I told my friend, I was getting out of town for a couple of days by myself. I had made no real plans, hoping to leave my days free for possibility.
“You’re going on a single lady adventure,” she exclaimed.
I hadn’t put it in those terms, but yes, I guess I was. Vacations were never something I did alone, despite being a person that requires a lot of solitude. Road trips with friends were plentiful in my twenties. In my thirties, I began travelling with my husband, and then my children. But a trip with just myself was something new.
The timing was perfect, because I have been stressed and could use some time to sort it out. Life has brought about some recent changes, and I’m still figuring out how to handle all of them. My husband’s work schedule has changed, leaving me on my own with the kids for about half of the week. I miss the way we used to tag team things- one of us playing with the kids while the other cooked dinner. I miss talking to him as we load the dishwasher together. I feel silly saying that- its only half the week. Then I think, its HALF the week.
I still miss my brother, Chris. Of course that is not surprising or likely to go away. But I’ve had a recent series of dreams where I relive hearing about his death, and that immediate realization of loss. I wake up and the feeling is still there, muted with time, but present.
I’m still negotiating this transition to working mom, mostly in the form of struggling to maintain friendships. We’re busy. Our schedules don’t coincide anymore. I miss the random texts I used to get from friends throughout the day, something about the kids making us crazy or some planned activity that went awry. Now, I can go most of the week without talking to my friends. Even for someone who craves solitude it starts to feel lonely.
Mostly, I continue to participate in the ongoing battle of who I want to be versus who I actually am. I want to be a person who accepts her body as is, but I find myself analyzing photographs to see if my stomach looks fat. If I appear happy in the photo is a secondary consideration. I want to be a good friend, and I feel like I have gravitated toward women that bring out good things in me. Then I drink too much and find myself reverting to a gossipy mean girl. I want to do good things in my community and fight for the things that are important to me. Then I get tired, or unmotivated, or overwhelmed. To put it simply, sometimes it’s a struggle to be my best self.
Most of the time, I keep plugging along, knowing that slow progress is still progress. But then I have one of those times where I’m just frustrated with everything that I do. I spiral into a trap of self loathing. Of course, when this happens, there is only one thing to do- VACATION! Bleech. Ok, not my best transition. But I haven’t written in so long. Haven’t been drawing. And I need to do those things. I mean, I really need them. So stay with me. This won’t be my best post, but I just have to put something out there. Perhaps you can relate.
I hop in the car and head for Bisbee, Arizona- a historical mining town with a hippie bent. But not before I say goodbye to my children, being careful to tell them “I love you” and not “Be good.” Because if I am in a tragic accident, I don’t want my final words to them to be a commandment on behavior. And yes, I do actually think all of this before leaving.
I hit the road. My car is stocked with CDs pilfered from Chris’s collection after his death. Some were bands I knew he loved, some just looked interesting, some were bands I had been meaning to check out but never did. In the last category was the Melvins. I put on the CD and my love for the Melvins was instant and all encompassing. Jesus, how had I missed this band? Who am I? I used to be a person that knew music. I made artwork emblazoned with lyrics from Faith No More. I am now a person that listens to NPR 99.9% of the time because I just can’t deal with picking something else. Why had I let that person go? Bordering on calling myself an asshole, I reminded myself that this weekend was to get back in touch with myself, get back on track. Surely berating myself for my lack of musical exposure would be counter intuitive to that process. But as I drove, I wanted to telepathically send a message to every mother I knew shouting “Do this! Get in your car and drive! Lisen to YOUR music! Do it now!”
That feeling came to an abrupt end when I arrived at my hotel. I had chosen this particular hotel because it was supposed to have theme rooms and I thought that sounded fun. I think the theme might have been “early stages of meth addiction.” Not the later stages, mind you, where the hotel would have been Motel 8 with nicotine stained walls and spiders crawling in the sink. The more fun, quirky stages of meth, where a filled ashtray just outside of your room does not seem like a lack of cleanliness but rather is an invitation to relax. The innkeeper shows me to my closet, er, I mean room, and is kind enough to keep a steady stream of club music pumping from her phone the entire time.
