Tag Archives: aging

Love & the Road: the stuff of nightmares?

I don’t dream with the frequency that I did before the divorce. Now and then I still have deeply symbolic nightmares.

A bit of set up: I met a nice gentleman on my journey who was kind, attractive, and intelligent. We had several fun conversations and enjoyed the same music from the same era though he was several years younger than I. We both love poetry and reading and shared our histories readily. He treated me to the tour of the Caverns of Sonora, dinner, and several starlit strolls with Sammy in the frigid winter air. All in all, despite age and origin differences, we had many things in common.

Obviously, I couldn’t let THAT go on.

Then, the second night I had one of those “this symbolism is so obvious it’s stupid” nightmares.

I dreamed I was a very attractive, youngish, homeless woman who had been killed in a rage by her childhood sweetheart. I haunted the place of my death but people who saw me only saw a lonely, waifish young woman. I would talk to them, entertain their advances only so far, then abruptly disappear.

On one such occasion a man took too much liking to me and got too amorous. While he meant no harm, he was playing at being aggressive because he thought it was sexy. My “character” began to panic and started warning him, “Stop! I will hurt you!” repeating this over and over, louder and louder. I began punching, biting, scratching, screaming until he let go with a hurt and shocked expression. My now non-corporeal self was flung backwards as it had been in my death and, as in my death, began bleeding profusely from a huge gash in my torso. Invisible hands dragged me away slowly as had my former love when he tried to conceal his crime. The poor man who simply wanted to fool around with a pretty girl, stared on in terror as an unseen force dragged me away leaving a thick trail of bright red blood on the concrete.

I awoke.

Such dreams take me several minutes from which to recover and gather my thoughts.

When, after about fifteen minutes, I was awake, clear, and had processed the dream, the symbolism slapped me hard.

I am in no way like that girl on the surface: I am “a woman of a certain age”, a little “fluffy”, and only passably attractive. Yet, I do somehow get attention from men. I am alone in this world now which is in itself something that attracts people.

The more important aspects of the dream are these:

I have referred to, in writing, my love relationships as “bleeding out” in a gradual process for thirty nine years. From first love to first marriage to second marriage to first-love-after-divorce I have experienced my vision of love and the men who present it to me as a “death by a thousand cuts.”

While I am not at all bitter at this point (I do not hate men!), I am entirely untrusting. I may feel completely comfortable with the person, but never comfortable with their hearts or my ability to navigate them.

A boy told me he loved me and slept with my best friend.

A man told me he couldn’t live without me while sleeping with exotic dancers and fretting he might get HIV (it was the 80s).

A man told me I was the love of his life and he was still in love with me yet held the divorce door open for me because exploring/fixing why we were constantly arguing was just too scary for him.

Lastly, a man told me I was his ideal woman but the timing was wrong.

So when a man tells me, “I think you’re amazing and would love to get to know you,” all my alarms go off.

Naturally, I screamed, “I will hurt you!” in some quiet, metaphorical way, and let the loves of my past drag my bloody corpse away from my new friend.

I have said many times recently and in many ways that I foresee a life alone from this point on. There are numerous reasons, not least of which are the houseless life I have chosen, my age, a heart still tied up in the last man, and a strong desire to be utterly independent. Ultimately however, being alone looks to come from my experiences and the doubt it has foisted on me.

To my new friend I met
on the RV-life trail
I’m sorry for the bloody corpse.

Someday these cuts may heal.

And yes, J, you were right. I miss your easy laugh and conversation. I miss our common ground, of all sorts. Wish I’d gotten that playlist, too.

Boondocking in Texas: The Davis Mountains & Accepting Fate

Most trees in the Davis Mountains are stunted —low to the ground as if cowering from the sunlight. Mesquite, evergreen sumac, cholla, and pinyon juniper — all scattered yet multitudinous. I can imagine their careful root systems through the hard sandy soil, inching through time until they run into their neighbors’ roots, whereupon these thirsty tentacles shrink back in deference but—only so far.

