Running Away as a Grown Up Solution

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I am regularly tempted to run away. It’s been an impulse much of my life that, more often than not, I’ve managed to resist in the literal sense. For someone whose formative mind was instilled with a strong sense of responsibility regarding duty and other acquired commitments–and who enjoys her life overall–this fantasy appears to be in conflict. Who would abdicate one’s life ties so easily? But I’m not sure it is so at odds.

A fledgling “escape desire” flared by age ten to twelve while reading a few pulpy novels about independent young women heading off to dazzling New York, for an example, to pound on doors of business (seeking an editor’s trajectory at a hip magazine) or theater (an actor’s life in musical theater) or medical centers (a doctor’s or nurse’s career). The adventures they had, the surprising people they met! I can yet recall how the books evoked yearning; it lit within me an ardor that fueled childish dreams. And I did enjoy the story lines that ended with satisfaction after a few hairy trials. Heroines of a sort they were, and they sometimes found love.

Yet a secret desire to escape Midland along a more general wanderlust developed even before then. Each month I poured over National Geographic, as well as Life and Look and Saturday Evening Post. Everyone was doing things far more interesting than what I saw going on in my town, and they were doing it in  marbvelous places. I imagined what it might be to leave my small Michigan city where we mostly knew one another. To leave heartbreaks already experienced, discarding a sometimes stifling atmosphere of a competitive, properly behaved, often blinkered family. And then to embrace the freedom of options that I listed by adolescence. Too few if things went the way they had been.

On my walls I taped discarded posters salvaged from travel agencies–Paris, London, Madrid, Buenos Aries. I studied them and was transported to bustling public squares, colorful outdoor cafes, saw music and dance performances on the street, and soon almost slipped in the picture to leap along turquoise waves. I kept a bulletin board with more visual and verbal encouragements, each a promise to myself that I was getting out.

The truth was, I was also happy to go to Chicago and wander (close to parents) the “windy city’s” exciting streets or even Detroit’s muscular, diverse energy. I appreciated journeying to see relatives in Missouri and Kansas, Texas and Colorado–not just to visit them. I couldn’t wait to absorb with senses and mind the days and nights of varied countryside, decayed or beautiful buildings, window shop in tiny or shiny, mammoth stores, join the parade of passersby on streets, even quiet byways. On other summer trips cross-country all I had to do was gaze out the back seat car window to find cheery roadside fruit and veggie stands or fancy skyscrapers and historical makers amid deep woods, not to mention places too much to even put into words such as the Smokey Mountains or the Grand Canyon: instant, moving beguilement. Stories took shape at each pause, then we were off to the next part. The whole world was rife with oddness, joy, variety, magic. How to bridge the gap between modest reality when back home and that grander one?

Later, I did run away by skirting limits, then breaking rules and half-submerging myself in a shadowy world of drugs (an escape that ends up as hell), living a double teen-aged life. Not running towards what I’d hoped but trying to get away from much, I was a teen with potential but also issues. By age 15, I was placed in a foster home for a few months; it was terrible, ended disastrously though I learned better to depend more on myself. At nearly 17, it was arranged that I share an apartment with a “respectable” twenty-one year old woman who was working long hours and needed help with rent. That, too, was not any good dream fulfilled but a chance to use more substances, and try to avoid the law. Overdoses, breakdowns, then finally being given a one way ticket to live with a sister and her friend. Now that was something, a log cabin on Lake Washington, freedom, nature surrounding us, new people, a wild boyfriend. But one cannot run from one’s haunted self and eventually I returned to the old hometown, then began university studies at last, feeling defeated but determined to move on and out of there. I didn’t know there were worse hurdles to come. But I vowed to one day return to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with its creatively charged cities (which took me twenty years). The wanderlust had set its tender roots deep within.

But I became an adult in fits and starts as I got clean. Before long I committed myself to being a mother, a wife, a worker bee. I had not well considered being a wife nor had I expected to become a mother due to diagnosed fertility problems. Thus, my learning curve was steep but i am nothing if not persistent, for good or ill. Once setting a goal, I am all in or I admit defeat and try another path. As a mother, there can be no selfish foolishness.

