Throughout Jack Kerouac’s classic novel On the Road there are countless references to various types of travel. The novel itself is focused around travel. What struck me most while reading was Sal’s transformation as a character throughout his physical travel in the novel. One passage stuck out to me immediately while reading and reminded me distinctly of the night before I left for college. Early in the novel during Sal’s lengthy inner monologue he states, “ ...and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was- I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel…” (Kerouac 15).
What struck me most was the line “when i didn’t know who I was”. I vividly remember the night before I moved into college. We had made the long trip from Connecticut to Maryland and stayed in my cousins house about an hour away from Loyola for the night. Midway we had dropped my sister off at a friend in New Jersey. I remember saying goodbye to her didn’t feel real. It was like saying I’ll see you in a few days, not months. I am the oldest child of an incredibly close knit family so this was a huge transition for everyone. My mom came in and kissed me goodnight, and as she was leaving she hesitated in the doorway, “do you want me to sleep with you tonight?” she asked. “of course not mom. I’m fine” I answered. In reality I was terrified of what was to come. I stared at the ceiling fan clutching my stuffed dog I’ve had since I was four. I remember thinking everything is changing. Nothing will ever be the same again. I had lived in the same house for eighteen years. I didn’t know anything else but my small Connecticut town. I knew my place, who I was in that community. All of a sudden, that was essentially gone. It was both liberating and absolutely terrifying. I could be anything I wanted, but I didn’t know who I wanted to be. I didn’t know what I was. There was this distinct sense of having absolutely no idea who I was anymore.
It’s interesting how being in a new place can do that to a person. It’s not as if your past is all of a sudden erased, it is still a part of you. But without familiar people and places, you lose your anchors, so to speak. You in a way, lose what makes you, you, and that can be very disorienting. This feeling generally only lasts for a certain amount of time, be it a moment, as in Sal’s case, or longer as it was for me. I was able to reconcile my past with my present as I began to make a life here. But I still remember that moment, staring at the ceiling fan, in a strange house the night before my life changed forever.