Tag Archives: life

Going where? The Stagnation of Predictability

21 March, 2022

Two years ago today, I was moving into a new house and putting many of my belongings into an off-island storage space. Two years ago today, I stomped rage into every step I took up and down the stairs of my former home and my new home. Two years ago, for the first time in months, I breathed in a truly deep and relaxing breath after I shut the door behind me that night and sat in bed letting the silence and isolation flood the room completely.

I spent a lot of nights in that little house on Thunder Road, feeling that same level of peace. I spent a lot of nights there staring at the ceiling and worrying.

I’ve said it here; I get anxious being in one place too long these days.

I leave this place tomorrow and move east. I had intended to be in the new spot about a month. I erred and didn’t get my reservations soon enough and can’t be there for more than a few days. I’ll go north for a while instead and that may upset some plans for others. I’m not happy with myself for the error.

I wonder, however, if I didn’t sabotage myself subconsciously. I wonder if I didn’t know my dawdling would put me in this situation to a degree (though perhaps not this badly). The original plan to stay a month was weighing on me the more I thought about it. It felt as stifling as that house I had shared with my ex-husband. I could see myself stuck. When you say you’re going to rent a space for a month, you pay for a month. You stay. A month in one spot makes me just a little nuts. I’m finding two weeks in most of these places to be pushing my limits. I’ve been in this current park since March 10th (eleven days) and I’m getting antsy and uncomfortable. I don’t know how to fully convey the feeling. It is a bit like being at a party to which you weren’t invited; it’s pleasant but you know you don’t belong. That feeling has nothing to do with the people around me; I’ve experienced this same sensation in a nearly deserted park.

A lake in central Georgia

I was speaking to a friend about relationships and loneliness and he said, “You’ll find someone whenever you stay put for a while.” (paraphrasing because—beer) I didn’t argue. I didn’t agree. The discussion moved on to other things.

However—

I wanted to say, “Well, that is exactly why I don’t want to stay put.”

I wanted to say, “My heart is tangled up right now. I don’t need to incorporate more threads.”

I wanted to say, “I want to come home.”

I am growing homesick, but I know it is not because I actually miss my house or the beach or the birds or the people I barely knew.

I am growing homesick because home was predictable.

Home was always going to be the ex down the street and occasional run-ins with his family. It was always going to be worthwhile but low-paying work that didn’t demand much of me mentally but often much of me physically and sometimes emotionally. It was always going to be that one guy who floated in and out of my life like a Portuguese Man-of-War. It was always going to be pretending to be nice to the ex when the grands came to visit even though every interaction was distressful for both of us. It was always going to be me giving time to the rescues (that I adored) and getting nothing in return except more wear and tear on my truck and loss of funds.

It was always going to be.

It was always going to be really good seafood and beautiful sunrises and gorgeous storms and mesmerizing foghorns and pelicans in huge squadrons flying up and down the beach ahead of a front.

Predictable is safe. Predictable is calming. Predictable makes other decisions easier. Predictable was all I’d known for twenty-nine years.

Predictable allows (even encourages) you to give up on your careers (yes, both) and then regret it the rest of your life because you have lost your skills. Predictable makes you bend to another’s will instead of standing up for yourself and saying, “I deserve the respect of personal autonomy!” Predictable leaves you in a marriage at least eight years longer than you should have stayed. Predictable keeps you in family dynamics that hurt.

Perhaps I am scared of lighting in any one spot for all of these reasons. Perhaps I fear that I will once again have my autonomy subsumed by the comfort of predictability. Even my friend floats in and out on his own whims such that I can’t assign much predictability to him and that feels oddly safe to me.

When I was married, I knew I’d be married until my death. I knew I’d die at a fairly ripe age and probably some time after my spouse. I knew I’d die in or about the home we shared. I knew all this because that is what the predictable day-to-day existence made me believe. Nothing ever changes when the person you are with and the person you have become both conspire to keep things predictable indefinitely.

I feel, every day, the unpredictability of my life now. I awaken not knowing if I will find the strength to go on, if I will find work that allows me to stay with Sam who is getting more and more dependent on me, if I will just have to run out of my savings and be done, if I will choose to shorten my stay in my current spot or lose the money and just pick up and go boondocking, if I will have a car wreck on the highway, if Blanche will have a blowout, if I will get COVID-19 and become too sick to travel and have to talk my hosts into some kind of act of kindness, if a tornado will blow through and upend all of us, or if I will simply have a stroke or myocardial infarct and die quietly inside Blanche to be found when my campsite is supposed to be taken by someone else. None of this is known.

