Tag Archives: autonomy

Wandering: into the earth and out again.

I am wandering with slight aim. I have a goal of Dallas but beyond that, I am uncertain. To that end, after Fort Davis, I simply headed east on I-10 and waited for the mood to strike.

Years before, my then-husband had mollified me with an overnight stay in Sonora, TX where we ventured up a small hiking trail — supposedly the hideout of the Sam & Tom Ketchum gang at some point. While I had little interest in revisiting the hike or the memory it stirred, I thought the town a fair enough place to pull up for the night and contacted the Caverns of Sonora. “First come, first serve,” said the chipper young man on the phone (who would later be our competent and pleasant tour guide).

The Caverns sit atop the fringe of the rolling, rocky Hill Country terrain about eight miles out from Sonora and are well-maintained with friendly atmosphere and personnel. This “attraction” is both a lovely peek into the underground world of the Texas Hill Country and a beautiful camping spot.

The Caverns of Sonora has facilities for campers of all sorts: from tent campers to small travel trailers like mine to fifth wheels and Class A buses. If you can drive it or haul it in, it seems you can set it up at the Caverns and the price is reasonable for water, electricity, showers, and restrooms if you need them. A well-stocked gift shop is on the premises with clothing, jewelry, and geological trinkets of all sorts. I felt utterly at home.

The view from Blanche at The Caverns at Sonora

What I found there on the hilltop was a beautiful, wide expanse at the mercy of winter winds. The blanket of night was almost as dark as the mountains but with a near-180° view of the stars. The Milky Way shimmered and a new friend reminded me of constellations I thought I had long since forgotten. I had the company of small oaks and juniper and we walked on soft grasses that kept Sammy free of foxtails and goat’s head burrs. And of course, I enjoyed the warm, humid depths of the caverns that surprised and impressed with their beauty and variety.

What I also found there, beyond the beauty of the caverns and the surrounding countryside, was a friend, several days of peace, “down time” to drink beer and chatter incessantly, and solid sleep after the dark restless night in the mountains.

It was difficult to leave, especially with only a vague idea of where I was going next and for how long. I could imagine myself there for days, but I could feel myself sliding back into too much comfort again. Back into too much reliance on the kindness of others to make me feel safe emotionally such that I would not move forward. How easy it is for me to make that mistake!

On day three, the wind let up and in 19°F weather, I packed up Blanche, Betty, and Sam, bundled myself in my coat, and said one last, difficult goodbye.

It was both a relief and sadness to pull away from the Caverns. Like most places I visit, I plan to wander back if my time on earth allows. For now, the niggling discomfort of the road is also odd reassurance I am on the right path.

Heading Northeast

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.

Leaving Davis Mountains: Arriving at a new piece of self.

I chose to drive south from my sad little boondocking grounds and make the U to Fort Davis. South of I-10 and the McDonald observatory. The pretty little Texas town has a sweet historical Main Street with easy parking for my truck and trailer — at least in winter. Spring or summer tourism may be another matter as visitors seek the spring bird migration or the observatory.

The drive from my hideaway in the mountains to Fort Davis was pleasant: a quick dip downhill to run the foothills of the old volcanic formations and look out over the high desert that stretches toward the US-Mexico border followed by a deep U-turn northward back into the mountains and a steady 15-mile climb to Fort Davis.

Leaving the little burg was something else. I was not prepared for the emotions I experienced. Surely there are more stunning sights in this country and in the world, but for the little girl in me that had been cooped up in some version of suburbia for at least the last 20 years, rounding each bend was joyous. I called my daughter to check in at one point and as I came around a turn to be met with great, dark pillars of volcanic rock marching toward the road like an army crammed together at the fortress gates, I lost my words and began to cry.

Davis Mountains columns. A less spectacular view where I wouldn’t get run over.

My daughter said I sounded like her grandmother. That added to my joy. I will never be my mom but if I can regain some part of myself that is in any way reflective of her grace, I have made progress in my life.

I will never grasp how someone can spend their life hardly leaving their own town or county. I will never understand the reluctance to stop and see roadside beauty and instead simply race by it at 80 mph. One doesn’t have to take the extreme journey of buying a camper or van, driving across the country, and boondocking. But given an opportunity to witness beauty and variety first hand, why not take it? More so, why be afraid of what you may glean from it?

