If you had told me 10 years ago that me, a half black half Guamanian girl from Colorado would be living in a small town in Germany with my French husband and a French-American baby, I would have laughed my ass off. You see, ever since I was young I’ve wanted to run away from home … I just never thought I’d actually do it.
Here’s how it happened.
Rewind 22 years. I’m a girl who’s not quite black enough to fit in with the black kids and not quite Asian enough to fit in with the Asian kids. I constantly worried about fitting in — and constantly dreamed of running away, finding new places and new cultures, and exploring what kinds of spaces I might have in them. But even then, leaving the country never crossed my mind. I was perfectly content to find my place somewhere else in the US, if I could.
But until I could figure out how to make it happen, a fictional world would do. My first attempts at running away were accomplished with the help of books. Reading was an escape to other realities where I could stop being me and immerse myself in some unlikely heroine’s successful quest for validation again and again.
As high school drew to a close, my impulse to run away seemed well served by taking a step on the “right” path. College became the practical and realistic way to make my way out safely. I’d be able to go almost wherever I wanted–as far away as I wanted. I may not have been the most driven or highest achieving of students, but I knew that the life waiting for me if I stayed was one I didn’t want. I didn’t want my “big” move to be to Denver, an hour’s drive away. I didn’t want to be a military wife, married to someone I barely knew after a whirlwind romance fueled by mutual need. I wanted more than that. There just had to be more to the world than I could see in front of me.
So I packed up and moved to Washington DC … and promptly realized that I was scared to death. Not for my safety, but because of that horrible, familiar worry that I wouldn’t fit in. I had gone to a historically black college to find out what my black heritage was all about, but as I came across young black people who came from so many different backgrounds, who listened to all different types of music, dressed in a variety of styles, and spoke with all kinds of accents and slang I realized that actually there was no definition for blackness. My blackness was just an accident of birth. It wasn’t defined by the music I listened to, the clothes I wore, the words I used or how I formed them. It left me free to explore who I really was on the inside and define myself by myself. I was finding out that I no longer needed to run away from myself. But I still needed to find a place where I fit in.
I was still running. I just didn’t realize it yet.
After graduating, I moved to New Jersey to start my engineering career. All well and good. Except I didn’t fit in there either.
They seemed, literally, like they didn’t know where to put me. So I got stuck in a giant office next door to my boss. It was the biggest office on the floor, previously occupied by someone high up on the food chain. I felt so misplaced yet so pleased by the illusion of abundance around me. Each morning, I would arrive and feel a momentary thrill as I saw, yes, that my key fit this door. Yet, once opened, I would be jarred back into reality by the desk, covered in my things, looking so tiny and insignificant in the corner. I was here, but still didn’t quite fit.
But hey, it was time to settle down and work, right? I was an adult now, after all. I parked those dreams I had about experiencing different cultures … until one day my boss tentatively offered me an opportunity to collaborate with a similar institution in Germany.
I jumped at the chance so fast it startled him.
He told me to take some time to think about it; I said the only thing I needed to think about was how fast I could grab my passport, pack a bag, and take off.
All of the sudden, something I had never even dreamed of became a possibility. A new path, a new reality was within reach. And one so much farther and more exotic than I had ever dared to fantasize about.
I was single. I had no pet. I had nothing to lose and so very much to gain.
To be honest, I didn’t expect to enjoy my time in Germany very much. I mean, tiny town in northeastern Germany? No thanks. But access to Eurail and all the up until now almost mythical countries it could take me to? Hell yes!
The moment I found myself sitting on the Champs de Mars watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle, I could hardly believe that this was actually my life. A girl whose wildest dreams had been a comfortable house on the East Coast with a big fridge, a flourishing savings account and a nice job. I felt like I had made it in a way I had never allowed myself to imagine before.
I had never imagined that I would visit Europe — I had never dared to. So on that night, lights shining down on me as I played with the settings on my camera to hide the tears that were threatening to fall, I was amazed at how far I had exceeded my original expectations of running away from home.
Little did I know that this was just the beginning…
OK, so I had gone beyond my wildest dreams of traveling the world. To be honest, that was more than I expected, and I thought I would eventually head back home, this trip a pleasant memory. But then my birthday happened.
On my 30th, 20 people from 11 countries speaking 8 different languages dressed up in handmade costumes came together at a friend’s apartment to celebrate with me.
And one of those friends ended up being an intrepid French guy who, as it turns out, was up for the challenge of an intercontinental intercultural interracial relationship across an ocean.
I told him I was looking for a partner, not just another boyfriend. I didn’t have time or energy for that. Since I was leaving soon, I decided to jump in. At least I could enjoy myself that much more before the end.
But this man, who had previously spent his vacation time and money enjoying travel and visiting family, decided he was going to make a real effort and instead used it all on visiting me in the US.
Together, we did a bit of traveling of our own. A cross-country roadtrip from New Jersey to Colorado. A quick trip to Vegas. A cruise down to the Bahamas with a stop at Cape Canaveral. A week in Chicago. Two weddings and a baptism in France.
All this time and travel and experience led up to a perfectly imperfect proposal on the sofa after coming home from a sushi dinner. Next came the whirlwind civil marriage, organized in only 6 weeks so that I could get my visa and we could finally live together on the same continent.
I had far exceeded any dream or fantasy or bit of creative future forecasting that I had previously been capable of.
And now, 5 years later, we spend our evenings watching Netflix and YouTube Play-Alongs. Our 14-month-old baby crawling around on the floor exploring and wreaking havoc. My life is as normal as can be, save the fact that my son receives comments and instruction from his father in French and his daycare teacher in German, and songs and chat from me in English.
So I’m still running away from home. Though each move seems to take me further and further away from the small city I grew up in, they seem to bring me closer and closer to myself. The experience I craved when I was younger has become my reality.
I am still running, yet I’m no longer running away.
Now I am running toward things: possibilities, experiences, knowledge. I never meant to run away. I always meant to run toward new, better and exciting things. I’m doing that now. It’s what I meant to do all along.
Tiana Dodson is a certified holistic health coach who’s out to destroy the belief that you have to skinny to be happy and healthy. Through her work as The Fat Health Coach, she guides women to reconnect with their bodies through pragmatic self-care practices rooted deeply in self-compassion. The result? Finding out that your “right now” body has actually been the right body all along.
Ready to start a new relationship with your body? Join her on the journey to health and happiness right here.