Thus, I determined at last that pockets of daydreams were fine for long pauses but not so useful in everyday life. Daily life held exceptional moments but required diligent attention, sweat, sacrifices. It was time to stop desiring another life. Get on with it, get busy attending those new needs. Escapist fantasies were for selfish people or perhaps cowards.

But you know, it is hard to stop wanting what one feels is needed, yet cannot have. In the long afternoons when rocking beautiful but squalling babies; when tallying up the income, outgo and what little food was left on the shelf; when the night wrapped itself about me in a sometimes too-empty bed; and when more devils of illness and heartache came, that old longing whispered in my ear: ah, to leave this hurt/poverty/backwater place/man and begin anew, to search out happiness, to be gifted with possibilities like dandelion fluff that floats into open palms, seeds for new growth landing in my eager grasp. At such moments, the recollection of old hopes is strong, bittersweet.

I got up in the night and wrote. A song, a story, a three line poem. I sat in the pearly glow of moonlight spilled onto living floors or danced a few steps in dew-spun grass out the back door as my family slept. There was an empty spot within that slowly burned, called out for more. As much as I gave myself over to hope and prayer for a life that filled up the wells rather than readily emptied them, I shouldered a burden of shame. Why wasn’t love of my children and their father utterly enough? It was the 1970s, then the 1980s. It was a far throw from the restrictive fifties into which I was born. Yet I was more often the one in a room full of women without the big career, with little to show for my perseverance to stay fully alive, just to daily do the decent thing. I did own a passport that held stamps from only Canada while my second husband traveled often and farther (and still does).

Of course, life was transformed many times over. I moved to other places on the worn paper U.S. map I spread on the floor to show the kids where to next, our fingertips tracing blue, red and black arteries that crisscrossed the country. I was excited to move again, to meet new people, explore new scenery, thought of myself as a roaming soul. I lived in pleasing houses and raised more children. I went back to work, had a career I appreciated. From time to time, however, I still imagined running away though I knew it would not happen, not the ways I’d once invented. And never unless I took the children with me, for I adored them. (This did occur a few times.) They’d become as much the anchor bolts of my life foundation as my faith in God. Still. The urge to escape, to extend my reach further, was part of my self just like my loyalty to family. I could get restless. I tried to be more content. It could not be denied that there were many golden moments to find. The children and I had delicious adventures and men I’ve loved also have inspired times both life enhancing and fulfilling.

There was, however, another way of transportation to other realms. Not surprisingly, it was what I both felt and learned as a young person: becoming ever better at tuning into both inner and outer worlds; and acting in creative ways in response. By paying attention and loving what and how I chose to see, then letting myself be moved to make something of it–this becomes a door cracked, and then it springs wide open. It is being in the moment and doing any sort of creative work.

In this way, I have found it is not so hard to slip the confines of life’s various conundrums and prisons. I am not speaking to experiences of those who have suffered far worse but only to my own experiences. There are readers of this blog who’ve read of harrowing times, the worst of which I haven’t shared here and some of which have been fictionalized. The point is, in my own strenuous circumstances, there has been a way to get out, to slip the bonds of everything from obnoxious boredom to terrifying events. It is all accomplished by power of mind and strength of soul. And if you have a few extra bucks in your pocket, a road trip always makes the mix more engaging. A brisk walk around the neighborhood can even be a start, for some of us, anyway. The same potential for wonder can blossom in unassuming ways.

I find it rewarding to embark on armchair travels as well, via reading or watching documentaries. I’m good with a trip to our far flung coasts or a hike in nearby valleys and mountains. And my husband and I go on a jaunt to Canada now and again. I avail myself of others’ offerings, such as a brother and sister-in-law mentioned before in posts who travel nonstop and take fine photographs. I just listen to their experiences, thumb through their websites. I am expanded, enlightened more. It’s not being there, but it counts. Interestingly, when my parents returned from European travels after I’d left home, I felt that same tingle of excitement. They shared slide shows and I loved every minute, even my parents’ verbally meticulous notations of each scene.