There is so much to be seen in this world that lies beyond our driver’s side window. So much that lies beyond our easy chair. If our only way to get there is television, that’s something. I would never judge a hardworking life that makes one feel they must stay in place because of economics. But, if one is driving from point A to point B, consider not worrying so much about the destination and focus more on the country rolling under your tires and the people that populate it.

I’m thankful I opted for the mild anxiety of driving out of my way and into unknown territory when I pulled away from that little splotch of gravel on the side of the mountain road. I will never forget the elation and tears from seeing those stunning columns.

I hope to see them again in spring and perhaps the other people drawn to them. Winter travel is solitary and starkly beautiful and I am gaining much emotional and spiritual ground with each mile. Still, I look forward to more social milieus.

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/

Daily Existential Angst Diary (I’ll let y’all do the acronym)

**TRIGGER WARNING** UNALIVE ATTEMPT DISCUSSED IN BRIEF.

In October 2019, I attempted, feebly, to unalive* myself by trying to swim into a rip current. That day, in essence, initiated the path of separation and divorce. Someone said at the time: “You can’t save him (my husband) or the marriage. You can only save yourself.”

Since then, in trying to sort out who I am vs who I was vs who I want to be, I have felt some fear that I simply don’t care if I save myself. Whence comes this resignation?

A friend told me (and I have heard this sentiment many times in my life and from various sources) that he is nothing without God. In the moment, that made me sad. I considered what an extraordinary person he is and the potential he still carries in his many years ahead and thought, how can you limit your understanding and value of yourself to what your religion tells you that you are?

However, upon removing the fogged lens of a strained conversation and now seeing it through the clarity of distance and time, I found that his “nothing” was little different than mine.

I am nothing without purpose.

I am nothing without family.

I am nothing without my art.

On any given day, I may believe I have none of or am achingly distant from all of those things that I believe make me something.

Is there a qualitative difference, then, between my nothing and his?

I might be able to convince myself that there are no arbitrary rules (defined by a select entity or a group of self-appointed “lawmakers” over the course of decades or centuries and put forward in a text) that I am required to follow to get back to something.

I can find purpose, art, and perhaps even family without someone’s approval of my actions (or rather, without letting myself fear disapproval and condemnation).

I can probably convince myself that my nothing is self-imposed, therefore can be self-resolved: not easily, mind you, but easier, perhaps than meeting someone else’s (God’s, the Church’s, a spouse’s) expectations for ideal behavior.

On the other hand, when I was a Christian, I was trained to believe that as long as I had accepted God’s grace, perhaps also as long as I “washed up” properly after being less-than-perfect and got on my metaphorical knees and begged His forgiveness, the slate was wiped clean and I was good to go again.

But I, with no god and with my own will and heart being the arbiters of my behavior and my nothing vs something, am the only one who can/should judge me.

And I am one judgmental beyotch.

I would love to just throw my hands up and say, “Oh, ok! I believe again. Help me, Lord.” and have that belief back and the comfort it was supposed to bring in those desperate moments.

It rarely brought me comfort. There were days I got caught up in beautiful church music, powerful hymns, and fellowship. There were days I felt less ill at ease and felt I could carry on. But, more often than not, I felt unheard by this supposed deity that I’d been told would be there for me. When I made that feeble attempt to unalive myself, I felt utterly alone.

There is no point in me thrashing about here with the existence or lack thereof of a God/god. No point in discussing why I failed at unaliving myself as “evidence” for a god. Whatever rationale one can provide for why it should reinforce my faith, I can give a rationale for why it furthered the deconstruction of it.

So, here I am in my nothing, struggling often without purpose, and some days, without art. Most days, I still feel utterly alone. I judge my heart, my behavior, and my lack of progress perhaps harder than any church or spouse/partner can judge. It makes me vulnerable to falling in with people who only want to take from me. It makes me especially vulnerable to my own selfishness.

It makes me potentially vulnerable to rip currents.

What keeps me out of rip currents now? Not hope. Certainly not faith.

