Resolute: The Journey to Become Myself

My steps echo off of the white porcelain tiles of the tunnel. I make a right, then a left, then another left. Am I lost? I should ask for directions, but everyone seems to be in a hurry. Will it still be there? In my anxiousness, I walk faster.

When I was 10 years old and living in Fair Oaks, California, my neighborhood had an annual garage sale.  A few dozen houses throughout a square mile of middle-class homes would sell their old wares, usually to others in the neighborhood.  I would hop on my dirt bike and spend the weekend visiting each and every one, looking for something to spend my paper delivery money on.  Among the tables of old kitchen utensils, boxes of rusty tools, and cairns of sun-yellowed books, I discovered National Geographic Magazine.  Something awoke inside of me when I turned the pages of those dusty old books with the yellow borders.  Unlike the fairy tales, comic books, and cartoons that I had grown up with, these books had real stories and images of the world. The real world through the eyes of excellent photographers and the pens of well-traveled writers.   After sifting through those annual garage sales,  and eventually used book stores, and friends-of-the-library sales (all before Craigslist and eBay), I accumulated every National Geographic Magazine from 1912 to the present (minus about a dozen issues). The shelves in my room, once lined with Star Wars figures, were now bowed with the weight of over one-hundred years of National Geographic Magazines. I might not have read each article but, over time, I looked at every page.  I became fascinated by the world outside my town.  I was determined to see it for myself.

And so the dream of world exploration became mine. I imagined myself exploring ancient ruins of Pompeii, falling in love in Paris, being befriended by Italians in a small village, climbing active volcanoes… they all seemed possible after reading the articles in National Geographic about people actually doing these things and not just fictitiously drawn in comic books or acted in films.  When I graduated from a mostly-Caucasian high school and entered an ethnically-diverse college, I learned of the cultural backgrounds of my friends. My enthusiasm for visiting other countries became greater.  Between classes, I visited a few travel agencies.  I couldn’t afford to travel on my student budget, but it made me feel alive to talk seriously about the price of flights to Amsterdam or the cost of hotels in Paris.

My excitement for travel and adventure was contagious and friends would suggest we plan a trip together. We would sit with dog-eared guidebooks and unfolded maps of Europe, piecing together adventures that would never happen.  The money saved would instead be used to repair the car, or the desire would fade, or the time away from home wouldn’t seem worth it.  I heard many of these excuses from friends and I found myself using them as well.

I insert the little blue ticket, as instructed. It raises like a small flag out of the slot. Others in front of me had done this dance smoothly but my timing is off and my thigh hits the turnstile before it unlocks. I grab the ticket and continue down the tunnel.

In 1997, while living in Irvine, California, I was introduced to a neighbor whose family was from Peru.  She had heard I was passionate about archeology (my focus of study) and wanted to show me photos of her art collection.  Seeing images of her home in Peru and her native art, she had rekindled my desire to travel. I had been dreaming about it for too long. It was time to make it real.

When I heard that my Peruvian neighbor was going on vacation to Paris, I had an idea.  I sat down and wrote a letter to myself – a letter only to be read when I arrived in Europe.  I wrote it to inspire myself. To create the person I desired to become.  The letter was from the person I was to the person I wanted to become: a world traveler.  I signed the letter, stuffed it into a handmade envelope I created from a 1950’s National Geographic world map, and gave it to the neighbor to mail from Paris.  A few weeks later, I got the letter back, postmarked from the post office on the second story of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.   Now, I was holding something of mine that had been to Europe and back.


I didn’t open the letter. The letter was addressed to me, of course, but I knew that it was addressed to the future me. The Kolby Kirk that traveled to Europe.  The one who made the dream a reality. I hung the letter at my desk like a framed photo.  Looking at it would remind me of what it represented.  A resolution to become a world explorer.  But this did not happen overnight.  As they say, “life got in the way.”  Work. School.  Lack of time. Lack of money. The same excuses haunted me for years.

The train welcomes me with open doors, sitting at the underground station. I slide in and take a seat just as a long buzz signifies something. Did I set off an alarm? No one is looking at me, so probably not. The buzz falls silent, the doors close, and the train begins to move as if powered by a battery. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clack. The dark walls just beyond the train’s windows blur by faster and faster.

In the year 2000, my parents traveled to Europe for the first time.  They came home with great stories and photos, but the one thing that amazed me the most is that my parents traveled to Europe. They did it!  Not some neighbor or friend but my own family whom I have known my entire life had stood on the banks of the Seine, climbed the stairs to Sacre Cour, and ate pastries from cafes in the Latin Quarter! It was time for me to become who I wanted to be.

So I saved money, I set aside the time, I applied for a passport, and I bought the non-refundable plane tickets.  My parents dropped me off at the airport and wished me farewell. I would not see them again for 77 days.

The train slows down and I look for the sign. Is this my stop? Yes, I see it! “Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame” My heart is in my throat. I exit the train, walk through the tunnel, and up the stairs into the sunlight.

On a warm September day, I emerged from the Paris metro at the Notre Dame. On my back was a 70-pound backpack. In my hand was The Letter.  I found a bench in the shadow of the church, opened the letter, and read the words I had written four years prior.  As I had hoped, I had completely forgotten what I had written in 1997.  I was reading a letter from a person who no longer existed.  What was written by a dreamer was being read by a world traveler.  I had become the person I wanted to be.

Paris, France – September 2001

Ruins of Pompeii, Italy – October 2001

Sperlonga countryside – October 2001

Paris – November 2001

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