The Van Journal: Trading in Comfort

A sharp right on to Linden Avenue leads to a steep slope that overlooks our apartment. Low-hanging branches sweep the roof as we roll underneath them, screeching like a high-pressured tea pot. We park our new possession in the first space we can find and scurry behind the partition like two kids with a new toy.

And then…nothing. 

We settle into its metal frame, the side door letting in warm August air, and sit there, slumped in silence for minutes. For a moment, I wonder if I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my twenty-three-year-long life. I mean, at what point does investing in a dream just become reckless?

My attention cuts to a formation of tiny crawlers flocking to a patch of something sticky and moves to a series of scuffs and scratches that brand the interior like scars. It’s the first time I’m looking at the van under such an intense microscope. My nerves dissipate as effortlessly as dirt tumbling through its ribbed floors.

"I could sleep in here tonight," I declare, adjusting my sit bones around the ridges. "Maybe just throw down the sleeping bags with some big blankets or something? It would be fun, don't you think?" I press my toes into the floor just to keep from sliding out the door. Crockett's silence affirms the absurdity of my suggestion. 

"I just don't want to live in there anymore," I admit. He shakes his head with a soft smile, hesitant to agree.

That little brick one-bedroom was the most we’d ever felt at home together; yet here we are wanting to abandon it before the build-out had even began? There's something kind of unsettling in knowing you could just abandon without affect — in being faced with discontentment you didn't know you had; yet, resisting didn't feel right either.

I watch as Crockett's eyes scan the wall. I know that look. It's like he’s already envisioning how to construct the bed frame or where we'll position the fan. Whatever it is, he has big plans brewing.

I see them, too. Immersed in this canvas, it feels so big — bare and full of possibilities. All we have to do is galvanize them. Simple, right? Impatience settles into me like dammed water: bountiful and abiding. I'm ready to get to work.

The thing about reservoirs, though, is that they need support to survive; otherwise, they just spill out into the valley to waste. If sheer ambition was enough to sustain us through the making of our dream, I was optimistically uncertain.

Sure enough, the van became this task — this never-ending challenge of having to figure something out: how to make this more stable; how to get that to fit there; why is this screw not biting; and of course, the all-encompassing question: how do I not mess this up? 

"Well, do you want to just get rid of it" I asked Crockett in a sore moment of perceived failure. With both of us working full-time, it was becoming more and more difficult to keep up with this routine: come home, grab the tools, haul wood  out of storage, cut, assemble, assess, repeat, repeat, repeat until finally the headlamps start to dwindle. 

Not only that, we hadn't seen our friends in weeks, we were wasting our money on a gym membership, and eating way too much candy from the Home Depot checkout. For how lousy we felt, we at least expected to be satisfied with what we were doing. Still, the process was moving painfully slow, and the results weren't living up to the #VanLife standard Instagram had force-fed us.

"I don't think that's an option," he replied bluntly, massaging the ripples on his forehead. "You think someone's just gonna buy a half-finished van? No. This is ours now." I sobbed into my dirt-dusted hands, wishing I could take it all back. But he was right — we were all in at this point. As desperate as I was for this phase to be over with, the thought of bailing on the future I'd been fantasizing about for months made me sick to my stomach.

Whether or not I knew it, I asked for this. From the moment I signed my name on the dotted blue line and drove off the dealership lot, I locked myself into an agreement to see this future through — an agreement that meant trading in more than just the comforts of home: the TV, a comfy couch where you don't worry about bumping your head on the ceiling, my beloved pressure cooker: none of these things compare to the internal discomfort van life demanded of me. And so, drained and discouraged, we continued working, each night going to sleep with sawdust stuck to our skin and adhesive spray in our hair... 

There's truly a lot of work that goes into living so small: a lot of planning, a lot of uncertainties, and a lot of moments spent sitting in your discomfort, mentally mapping paths out of it. In learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable, I prepared myself for this transition into van living and the changeable circumstances it would bring.

I can't say that I'd want to keep my nose so close to the grindstone ever again. What I can say is this: it is worth following that inner compass. As shaky as the needle may appear, it's magnetized toward a tremendous force. Trust it — even if it's pointing toward the deepest of canyons.

blogMarley Jeranko