I could be bothered by that and, in my former marriage, no doubt I would have been. I was taught to be bothered by such.

But predictable literally almost killed me in October of 2019. If unpredictable kills me by virtue of accident or ill health, then at least it did so while I was doing something with my life rather than sitting in a house waiting to die. I cannot imagine ever going back to predictable. I cannot imagine, ever again, being someone’s belonging that waits to be put in storage.

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 they have 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.

Thirty-nine-year-old leaf

Thirty-nine-year-old leaf.

Hurricane Harvey has come and gone leaving the Flood from Hell in his wake. I feel not one bit qualified to write about, “the Experience of Harvey.” I will say, in a nutshell, we were fortunate and had almost no damage from the storm. Certainly, nothing worth mentioning. There was anxiety and sleeplessness, but honestly, I have that every night. It’s built into my genetic code. I was more worried about my daughter worrying too much about us than I was worried about us. Sort out that mental spaghetti, if you can.

We were on the periphery of this storm and in almost all respects, despite the fact that almost fifty inches of rain fell on our home. I feel lucky, relieved, and guilty as hell.

In the middle of the storm, there was little to do but listen to wind and rain and hope for the best. We had no boat and no special capabilities, so, we just stayed put. I tried to write, but my mind wandered constantly, taking me to my phone to check radar or to the window to check the water level in the street. If I wasn’t checking the road or the phone, I was watching the news for the latest predictions and hoping for a change for the better. Any kind of focus on creative thinking became impossible.

Finally, after the rain abated and the temperature dropped, I went to our garage where I sorted through boxes my husband had pulled down from the attic months before in an effort to prepare for a retirement move. As the wind buffeted the garage door (and made me fear for our trees now sitting in soaked earth), I looked through memories that went back over forty years.

Most were newer: junior high school pictures of my daughter, a copy of a short story my brother wrote about fifteen years ago, and anniversary cards from my husband. Many were much older: My Girl Guides journal and lapel pin from England (ca. 1973), a tiny, white New Testament from about 1970, and a large maple leaf I’d picked up somewhere around 1978.

I kept a leaf. Actually, two. Not beautiful flowers or stunning butterflies. Leaves.

Now, I love trees. If trees were animated creatures, I’d say they were my spirit animals. But, to keep a leaf in a book for forty years?

It struck me, looking at that leaf as the storm raged around us and knowing, all around me in the huge Houston metropolitan area, thousands of people were losing their homes, cars, livelihoods, perhaps family members: what a lot of crap we keep for no damn good reason.

Leaves.

You hear it a lot at these times, as people wait to find out if their house is safe from rising waters or as they swim away from their inundated home: “They’re just things.”

They are and they aren’t. They’re things we spent years clinging to for some reason. They’re things we’ve invested with emotion, meaning, connection to the past. They should be “just things,” but we will still feel an ache when we think about them floating down a street into a bayou and into the Gulf of Mexico.

If they’re just things, at what point do we stop collecting them? At what point do we admit that it was absurd to lose, let’s say, three thousand dollars worth of cat toys to a hurricane, so we should probably not replace them in full. (Thank you, Steve Martin)

I’m not saying cat toys (or shoes, or purses, or fountain pens, or electronics, or even forty-year-old leaves) are bad. I just wonder if, in saving all these things, this stuff, we need to spend more time on ourselves, our souls, if you will. Some people can balance the two, stuff and soul, beautifully. Speaking for myself, I have spent far too much time in life not taking care of my soul, but taking care of what I thought others expected of me. When I couldn’t do that very well at all, I sank into despair and simply did nothing. Often times, I bought stuff to fill the void. That stuff eventually found its way to boxes that ended up in the attic. Often, I picked up things, or kept bits of my past, as if they were somehow parts of my empty soul, and they too found their way into the boxes in the attic.

I kept leaves.

I haven’t answered my own questions. When do we stop collecting? When do we stop clinging? Does it take a flood to remind us every time we start getting too attached?

If life is cyclic, and it seems to be so for me, then maybe this is one of those cycles. When we next move, if we do as planned, it will be roughly the same number of years in this home as in our last home. We will be downsizing again and much will be thrown out, donated, or sold. Time, not Harvey, will have cleansed our home. I hope, however, that I will have learned by then not to restock the new home with stuff. There will be a time when I am too old to sort through boxes. When I’m gone, I don’t want my daughter sorting through leaves.