There are exceptions, oak, madrone, ponderosa pine have all found footholds in this ancient, weather beaten, volcanic landscape.

Most of these plants keep some kind of winter foliage as if survival here means never giving the parched land (approx. 16.5” precipitation annually) a chance to get the upper hand.

It’s here I have found myself in utter darkness on a January night, curled up inside Blanche, truly “boondocking” for the first time. I have heard one vehicle pass us since we parked six hours prior. It’s 11 pm and in the dark with my propane heater cycling, Sammy snoring, no Internet, not even a signal to inform loved ones that I am safe and comfortable, I have finally reached emotional equilibrium.

My phone informs me it is “wind down” time and for a split second, I think that means the wind is down so I can relax. Of course, that’s a long “i” and it is telling me I need to prepare to sleep if I want to awaken at 6:00 bright and alert.

The wind is blessedly calm here in this canyon. Because it is winter, there’s simply no sound at all. No crickets or katydids. No amorous coyotes. We passed javelina and deer on the way into the canyon but they have surely bedded down against the cold night as well. I have no idea how cold this night will be. I don’t retain information like that anymore. I looked at numerous forecasts for several towns. It’s either in the 30s or freezing. Boondocking below freezing isn’t ideal. I need to run the heater even if I don’t want to use too much propane. I know my other tank is full but I also know if I have to get to it, I will be fighting with it in the cold in complete darkness. There are no street lights here and there is no moon. The stars are brilliant but the cold keeps me at bay.

This was my plan: boondocking, that is. The isolation of the spot? Not so much. I couldn’t tell much on the app about the location. I got a late start so going farther to see if a better rest stop lay ahead is unrealistic. We arrived here moments before the southwestern sky turned deep orange and crimson and I settled for Blanche on a nose-down slope and no other humans for miles.

I didn’t cry.

It was a close call though. When I realized the cell signal I had just moments before I rolled around the bend and downhill was now nonexistent, my gut began to lurch. I worried I was going to revisit the unpleasant chicken sandwich I had half consumed back in Van Horn.

We are naturally and necessarily afraid of the dark. It’s not a silly childhood fear although many a modern-day, light-at-your-fingertips parent chastises their child as such. Fear of the dark is hard-wired in us. We have to learn to not be afraid of it through parental reassurance and other social conditioning. A healthy respect for the danger of it remains within as we walk dark streets and dark woods and venture into dark houses and basements. It is utterly rational to be afraid or anxious of these unlit places.

So when I accepted our fate at this “Depression era rest area” in blooming nowhere, it was still light out and I was fine. Not happy. Not comfortable. Not scared.

When night fell early as it does in winter, and I had only my most basic resources (but thank the universe for this new phone with its excellent battery) THAT is when I became unsettled. That is when my reptilian brain reminded me that humans get eaten by bears and gored by angry javelina moms and what if someone said this was a safe overnight parking place on the app just so unsuspecting nitwits like me would park and be vulnerable without her cell reception?

The perfectly rational fear of the dark became irrational.

I crawled under the covers with dog, got the urge to snack to ease my discomfort, and began to think of other options. I could pack Sammy and me back in the truck, throw the chocks back in Blanche and lift the tongue jack and head back out. Go back toward I-10 and hope I found something before dawn. Or head on to Fort Davis and look for a better spot there or even see if they had available spots at the pricey RV place in town.

Or just stay. My maps didn’t work without a signal so I couldn’t be sure what I was heading into either way nor how long it would take.

I stayed.

I sat in the dark, missing humans, well, a human. I wanted to text anyone really, or call some presence out there in the ether for reassurance that if worst came to worst, they’d come get me and take care of me. But I hadn’t even been specific with my brother about where I was going to stay the night so all he knew was that I was heading for the Fort Davis, TX or Marfa, TX.

Then the oddest thought struck me and it will sound negative or even cruel but isn’t meant to be: My biggest fear in this moment is, have I put myself in danger?

Rather than answer that directly, I answered with a hypothetical. So what if this is my last night on this earth?

So what?