Obligation.

And here, I realize another similarity to my friend and his “nothing without God” — being good enough. My obligation is to those I love and those for whom I work. It should, in part, be to myself and my art. However, a major symptom of depression (of artistic pursuit?) is imposter syndrome: the belief that we are never good enough to be devoted to our art and thereby our own needs rather than that of others. This is little different from “man is never good enough (original sin) without God.”

I’m sure this isn’t a new thought, just new to me.

There will be no rip current adventures for me again. I sometimes think if I just stay angry over the loss of the love and marriage, that alone will keep me out of threatening waters. I don’t believe I can maintain resentment that long. So, I must find a way to believe I am something by my own authority.

I must be obligated and devoted to my own needs for a while. Not dismissive of that of others, but not taking on their needs to the point of, once again, vanishing into their kowtowing version of me.

To that end, I write as often as I can now:

1) Poems (and short stories) that stir every part of me and heal me and maybe will stir and heal others in the future.

2) Letters to friends who tell me it is a delight to get them and who send equally delightful response letters.

3) And finally, pieces like this blog post which seem dark and sad, but in the end, lift me out of the currents that might carry me into frightening depths.

I write and this reminds me that I have a small gift with these words. I do, perhaps, have a purpose.

*I use this term to reduce anxiety for others and myself as well as hopefully to soften the tone of this entry.

Chaos & Growth: An Auspicious Anniversary

In short order it will be the anniversary of “leaving.” I left my former home (and by extension, my second husband) in mid-March of 2020.

What should have been a rush out into a new life with new possibilities, was, instead, a rush from one form of isolation and loneliness into another.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a whining post.

It was a bit of a shock, I’ll admit. Leaving a person who wanted me to be as housebound and uncommunicative and as much of an introvert as he, only to have a virus force me into being very selective socially — introverted and uncommunicative. Ha!

It was still an improvement, and in some ways, that continued isolation was a positive thing. In many ways it was awful, but I want to steer away from that. Many of us have experienced the awful of 2020 and early 2021.

The good stuff:

I spent a lot of time on the phone with my brother who is also, necessarily and unfortunately, isolated and grieving. Our different griefs, shared in long conversations, allowed me to see my circumstances through his lens and not just through my self-involved pain. This has been an empathy-building experience, not just with him but with others, as well. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in that regard, but learning to balance my needs with that of others is a process, not so much a goal.

Another advantage of the solitude: I didn’t immediately go nuts dating. (not that I didn’t immediately go nuts looking.)

Here’s my history: I went straight from High School to my first marriage within a year and dated only my first husband in that time. We had two dates before he proposed. Yes, I was young and stupid. Why do you ask? 🙄

After our divorce, I immediately fell in love with my second husband who I had known at work for well over a year.

Fast Forward to 2020: the year of living slightly less stupidly, if only because that’s what universal chaos made me do. I couldn’t date after this divorce—because COVID! I have a little job and I meet a lot of lovely people, but they are brief and transient exchanges about the work, the village, beach life, etc.

I did not meet anyone with which to fall in love. I did not date and decide to give away my autonomy again out of loneliness. I worked, I wrote, I flirted, and I felt the sting of rejection here and there. Though it did require meeting/dating some in recent weeks, I learned rationally and viscerally, I really don’t NEED men. I do enjoy a man’s company and perspective (among other things), but needing anyone right now is a disquieting idea for me, especially needing a dedicated companion. This is my take on companionship and not a reflection on how I think others should behave. See here for key points.

All of this points to a single, fundamentally positive notion about 2020 and early 2021 from my selfish view. While it had its hellish days, days I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up, I grew.

I had to go through a bit of the “boy crazies,” because I never had that chance as a young adult. I had to experience being completely without another human being in my home for months on end, because I have never had to do that. I had to relearn to be open and friendly like I was thirty years ago, because it is a normal and healthy part of life that I require. I had to relearn how to interact with others without the fog of self-hatred. (Still working on that one)

I have to heal these things, and more, for me to move on and start the real work of determining where I want to be this coming year and the years after that, if Universal Chaos allows.

