Each April in the mid 1980s, my mom and her best friend, Linda, would jam five kids between the ages of six and sixteen into a rented, vomit-brown Chevrolet minivan with stained velour seats. We would drive nearly 17 hours during this trip from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Keystone, Colorado in which I would mostly sleep, wake intermittently and then begrudgingly ask , “When….when are we going to be there?”
I didn’t enjoy this drive. Mostly, I simply ignored the camaraderie of the other children while they laughed, played Mad Libs, and half drank cans of lukewarm Tab, crunched their Doritos and chewed the packs of gum our mothers had brought to sustain us on the 17 hour drive. I was bored, so I slept. I slept through the flat Nebraska terrain, layered with varietals of dirt, rubble and oil. Occasionally, I would open my eyes, heavy lids lifting, to see fields, usually bursting with bright yellows, olive, lime and bottle- greens during summer that were brown, russet, and completely barren. Hour upon hour, I drifted in and out of consciousness, the dull milieu never changing. Voices hummed like static. The CB radio cackled. Drivers commenting on the broken pieces of tarmac, or recently fallen snow stained and contaminated from the muck the cars, 18-wheelers and minivans like ours that zipped towards their destinations in Colorado and beyond.
I wanted to skip the night in the Motel-6, squeezed next to my brother on a queen-sized bed with the frayed brown coverlet. I wanted to eradicate time spent at truck-stop diners, pit stops at Pizza Hut and avoid completely the treacherous climb through the Rocky Mountains to Summit County, the home of Keystone Village and Arapahoe Mountain where we would ultimately ski. I wanted to be there.
In the 25 years that have passed since those annual trips to Colorado with my closest friends, I have learned not only to tolerate road trips, but to enjoy them. I now settle into the topography. I imagine faces, the interesting lives of those people who live in towns called Viejo, Morrisville or Chittenango. I take time to talk, connect with fellow journeyers, laugh, even sing. I listen to good music, relish books on tape I’ve wanted to read for longer than forever, or simply talk on the phone to people with whom I never have time for those life-sustaining one-hour long conversations.
I enjoy the journey.
In relationships, too, I have managed to overcome my childhood hate of the trek and the trip itself. I’m now able to put to rest the agonizing question, “when will we be there.” Prior to meeting The Brit I had been divorced, comfortably single with children. I learned to become independent. I created a life I loved filled with friends, spending precious time with family, and creatively exploring things like career, yoga and writing. Then, carefully, tenuously, I made the leap from single to seeking. Relieved to know what I wanted, I learned to successfully date with intention. I knew what I wanted, began to effectively vet out those men who weren’t a match for me.
Then, brilliantly, unexpectedly, The Brit came into my life. Jem had potential, possibilities unlike I had ever experienced. I luxuriated in the early phases of dating, enjoying the anticipation, the wondering, “does he like me as more than friends?” Then there was the first date, first kiss. Butterflies! We discussed exclusivity and soon we began to explore the different mutations of the word relationship. It wasn’t long then before we began the slow, arduous process of intertwining the life I had with my children into the relationship. It was tenuous, often nerve-wracking but I stayed present in each moment, taking it slowly, day by day. We decided to travel together. He met my dad. I learned he was good on trips. I relished in his take-charge attitude, the way he planned excursions, the way he fished with the kids, hooking the fish first then excitedly calling over my daughter to tell her she had a bite. Throughout the summer he hugged me when I cried, missing my mom who had passed away last September.
Then, nearly five months after we began dating, Jem said he loved me. Although it seemed I might burst from wanting to say it first, I was so grateful I had been patient, enjoying the process of getting to those three words, “I love you.” Six months into the relationship, we decided to live together. I cleared a space in my closet, emptied drawers and ecstatically anticipated the day we would move his things from a storage unit into my home.
As I have navigated the twisted pathways of this five-year journey from divorce to dating, and then to finding and experiencing love, I mostly enjoy the journey. Not that it hasn’t occasionally been fraught with periods of sadness, loneliness and the overwhelming fears that I was odd; that I was a person whose cloth wasn’t cut to be in a relationship. Nevertheless, I stayed in the process, relying on my deepest belief that because I had learned to love myself, create a life I loved, and had practiced living with peace, presence and dignity, that love would ultimately come into my life.
But then, something happened. It seemed I had arrived. Tantamount to turning off the ignition for the last time after that prolonged two-day drive to Keystone, Jem and I were living together. We were in love. My kids accepted him. In fact, he was driving them to school. Picking them up when I had to work. He had become my partner. We didn’t fight. There was no drama. It was exactly what I had wanted. In fact, my relationship with Jem was better than anything I could have even imagined possible. I had manifested a relationship beyond my wildest dreams.
Why then, did I wake some mornings wondering what might be next? At 43 years old, I had never experienced life without some sort of relational destination. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel I needed to continue working on becoming a better, more open and communicative partner, because I did. Instead, I had to recognize what it might mean to live in a more three-dimensional place. A place where there was no specific destination, just a curiosity to explore the relationship, the new life I had created, in more deep and meaningful ways. It was difficult though, because for the first time I wasn’t really looking to land in a concrete sort of place, get a specific thing I had thought I always wanted, or even look forward to a specific occasion I had dreamt about. It was more Twilight Zone thinking. Or, to paraphrase Jean Luc Picard, Captain of the Starship Enterprise, I had to “ explore strange new worlds…seek out new life…and boldly go where I had not gone before.”
And so I have.
Each day I appreciate where we are in this relationship. I feel the sensations, vibrating at various frequencies, feeling the nuances, exploring new tacks and turns as I move through the life I have created. I practice staying present, forcing myself some nights to close the laptop, breathe, stop moving. Even though my drive and determination to make my business work takes me far away from connection to Jem, my self, and my children, I stop to kiss Jem, smile, play Jenga with the girls, or laugh with Jem when he interrupts me in the midst of the most mundane task like emptying the dishwasher just to give me a hug, playfully grab me from behind, or chew on the corner of my ear. These days I’m thinking about things like my values. And that if I truly value love and deep heart-to-heart connection then I want to make our relationship a priority. I want to practice loving Jem, just like I practice yoga. Create time, making space knowing I can’t just show up one day, after a week or more expecting I will have the same strength or connection to spirit. I am learning to understand what it takes to have balance in my life. When it’s time to stay in bed past eight to feel Jem’s skin next to mine, and mush my pillow closer to his, just talking, or get to yoga at 7am, leave the warm, soft comforter in the dark to make it on time. I am learning when I need to choose between having lunch with a girlfriend, and knowing when I have to reschedule to attend my kids’ basketball games and volleyball tournaments. There’s time to skip listening to a marketing tele-class, miss yoga, again, and go volunteer in the school library.
These days there is no external destination, no mountain road to climb. There is just the journey I am taking inwards. I am now moving towards a deeper sense of myself. I am questioning how I can live with more integrity, discovering that life is giving me plenty of opportunities to question, create and choose the kind of lover, mother, entrepreneur, writer, daughter, sister, teacher and friend I want to be.
It is a new road I have taken, a new path both unchartered and necessary. And as I walk I remember the words my cousin Joanie wrote in the journal she gave me when I was twelve years old:
“Enjoy the journey, babe. Life is at hand.”