Disregarding for a moment that the loss would hurt others, it ultimately means nothing to me. I will simply be gone. I have done, in the last few months, things I never expected to do when I was still married: Published poetry online & in print, had a lover, fallen in love, lived alone in a house, lived alone in a camper, traveled across Texas alone pulling said camper, made my own repairs to said camper, and finally, boondocked in the middle of an ancient cluster of hills and mountains near the U.S.-Mexico border with just the dog, a propane heater, and some nice memories.

There was a time when I would tell you that though I didn’t fear my death, I did care that I hadn’t done the things I wanted to do in my life and I regretted that. I didn’t care about my life, nonetheless. Recently, that’s been turning around and I care about my life in that I want to make the most of these last years, however many there are of them. I would tell you now that I don’t fear my death AND I don’t feel I must accomplish anything in particular before I die. Would I like to do so? Sure. I simply no longer have that fear of a wasted life. I don’t expect to ever love again. I don’t expect to ever be particularly useful to society or produce anything of value. I am useful to my family and that’s enough.

In the morning I will drive away from this secluded little spot, assuming the chaotic universe allows. I had considered doubling back to I-10; go the safe route and make my journey back to Dallas and my grandbabies less exciting but safer.

I think, if my phone tells me I have the fuel, I will go to Fort Davis instead. Take the long way home as I had intended when I packed my truck last night when I had street lights and electricity that gave me courage. When cottonwood and elm were bright and airy and reaching tall into the winter sky because they had the Rio Grande seep feeding their roots.

Tomorrow I’ll put faith in the crouching trees and dark, narrow rivers of blacktop, set my phone to “shuffle” and sing my way east.

https://vm.tiktok.com/TTPdMSAhvn/

Writing in a Mobile Age: A Dinosaur Learns a New Trick

I am fifty-seven. I grew up in a time of pencils, ballpoints, fountain pens, and typewriters.

I have, in the past, used (preferred) pencil or pen on legal pads to compose stories or poems. I felt that push and pull of the writing instrument on the page to be inspiring and rewarding.

In recent years, I would hear about young people composing entire chapters of novels on their phones and think they were absolutely insane. How can you track, mentally and mechanically, your ideas on a tiny screen? How can you be connected to your words and their taste, smell, texture, when you are clicking on glass that has almost no tactile feedback at all?

Then, in 2019, I had a crisis in my twenty-nine year marriage and couldn’t sit still. Couldn’t watch tv. Couldn’t read a book. Couldn’t write a letter. Yet, the emotions of the crisis were vast and overwhelming. How do I deal with them?

I picked up my phone one day while out on the deck overlooking the beach and allowed my thumbs to skip over the glass.

In moments, I had the first poem I had written in years. The next day, another. Then a blog entry. Then another. Then more poems.

So many words I had contained for months (in some cases years) were spilling out of me. I was feeling, if not full relief, at least not so bundled up in pain.

I was surprised at just how much I connected with the words. How quickly they fell onto the screen and how cleanly they fell. At times, they felt (and still feel) much like they had in my youth, as if I was not the one writing them at all but some greater force had taken over (and I am not the spiritual sort).

I still write with my pens and pencils. I edit with my favorite fountain pens and bright, cheerful inks. However, the best flow comes on the little 3”x 6.25” computer in my hand.

This blog entry began its life just so. All my blog posts now begin and are fleshed out on my phone, move to my laptop, are sometimes printed for review/editing, then are posted.

Somehow, it connects. Somehow, I still sense these words as I did when writing with pen and paper. I still feel as linked to the words, ideas, and emotions as I ever did through a nib on fiber. I am a bit humbled by this realization. I am fifty-seven and I have been forced to recognize that art is not lost or bastardized in or by technology despite the protests of many of my generation (I am on the Boomer cusp). At the same time, I hope this also shows that we are not all floundering dinosaurs, insisting that “the old way is best.” Nor is the new way superior. It’s the typewriter vs. computer argument of old which was once the pen vs. typewriter argument. And that was once the quill vs. fountain pen argument.

