Dave was on a business trip last week when I flew out to Boston. He returned while I was gone, and then left again before I came back. When I arrived home on Sunday evening, I saw evidence of his having been here – a polished kitchen sink, the washer dial turned to hot, and tongs in the salad bowl in the refrigerator. Initially, I felt a tinge of sadness knowing he wouldn’t be home for another five days. But now, on Wednesday, still two full days away from his return, I’m having to be intentional to avoid being downright despondent. Continue reading
I ran out of gas today. I don’t mean that my energy fizzled and I took a nap or that I went running and couldn’t take another step. I mean that I ran out of gas driving down the highway. After a fun Green Bean Casserole Run and a lovely visit with two of my Kilimanjaro friends, I was driving home, and my car suddenly lost power. I could feel it coasting, so I turned on my hazards and navigated over to the right in the hopes that I could get to the shoulder before the car died completely. I did, but just barely. My driver side tires were pretty much on the line on the side of the road, so I crawled out the passenger side door and called for help. Then I waited. For over an hour, I waited. Continue reading
This week, I made the decision to join a masters swim program. I swam in different programs years ago when I lived in Austin, and I did really well in them. I became a strong swimmer, especially during my years training at the Courtyard when I would swim four days a week. It wasn’t the frequent swimming, but the swimming with others that really made me strong. When I moved from far northwest Austin to the country far southwest of town, I abandoned my masters program because my old facility was miles and miles away, and there was no good option nearby. That’s now changed.
This weekend, Dave and I went to a marriage seminar organized by some friends of mine from the Church at Lake Travis. A pastor friend of theirs from Alabama spoke about marriage. It’s hard to summarize all that he said, but what I walked away with is that marriage is an opportunity and an obligation to love another unconditionally. Marriages work when people decide to stick with them. That second statement seems obvious, but it’s true, right? If people quit, the marriage is done. But if they stick with it, even when it’s hard, then there’s a chance that things will get better. This workshop really hit home with me in a way that convicted me to apologize to Dave about various things I’d said and done or not done in the last month. Continue reading
Dave’s been in town for just over a month. It’s lovely – absolutely lovely – to have him here, but I can’t pretend that it’s all easy. It’s not. It’s been a long time since I did anything other than have a long-distance relationship. Long-distance is easy. You have wonderful visits when you’re together, and you get regular life and lots of alone time when you aren’t. That always worked well for me. Life with someone – really with someone – is very different and much harder. Continue reading
Last night, I had a girlfriend over for dinner. I live out in the country, exactly 23 miles from downtown Austin. One of my dear friends jokes that I live so far out that she needs a passport to come visit. It’s obviously not that far, but the drive does keep people from just stopping by and often even from coming over at all. But this friend wanted to come. I think she has a thing for Bread, which I totally understand! He is a handsome little guy.
For nearly four hours, we talked at my kitchen table, nibbling on food much of the time. For the last hour, we began the process of saying goodnight and wandered my house and talked about different things. Alison admired my vast collection of books. I got to show her the Christmas cards from friends around the country that cover my refrigerator. I got to show her the blinds that Bread or Butter or perhaps both mutilated. As I showed her my piano room, she noticed a picture of my friend Jeff, who died in 2006, and that gave me an opportunity to tell her about what a special guy he was and what a beautiful relationship he had with a woman who loved him long before he realized it (though it was clear as day to me, silly boy) and who continues to love him more and more with each passing day. She even noticed the little Saint Gertrude statue that my friend Catherine gave me years ago. Saint Gertrude is, among other things, the patron saint of cats, so she lives high up on a shelf in my living room where she can keep a watchful eye on Bread and Butter for me.
I got to have conversations with Alison that could only happen in my space. And I loved every minute of it. I think Alison had fun too, at least in part because Bread warmed up to her incredibly quickly and even sat on her lap for a bit. That’s unusual for him. He’s a total love bug with me but incredibly shy around strangers.
When she left, not because we ran out of things to say but because it was nearly midnight, I walked back into my house, started to do the dishes, and caught myself smiling. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed having someone in my home.
