Some people will never know what it’s like to be truly lost. They will feel lost metaphorically, of course, because everyone feels aimless and unsure at some point in their lives, but in the physical sense, they will always know — at least vaguely — where they are. They will be able to say, “I am in Portugal,” or “That way is north.”
And then there are people like me. I was born without an internal compass. The moment I leave my doorstep is the moment I’m not sure where I’m going or how to get home.
In middle school, some military recruiters visited my class and gave us a test to see if any of us were prodigies that should be working for the government. I cruised through the linguistics questions, cracking codes like John Nash, but when I reached the spatial intelligence section I froze. There was a picture of an unfolded box with numbers on each side. “Which of the following cubes is the same as the unfolded cube?” it said, displaying a variety of numbered boxes. I tried to imagine folding the flat surface into a 3-dimensional shape, and I felt my brain grind to a halt. I spent 10 minutes staring at that flat box, willing it to become something, anything, and then the timer went off. Pencils down.
As an adult the world unfolds before me like that box, and I still don’t know the answer.
The good thing about being geographically challenged is that my life is inherently spontaneous and unpredictable. Romantic comedies are full of free-spirited hipster girls who grab strange boys and say, “Let’s go get lost!” These people are committed to the pursuit of random adventures, but I’ve never had to try. I could carefully plan a trip to the dentist and all the Google maps in the world couldn’t save me from ending up at a boilermakers’ union meeting two towns over. I meet a lot of people, too, since it’s hard to be shy when you’re lost. “Excuse me, but could you tell me where I am?” is a surprisingly good conversation starter (and in case you were wondering, boilermakers are indeed a friendly bunch).
Of course there are downsides to the lost lifestyle. I’m always running late. I waste enough gas to power a fleet of cruise ships. My GPS and I are locked in a relationship so explosive and codependent even Bella and Edward Cullen would be appalled. And perhaps worst of all, I’ve become suspicious of my own instincts. The times I’ve ended up crying at a Plaid Pantry 40 miles from my destination were usually the times I was absolutely sure that I was on the right track. I try to outsmart myself, to do the opposite of my instincts like George Costanza in “Seinfeld.” He ordered chicken salad on rye instead of tuna on toast; I turn right instead of left. Unfortunately this strategy still results in getting lost, just in the opposite direction.
You know what, though? I’m not sure I would change my wandering ways if I could. I’ve learned a lot from getting lost. I’ve met interesting people and stumbled upon unforgettable places. I have become intimately familiar with uncertainty. I am comfortable with taking wrong turns. I can readily admit that I have no idea where I’m going or how to get there.
But I know I will get there, eventually.