our trip would be roaming Yellowstone’s hot spring-infested fields and grizzly bear territory.

As my family crossed the welcoming gates of Yellowstone National Park, we all felt the sense of awe that can only come with natural splendor. Our trusty rental car, the exact same model as our own car at home, drove us ten or fifteen miles past any signs of civilization and into vast expanses of meadows, hot springs and bison herds. My mother turned down the music dial so all we heard were the car’s tires rolling faithfully down the narrow road. That was what we heard for several miles at least. Twenty miles in we began to hear a soft clink and were confronted by a warning sign on the dashboard of the car: “flat tire.” Pull over to the side of the road, examine the damage, wait for help. There was nothing more to be done. The back right tire of our car had been punctured mercilessly by an industrial nail and nothing could be done as the rental car agency had failed to provide us with a spare tire. My sister cursed the stupid nail that had derailed our travel agenda. My dad ranted at the carelessness of the rental car agency. My mother paced along the road side. I sat in the back of the car.

As much as I should have been upset by the waste of time the nail had caused, I wasn’t; it was as simple as that. I didn’t care about time at the point, only about outcomes and bad ones at that. The idea of being rejected by my dream school consumed me, picked at my thoughts until I found myself awake at one in the morning with my heart beating viciously against my chest. I was stranded, yes, but where? In Yellowstone? Yes. In my own head? Maybe. I didn’t know how to get out. What I did know was there was a natural hot spring a half a mile away from our stranded vehicle. I would brave the possibility of meeting a lone bison and make the slightly uphill trek to the humid river that seemed to flow endlessly into dark crevices only to appear on the opposite side of the road. I didn’t trust my brain to remain silent when unoccupied.

Walking onto the creaky old woods of the lookout dock and running back to my family’s car to find that a tow truck had miraculously stopped to pick us up, I found that I was smiling. I had made it to the river and gotten sucked into a deliciously suffocating cloud of sulfurous gas. The hot air had gripped my ice cold hands and warmed me.

When my family left the park a few days later, I couldn’t help but feel that things would work themselves out. I’d “survived” nature. I’d survived junior year. I didn’t need to survive anymore. All I needed to do was be present in my own life.

So, to all the high school seniors who are biting their nails in trepidation of college decisions in this beautiful month of March, life is a matter of perspective: past, present, or future. Since we’re all physically in the present, we may as well mentally be there too.

 

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