Ultimately, the way that works best is the way that works for the individual in the moment. When my heart was calmer I could sit in a quiet room with those seemingly gentler implements and “compose.” Now, in this moment of my life, my heart is panicky and wild and my thumbs need to spatter my creations across the glass instead.

The Joy Between Naps: facing mortality.

When you walk beside someone daily, you don’t always see the subtle changes in their bodies and faces as they age. Perhaps, now and then, you take a step back and look critically and realize they’ve put on ten pounds or they’ve developed lines around their eyes or their hands are age-spotted. But you don’t typically pay attention to these details day to day when you love someone. It’s a human trait, this blissful blindness to the truth about aging. We are all young in the Garden forever—until we aren’t.

It’s no different with our pets; we might see them slowing down, sleeping a little more, playing a little less if we really stopped and thought about it. But most of the time we still see the young dog we’ve seen since we got it past the “destroy everything in the house” stage or the playful cat we have cuddled since we convinced the rescue kitten that humans weren’t all bad.

I have watched our Big Dog (BD) age and been aware of the little things: the scars from this scrape or that, the increasing number of skin tags, the thinning fur. His muzzle has been graying since he was five. He has lost muscle mass both due to age and due to decreased mobility caused by his heart condition, but I hadn’t given it a great deal of thought. Then some months ago as we drove down the interstate and the old boy slept soundly in the back seat, my husband said, “He’s looking old.”

I hadn’t noticed up to that point. More accurately, I had chosen not to notice.

I take pictures of Big Dog several times a week, desperately trying to capture him in these waning months, and I had not registered any significant difference in appearance in the BD of that day versus the BD of pre-heart disease. Slower, yes. More confused, definitely. But “looking old”? No. He was still my puppy. He would always be my puppy—the boy we brought home at nine months, healthy, happy, playful.

av-4

Almost two and “helping” Daddy plant a new flower bed. (Spring 2007)

A few days later, I screwed up the courage to look at him with the eyes not of a person in love but a person who admits that pet dogs don’t usually outlive fifty-four-year-old owners.

I saw the sunken temporal area above his eyes, the crown of his skull turned pointed and prominent, the spreading gray, (endearingly, even on his hindquarters). There is less and less muscle on tired old bones. His coat has become rough and wool-like in spots rather than the smooth, soft fur that it once was. I also found a lump on his left cheek (we later learned this is a tumor that can’t be removed and continues to grow into his neck and ear).

lomb

Big Dog at just under thirteen years old. (Summer 2018)

What I didn’t see that is common in large old dogs were callouses on elbows or knees. The boy has had a pretty cushy life. Or should I say, “cushiony”?  He’s always had at least one good bed wherever we lived, yet usually sleeps on the couch. We have loved and spoiled and medically cared for our dog with as much compassion (and dollars) as we would any child. Some might argue, more so.

About thirteen months ago we almost lost Big Dog to congestive heart failure. The kinds of heart medicines that have been developed by researchers (like those I used to work with developing medicine for humans) saved him and have kept him not only alive but happy. Then as now, we don’t know how much time we have with him.

This time with loved ones is always an unknown and this year that has been made excrutiatingly clear to me with the death of a beloved human sister. Now, perhaps because that loss remains so raw in my heart, I’ve begun to see, every day, these incremental changes in Big Dog as he walks into furniture, stares at walls for long moments as if they contain answers, and follows our voices in the wrong direction.

He is not ready to leave yet. He bounces and woofs when he wants a treat and gets excited about his nightly apple bites from Daddy. He still enjoys exploring the edges of the dunes and the street in front of our house and he delights in sunbathing on the deck on a warm day. There is still joy between long naps.

bddeck2

I am happy to see him enjoying such seemingly small things without the anticipation of his own mortality.

I am sad for us and our keen awareness of it.

The fruit of the tree of knowledge, were I a believer in such a thing, surely held that we are all finite creatures and our “downfall” was that we would forever struggle against that limitation, unlike our pets that simply love and live.

bdshoot2.jpg

Still beautiful to us, Old Man. We love you.