3,679. That’s the exact number of people who live in my town. All 3,679 people here are so kind, and everyone here genuinely cares about everyone else. This town’s small boundaries are filled with so much pure and kind love that it almost fills the space where people should be. Almost. My entire life is in this town, and I’m not sure what will happen when I choose to leave. But I know that someday I will have to leave. I will have to let go and leave the loving embrace that I live in. I need to drive through my charmingly rusted town and onward beyond its graying limits.

My bedroom at home in this town is plain. Gray-colored walls are interrupted by windows with views of a gray-colored sky. It feels like there’s no color in this room, except for one thing. A little map hangs behind my bed, all stuck up with rainbow-colored pins. A pin for each place I want to go in the world. A red pin stuck to Tokyo, a green one poking into Dubai. A teal pin in the middle of Rome, and a purple one in the middle of London. 

This map, plastered with my Technicolor future, creates a stark contrast with the rest of my gray world. A world filled with people who go to high school here, work here, get married here, and live on the ends of cul-de-sacs until they die here. 

This kind of repetitive simplicity is for many a comforting concept. The feeling of having your whole life laid out for you is something of a blessing. The alternative, after all, is chaotic; a life of never really knowing anything for sure. 

I have no clue what my future is. I don’t know where I will be in 5, 10, and definitely not 20 years. I don’t know what city I will live in, what job I will have, who I will love, or even if I’ll be alive to see any of these things. But I want my life this way. I thrive off of the messiness, the fantastic fear of not knowing, the beautiful mystery that my future is shrouded in. 

But there is no mystery here. Every year for the last 3 generations has been exactly the same. There has always been a Memorial Day parade. Trick-or-treat always runs from 6 to 8 on the Friday before Halloween. There is a Sheepshead tournament every Wednesday night in the church basement.

Without mystery, I see no reason to stay here. 

I’ll travel to some new place, some new city. I’ll spend time there in a tie-dye haze, soaking up all of the colors of a new, different world. I cannot wait to live fearlessly brightly. 

But there is something I still fear.

What happens if, even in this new place I go to, the dye starts to fade? What will I do when the fresh paint that coats my new life starts to crack and fall away? 

I fear that any place will turn gray for me if I stay in it for too long. Even if there’s 3,679,000 people, if there are several Memorial Day parades, if trick-or-treat lasts for days, if you can play Sheepshead any night of the week. I am worried that what makes my town so gray is not my walls, the sky, or the simplicity of life here. I am worried that my town is only gray because that is the color I am choosing to paint it.

Maybe other places in the world are gray in different ways. Skyscrapers and sidewalks, mountains and roads are all still different shades of gray. 

And not only can the world be a physically gray place, but sometimes it seems to feel gray too. The bullets we shoot at each other are gray. Smoke is gray. Our jail cells are gray. Hurricanes are gray. Shades of gray such as these tend to spill out, leaking all over the place and darkening the bright colors that we are surrounded by.

At least where I am now, I face a much more benign form of colorlessness. The small bubble, the miniscule corner of this planet that I live in is gray, not because of the darkness that hangs over it, but because of the nothingness that happens within it. It isn’t a dark place, it’s just a plain and colorless place. A town like a blank canvas, with nothing around to add any color.

But from where I am sitting right now, I can see my map and my pins. My pink Sydney, my yellow Los Angeles, my orange Berlin. As I look at it, I can imagine what the rest of the rainbow world looks like, outside of my little bubble. All of the rainbow streets filled with rainbow cars and rainbow people and all of their colorful selves. Every single person living their very own life, tinged with their own shades and hues. 

However, there are still rainbow people where I am now. Beautiful people with personalities so bright and souls that I hold so dearly to my own. I know that, no matter where in the world I end up, there will be nobody who is quite like the people I surround myself with right now. Sure, there will be other people who are like them, and there will be people who I will probably love, but they won’t be my childhood best friends, or the people who helped me pass chemistry sophomore year. They won’t be the family that made Thanksgiving bearable, or the people who made me laugh until I cried shiny, wonderful tears. 

I don’t want to risk losing the people who make my life so colorful now, but I know deep down that if I leave, this will likely happen. I know that I can find people to add color to my life again in a new place, but I also know that it won’t be the same.

Despite my fears, I know that the only way to find out the true shades and hues of the world is to leave. I have no idea where I will go, but I can only hope that I will do so many beautiful things, and meet so many beautifully bright people. I can only hope that my heart will be filled with enough light and color to illuminate the darkness and gray that will exist around me in my new, big universe.