GETTING ON WITH IT – What a Traveler Picks Up and Lets Go

On every journey, I pick new things up and leave old things behind: belongings, attitudes, friendships. I love Alaska so much that it wasn’t until after my talk in Bellingham, Washington that I realized something had dislodged inside me on my last visit to the Last Frontier.

I had fun talking with the small but enthusiastic group at Village Books.

I had fun talking with the small but enthusiastic group at Village Books, yet my insides felt chaotic. I wondered why. Part of it was due to something I normally wouldn’t talk about here, but then, I suppose this is the perfect place to talk about it…

…my period. This little fact of life can be a nagging concern for a female traveler. I don’t have normal periods anymore; I nearly hemorrhage, thanks to fibroids. So, though I enjoyed the event, my brain was in a weakened fog from blood loss, and I felt grateful that the podium stood between the audience and me when I sprang a leak. I may never attend a reading by a female author without contemplating that moment again.

Lucky Heather – I think she’s stuck with me for life.

Still, afterward when I drove to a tiny house in Anacortes, threw my arms around my dear friend Heather, and let the unloading begin, I knew something else was going on. I told Heather it was a testament to our closeness that while I had held it together throughout the trip, I felt comfortable enough with her to fall apart now. Lucky Heather – I think she’s stuck with me for life. I bitched about my lack of matching clean clothes, my exhausted inability to focus, my regret at ordering six boxes of books sent ahead to her place when I still had three in my car. In the midst of this diatribe, a bomb volleyed through my brain: I’d seen several friends during my stops in Anchorage and Juneau, and when we’d hugged goodbye I’d known that I’d never see them again. “That’s a lot to process,” Heather said.

It sure is.

Sam is a beautiful, generous, funny person, who makes me laugh without even trying – because she sees the upside-down side of everything.

A couple of days earlier in Anchorage, I had hung out with my friend Samantha – whom I used to call “my friend’s daughter” Samantha, but we’ve developed a friendship in our own right. This young woman is a beautiful, generous, funny person, who makes me laugh without even trying – because she sees the upside-down side of everything. She’s a police dispatcher who works nights, so I suppose that attitude is a necessity. When she told me that someone we both know has taken up with a barely legal Filipina girlfriend about 35 years younger than him, she pointed out, “That’s a whole person!” I doubled over laughing.

Sam and I went to the Snow City Café for French toast, even though she’s on a low-carb challenge with her co-workers. Then we went for a walk near Cook Inlet and laughed at the disgusting smell of low tide. I told her I was worried about her falling on the ice and breaking her tailbone. But doctors have told her it’s already broken, with no way to fix it – “I have no idea how it happened,” she said. “It’s a great excuse for getting out of stuff: I’m sorry, I can’t do that, I have a broken coccyx.”

I hope Sam is in my life to stay, too.

But there were former colleagues the night before, who’ve mentored, supported, and loved me through the craziest years of my youth, but who’s reasons for being in my life have vanished. I was grateful for this chance to tell them why they’ve been important to me, and vice versa. Being an author at a book release party is like being the bride at a wedding: you barely get to talk to the people closest to you. But now I think I understand why: there will be other chances to talk with those closest to me, but as for the others… who knows?

I flew to Juneau Sunday night and checked into a hostel. That part of my life may come to a close after this trip, too. An irritable woman showed me the chore list, handed me a thin towel, and showed me to a bunk with a thin, plastic-coated mattress like the one I used to put on my doll’s bed. Not bad for 10 bucks, but in each hostel, as I listen to strangers mutter and snore, and to bunk beds squeak and creak, I recall George Orwell’s gritty life among the poor in Down and Out in Paris and London. I’m tempted to write my hostel tales on a cardboard sign and beg people to buy my books on the side of a road – in hopes of making enough spare change to spring for a room of my own next time.

Monday, I had a blast at my radio interviews at KINY and KTOO.

Monday, I had a blast at my radio interviews at KINY and KTOO. It’s a strange switch from interviewer to interviewee. As a reporter, I was expected to keep my opinions under wraps; now I’m expected to express them. I certainly have a few. The main one these days is that “running away” isn’t a coward’s way out, but can, in fact, blaze the way to a more open life.

I’d forgotten how impressive is Juneau’s sudden rise from sea to mountain.

It was a sunny afternoon in Juneau, a kind dispensation from nature in the middle of a rainforest. I’d forgotten how impressive is that town’s sudden rise from sea to mountain.

In the evening, five women stopped in for my reading at Hearthside Books. A small group, but featuring faces I’m learning to recognize from town to town. There’s always a woman or three or five who lean forward with a palpable intensity: young women whose eyes glisten with sweet dreams, mid-life women whose eyes gleam with fierce determination, older women whose eyes penetrate with gentle wisdom. These women understand what it is to burn with a desire to live life completely, until the candle is used up. We’re happy to see each other, this unspoken club – thanks to the booksellers, travel geeks, and free spirits who’ve made these meetings possible.

We’re happy to see each other, this unspoken club – thanks to the booksellers, travel geeks, and free spirits who’ve made these meetings possible. (This is Katrina Pearson of Hearthside Books.)

Afterward, I had dinner with an old friend. It has been a dozen years since I knew him, and he was still ranting about everything from the sad state of democracy to the tyranny of seatbelt laws. I now realize that what I used to admire as his passion also contains an infinite anger, which hides an empty space where a personal life should be. He’s smart, well-informed… and alone.

He gave up drinking long ago. Yet at the end of the evening, he asked, “So, do you have time to get high?”

“The question is, do I want to?” I chuckled. But really, I found it depressing to consider an alcoholic thinking that using is no problem so long as it’s not booze. I gave him an extra-long hug goodbye, as I said, “I just realized, I may never come back to Juneau again.”

The Inside Passage is my favorite place in Alaska, and I may return with my husband someday. But the self-doubting person I was when I lived in Alaska will never return. A confident woman has taken her place: someone who knows who she is, and now wants to learn who other people are – under the surface.

So, as my girl parts released excess baggage behind the podium in Bellingham, my heart was releasing excess cargo of its own. My confusion wasn’t just the fog of hormonal shifts, but the effort to reconcile the grief of saying farewell to the beloved people from my past with the joy of saying hello to those bright and yearning eyes of the people who are part of my future.

3 thoughts on “GETTING ON WITH IT – What a Traveler Picks Up and Lets Go

  1. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    It can be tough to let go, because of the fear that I’m somehow devaluing some person, place or thing in my life. I find the Buddhist idea of non-attachment helpful – which reminds me that even the most valued people in my life can be transitory visitors.

    I love when my writing hits a chord with you, Beth. You’re such an intelligent woman that when our minds connect it makes me feel smarter. Thank you. 🙂

    Reply

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