I’m standing on the subway platform at 125th St. with a backpack that holds everything I need to survive the next few weeks: Toothpaste and underwear. Laptop and three books. Check, check, check.
It’s been two weeks since I graduated college, moved out of my apartment. There, I left my mattress behind and embarked on this bout of couchsurfing. That’s what I’m doing on the train, really—surfing. Balancing the weight on my shoulders to the sway of the subway as it starts and stops in waves. Landing on the beach of my friends’ apartments in the extremes of the city, the halfway-gentrified neighborhoods where they can afford to live.
I take comfort in holding my world on my back and the graciousness of good friends, they who are happy to lend a pillow to this quasi-homeless college grad’s tired head.
Still, I miss my bed. It’s softer than this subway seat.
The train makes its way into another station, and out of the corner of my eye I see an ad: Wonder Woman. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but my thoughts drift—did Wonder Woman always know she could fly?
I think about this while a homeless person (more obviously homeless than me, anyway) gets on the subway and asks for change (sorry, bud, I’m also broke). Did Wonder Woman always know her powers? Did Wonder Woman always know who she was? Did she have to leave her island in order to understand her strength, her power? Did she ever find herself couchsurfing?
I make plans with myself to see the movie later that day (Are you free? I ask myself. Oh, yes, I am, I tell myself. No plans!). And then I wonder about myself, too. In my lap is a tote bag emblazoned with the logo of the expensive liberal arts college I have just graduated from. Should I have made other plans? Is it OK that I haven’t applied for a 9-5 day job yet? Is it OK that I really, really don’t want to?
It’s only been a few weeks since graduation, but I’m surprised by how quickly I fell into the cliché of self-questioning, the floundering 20-something college grad. Each day is its own set of small challenges and existential crises. Each day my college resume, dotted with internships, grows staler with age. I wonder at the way I’m supposed to deal with all this, with the changes and questions so new to me. Even if they’re typical to anyone else that has ever graduated college without a job and 401K plan.
But then I think—what was I expecting for myself, other than a break from schoolwork? The only future I imagine is far off, me with my elbows on a wood table, a book in my lap. Looking out the window at some exalted landscape, framed by sky. But in that image my hair is grayed and whatever I do has already happened.
This is an image of the future. But I don’t have one for now.
I tell myself that wandering is a skill; it takes guts and fortitude to live without plans. Still, I wonder, did I choose this for myself? If so, why? How is it that I ended up here, carrying my life on my shoulders, making plans with myself and satisfied with the full scope of my meandering?
I wonder and wonder until I’ve forgotten my reading and it’s my stop in Brooklyn, near Fulton street, near a new movie theater I’ve read about online. They are playing Wonder Woman at 1 p.m.
After the movie, I am aglow, cheeks pink with the remnants of all the crying I did when I saw a crew of badass woman battling each other on screen. I text my mom—I’ve never seen so many strong women before!—and realize that in this happiness of representation, however flawed, I am not alone. On the escalator down from the theater I am still holding my luggage, but I am balancing, now, too.
In a rush of superhero fantasies and self-empowerment mantras, I stand on the subway platform again. En route to the next place. When my hair flies with the breath of the opposite train, I decide that it is my own cape. I will make it to my next couch, the fluff of friends who like to hang as I nomad around. I am so grateful (seriously, thanks, guys). Soon, I’ll be wearing pajamas.
I am not a superhero. I am not trying to save the world. I claim nothing noble in my wandering; I am only trying to save myself.
A train whooshes to place on the tracks. I hop on again, sit down again, and find the next address on the map on my phone. I will find my way. Meandering questions are not rushed for answers. I can play myself anyway I want. I am Wander Woman, and no matter how I got here, or where I’ll sleep next, I walk with a sense of balance. I can maybe even fly.
At the very, very least. I can carry myself home.
Photo via Flickr/Tom Roeleveld