I have ideas but lack a plan. I’m winging it and winging it is scary. But, when I left that house (and by extension, the order and planning the man within it brought to everything), I knew I was walking out into something unpredictable at best.

And that was the beauty shifting subtly under the pain of leaving and isolation: escaping suffocating order and expectations to greet chaos and growth with joy.

It’s Not Too Much to Ask: Revisiting and Requesting Respect

(Dec 18, 2018). I reach into myself—my past, my present, my imagined future—and find emptiness.

From the time I was small, I have sought [men’s] approval and rarely received it. I am so very tired of failing them and feeling the need to meet their expectations as if they were god(s). That includes God—I hear he demands fealty, supplication, bowing and scraping—like my [ex]husbands, boyfriends, and other male friends who knew better than I about damn near everything. Men who felt the need to “protect” me when I was in no such need.

(March 2021) I am still tired, but may be gaining strength.

It’s clear to me from the above entry, discovered when I unearthed a journal a couple of days ago, that in December of 2018, I felt my marriage and my connection to my faith were falling apart in a substantial way.

It’s also clear that I stopped myself from thinking any further on the topic should it take me down a more painful path. The only entry after that is a blog composition about Big Dog.

I have met and clung to a couple of perfectly pleasant men since my divorce. They placed their value to me in how they could help and comfort po’ little ol’ me. I don’t deny they have helped me in various ways. However, they placed my value to them in the predictable arena; I am a walking, breathing, please-don’t-talk-too-much sex toy. I offer nothing in terms of intellect, care, or actual companionship. They demonstrate this by treating my time as their commodity, not my precious resource. One of them gets sullen and distant if he asks a question (apparently rhetorical) and I answer with knowledge I earned in college or on the job.

I’m too old for this game and I’m not going to pretend I have no brain or heart. I did that enough in my marriages: 1) was told I was using “big words” to talk down to my exes when in fact I was talking to them as equals because I presumed they had the same pliant and ready mind I had, open to learning and growth, 2) was expected to take on the lion’s share of care for my child while my first husband partied all night and picked up women.

I’m not brilliant, but I am not scared of someone else’s intelligence. When I meet intelligent and confident men (and I have recently, thank goodness), I revel in it. They are never intimidated by me and only challenge me politely.

I used to be angry that my parents pushed me to be precise with my language and open to all knowledge. My most punishing memory of my father is of him throwing up his hands during my 2nd grade math homework and barking, “Oh, come on, Karen! You’re smarter than that!” (I recall, with great regret, saying this to my daughter when she was small—ugh! Legacies.) That meant, to eight-year-old me that, of course, I wasn’t smart at all. When I married men that reflected this in their actions, and often their words, I lost all faith in myself.

I realize now, having spent the last year in divorce recovery, that my dad was expressing his frustration with his inability to teach me. It was his failing, not mine. I also realize my ex-husbands were reflecting their failings and fears of their own weaknesses, as well. Easier to make me feel small by telling me I had no common sense or no motivation or was forgetful (and reinforce small human errors until these statements became true(r) in many respects) than to face that they were afraid of their own intellectual or emotional shortfalls.

I can’t say the men I’ve known recently don’t think they have valid reasons for being disrespectful of my mind or my time. You would have to ask them.

I can say I have valid reasons for wanting to be respected. I’ve received two degrees, both of which required long hours and significant mental and emotional commitment. I’ve lived through two marriages, both of which required significant mental and emotional commitment, and both of which drained me of a great deal of my self esteem. I raised a child, held jobs at which I performed well, and helped my 2nd ex-husband build products for and run a home business for twenty-two years. I may be struggling right now to find my place in the universe again, but I am trying. That said, even if all of the above were not true, I am human, have feelings, and responsibilities and, on those counts alone, I deserve respect. I deserved that respect when I was married. I deserve it now.

Distressed table. Distressed books. Fossil shells.

Saving the Wounded: Balancing Independence and Support

I know.

I know that this will get better – this masked, COVID-19 isolation after seventeen years in a desolate bubble.

I know because I began to break that bubble in the last two years and walk a path of personal growth.