I’ve spent much of the last year telling myself that I’m better off alone than with someone who is able to walk away from me – someone who is willing to do life without me. That’s true, I think. But I also think I’d started to warp my own message. I’d started to tell myself that I should be alone.
Last night, I was reminded how much I enjoy the company of another, how much I enjoy sharing space with another, and how much I do not desire to be alone, even if it’s easier than dealing with disappointment, even if it’s safer than trusting another completely, even if it’s less scary than trying again.
I’m grateful to Alison for making the drive, for being genuinely interested in who I am and how I am, and for helping me remember how wonderful it feels to share my home with another person. I needed that reminder.
In three months, I’ll be getting on a flight to Tanzania for my Kilimanjaro climb and safari adventure. That feels so strange to say because Africa was never on my list of things to do. The idea just came to me one day in mid June as I was thinking about possible ways to spend new years, and I decided to follow my heart even though I thought my heart might be crazy.
The first thing I did was mention the idea to my friend Matt who has done the climb. This was Sunday, June 16, days before I was leaving to race Ironman Coeur d’Alene. My thought was to set up a lunch for when I got back, but Matt was so excited that he responded to my e-mail on Monday with, “You have lunch plans today?” I didn’t, so we had lunch, and his enthusiasm was so complete that I walked away from that lunch committed in my own mind about the effort. I got back to my office and immediately requested information from the outfitter that Matt had used. When I got back from Coeur d’Alene, I reviewed the information they sent me and, on June 29, I put down my deposit. Acting in 13 days is record time for me, as I am perhaps the slowest decision-maker on the planet. I suppose I could have walked away from the deposit, but on August 7, I bought my ticket. Then I was in for sure. On September 3, the outfitter charged my credit card for the balance of what I owed. Then I was in for damn sure.
Now I’m buying travel insurance, rescue insurance, and health insurance for the trip. I’m looking at immunization lists and gear lists. I’m trying to figure out what I have and what I need and what I want for this trip. How will I charge my phone and camera on the climb? What will I carry in my day pack? Will I take paper books or an e-reader? How much can I pack in the duffel bag that porters will carry for me? What do I need to buy and what can I borrow from friends?
My Grand Canyon trip has helped because I now have a day pack, sleeping bag, hat and gloves. Hood to Coast helped me because I now have a compact pillow and small travel towels. Matt has helped by loaning me his trekking poles, which have been up the mountain before. He assures me that they know the way! But I need to figure out the clothes, especially because most of what I own no longer fits me. I’ve lost almost 19 pounds since January, so I’m having to buy new pants all around. Even the pants I bought in July with Rey are getting loose. At some point, I’ll do a big REI trip to buy a bunch of clothes and gear. That will be a fun effort.
But logistics aside, it’s hitting me that I’m going to Africa, and I’m going alone. My first international trip (to Italy and Greece) was with a girlfriend and her family. My second (to Spain) was to meet my friend Erin, who was studying there for a semester. My third (England and Germany) was for an extended family reunion on my dad’s side. This will be only my fourth big trip, and I’m flying for over 24 hours alone to climb a mountain in Africa with five other people I’ve never met. The me of two years ago before I’d done any international travel would never have done this.
Who have I become?
I’m someone who is turning forty in less than three months and doesn’t want being forty and alone to feel like…well, the way I expect forty and alone to feel. I want to appreciate that I have a wonderful job that allows me travel. I want to take advantage of not having kids and not being responsible for anyone but myself. I want to enjoy being able to book a trip on a whim – or as close to a whim as I’ve ever come – and seeing it through. I love people and want someone by my side, but I also want to be completely okay with being just me.
Africa is about me doing something I never thought I would do. It’s about proving to myself that I can adapt to a different and challenging environment, that I can enter a foreign territory with no one holding my hand, and that I can battle my way up to any finish line I choose to face. It’s about me trying something new and having fun. Africa is about me enjoying being forty and being forty the best way I know how.
I’m excited. And a little scared. But mostly, I’m excited. I can’t wait to get on the plane. This experience will be all my own, and I have a feeling I will come back changed somehow. I don’t know how, but I suspect it’ll be for the better.
Africa, I have high hopes for you and for me. I can’t wait for us to meet.