I will spare you the details of the ugly tears, rest stops, and pouring rain that devoured my drive from Calaveras County to Barstow, California, except to say that for the first hour or so I drove hesitantly in a very roundabout way to the interstate, stalling I suppose, in case he (by now, definitely my ex) called back begging me for forgiveness, or in case I decided the trip was too overwhelming. By the time I merged on to 5 South, I was committed. I had not yet begun to cry. I had the stereo turned up, and a happy dog at my side. I hoped he would call, so I could tell let him know that I had, in fact, gone on without him.
Time passed quickly. There were things I needed to do along the way, like get groceries and fill the cooler, let Reddog run every so often, pull out the atlas and make a plan.
In 2011, I took a job at Yellowstone National Park. It was an unforgettable summer for many reasons, and it was also the first time I drove across state lines on my own. It was the only time, really. I did it as quickly as I could, and I traveled a route that my father had taken the few times in my youth when we had vacationed in the park. I barely stopped at all, except to get gas and to sleep. I guess it was kind of a road trip, but there was an agenda and a due date. This time, on one of the last days of 2016, for the first perceivable time in my life, I could do whatever I wanted.
Let me go back a little. I don’t want to sound like I was overly sheltered or something.
I was a sensitive child. I cried a lot. I was a tattletale. I was second in line of four girls. I never sought attention, but secretly I always wanted more. I was the kind of kid who would wish for a fatal disease to strike, or a broken limb, or something else that was terrible if it meant I would be fawned over. My sisters all seemed to have something that made them stand out, something that made them the center of attention. I felt like I was cast in a shadow all the time. It turns out I was a very fortunate child, healthy in most ways. Only, I was an introvert.
I didn’t learn to make choices because I was stuck in my own head. I had conversations all day with myself about what to do and what the consequences would be. Ultimately, the consequences I devised were the worst options, and did a good job of allowing me to progress in my endeavors. My childhood quirks translated into teenage angst, and college “creativity.” Really, I felt for most of my life that I was an outsider, or like I was lost at sea trying to find a place to land my ship. I was always waiting for a beacon, someone to come along and call me ashore. All that called me were sirens.
Now, if we go back to the interstate, I can tell you that I never made real choices before. I let other people make them for me. I was, and still am, actually afraid of making the wrong decision, mainly because I’m afraid of what people will think of me if I do, and by people, I really mean my family. So, back in the car, just me and my dog, I had full control of the trip. I don’t think I even told my family that I was going on a trip. I just left. It was security that I would go and not be talked out of it. For me, this was an absolute first. There was no one to fall back on, no one to consult with. I had to make choices or I would fail.
About midday the rains hit. Soon after, so did the tears. I stopped for gas somewhere along the way, and let Reddog run on a leash in the grass. Anxiety welled up inside me as I continued south. I had to remind myself that this was my chance to prove my independence and freedom. I had to stay the course. I stopped for a while at a park called “Wonderful” where I tossed a ball for Red while mariachi music rang through the clouded sky. It was a wedding or a birthday party or something. There were a couple dozen beer drinking men standing on a patio outside of the community building, dressed nicely, speaking Spanish. Reddog tired after a while, and we went back to the car to get out of the rain. I pulled out the atlas for the first time, weighed my options, and decided to head for Barstow, a little stop along Route 66. From there it seemed I’d be able to catch 10 below Joshua Tree.
The sun went down, the rain kept falling, so did the tears, but I made a decision. I got from Point A to Point B. When I got to Barstow, I tracked down one of the cheapest hotels on the main drag, and slept peacefully with my pup beside me.