Every once in a while I still wake up with the desire to run.
I've gotten as far as looking up random flights to places I've never been to and double checking my schedule if I can make it the day the flights or buses are cheapest (because I'm apparently responsible enough to not want to miss an important day of school or something), but as of yet I've never come close to actually booking the next flight out of here like I half-daydream about doing. I always manage to convince myself that I can (re)learn to love where I am already, and I made it one of my New Year's resolutions this year to stay grounded. As much as running away is about leaving what you know behind, it's also about where and what you're trying to get to; any time you run away from one thing you are inevitably running toward something else, even if you have no idea where you'll end up.
Catherine Lacey's novel Nobody Is Ever Missing tells the story of Elyria, a woman who runs away to New Zealand without warning and leaves her life in Manhattan with her husband behind indefinitely. Her life Down Under puts her at the mercy of the kindness of strangers: she hitchhikes her way across the country, occasionally works the odd job for a few weeks at a time, and sleeps in parks and fields on nights when she has nowhere else to go. The strangers she meets are mostly hesitant to ask too much about where she came from and why this American woman is sitting in their passenger seat looking for a ride to town; there's nothing immediately striking about her that could explain why she ended up like this, but maybe that's what makes this story all the more puzzling. How could someone who seemed to be living her life as she should be—with her steady job, her steady husband, and steady lifestyle—so suddenly feel compelled to abandon it all?
Lacey's novel is a postmodern contemplation about being in the world with enough of an understanding about how things should be but not enough understanding about why that is. All she knows is that the disconnect is there and it's real.
I had a general feeling of needing to leave, of needing to be the first to go, of needing to barricade myself from living life the way everyone else seemed to be living it, the way that seemed obvious, intuitive, clear and easy, and easy and clear to everyone who was not me, to everyone who was on the other side of this place called I.Her stream-of-conscious style dives deep into the melancholic mind of someone who's lost: lost in her past and the death of her sister, a shared tragedy that brought her and her husband together; lost in her present with no money and no place to go; and lost in the possibilities of what-if's and why-not's that will never be truly resolved.
This novel was haunting because it articulated so many of the thoughts and conversations that I've had before, and it made me stop and think about what it means to run away and what exactly I want to run from to begin with. Ultimately, it's never really been about the loneliness or even just boredom that I sometimes associate with a particular time and place, but rather this inescapable sense that the common denominator of insufficiency is me, and I will never be able to run fast enough away from myself.
I could never be missing to myself, I could never delete my own history, and I would always know exactly where I was and where I had been and I would never wake up not being who I was and it didn't matter how much or how little I thought I understood the mess of myself, because I would never, no matter what I did, be missing to myself and that was what I wanted all this time, to go fully missing...but I would never be able to go fully missing—nobody is missing like that, no one has ever had that luxury and no one ever will.Perhaps the crux of why this was a difficult book for me has less to do with being able to relate to Elly than it does with the way this story ends. It's simultaneously a huge relief and immensely frustrating that it's as if the last chapter of the novel was the in medias res beginning to an entirely different story. We're left in the dark about where Elly is going and what she will do next in spite of how intimately we know her mind. The ending of this novel provides no sense of closure or completeness—only the idea that things just are and that it doesn't matter if that's supposed to be a satisfying and cathartic end or not.