Chatham, New Jersey, and New Orleans, Louisiana, are exactly 1,288 miles apart. If one were to drive the entire distance, it would take 20 hours and at least two full days of sitting in a car.
It’s a perfect distance to escape from yourself.
When I grew up, my dreams sounded most like a Disney princess’s. I spent my final years of high school fantasizing of escaping my hometown, Chatham, on a white horse to live somewhere far more magical. Once I was a senior, I viewed Chatham like a prison I was eager to dig my way out of.
Following that line of thinking, I decided that I would attend Tulane University, a school in a state I had never set foot in before. I had big dreams and a desire to chase them, never mind the distance.
My mother told me that I couldn’t go to school any further west than the Mississippi River. To this day, we both like to joke that I beat out that rule by 10 feet.
I would have scoffed if someone said I would have felt homesick during my time at Tulane, but the exhilaration wore out the exact moment that I flew home for fall break. My roommate situation was less than ideal, I struggled to make friends and I failed my first economics tests. Most importantly, I discovered that I couldn’t handle going from a small town of five thousand to a city of 400,000. I cried at least twice in the four days I was home and almost bailed on the return flight. Sophomore year was worse. I became stressed, depressed and sick. I barely left Chatham that summer, content with burying myself into my summer job.
As junior year at Tulane approached, flight prices were stacking up and, unbeknownst to my family, I was unsure if I even wanted to return to school at all. It was my mother who suggested driving to Tulane instead. After some convincing, I agreed to give it a try and we left Chatham for a third time to return to the Big Easy.
I started the trip filled with apprehension; I expected that driving all the way down to New Orleans would only emphasize the distance that lay between myself and my family. I assumed that I would demand we turn back by the time we hit Virginia.
Yet something strange happened alongside the road to New Orleans. I started opening up.
It started with a remark about how nervous I was about returning to school and that struck up what became a six-hour conversation with my mother. Even when we switched seats and I took the wheel, we continued to talk about friendships, dreams and my own fear of not living up to my own expectations.
While I was fine with ignoring it or denying it a mere week before, it felt as though being trapped in a car forced me to confront my own insecurities—my own mobile intervention.
Time passed so fast that my mother and I reached Birmingham, Alabama in one day. The next day, I spent most of the drive calling my friends and professed how much I missed them that summer.
There was something about that car ride that was paradoxical. Instead of feeling every single mile stretch out before us, my mother and I felt it all go by in a blur. Our time was for each other, and we shared each other’s hopes, fears and dreams in those 1,288 miles we shared together. Driving the distance from Chatham to New Orleans felt like journeying the distance down a vein in the human body, where every single thought is connected no matter how far you are from the people you love.
I asked my mother if I could take the car back down to NOLA this summer and work down there for the season. We made the trip again two months ago and talked the whole way, catching up like old friends.
During my junior year, my friends and family have introduced me to several possible students that want to come to my school. For some, Tulane is close; for others it’s very far. Some brush off the distance, but most are apprehensive. I wish that I had that maturity at their age.
One of them asked me how I handled the distance between here and my home. I told them they should take a drive.