True navigation begins in the human heart.
It’s the most important map of all.
✜ Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey
On my 39th birthday my husband gave me a pair of beautiful Swarovski earrings—the kind you’d wear with that perfect little black dress and your best f@#k-me heels for an elegant evening out to a classy restaurant with deep cushy booths, crisp linens, fresh flowers and candlelight. They were stunning.
I had asked for a pair of funky earrings to go with my mom uniform of leggings and t-shirts. Most days I was juggling a purse, a diaper bag and a toddler. Those crystal earrings would have seemed a little ostentatious at Price Club (a precursor to Costco for you youngsters). I’d even told him what store to go to and the designer who made any number of artsy earrings that would help me feel a little wild—a nod to the girl I’d been before I became a 24-hour dairy. As I looked at the earrings in the pretty little box, I asked, “Does a babysitter and an evening out come with these?”
“No,” he answered. “They were too expensive. I can’t afford to take you out too.”
I tried to contain the hurt and anger that welled inside of me. What was the point? I thought. Do you hear me even when I specifically tell you what I want? Do you know me? At all? I took a breath and with a measured tone told him that, although they were gorgeous, they had absolutely nothing to do with my present life. I had no place to wear them.
He said: “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.”
In the following weeks, as he changed his mind every few days about leaving/not leaving, I would discover that the receptionist at his office had accompanied him to Nordstrom and helped pick out the earrings. After three weeks, he loaded his belongings onto the bed of a U-Haul pickup. He wrapped me in his arms in the garage as I cried, the dream I’d had for my life falling apart.
“It’s just a break,” he said, kissing me good-bye. “I need some time to figure things out.”
“Are you going to honor your marriage vows?” I asked.
“Yes,” he promised, holding me tighter. It took him a whole three days until he moved from his emotional affair with the receptionist to consummation.
A few weeks later I had packed up the rest of our belongings and placed them in storage. Since my life had taken a serious detour, I decided to take my wounded heart and small daughter on a road trip. I wanted to ease Katie into not having her daddy home every night with the distraction of a “vacation.” I reasoned that miles of asphalt and a map might help me figure out the journey that lie ahead.
He rented a car for me. With his blessing and our AmEx card, I loaded the backseat and the ample trunk of the white Chrysler for every imaginable contingency. I hadn’t been a Girl Scout for naught.
My mother thought I had lost what was left of my mind. Somehow the notion of getting from Point A to Point B every day, cocooned into a red leather front seat with my chatty toddler seemed like the only logical thing to do: I was running away from matters I had zero capacity to handle.
The first thing I discovered as Katie and I headed out of California was that I was a very different kind of mother than my own. Katie had a Playskool guitar that played a total of eight songs. We listened to those mind-numbing, nerve-frazzling songs for two straight hours—in rush hour traffic—as Katie relentlessly pushed that big red button. I realized if my husband’s cheating hadn’t brought me to suicide, I wasn’t about to slit my wrists over a toy. I knew my mother would have hurled that guitar out the window—probably through the glass—without any concern as to what it would do to oncoming traffic. Recognizing my ability to cope with this annoyance amidst L.A. traffic and grief gave me a glimmer of hope: I would be able to navigate whatever came next better than my mother had traversed this same rocky road. At least my daughter would not be caught in the same road rage my sister and I had been.
I don’t remember if the batteries died or if Katie mercifully acquired better taste in music sitting on the San Bernardino Freeway, but that guitar wasn’t played much after that first day. I had smartly packed kid music that I could tolerate—Peter, Paul and Mommy (Mary), Bill Harley and our favorite lullaby tape. We sang loudly and long. When Katie would fall into the deep blissful sleep of the road, I would change the tape deck and put in one of the many self-help gurus that served as on-the-road therapy. Day-by-day and mile-by-mile the deep wounds granulated.
At the end of each day, we’d settle into a decent motel, unloading the essentials to make our overnight as homey as possible. I learned just how smart my toddler was as she plopped a favorite video into the various VCRs and televisions throughout our sojourn, figuring out how they each worked while I was still reading the instructions.
We’d finger paint, watch movies, read and put puzzles together. I’d study the map and figure out our next destination. Katie played in the bathtub just as she had done before our world was sandwiched into a rented car. We’d crawl into bed, talk about the day that had been and where we were headed next. I’d sing lullabies with her small body nuzzled against mine. We’d sleep. It was almost normal.
Throughout our five-month journey, we followed the highlighted paths on the map as we visited family and friends all over the west coast. The pain of being left was assuaged by leaving. I suppose it was an uncommon way to end a marriage, but there is no map of the heart that traces a sure path from a dream detoured. Sometimes you just have to pack your bags and give yourself to the open road. Keep your eyes, heart and mind open for what lies ahead. With life—and love—there are roadblocks and flat tires, long stretches of monotony, life-changing discoveries, breathtaking vistas and sweet memories.
When we finally came back to southern California, it was clear that my husband wasn’t ready to make any major decisions. Katie and I moved into our own apartment and built a life. Two years later, long after he’d tired of the receptionist, long after he’d continued vacillating about whether or not he wanted to be married to me, he met someone new and filed for divorce.
Twenty-three years later, I am still navigating the road less traveled. I haven’t been in love since, but have finally decided I’d like to be. I’d like to find a man who appreciates the lessons I’ve learned on this long windy road. I’d like him to be a great traveling companion. I’d like him to be kind, a sparkling conversationalist, passionate, have a great sense of humor and know how to pick out the perfect earrings for the girl that lives inside this aging woman. If he has an acoustic guitar, knows more than eight songs and can change a tire, so much the better.
#Writing101 | Day Four | Choose an image and write: Map