I head out to find food, and am drawn to the Old Bisbee Brewing Company. I am going to make a night of it. Eat, hit a few bars, go against my antisocial nature and talk to people. Except the brewing company has no food. And I didnt eat lunch. And I get worried that after two drinks and no food, I’m going to be in bad shape. Its a long walk back to my hotel. Its after dark and I’m alone. Is it safe? Jesus, I have kids to think about! I opt for a sampler of beer, and instead of downing all the variities, I only drink the ones that taste good. I am such a grownup. I find my journal and work on a doodle. I am so zen. Hey strangers, look at how peaceful I am.
I return to my hotel and the methhead inn keeper in full party mode, bouncing from room to room, offering me wine, stepping outside for frequent smokes, disappearing every so often for god knows what. She tells me her friend, the investigative reporter, is set arrive at any minute. How am I not going to sit and have a glass of wine? I make small talk with a midwife and a recent retiree, before the IR arrives. I can not help but pepper him with questions about his most salacious story (a local official who was driving a government vehicle when he crashed it and died. The investigation said there were no signs of alcohol, but the photos showed a car littered with bottles). But I am just not good at this conversing with strangers thing. Every time they ask me a question, I just wish they would talk to someone else. I adjourn to my room. I fall asleep at 9:30pm watching old Seinfeld episodes. I’m really living. I do not think about how I could be doing this at home, in my own bed, with my nice husband right next to me.
I awake the following morning determined to have adventure. Dammit! I’m going hiking! Because walking is an adventure as long as you call it hiking. I google trails in Bisbee and get some meandering instructions to follow a road to its end, go past a no trespassing sign and look for some natural land marker because there is no official trail. Nope. Too much. By adventure, I mean a well marked trail with signs along the way blatantly marking where I am supposed to go.
I broaden my google search to trails near Bisbee and find the Coronado National Memorial. Here we go. Thirty minute drive, visotor’s center, offical trails leading to the TOP OF A MOUNTAIN! What says adventure more than summiting a mounain? I’ll tell you what- getting lost on the way back down that mountain because apparently I need more than the standard trail signs,scrambling through a mile or so of unmarked terrain, all while wondering if I am going to step on a snake (despite it being too cold for them to be out), happen upon some AZ variation of poison ivy (despite all the ground vegetation seeming to be dead), or get stranded in the woods (despite being able to see the roof of the visitors center).
I decide after walking 32,000 steps, what I really need is not adventure. I need a burger, a beer, and a bath. When I check in to my new hotel and get my first climpse of the clawfoot tub, I nearly break out in tears. I get the burger and the beer and start to feel like myself again.
On the long adventurous hike, I had a lot of time to think. A friend told me recently that instead of saying “I’m sorry” say “Thank you.” For the past few weeks, I felt like I was on an “I’m sorry” jag- sorry for making mistakes, not being worthy, being human, being an asshole sometimes. I stopped, then and there on that trail, I stopped. I thanked the universe for two beautiful children, a husband who watches them so his wife could have an adventure, a day free to get lost in the woods, strong legs to carry me all of those miles.
What if instead of all these battles I’m constantly fighting myself in my head, I just accepted that I am flawed and that is ok? Sometimes I drink too much and am gossipy. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think I’m pretty cute. Other times, I want to swaddle my entire body in spanx. Having either of those feelings doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist. It means I’m a work in progress and I still have room to grow.
It’s ok to not love when my husband has to work late. It’s alright to miss silly things like texting my girlfriends. I am allowed to still miss my brother even though he passed away awhile ago. It doesn’t make me a bad person to not have it all figured out.
In the last 16 hours, I’ve taken three baths. Because I really love baths and don’t have a large clawfoot tub. Even now, I am sitting on the edge of the tub, typing this post.
I could beat myself up for wasting water. Or I could see that I made the most of an opportunity that was afforded me. It is all in how I focus my gaze.
More than adventure, what I needed was time to just be who I am and to have that be a beautiful thing, or at the very least enough. I feel very lucky that I got exactly that.