w r i n k l e d
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
I’ve been searching for a good analogy. The best way I can explain it is like if you find a good old house. One with a red door and metal mailbox out front just like you’d always wanted. One that right away feels like home. You can already envision what it will look like with the windowsills painted a thick coat of shiny white and how over time, you’ll renovate the kitchen and redo the bathrooms and grow herbs in the backyard until it’s exactly how you imagined your perfect house would be. Where you can raise kids, and later those kids would return for college holidays with big bags of laundry and a new boyfriend or girlfriend in tow. The kind of place you can grow old in, drinking lemonade while lying in the backyard hammock. And so you buy the house and soon the kids come and suddenly there are soccer practices and homework and swim meets and business trips. And meanwhile, the house quietly decays. You never do replace the chandelier. Moss grows on the West side of the roof. The garage hitches to one side like the leaning tower of Pisa. Of course, the kitchen never gets renovated. Every autumn, big slabs of flaking yellow paint mingle with the leaves until you can’t tell the difference between a falling house and the changing seasons. And then one day you wake up and nothing looks like what you thought it would.
OK, so that’s what it was like - our marriage, neglected during the business of living. We had been two people and then a couple. When the kids came, we became a team. We delegated responsibility: He made the money, I did everything else. Chris traveled four days a week and in his free time, he started a side project, sat on boards, mentored ambitious young talent. If he had people in his life I didn’t know existed, I couldn’t live without mine: When I got a flat tire on my way to drop the kids at school, I called Susan and Mike. Lonely dinners were replaced with potluck meals at Elaine’s. If my doctor’s appointment ran late, I called Sherri or Lisa to pick up the kids. We were resourceful and independent, the separation of roles cleaved so deeply that we ended up on opposite sides of a valley. I don’t know. Is that a lame analogy? It doesn’t matter, really; the end result is the same. Early January 2014, after 17 years of marriage, we privately and quietly separated.
The ensuing two months were a hot cauldron of bad soup, a period where I took to waiting in the car and wearing big hats and doing my shopping in the off hours just to avoid having to eke out one more false pleasantry (which, to be honest, I was never very good at anyway). And just as the kids finally started to sleep through the night and we’d begun the messy business of untangling our lives, Lillian sends me an email – a Groupon for a yoga class. Seemingly harmless, but it’s her note that catches my eye: “In case the life you’re rewriting includes hot yoga.” I put down my Candy Crush game. Seriously, had I forgotten that I was writing my life?
Let’s say you woke up one morning. Actually, you didn’t wake up so much as never really went to sleep. You just lay there waiting for the black ceiling to creep slowly from one shade of dark to another until finally the monochromatic wheels of grey have spun from inky to pale. You just lay there all night staring at the ceiling with the realization that you could start over.
What if you just got rid of the house and the car and cashed out the savings? What if you stopped worrying about whether it was the right thing to do or what was good for the kids and your parents? Who cares if you “earned it” or “deserved it” or whether any of it made “sense”? If the great wide expanse of the world was laid open to you (because it is), what would you do? Where would you go? Who would you be?
Chris and I had been talking about taking a trip like this for as long as I could remember, but I didn’t go on this trip to save our marriage. I didn’t do it for our family. I did it because I needed to know that I still had the audacity to make myself happy, that I had the nerve to live the life that I’d always envisioned, one that despite everything, included Chris. And hell or high water, if I was going to be responsible for my own happiness, I had to get out of my own way and take whatever I needed.
So was the year everything I had imagined it would be? No. Twelve months turned into 10. We hit 21 countries instead of the targeted 12. We traveled faster and lighter than anticipated. We went (way) over budget. Homeschool was harder than I thought. Full-time parenting without the distractions of friends, classes and school is not the way to get one-on-one time with your spouse. And it took several months for us to understand that we were not on vacation (as we had no “home” to go back to), but that travel is a way of life.
In so many ways it was better. We now know that we can, and want, to live with way less. We all know how to BE without the distraction of TV and plans and friends and toys. And as if dip dyed in a vat of their own being, Isoo has become more vibrantly Isoo and, Oona more Oona. We four have gotten insanely, ridiculously close. Most of all, I gained a deeper understanding of just how endlessly fascinating the world is and how incredibly privileged and blessed we are to be American.
For the record, in breakneck speed we managed to separate, reconcile, sell the house (and all of our crap), pull the kids from school and away from their friends, and drag them around the world. To the untrained eye, they are the luckiest kids on earth. The truth is, it’s been a tumultuous and crazy year for them, which makes them either the most flexible, resilient, awesome kids ever or doomed for zillions of dollars in future therapy. Personally, I think they are super cool.
As for Chris and I, I’m not sure what to say. There have been many times I felt trapped on this trip with the world’s most annoying person. Other times I literally burst with pride at his ability to navigate tricky situations with calm and confidence. He is absolutely fearless and arrogant and loving and silly. My perfect co-pilot. And then I wonder what all the fuss was about; was love lost or were we merely weathering yet another rut in the often bumpy road that is marriage? What happens when we return to “real life”? I don’t know. I have no answers. But I can’t imagine having done this trip with anyone else, or having had as much fun.