I began to rescue and transport animals in my community in 2018. In the collage above are (clockwise from top left: baby raccoon, immature Northern gannet, White-tailed deer fawn, Screech owlets, baby opossum, and immature Brown pelican).

By spring of 2019, I had done several transports and releases. Transportation of smallish wild animals is fairly straight-forward: go to someone’s home or business, scoop up a box, get a form filled out by said person, drive animal to rehabilitator. All done with minimal contact with people.

Rescue, on the other hand, was nerve-wracking at first. I had no formal training and the one rescue I’d helped with was that of a sick and weak pelican that wasn’t up for a fight. Complicating matters, I have always been shy and called myself an introvert. I was uncertain how future rescues would go if I was working without a fellow rescuer.

On my first solo pelican rescue, the pelican was hungry and wanted my shad. I lured her in and grabbed her by myself. Other pelican rescues were a mixed bag. Some went great (for me, not so much the bird). Some failed completely as the birds could still fly enough to escape even four or five well-intentioned, but sometimes intimidated, helpers I recruited on the beach.

But always, if there are people on the beach, I have learned to recruit. I’ve done so with other sea birds and Black vultures, as well. In so doing, I’ve learned I’m no introvert. I am shy, yes, but I actually like working with and getting to know people.

In turn, people are almost always willing to help even if they find the larger birds a bit frightening. I am not prideful. I don’t have to do things myself to prove that I am capable or special.

If a large bird can’t be lured, it sometimes has to be rounded up by several of us like closing purse strings. We try to do this quickly to reduce stress on the bird. Sometimes an injured bird can be flushed toward me by one or two helpers so I can then grab it easily. Sometimes, it’s just helpful for someone to distract a sickly, scared gannet so I don’t lose a finger.

Other times, rescues fail and the bird flaps away. The bird will either heal on its own or it will get worse and we may catch it later.

Whatever the circumstances, I always prefer to work with people nearby. This makes them feel good, teaches them about the animals, and gives me a better chance for success. It also connects me to the community. We have a cheerful exchange as they bubble with the excitement of having helped a little furry or feathery life and I love seeing them brighten with joy and pride.

In all rescues, I treat all parties, the animal in need of being saved and the “recruits,” with respect and I work to gain the trust of both.

We all, volunteers, me, and animal, have to work together.

In recent years I have sought personal autonomy (self-government) and some in my life have interpreted this as a need on my part to do everything single-handedly.

I don’t want to stand alone.

I don’t want to walk this life without support. I simply want the right to choose when, how, and who I ask for support.

If I am lonely or hurting, I would like all the normal things lonely people need: affection, attention, someone who has my back.

If I am angry, give me space. My spicy language will give you a clue and I may say outright, “I’m angry. Back off.”

If I’m grieving, well, grief is a strange monster. I’ve been dealing with a great deal of grief in the last several years. I have tried to communicate my needs. I have sometimes succeeded, sometimes failed. People have sometimes just failed me.

Grief has at times closed me off to people and yet opened me up to rediscovering who I used to be.

I can tell you it is harder to know how to help the grieving. I can tell you that leaving someone to flounder in their grief is not a solution, nor is making promises you can’t keep.

I can tell you that I give what I get: Respect, trust, honesty, love, and friendship.

Respect. Trust. Honesty.

Sometimes, as I grieve now, it seems I am the bird healing myself or waiting for things to get bad enough to be caught. Perhaps I just need to be distracted (socialized) so someone can grab me and help me. Probably, it is a bit of both.

I’m still learning how to socialize my shy self after many years of being hidden and wounded. I will figure it out — with help — even if I have to do it with a mask on.

I know.

Autonomy and Isolation: Separating during COVID-19

I’m at the bottom of a well so deep that I can’t see the opening at the top. No light betrays day or night above. No sound leaks down the narrow shaft to relieve my solitude. I am utterly alone but for the soft breathing in the dark of a furry companion. A voice drifts down like a leaf falling slowly until it lands on my ears, “You okay down there?”

I want to scream, “No! Please throw down a rope. A chain. Anything. Save me. It’s cold. It’s terrifying. I’m so tired of this.”

But I was raised to not lean on others. My parents were always busy with my siblings. I had to learn to entertain myself.

