The journey from the sunshine state across the country sparked a pre-loaded bomb: one week with little to no cell signal among the Joshua Tree desert. Locked and loaded was the relationship cannon, ready to plow its way into my gut. A year and a few months I’d given the man, but he had little trust in me. His manipulation was an ocean, and I was struggling within a small air pocket. Soon, the pocket would burst, the water would enter my lungs, and –

 

I was rebirthed.

 

I stood with three of my good friends in a wide expanse of pitch black desert. My flashlight exposed cracks beneath my feet and above were a million stars. They sparkled and shined, glittering across the sky with confidence I desperately needed to find in myself. My phone was in my back pocket. It was the first time it had stopped buzzing with his manipulative and aggressive words. I struggled not to fall into his trap, to not give up on the adventure I had been looking forward to, but it was hard. Despite his distance, he breathed down my neck.

We pitched the tent, shivering in the desert’s mid-spring chill. It was so dark. Our flashlights were barely enough before the headlights. I turned away from my friends, raising a hand to shield my eyes as beyond a small hump, a bright, white light flooded the landscape. My gut wrenched as my mind raced toward an absurd answer – him. He had uprooted himself from his comfortable life to follow me across the country and force me to marry him for his career.

The headlights rose.

“Is that the moon?”

I don’t remember who said it, but it clicked. The headlights merged into a giant orb of luminous white, casting soft rays across the campsites. Relief washed over me as I bathed in the newfound light. It was so large, so pure. My urge to travel, to flee – that vanished. I suddenly felt like a false nomad. Why did I want to travel? Was it only because of how he made me feel – trapped in a cage?

It didn’t matter, not in that moment. The bickering of how to put up the tent stopped. Our flashlights switched off. Our lips pursed in awe. We were completely encompassed by the moon’s beauty. Never had I seen a moon rise, nor had I ever seen it so large. I felt like a speck, so small and lost. At the same time, there was a warmth inside me, comforting me. Tears prickled the corner of my eyes, and I blinked them away. It felt good to be with the moon, to watch it move above me like a god. I knew it would protect me, somehow, from him and the world.

The road trip was meant to be a fun trip of zero woes, but as it often is with travel, a person runs to escape complications and to experience life for all it is. The moon and I made a pact that night in the desert. I would look out for myself if it would be around when everything fell apart. Like most things, the moon couldn’t always be there. Some nights, it wouldn’t be there at all, but the next night it would come back, bright and beautiful.

I always knew I could look forward to it, and to this day I wish upon the moon, not the stars. I live in a city, where the stars are covered by polluted fogs and rain clouds most nights, but the moon is around enough to rely on. When I see the moon, I picture myself standing back in the desert, a night before a lot of things in my life changed – thankfully, for the better. That night, I found a piece of myself that I hadn’t truly realized I’d lost. I was walking an oblivious path of life, letting people mold me into what they wanted me to be. Then, as the moon rose, so did my confidence. My heart beat faster. My lungs filled with new breath. I felt whole.

As much as I was running from him, I knew he wasn’t the one to blame for my misguided route. The only person I could blame was myself. I was messed up, confused and lost, because I didn’t try to preserve who I was. I let myself be molded, and it left me as someone I didn’t recognize.

When I stood there watching the moon rise, the moon didn’t talk or whisper or really do anything except be a moon. Yet, I found solace in it, in nature, in being free from the outside world. I travel to be free from the norm, the 9-5, the aggressive nature of pattern in today’s society. I do it to run, which I’ve found is nothing to be ashamed of. I had to teach myself to be confident in my decisions, to love myself and my choices. I had to separate normal ideals from my own, and trust in the moon to light the way when I didn’t have a flashlight.

The Earth had been cracked beneath my feet in the desert, each crack glowing from the moon’s incandescence. Some cracks were small, others were large, but they managed to all intersect. Each crack inside me, across my heart, my skin, my soul, has shaped my inner persona and my outer being. The moon encompassed me that night, because it was a spotlight shining down on my imperfections, my flaws, my many, many mistakes. It showed me who I was, but it also helped me see who I could be, if I were to only put a little more hop in my step, straighten the stray hair on my head, leave behind those that didn’t love me for me. It showed me how to be flawed and happy.

Standing in that vast expanse of emptiness with nothing but the moon proved to me that freedom isn’t living life on a path. Freedom is living until you die. It was then that I decided I wanted – no – needed to be a travel writer. I needed to share my stories, my trouble, and find an audience to relate to. Though my audience became the gentle hush of a breeze through the woods, the crash of a wave on the California coast, or a sunrise over the Atlantic ocean in thirty degree weather, it was the best audience for listening. I found myself in the moon the night it rose into the sky like a beacon, guiding me to who I was to become.

I do believe that it’s strange how life’s path can change so drastically in a matter of moments. I had no idea that chasing myself into the desert would end a relationship and lead me to a stubbornness that has brought me great wisdom and twice the amount of friendship. My terrible ending was truly a beautiful beginning to a much more beautiful life. I have found love in natural beauty of both the world and people. The world is so clogged with superficialities that I had to run. I couldn’t let myself become that person who relies on the comfort of technology or fat reduction to boost my happiness. I also couldn’t rely on a little blue pill, either.

I had to find myself in travel. Everyone is different, but travel is what called me. It is what has been calling me since I was very little, along with writing.

Always,Jinapher J. Hoffman