.

Emergency Salads, Tornadoes, and Permanent Cow Fixtures

As I drove to the store on December 30th, a woman in a fancy pickup (oxymoron on wheels) rode my bumper despite the fact that I was exceeding the speed limit by several mph. She passed me as soon as she saw the smallest gap, got one car ahead, and pulled into the same parking lot I pulled into seconds later. I daydreamed of asking her, as she picked through the produce section, if she had an emergency salad to get to. In my part of the world, however, such smart alek words can get you shot. I don’t say that lightly.

I decided at that moment that I wasn’t going to rush anywhere the rest of the day. I’ve never believed that there was any place I needed to go that was worth risking my life or someone else’s though I get impatient, too. The passage of time has weighed on me lately, but time on my mind doesn’t mean time to kill or be killed.

It’s true, the way we mark time is largely a human construct: days, weeks, hours, minutes. But months, seasons, lifetimes: Nature has foisted those on us. Since my mother’s death, the passage of days has been, well, a daily thought. An internal battle, even. It began during our time together in a tiny nursing home room those few days before she died.

We had some sweet, gentle moments: laughter, bad puns, a lot of hand holding. I’ve always been amazed by my mother’s hands. No matter the weather, the wrinkles, the dish loads, her hands were like the finest, lightest silk. Now they are ash and it is hard for me to grasp that. I sigh—she would have chuckled at that unintended pun. It’s what we do as a family: make bad jokes. It’s part of what makes us such a close family.

There were moments during which I allowed myself unpleasant thoughts. Cynical, I suppose. “Is this all there is? What did she get for all she did for us?” thoughts. Of course, that’s the angry view, the grieving view of the end. I had been grieving for much longer than the many months Momma had been suffering from dementia and a bad fall. I’d been grieving since she left Texas some seventeen years prior. I knew there was much more—more joy, adventure, choice—to her life than I was allowing. But in grief, those things look small while the hurts loom like dragons and disease. Thankfully, those thoughts were brief and mostly I reveled in my precious time with her.

I admit I’ve nursed those hurts all year. A digit change won’t fix that but perhaps Christmas Eve at Munger Place Church  and time with my daughter and her family has planted a seed.

I struggle with faith daily. Again, I don’t say that lightly. Each prayer, even “grace” before a meal, is an argument with this “creator” some people call God. At the same time, I can’t free myself form my belief that some sort of divinity has had major influences on my life that coincidence can’t explain.

Christmas Eve service at Munger was, no surprise, beautiful. Kate Miner’s love for her God poured out of her with each performance and I used up all my tissues dabbing my eyes. I know I seek that moment when in “O Holy Night” I will “fall on [my] knees, o hear the angels’ voices” and it was at this point in the service that I felt a weight lifted from me after almost a year of anger. Not because a divine presence came upon me. Not because I was suddenly healed. There was nothing magical there (except Kate’s voice). Instead, I realized I cannot stand up and be who and what I need to be without first kneeling and being humble to what I have been given. I must work with what the universe/life/God gives me rather than argue with those gifts, even when those gifts seem like curses.

What cemented this feeling was the remainder of the visit with my daughter and her family. After the service, we drove around to look at Christmas lights in the more affluent Dallas neighborhoods. In front of one house was a life-size, longhorn steer sculpture decked with holiday finery. Someone said, “I wonder where they store that in the off season.” My daughter said, “I think that’s a permanent cow fixture.”

It struck me as funny. Okay, adorable. At 32 years old, she’s still adorable. She’s always been beautiful and gentle like her grandmother. Time with her is so precious and like the rest of her family, she has the sharp and dark humor that binds us. I love every minute with her.

Two days later, December 26th, a horrific storm system struck the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We huddled in my daughter’s house where we lost power and listened to the tornado siren. Two major tornadoes struck and lives were lost while we had only some wind and scary lightning. Eventually, the power came back on, our adrenaline tapered, sadness set in, and we went to bed.

On the 28th, my husband and I returned to the bayou and a couple of days later, my daughter sent me a picture of the steer.

IMG_1427

I thought it rather sad—frippery and wealth completely unscathed while there was so much destruction in a small town of apartments, trailers, and tract homes not too many miles away. The events of this Christmas came as yet another reminder of the very lack of permanence, the randomness, the brevity, fragility, humor, unfairness, beauty, and preciousness of life.

Fall on your knees.

Here’s a link if you feel inclined to help the folks in North Texas: How to help.