He pledged his allegiance to the Comfort Zone.
It was a neighborhood into which he moved gradually, fighting for years to obtain an address there. Though it cannot be plotted with coordinates on a map, it is a well-known region. Its landmarks are clear and individually customized to its residents. Emotions are modulated here. It is safe. When dangers lurk, the Zone goes into lock down. As long as one’s ventures remain close to home, the Zone is there to offer haven, like a womb.
His designer Zone is tailored to his regimens, preferences, tastes, and habits. The hours he keeps, his diet, grooming protocols, and even the sights and sounds of his environment are carefully calibrated, excruciatingly precise. Visitors are carefully chosen. The boundaries are drawn tightly. Alarms sound when intruders from the Danger Zone – such as Anxiety – threaten entry.
Security from fear is not the only landmark of this neighborhood. Challenge and Difference, two other marauding forces, are also banished from this territory by custom. It is a predictable, familiar home. He does not wish to leave.
Paradise the Comfort Zone is not. The price one pays to live there is high. Risk brings opportunity, but risk is banished from the Zone. Risk brings understanding, but some truths are too painful to know. Risk may allow for love and companionship of ecstatic proportions, but this is the scariest intruder of all, because its trajectory is uncertain and could crash land into a field of pain. The lease for the Zone is explicit: Risk may visit but never remain. Safety trumps change, even positive change.
What highway did he travel to arrive in this land? What traumas drove him to this sanitized world? Has it become more his prison than his palace?
The stone-strewn streets of a refugee’s life are littered with stinging images. His own barefoot journey left its scars. There was the isolation, the loneliness, the struggle. There was longing for community, for identity, for meaning. He had to build his own road at a tender age in a hostile world. It was a nearly impossible task. Bit by bit, he made progress, but with each step forward, he left markers; these markers became part of his Atlas for Life. His Atlas was both a bread-crumb trail and a self-devised structure in a structure-less universe. Ultimately, the Atlas led him here.
For years, the Comfort Zone was a near-perfect place. He could count on it. He could travel in and out at will. He decorated his home in it; he led his life from it; he traveled afar and returned to it. The Zone was his home base, his bomb shelter, his retreat. When Life was too hard, too confusing, he ducked into the warm arms of the Zone, temporarily calmed. He told himself that this was enough.
It was enough, until he met a citizen from an adjoining locale. She visited the Zone and surveyed its acreage. She abided by its rules when she visited. She respected its governance and came to adore this resident. She left no mark on his rituals. Sometimes, he responded when she beckoned him to her place – a loud, unpredictable, dramatic, joyous, cacophonous, difficult, unruly, and sometimes dangerous neighborhood. He was intrigued at first, and sometimes terrified, yet also intoxicated by its voluptuous promise. For four months, he came to her nightly, romancing her as well as her world. The colors and tastes and complexities of this universe contrasted dramatically with the plodding rhythm of his own. He found it strangely intoxicating. He romanced her, he romanced her world.
And then panic set in.
It occurred to him that he was cavorting with the Siren of Risk. This was strictly against the lease agreement. His instinct of retreat militated against his newfound passion for this strange, weedy new plot of land. What should he do? Should he run for cover and turn the locks, or reinvent himself according to this sweet but scary new terrain? The mere question caused him to curl into a fetal position. What to do, what to do?
At first, he vacillated between the Zone and the Weeds. He would make it a few weeks, sometimes even a month, tented in the wilds of her world, but it would never last. Out of nowhere, the panic would return, sending him into irrational fits that only his haven could calm. The seesaw went on for years. Over time, the visits lasted longer and the terror diminished. The attacks waned, too. Could it be that he was losing his need, and even his preference, for his safe but lonely home base? Had his friend become some sort of exposure therapy, allowing him to gain a sense of control over his emotions?
The view from his perch finally lost its allure. When he peered out the window of his constructed little world, all he saw was grayness. He noted a crack in the ceiling, which had been there, he suspected, for some time but escaped notice. Now it bothered him daily. He wandered from room to room, searching for a nameless thing. Where were the warm arms? Where were his markers?
This is how he came to become a citizen of her world. By now, he had learned the language, the pace, the artifacts, and the rules of his adopted home. It was not perfect, but it charmed him. He learned, the longer he stayed, that he could make peace with his panic even here. He packed his bags, gave his notice, and never looked back. Ex Pat adieu, Comfort Zone; the promise of the Real World beckons.