This is a photo from 1903, which shows the house I grew up in, it’s the house in the bottom right corner with the two chimneys. Photo Credit : Rifle Heritage Center
Heading Back To Rifle
I’m back in the US for a month, and I decided to go up to the town I grew up in. Rifle, Colorado in the central part of the US. It’s a tiny town, with about 8,000 people total. I grew up in a house that was over 100 years old. I was able to find a photo of it from the early 1900’s, see above.
Growing up in a home that was over 100 years old was pretty wild. During the winter, I recall seeing my breath at night when I went to sleep. I remember rain leaking from the ceiling on a regular basis, running out of hot water, it was interesting.
Overall, Things Were Somewhat Normal Until My Dad Left
At around 10 years old my dad starting long haul truck driving. Which was his way of getting some space from my mom, my sister and I.
How do I know that he needed space? I texted him a couple months ago asking him why he left us and he replied “You have to do what’s best for you. You only have one life.” In between sleeping in his car and cheap hotels, he now lives alone in a metal storage unit in the middle of nowhere in Rural Colorado.
He has his freedom, and as far as I can tell he’s alone and angry at the world.
But Back To My Childhood
After my dad left money wasn’t super abundant
Before I continue on I want to acknowledge the obvious. I’m a white man born in the US, I’m incredibly lucky. I never struggled for food to eat and I never had to put myself in life threatening situations to survive. The worse situation I could’ve been put into is still more comfortable than a lot of people in the world. I acknowledge that. At the same time, it wasn’t the comfiest time, and my reaction to these days molded who I am today.
Now that I have that out of the way back to the story.
So after my dad left my mom was raising my sister and I on a humble salary. I remember hearing my mom crying at night because she felt so hopeless and overwhelmed. There was one week we had the electricity and water turned off. We ran an extension cord from next door so we could have a lamp and a microwave, and we went to my friends house to take showers.
At the time I thought everything was normal. I recall it being kind of fun when the electricity was turned off, we would light candles and play board games.
In reality, I lived in a 100 year old house that was falling apart. There was mold growing on the walls, broken down cars in the driveway and junk littered in the backyard. We looked like white trash.
I love my mother, but back in those days she was caught up in a lot of the white conservative, hyper-religious rhetoric that was in the zeitgeist. Homosexuality wasn’t okay, hispanic people were going to take over the US, etc. She has since changed her mind on things, and I do believe that she adopted those ideas out of wanting the best for my sister and I.
The ideas were misguided, and the older I grew the more and more shame I felt for my upbringing.
Neither of my parents spoke foreign languages, my mom drank boxed wine mixed with soda and short of listening to downloaded 2pac songs, my culture was completely white, conservative culture.
Then I Moved To Denver
When I moved to Denver (the capital of Colorado) people would affectionately call me Redneck. A term used for lower class white people. This is because back in the day poor white people worked in the fields, bending over all day and they’d come home with red, sunburned necks.
Going into College I was introduced to a lot of new ideas, and I started building my own identity outside of the one that was given to me from my upbringing.
I viewed having an absent father as an asset. It meant I got to create my own identity. Be whoever I wanted to be because I didn’t have to live up to my dad’s expectations, or take over his business, etc.
I slowly started to distance myself from my upbringing, and as time went on I despised anything associated with Rifle.
I wanted more than anything to be sophisticated and cultured. So I started spending the little bit of money I had on french wines, I learned foreign languages and starting traveling around the world. I shunned the idea of getting married, settling down and having kids, as it was too traditional and old fashioned.
I drove small foreign cars, the furthest thing I could find from the massive domestic trucks that everyone drives in my hometown. I became an atheist to remove myself from Christianity. I wouldn’t date white women because they were too boring for me. I despised complete strangers who reminded me of people from Rifle.
I was so afraid of being exposed for being white trash that I rejected my identity growing up completely.
However, My Childhood Identity Kept Surfacing
This was through my childhood football coach, and his son. They would appear in my dreams multiple times a week for years and years. They still pop-up in my dreams now.
