The leaves were the wrong color. They were beautiful, no doubt about it. Lush greens against a clear blue sky. But he was used to golden and red foliage in late September so, in his heart, they were simply the wrong color.
He stopped the jeep by the side of the road to take another look at the battered piece of paper that was supposed to be a map to the refinery complex. Tiny red and blue veins crisscrosses it in elaborate patterns but made it no more clearer where he was. Deep inside he knew that what he really hoped to find was a conspicuous “you are here” sign, preferably in red letters. But sadly it was nowhere to be found. He reluctantly admitted he was lost.
The sun was nearly setting, and he had been driving for most of the day now. With no other real options, he drove the jeep off the road and parked into a nearby clearing, ready to settle down for an uncomfortable night in the backseat.
The stars were incredibly bright as he stared at them thru the sunroof. He knew all their names by heart, and a whole lot more about them. He had, after all, almost finished his Phd in Astrophysics.
His heart felt a bit heavy. How did he end up here?
The logical answer, which he always gave to his friends and family, was that there were no real good job opportunities in astronomy, so why not make good use of his physics degree? The pay was good, and they would send him to many interesting places, all on the oil company’s tab.
But just as that old map in the glove compartment, life was far more complicated than that. He wished it was as clean and simple as a crossroads. But there was no specific big event that had forever reshaped his destiny. Instead, very much like the subtle maze of tiny bifurcating trails he had just gotten lost into, a thousand small decisions had slowly steered him off his desired course.
Broken relationships, a couple of uninspiring teachers, academic bureaucracy, fear of uncertainty… in his head the list went on and on.
The job was interesting indeed, and the pay wasn’t bad either. But just like the leaves, it felt subtly wrong. He just couldn’t shake the feeling he was simply in the wrong place.
Tomorrow he would check the map again and find the right trail to the refinery. Deep inside, a part of him wished it could do the same, just check a map and get his life back in course.
He was still looking at the stars when sleep finally got the best of him. As he slowly closed his eyes, a single tear ran down his cheek.