I call back. “I’m fine. Thank you.”

Another verbal leaf falls. “Okay. Well, we’ve all been in wells before. Let us know if you need…” The voice trails off.

In the darkness I nod at no one and settle back into my solitude. The breath of my animal companion quickens as he finds his way next to me and reminds me that he is there and that has two implications: he will be beside me in my solitude and he will die beside me if I die.

I awaken in a brightly lit older beach house in a brightly lit beach village in Southeast Texas. My dog is breathing heavily from steroids he is taking to treat an ear infection. He hogs the bed as usual.

“I’m fine. Thank you.” I say with some sarcasm and pat his head. I examine the dream images with respect to my personal circumstances.

When I was in my early twenties, I was married to a violent alcoholic with Bipolar I (one) disorder. I went to work when our daughter was three and very gradually acquired skills plus a tiny savings he didn’t know about. (Just enough to pay for a lawyer) Meanwhile, my daughter and I endured his manic outbursts, his rage, and his pitiful sobbing under self-medication. My family helped where they could, when it wasn’t too painful to watch, but I was of a mindset that I had to handle things by myself. I made the lion’s share of income in my little family, a fact that angered my self-pitying husband even more so. When my daughter and I finally escaped him, I had a good job and had returned to college. I was, in a word, independent.

I began dating a coworker. I was insistent, though he found it more amusing than admirable I’m sure, that I pay for my own meals when we went out. Throughout our “courtship,” I continued this. I had been in a relationship of control. I was not going to let go of my newfound independence. I wasn’t going to give a man an excuse to say, “I gave you something. You give me something in return.”

That autonomy bled away over twenty-nine years during this second relationship for various reasons. Now I sit in a little home I rent for myself, the dog, and my possessions. Now I have recovered some part, though not all, of that autonomy.

Now there is COVID-19.

I moved into this house on March 20th 2020, just as the virus and social distancing were ramping up in this part of the country. Just as neighbors and friends were beginning to take it seriously. Parting hugs as I gave them news of my impending move at the beginning of the week suddenly seemed foolhardy at best, deadly at worst (thankfully, we all remain well).

My birthday came and went a few days ago, with no great fanfare. That’s all well and good. The alternative to being older is, after all, death. The month has been stressful, exhausting, and painfully quiet at times. Now and then, a call or text comes through the ether, “Are you doing okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m okay. Not sleeping well.”

Chit chat back and forth about the dog, the house, the weather, the virus.

Sometimes ranting about this or that. Politics. Religion. The romantic fallacies of “soul mate” and “forever.”

Sometimes, after I hang up the phone or log out of social media, there is sobbing and wailing, and internal pleas of “Throw down a rope! A chain! Anything!” But tears are usually kept to myself because I had planned to do this on my own power as much was possible.

I simply hadn’t planned to do it—PHYSICALLY ALONE! With no visits from my daughter. No hugs. No coffee with friends. No trips to town to wander in the mall or walks on a crowded beach to feel connected with other people.

My estranged husband is fond of saying, “That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.” I hate that expression because there have been times that emotional strain has nearly killed me, either through illness or depression. It wasn’t worth the strength I gained.

I feel better equipped, oddly enough, to survive this pandemic despite having no one within six feet of me. I have more hope than I have had for many years. I have, however distant, a great deal of support from loved ones. I have the peace and ease of this little house by the sea. And I am fully aware that I am far more fortunate than so many. I am not, after all, on the COVID-19 front lines. I am merely, like so many, in COVID-19 limbo. I am simply alone. Well, with the dog.

Fearful as I am of the virus changing our way of life permanently. Fearful as I am that the loneliness of the coming months will be too much to bear. Fearful as I am, not of losing my own life, but of losing loved ones, I am grateful that I am here and getting this chance to be the Autonomous Me.

I have watched others live in their autonomy for a while now. I’m fifty-six. It’s late. But I’m here. Ready to turn down someone offering to pay for my lunch again. Ready to put aside a little money if I need to escape something, anything. I have a considerable wait ahead of me for those events and that is the hard part.

I’ll have to throw my own rope down for now.