So. Over on Patreon, we are up to Chapter Seventeen, but for those of you who would prefer to be reading chapters on an e-reader, I’ve finally gotten together an awesome thing: a sample of the first nine chapters!
On the 18th, ten years and one day since Papa died, Gramma followed.
I loved them both very, very much.
…There isn’t a way to express how much.
I got to have more time with my grandmother. Anyone who loses someone who formed and shaped their life with love knows there is no such thing as “enough”–the time you had is all you have. The memories are what endure. Memories are how we live on.
I couldn’t go to the funeral. All I had were my words.
At request of my family, I will share them with you.
Ten years ago, we all came together to say goodbye to Papa.
Now, we say goodbye to Gramma.
But it’s different this time.
Ten years ago, my only comfort against impending loss was driving. The night I had my last conversation with Papa, I knew. I threw my stuff in the car and drove east until there was no road left, just a cold beach at four AM, and, oddly, one stranger. This person I’d never met in my life walked over while I stood at the edge of the water crying. He asked if I was okay and offered me a blanket, because it was so cold. That simple kindness was too much and all I could say was “My Papa is dying.”
This complete stranger put the blanket around me and asked for me to come sit down and talk.
For hours we talked about loss. He told me about how, when his grandmother died, he went off into the desert in Utah and lived as a vagrant. Still did. Lived out of his car, because that was how he remembered what was really important in life. We talked until morning came, and when the sun crested over the watery horizon, this stranger stood with me, gave me a hug, and offered to let me sleep in his car. I told him I’d be all right, that it was only four hours back home, and that I’d be careful.
“When you get lost, go to the ocean,” he told me. “The waves will help you remember.”
If I was there, that is what I would do. I’d go to the ocean, and I’d look at the waves, and I’d think of things that go on forever. Past forever. Things that are eternal, distant and unknowable as the stars in the sky.
That’s where Gramma has gone. It’s where Papa went. Where we will all go. As the living, we get stuck trying to put things back together. That’s what grief is–trying to find the pieces, the broken, serrated edges of those mental tectonic plates. But with Gramma, the grief is different.
Gramma’s life was a circle completed, a loop stitched back in, a puzzle piece fitting into place, because she has gone home.
And the place she’s gone–that place where things have no beginning, no end–it’s a place we get a glimpse of when we see waves that go on forever, stars charting the course of our small place in the universe. In that place at the edge of eternity, Papa was waiting for her. She isn’t alone. She has gone on to illuminate the dark, one more star watching over us at night.
When you forget–
When you get lost–
Look to the waves.
Everything you’ve ever lost is eventually found again.
I need to compose a monthly Thing for the official blog, but in all honesty, I’m stumped. So here I go.
On February 23, I set out for a life on the road. A seriously, seriously hard life I definitely wasn’t prepared for, but I wanted it all the same. I wanted to know if I could survive far from home, in unfamiliar places, sometimes getting by only by sheer grit.
And I did. I drove all over the place. Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan. Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky. Illinois and Indiana.
On March 17, we were less than two hours from our destination when we hit a deer. We weren’t too worried at first–neither Jess or I were hurt. But then we realized the radiator was leaking, meaning we couldn’t limp on even if we wanted to. And so we came to be stranded in Kansas.
Being stranded came directly out of our own pockets. Short and succint summary: the guy we were working for dumped us. Kaput. All the money we’d saved had to keep us afloat till we got home. There were no rental cars available until the following Tuesday–and the only one-way car was a blistering $750. (Ouch.) So we came home, and the search has begun for another job as the costs of meds ($280) and the cost of insurance ($308) are bleeding me dry. And…I still have to settle the costs for the divorce, so getting by on sheer grit isn’t stopping any time soon.
I can clobber my fear.
Despite a giant cluster of fear around agoraphobia, I drove all over the freaking country at all hours of the day and night. Usually, Jess slept while I drove, so it was just me navigating through places I’d never seen before. Quiet drives through a snowy dawn, balmy nights driving up the Gulf Coast. There was beauty to be seen everywhere, even in the giant interchanges of Dallas, Houston, and Austin.
Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma rendered me speechless. And every time we drove back into Appalachia and crossed from the Smokies to the Blue Ridge in North Carolina, it tugged at my heart, because that was home. Somewhere in the Pisgah region, there is a place that is definitely home, and it’s just a matter of getting there.
