A two-month break from parenting? Sounds like a single-mother’s dream, right? Friends and acquaintances politely inquire about the kids and then, “Where are you going to go? Are you doing something fun?”
It comes to me slowly, that, last summer when they visited their dad, I didn’t take any time off from work, and I sanded and painted the kitchen cabinets. Even though it was nice to finally get rid of the puke colored paint in the kitchen, I wonder if I missed something. I nod in approval of the sentiment that I should be evicted from the house this time by something kin to an Outward Bound adventure in the Rockies or a multi-week Walk Across America trip. Go ye out in the world and find your dreams, or at least a good quote to make sense of the last year of chaos!
I spend hours recalling U.S. geography, obtaining and studying maps, and googling scenic byways, cities and elevation data. I visit expert backpacking friends and ask questions about campgrounds and parks. I lose myself on YouTube trying to imagine myself driving picturesque roads and traversing across streams and through canyons like the young stud on YouTube. I end up wishing I was 30 years younger with a new all terrain vehicle. The weather report has smoke from Colorado wildfires decreasing visibility to half a mile and 128 degree heat scorching Death Valley. I wonder, not for the first time, why lengthy visitations always occur during the hottest part of the year. And anyway, solitude is heaven, but who wants to go into the Wild alone and bear the responsibility of making it out safely in time for the kids’ return? Cheryl Strayed’s story was inspiring, but she was half my age when she lit out on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Finally, I discard the Adventure eviction idea but morph it into a mystery Retreat plan that will function to keep me away from the distractions of home. Distractions. We all have them, create them, and use them, often unaware that we are doing so. If I have to paint all the kitchen cabinets, I won’t have to think about what I want or what I feel. If I am going on an Adventure, I have to plan it, research it, gather everything, organize. I won’t have time to look at myself. It all becomes just another avoidance technique.
No longer distracted with travel plans, I think about Strayed’s book, how her writing captivated me and what it was that touched me. She slowly became connected. I want connection with the earth, with the weather, trees, water, animals, and people. One of the many life-changes Strayed dealt with on her backpacking adventure was a recent divorce, disconnection with a capital D, as in Divorce. It hits me how my divorce is a metaphor for my own disconnection.
I remember my surprise, as the divorce proceedings unfolded over time, at the magnitude of what a divorce actually is. Who would’ve thought that it was more than just the end of a twenty-year relationship? It is the end of innocence, the end of trust that you won’t be drop kicked, the end of family reunions and friendships from the other side of the table, the end of a myth “for as long as we both shall live,” the end of “through thick and thin,” the end of assuming I am desirable, and the end of believing I can love without hurting and be loved without being hurt. Or so it seems.
When I carry all of these “end of’s” in my backpack to a meeting with another guy who is carrying his own backpack of “end of’s,” it can look like two beautiful magnets repelling each other every time they try to click. Maybe it is time to lighten my load, so I can connect with not only the other, but myself. It’s time to find the truths within that clean a window into my heart and being. I cannot keep painting a wall that keeps me out of my stuff. I want to trust that what I’ve done is true, à la Cheryl Strayed, “that my life is mysterious and sacred,” and can be shared with another—whatever the consequences.