On the Road Again

Bad bridge...

The loneliness of the long-distance traveler…embarking on a trip to New Mexico. It’s my longest solo trip since 1996, which was also to NM. That vacation was partly about conquering fears; I hated driving over bridges but knew I would have to endure a few long ones as I headed west by car, first to Cleveland and then Chicago, to visit friends and family. I’ve since figured out that it’s not all bridges that set my pulse racing and constrict my gut – it’s only the long, highly arced ones, where you can’t see the horizon ahead of you, get that first glimpse of what waits in the future.

Which, of course, pretty much sums up most of life, as I’ve learned since the IMD began.

So, on that earlier sojourn, I knew I had to conquer my fear of bridges, of being the driver and thus not able to avert my gaze or shut my lids completely. I had to, because I knew I did not want to live the rest of my life geographically jailed by rivers and bays with long, arching spans.

Then there was the flight  from Chicago to NM. It was my first plane trip in ten years, and for some reason, during that time, the first panic attacks had come, with an ever-growing list of triggers (like bridges…), and though I had never freaked out on a plane, I feared the possibility, and it’s the fear of fear, or of being somewhere where you have no control (or access to a doctor), that helps stoke the panic.

No control. Another common theme these last few months…

But as with the bridges, I knew I had to find a way to cope with the fear of flying (with apologies to Erica Jong). Because there were countries and continents I still had to explore, and getting there by plane was the only feasible mode of transport for someone not graced with an abundance of disposable income or time. Thankfully, my sympathetic MD gave me lorazepam, and no doctor since has refused me. I am careful not to abuse it, of course, despite my many references to it here at C?WC? The New Crisis has fueled an uptick in its use, but I do try to be judicious.

So that was the first NM trip, the first long solo trip. Now, history repeats itself, in a way (though there’s no driving to the Midwest this time. No, it’s Bradley to ABQ direct); the first trip came fairly soon after a divorce; this one comes with another in the works.

Perhaps more than that time, I am sensitive to the ways of the solo traveler. I study those around me: munching peanuts, blissing out under headphones, diving into the local paper or the ubiquitous USA Today. Me, I scribble notes and wonder how I will do on this longest of solo trips since meeting the Fex. And I think again about the first NM trip, which showed me the cultural charms and scenic awe and palpable spiritual power of the high desert and its mountain guardians.

Acoma, by Ansel Adams

Then there was the second trip, with the Fex. Back when things were good (unless I was delusional or misinformed; she did not indicate otherwise. Though, as I’ve learned, not hearing something said does not mean it is not thought, only to be sprung some years later on an unsuspecting spouse. Such is the way of divorce, I reckon). We did northern Arizona too, scanning the giant hole left in the earth by an ancient meteorite, leaving the Grand Canyon somewhat underwhelmed, standing on THE corner in Winslow, Arizona. And then on to NM, with Santa Fe and Taos and Bandelier and the Acoma Sky city. A world so unlike CT. A world we shared for those few days, creating more good memories we would hold together – forever.

Right. Oh, the naivete of the 40-something male!

The third trip to NM was for business, mostly. Research for a book, the chance to see some of the historic sites missed on earlier trips. And an attempt, again, to address another’s need: “Solitude. I crave solitude.” So she did, as I was increasingly informed. Even before this current trip, just weeks before the IMD began, I filled out the paperwork that might lead to my getting a grant so I could go off and write, break out of the routine, head to an energizing spot and craft something new – even then I thought about the other benefit that would accrue if I were lucky enough to get the money. She would have solitude. So many of my plans for so long were based on trying to satisfy that need, one I understood, to a point. One that left me feeling increasingly isolated, cut off. A foreshadowing, I now see.

The third trip was short. When I arrived home on a Monday evening, there was a message waiting for me. My father was in the hospital. I called home and got the details: Massive stroke. No use for surgery. Unlikely to regain consciousness. No extraordinary measures.

The next day, I was back at the airport, flying home to CT to begin the bedside vigil. To wait for my father to die. I talked to him, cried over him, hoped some of my words and emotions broke through into any part of his brain, his essence, that still functioned. But who knows?

Four years later, I am on my way to NM again. I’ll be celebrating (no, that is definitely not the right word; honoring) the anniversary of his death next week, alone. In solitude. I didn’t realize until the IMD began that I still have so much grief, so much sorrow, for his passing. That loss and the loss of my spouse have blended together at times. Though I see the differences. She is still here, if not with me. He is gone, though I try to conjure up a spirit, invoke the essence I longed to touch in that hospital room that other November. With him, I lost a part of myself and someone who loved me unconditionally. With her, I’m losing someone I realize now I never really knew, whose love obviously came with conditions – conditions I was not qualified to meet.

So, again, this trip to NM is about exploration, self-expression. Creation. Creating new worlds with my words. Maybe beginning the creation of a new self, one who is leaving behind a relationship and a life that seemed so sure. Boy, was that dumb. So I guess I‘m learning, again, that most of life is like this airplane flight I’m now on; I have no control over it. Or like when confronted with those horizon-blocking bridges that stir so much fear – I do not know what lies ahead. And ultimately, it’s all about traveling solo, no matter who is around us. Even those we count on most leave us in the end.

Boy, that somber conclusion was not where I thought I was heading when I started this. Let’s finish with a happier thought, shall we? It’s gonna be a great trip, and I’m gonna crank out some excellent new writing, while leaving thoughts of the IMD far behind. Amen.

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~ by mburgan on November 3, 2010.

2 Responses to “On the Road Again”

  1. Amen. Good post. Insightful. Have a safe and fun trip!

  2. Thanks. So far, so good. I love this place! There’s still a lot of color from the leaves, and the sky is so blue, and then the stars so bright at night. I could see living here, if I could afford it. Though it’s probably not any more expensive than CT…

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