For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why they kept popping up in my dreams, until I realized they symbolize Rifle to me. They symbolize the rooted, more traditional way of life that I had worked so hard to distance myself from. They symbolized community, family, children and stability, things I had ignored and even looked down upon for a long time.
While traveling around the world, making new friends, seeing new cities and having new girlfriends every couple of months they kept popping up in my dreams. Symbols of my unconscious reminding me of what I’m missing in life.
In my arrogance I believed that I didn’t really need anyone. That I could tackle the world myself. That people got married and had children because they were afraid to be alone. That everyone in the world would do exactly what I do if they had the courage, but they lacked it.
I had these dreams for a long time without ever really understanding what they meant. It would take me a few more events in life to come to terms with them.
Dinner W/ A Successful Family Friend
I recall shortly after starting my business I went out to eat dinner with a family friend. This friend is one of the most successful people I know. She worked her way up to a partner position at a large national law firm and lives in the most luxurious neighborhood in Denver.
She owns a nice condo and lives there alone with a couple of dogs. No kids, no husband, and no long term relationships to speak of. At the time, she was at the age and financial status to retire, but I’m convinced she had never thought of life after work, in her struggle to the top of the mountain the thought of what comes next never crossed her mind. So she still continues working to this day.
She invited me out to dinner, I got super excited thinking she wanted me to do digital marketing for the law firm, turns out this wasn’t the case. We sat at dinner and drank wine and talked. As the night went on she got more and more visibly drunk.
I strained to understand her as her slurred speech got worse and worse. Even with the difficulty I had understanding her, I vividly remember one thing she told me. Looking through me in the 1,000 mile gaze truly inebriated people get, she said
“You and I aren’t like your mom and other people. We think of things and we do it. We think we can do things all by ourselves. I was like you… I thought I could do everything by myself, but I want you to know you can’t. You, You need other people.”
I left that dinner feeling an immense amount of weight starting in my heart and getting heavier as it went down to my gut. I feel it now as I’m writing this, I can feel my mouth drying up as if I’m about to cry.
At the time though I was a master at suppressing emotions. So I pushed those feelings down, and went back to work.
I had a business to grow, I had people to prove wrong, I had the world to visit, and I had to show everyone that I was a success.
In The Last Month I’ve Started Thinking More About That Night
After my most recent break-up. I realized how dependent I become on romantic interests in my life. I meet these women, and very quickly rely on them for nearly all of my emotional needs. I rely so heavily on these women because I lack the roots & community that my friends in Rifle all live with on a daily basis.
For a long time, I’ve chosen freedom over stability. I see where that’s lead me. It’s lead me to a place where I’m reliant on a new woman every couple of months and when there are any real opportunities to lie down roots I pack up and leave.
So What Do I Do About It?
I don’t want to stop traveling, but I recognize that if I can’t build a community of people and rely on others than I will end up like my dad or my mom’s friend. Old, alone and empty.
I’ll be traveling next with my sister and Mom for a few weeks, then after that my Mom and I will be traveling around Europe, the Caribbean and ending in South America. After deciding to give up my apartment in Denver back in January, I’ve been without a home base which has been fun but I’m ready to start building community and putting down roots in a way that fits my life. I’m planning on staying in Medellin for at least 3 months at the beginning of 2023, and potentially making that my new home base for the foreseeable future.
I was on a reality show that might take off, and that could screw up all these plans. As much as I’d love to be a D list star, and leverage that for more business opportunities, part of me hopes it doesn’t work out.
I want to travel with my Mom while she’s still able to, I want to experience Oktoberfest, Vienna, Prague, Berlin & Amsterdam with her. I want to get to Guadeloupe and Martinique and speak some French in a Caribbean setting, drinking incredible Rum. I want to hike alone for 7 – 10 days through the Andes in Peru. And I want to find a new place to call home.
In the meantime, I’m working now on coming up with ways to build that community even as I travel around a lot.
8/20/22 Update I ended up interviewing 9 other nomads and coming up with an article about how to build community as a digital nomad, check it out!