Working up enough funds, getting through the divorce, surviving, surviving…There was so much ahead of me when I took the knife from my throat last September and chucked it into the woods. I wasn’t prepared at all for what was ahead. But I had a rough idea of what I had to do, and I’m doing it.
I stand up for myself now.
I know I’m capable now.
I know I can survive couch surfing and the heater going out in the van when it’s 14 F and tornadoes in the middle of the night. I can stay sane, level-headed enough to get out of a terrible situation and drive back home.
I can find the value in my adventure out into the world and call it a victory even when others declare it a failure.
I can survive.
I could say “no” to the knife and choose the path where I had no husband, no house, no security. Just a broken marriage and all the pain that came with it.
But…I could, at the same time, deal with the pain that comes with being replaced–along with the rejection from the people closest to me, people I thought I could trust. I could survive losing my support network and still scrabble forward. I can live on next to nothing and not go into meltdown, because there are other ways.
There are so many ways to survive.
I was lucky to have Jess at my side–rough-and-tumble Jess who knew how to be homeless, how to weather the worst, how to keep thinking even when the screws are tightening and it very much looked like there were no ways out. Every time I thought I couldn’t, he would remind me that yes, I could. I chose to stay alive, and staying alive would always be hard for people like us, but that was the thing:
Staying alive is one of the hardest choices you can make, especially when all you want is an end to pain.
He knew that as intimately as I did–he knew exactly how hard it would be to keep walking forward into more hard choices. More pain. More failures. More rejection. And absolutely no guarantees that it would ever turn out all right.
But neither of us would find that out if we didn’t stick around.
It’s a funny thing. Grabbing someone’s hand and deciding to be sick together. To battle illness together, neither the stronger half. What matters is the understanding, despite differences, that it is terribly, terribly hard, but at least one person knows exactly how hard you’re fighting. It shouldn’t work, because it makes things even harder, but that understanding–that makes all the difference.
So what now? There’s a bevy of temp jobs, continued work as both editor and assistant on a publishing team, a possible job at a tea shop. Good–and necessary, given the staggering bill for the Pristiq ($228/month), the health insurance ($308), divorce costs ($2000), a hospital bill ($800), along with everything that comes with paying the costs of staying alive.
There are still six months to get through, to save up money to find a way to Asheville, and then…
Then the process of starting over begins all over again.
Happy March. From what I can tell driving around the countryside, it seems spring is on the way.
Updates have been a bit slow as I am now part of a delivery team driving freight all over the continental US. I edit, I drive, and I try to stay on top of the rest of my life from a van. Jess, my partner, has already bungie’d a desk to one side, and we’re planning to add a white board so I can write while we’re on the road. (Next to the freight if there’s room, of course.)
Living on the road is strange–but good:
It’s been eleven days since I set out on the road. 4805 miles. We drive as a team and deliver from Laredo to Detroit to Kansas City to…wherever. Whenever. I drove through all of Arkansas the other night, and a good bit of Texas the other night, and last night I slept between 3000 lbs of freight and the driver’s seat.
I’ve learned to live without constant conveniences. It’s a good trade. Kills the OCD tendencies. Every day on the road, I’m taking a hammer to every fear and anxiety I’ve ever had.
I used to have to take heavy duty tranquilizers to travel. I had to take back roads to drive around town.
Now, it’s like all of that is nothing. I’m realizing it was nothing. My priorities are more basic now: safe place to sleep, food, hygiene. Along the way I take pictures. We listen to Duncan Trussell together and I listen to ancient playlists while Jess sleeps.
Sometimes there are tornadoes. Sometimes there is snow. Sometimes the heater goes out in Indiana and it’s cold and we hide under the blankets and screech “it’s freezing! Screw this!”
and other times we doze with the windows open and the curtain fluttering over our toes, and it’s perfect.
When I was thirteen I imagined I’d live out of my car because my agoraphobia was so bad. I thought I’d be homeless and no one would know me and it would be terrible.
But it isn’t.
There are miles of stars in the desert at night. Fields of turbines in the Midwest. Sparkling cities. Tiny pit stops. And some intensely weird heckin’ stuff pretty much everywhere we go.
I don’t know where we’ll head next, but I think I’m getting the swing of this.
There’s quite a bit more in my travel diary, but that’s enough for now.