“How do you do it,” Barbara asked. I said something like:
Once upon a time in a land far far away from any happiness, I graduated college and like most of my friends, family, arch nemeses, and those who just finished teaching me, I hopped into the workforce because I needed that reliable check every couple of weeks to pay for the clothes I thought I needed, the restaurants with great atmospheres but bland foods, the dates that led nowhere, and the foolishness the commercials convinced me were important. And these were the fun things that kept me smiling, and kept me opening my eyes at the ass crack of dawn to the sound of an alarm clock to go into an office where the temperature was never right to work on a dream someone else had.
It was the not-so-fun things that turned my stomach and grinded my gears. It was the $125 I was paying monthly to talk to and text people too many miles away, the tank I kept filling up, the rent I was paying because after 18-years-old I refused to live with my folks, and this place where I slept needed to be kept alive, so there was the electricity, water, trash, and sometimes cable. Isn’t it strange what we believe we have to do sometimes to stay afloat? Oh! And how dare I forget about the woman who’s done so much for me, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to repay her: Sallie Mae. In order to keep those paychecks flowing uninterrupted and not garnished, she needed her payment monthly and on time.
Then one day, it all stopped making sense. It wasn’t normal anymore. It was foolish to spend the better part of my day in a place I barely liked, making money to maintain a life that barely kept me happy. I hit the road, the air, the tracks, and the seas, and that became my normal.
I broke my lease and paid the penalty, told my boss I wouldn’t be back after Friday, turned off the lights, stored my journals and old Ebony, Time, Life, and Jet magazines at my dad’s, and took my car to my folks in the country. The cell phone remained a necessary evil.
I wrote Sallie Mae a poem to let her know I couldn’t see her anymore:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
I owe Bank of America, Rent-A-Center, Comcast, and my mama too
I ain’t got it
She made idle threats, but so what, I felt free. I was as free from financial slavery as possible, and it felt good. I defined it for myself. I found a new place to pay rent, but this time it wasn’t because it felt like the thing I needed to do, but because I wanted to be there and knew at any moment, I’d be free to depart for another place. Money became less and less important as I learned to utilize the bartering system, and my definition of stability was different from those I still ate dinner with in nice restaurants after making sure the food was nothing short of amazing.
I created a list of what I valued, the most important at the top; happiness above everything. I made myself a promise that everything I did in life would be done to maintain my happiness. This made perfect sense because Happiness is the perfect umbrella. Che Guevara once told a lover, “I cannot sacrifice my inner freedoms for you. I am the most important thing, as I have already told you.” It’s not selfish. At least for me it isn’t. After all, if those around me are not happy, neither am I. So I work hard to maintain the happiness of others still, I’ve just rearranged some things.
Shoot, I’ve lost the reason for this post. I suppose, in the end, I gave up everything that made no sense to me to live a life I wanted, serving my values. And that life is about happiness, love, new experiences, living, and every once in awhile, a big bowl of beef pho and a donut. All this is satisfied through travel.
Darnell Lamont Walker, a self-professed traveling foodie, has been found sitting at tables eating baby goat sweetbreads, drinking tequila, and laughing loudly with strangers. The writer, filmmaker, artist, and sometimes photographer puts happiness above all.