Long before kids came along I had a life. It was a very different life and I can't even begin to compare the two except to say that the first, unbeknownst to me at the time, was preparing me for the second. After I graduated from college I was only clear on one thing; I was free. I loved to travel and I loved change, but I wasn't sure where that would lead. Along the way, I met a cute guy. We spent ten years 'on the road'. I know my parents were beside themselves. I was a sorority girl from a nice Southern family. Those don't, typically, morph into gypsies. And while my friends were building careers and families and homes and fortunes and dutifully contributing to their retirement plans, I was, well, just all over the map.
I was making pottery with a group of amazing women in Athens. I was tending voodoo lilies at a rare plant nursery in Michigan. I was waiting tables and eating well all over the country. I was living in a tent by a creek in Jackson Hole, in a flop house in Portland a block away from the best bookstore in the world. We would criss cross the country for any reason at all and when that got old, we would hop on a plane and do the same in Europe. Along the way we worked and made friends and found our way. And while our bank accounts were never flush and we would push them to the brink of zilch in our travels, we were making serious deposits in another account.
What account is that? I'm not sure what it's called. The 'unflapppable' account? The 'I can go anywhere and do anything at anytime' account. The first hand 'isn't this world amazing' account. The 'wow! we are all so different, but wonderful' account. The 'I'm scared, but let's dive in head first' account. The 'oh, I get it, there's nothing to be scared of' account. The 'a stranger might just be your next best friend' account. There is really no explaining it and not everyone thrives in the face of uncertainty, but in our travels we found joy around every bend in the road. We met extraordinary people. We lost the fear that is usually associated with the unknown and found in its place excitement.
At times, I was worried that this wouldn't translate into the real world. That we would come up short. What fool takes their retirement first. These were the grindstone years. The dues paying years. We had nothing of monetary value to show for any of it.
The hardest I have ever laughed was in a hotel in Tangier, where Matt and I shared a room with a fellow traveler. The whole town shut down at 6:00 PM, and by shutting down I mean that the power grid is offed. No lights. No running water. Decidedly un-American, it was. We were hungry and tired. I have no idea what got us started, but I will never forget the dark room, the thick stone walls, the uncomfortable beds, that man chanting in the alley, the toilet that wouldn't flush, and the laughter so insane that it hurt. As soon as we would calm down, someone would utter some foolishness and it would start all over.
It was late late late... after a shift at a very authentic Italian restaurant in a tiny western town. A fellow I worked with, as all American as my brother, sat across from me as we ate our employee meal and said, out of the blue, through tears, that he thought he was gay. The Gin Blossoms were playing on the radio. Allison Road. He couldn't tell anyone else. We hugged and cried. 'It doesn't feel like it right now, but it's going to be fine.' Or something like that. I don't remember what I said exactly. That night I drove toward the mountains and stopped at the river. I threw my sleeping bag down on the bank of The Snake and fell asleep, worried for my friend. I woke up in the night and there were three moose just feet away from me. I could have touched them.
Thousands of beautiful 'snapshots' spread out across the years.
They pulled into Port Townsend, WA. They knew not a soul. It was as quaint as it gets. They had their cat, Ruby, a frantic yellow dog named Wilma (who would drink her weight in salt water AND get hit by a car the next day...but be fine) and about $600 dollars in the bank. They were staying in a cute boarding house on the beach, and would look for a place to live the next day, after a visit to the vet, of course. It should be interesting. A cat, a dog, next to no money, no jobs....and the girl six months pregnant to boot....
That other account was full. We saw only the Excitement and Joy of our situation, that others might have called a predicament. We found a precious house for $500 a month. How could the landlady turn away this couple bursting with hope. She couldn't. Matt went to work. They furnished the tiny house with yard sale finds and lots of candles. They kept the wood stove burning and hunkered down for the nastiest winter in Washington history. With the promise of spring, a due date approached.
Words can't express. On a gray day in May a red headed little boy was born. Never have I known such a love.
And with a storehouse of laughter and tears, the three of us set out on the next great adventure. Every toothless grin was as fascinating as the medina in Fez. His fat warm baby body in bed between us was sweeter than all the pastries in Paris.
What's crazy, is that every day I am still in TOTAL awe and three kids later that account is bursting.
Cashmoney? Not so much.
Wide eyed wonder? I can loan you some.