In January when I was going through birthday month feelings I decided to write the following based on Rookie's February theme: Escape


I've always wanted to be anywhere else but here

I spent most of my high school life (ages 12 to 16 - high school is five years here) dreaming of an escape. My morning walks to school (and sometimes afternoon walks back home if I didn't have classmates with me) were spent dreaming of all the lives I'd one day live. Anywhere else but where I was. Preferably somewhere I wouldn’t be an odd kid who felt out of place. When I wasn't daydreaming I was staying up too late reading about Harry’s adventures – The Boy Whose Train Came In. It was when my mother fell ill in my last year of high school that the feeling of needing to get away was solidified. I needed to not think about what might happen or the sort of pain she was in. I needed to not think about the grown-ups around me who were weighed down by suddenly having to be the main providers for my sister, cousin sister and I. So I retreated even more into my inner world and when my mother died the winter after I began college it was this need to escape that had me convinced I was in love with a boy on the other side of the country. A boy who was just words on a screen. An idea.

I first heard Tracy Chapman's voice while listening to music on an older man's phone, he’d been trying to show off just how much more memory capacity his phone had than my slide up Samsung E250. In the weeks that followed I listened to Fast Car religiously. It spoke about all the feelings I'd kept locked away in secret parts of my soul and only lived out in my imagination. Some of the feelings she awoke within me I’d never known I had until then. She spoke of self-preservation and how it was okay to choose yourself, your own happiness and – most importantly – your own sanity when you'd done and given all you could. That it wasn't her job to try to take care of her father anymore. Not after she’d already sacrificed her future to take care of him. That I didn’t have to live as I was living forever.

Even today when I listen to this song she also illustrates how much more thrilling adventure and the unknown are when you have an accomplice. Someone who seems to understandhow you feel and is trying to ditch the same demons as the ones keeping youawake. I’ve always envied people with people the most.  All my inner-worlds and imaginary future lives have been centred heavily on people. The boys I’d kiss, the girls who'd tell me their stories and listen to my darkest secrets and stroke my face, and the men who’d fall in love with me as I am. That’s the biggest difference there is between my here and the lives about which I’ve been daydreaming since I was 12. I am moved by the knowledge that Chapman found someone who (she thought) felt as she did. Someone (she thought) understood her need for flight because (she thought) they felt the same. 

For the first two minutes and 20 seconds of the almost five-minute-long song she feels understood and in her own words she “belongs.” I love the idealistic, hazy glint of the first part of the song -- it's how I still feel to this day about the possible lives I could live if I took the leap.


I don't know my mother's mother. When my mother was two years old (and her brothers were three and five, respectively) she left. I don't quite know the story but she wasn't taken or hurt or anything. She packed a bag and got away. Whether her leaving was done in self-preservation or in the belief she'd done all she could for her family and had nothing left to offer or get from staying will never be clear to me. I admire her decision. The courage to leave everything behind and go build anew elsewhere is admirable. It's something I hope she passed down to my mother and then to me. When I was 13 years old I made a pact with myself that if one day all the pain and trying to keep going got too hard and I decided to stop and escape to someplace new – 13-year-old me would understand and forgive me.

But most important of all is how Tracy Chapman handles the disillusionment that comes when the ideal she'd romanticised comes down crumbling around her and turns into the reality from which she'd tried to escape. The moment she realises that her partner-in-crime has turned into the past she'd run from. Basically this person turns into all the people who'd ever hindered her and stopped her from achieving her greatness but Chapman is not having any of it. She reads her partner their rights too – tells them to get gone
I'd always hoped for better
Thought maybe together you and me find it
I got no plans I ain't going nowhere
So take your fast car and keep on driving
I admire how she makes a decision to stop running. The choice to leave the first time had helped get rid of her soul-sucking father but the second time she chooses to show the problem the curb. And the nostalgia in the chorus? Arrrrrgh. Just heart it all.

So remember when we were driving driving in your car
Speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged

I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

It was when I was in grade ten that I became obsessed with the quote “wherever you run, there you are.” I don't remember the source but I remember thinking "what if arriving at the place I dreamed up in my head and meeting all the people I thought would make me happy felt no different? What if I would still be just as sad and never fit in. What if the thing I need to escape most wasn’t the lack of privacy that came with sharing a bed with my little sister and a bedroom with my mother and cousin sister too? What if it wasn’t the boring school that had nothing to offer me except for brief happiness spent in History, Isizulu and English class? What if it wasn’t my township and the fact that our library didn’t have all the Harry Potter books or even most of The Baby Sitters Little Sister books?" What if what I needed to escape from was the one thing I could never leave – myself? This question follows me even today, especially on those days I think I would feel better or write more or be a better sister if I was in a different town. But who would I tell to get into their fast car and keep on diving if I still wan't happy then?

She also sings that when they get out of their hometown and both get jobs they'll finally know what it means to be living. I can attest that feeling trapped by your environment and circumstances reduces your life to just existing. I’ve postponed happiness and giddy laughter to when a boy falls in love with me. Have done a good job of forgetting moments because they hurt too much or feel mundane and the only things that will be worth remembering are those that will happen when I’m thinner, less sad, no longer live in one room or feel trapped in my skin. 

I’m learning to do better, learning to escape my feelings of inadequacy. The urgency with which Chapman urges her lover (and the listener) to make a choice makes me feel like I am not chained to anything or trapped by whatever I maybe living through at any given time. She tells me making something new and better is possible if I leave but if I choose to stay out of fear nothing will change and I will always wonder.