Most of all, being in possession of an imagination is a powerful tool for all. Sometimes I think this century has lost sight of its most basic operational sense. Do we need to always be entertained by speedy, sometimes shallow offerings, by endless media distractions splashed across screens? Because I’m in my sixties, I didn’t grow up with these things so got used to utilizing my own resources. I know technology does aid us. But we have our extraordinary, DNA-designed “imaginarium”, the human mind. The more it is used, the more finely attuned it becomes and the better it serves–for entertainment, yes, but also to problem solve, to explore strange unknowns, to empathize with others, to engage in a spectrum of possibilities from artistic expression to humanitarian services to entrepreneurial plans. To fashion, then immerse one’s self in a fulfilling life. Spiritually, it is just one step further and forward. For in my view, soul and mind are part of a vast continuum, a powerhouse combination leading us to grander interconnecting, cohesive designs. It all fits together nicely.

Truth be told, I more or less run away multiple times a day. I write something, read widely, dance, sing, listen to music. I make pictures, attend films, plays and concerts. Enjoy talking with other people often, listening to conversations on the street and in cafes, observing from the windows as humanity ebbs and flows past my home. And of course there are daily walks  and weekend hikes that are never uninspiring, but both balm and surprise. Escapes like these replenish. Perhaps they are, rather, more of an augmentation of our humanness, enriching and resettling, so that we gather strength and stamina and clearer minds for whatever is to come. So we can better act in accord with our higher selves. Mend our broken spots. Buoy the tiresome moments of life.

But my husband told me once that he doesn’t quite get how I can be so satisfied by simply looking at visuals and reading about places, people, things. It surprised me. I thought everyone felt that way. If I can imagine it, I can claim an experience that is still  powerful.

“See that chalet on a Swiss mountainside?” I asked and pointed at a picture. “I can begin to see a life being lived there and I can zoom in and imagine being there, even that it is mine a moment if I choose. It is mentally entering a new country, crossing over into another time or kingdom. I do not have to get on a plane to do that much. It is the cheapest route to exploration!”

There is a last grand escape (not counting leaving the human body) idea for which I do sporadic research: where to live when my husband retires, maybe in five years. Surely not in this traffic-ridden, burgeoning city where housing costs are skyrocketing monthly. I’ve been musing over Boise, Idaho for the grandeur of the mountains and four more defined seasons, and most important,  a lower cost of living. Then I am attracted to San Diego, California with its wonderful weather and ocean side living–but a frail pipe dream as we don’t have the budget required. And I have always wondered about the Mediterranean–isn’t there some island we might make a life upon? Say, magical, monastically simplified life on Santorini? Next week it may be Norway or Ireland that I’ll investigate. Or, okay, perhaps upstate Washington, always an area we like to visit.

On the other hand, I can’t take my children from their work and so on, can I? Of course, they’re full grown adults now, plotting their own fun and important ventures. But a few live here and grandchildren, too. We will have to give it a long, hard think. There is more than one way to book a good place and time in this life. We’ll see what happens. Right now I am becoming lost in a recording by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and I am somewhere wonderful that time will reveal, perhaps in the next poem I’m moved to write. But later–when Marc gets home from his Mexico business trip– there is another trip to be planned for a pause in our daily duties. Yes, a small and happy escape.

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View from the Olympic Mountains, Washington from a good “escape trip”

 

 

The Detour

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The problem is, he is insistent on using a map. They have a GPS but no, it’s his new map that’s consulted. The Macklebees have been cruising along the interstate when Gerry spots a thready side road in the crease of the brightly colored tri-fold map.

“No, not that way. Not this time! We have three hours to get to the birthday party and that’s that.”

Lucille is very certain of herself and her driving. Gerry finds her behind-the-wheel style plodding. Unimaginative. She has been a principal driver for the bakery delivery van for years and before that she picked up and dropped off clothing for her alterations business. Door to door; it is almost a talent. She is an exacting driver who knows just how to get places. Gerry wonders why she takes such pride in this, but it is true Lucille possesses a mind that becomes etched with relevant details and thus, she gets product or person to places on time because she doesn’t deviate.

Gerry, on the other hand, prefers otherwise and protests, even argues his point.

“We’re on the road. We haven’t had a trip since last fall. It’s all work, work, work–all well and good, but now it’s time to play. Let’s take a new road at exit 41.”

She makes her little humming noise, a cross between a grunt and a dismissive sigh. It is mid-morning. They are to arrive at their daughter’s and son-in-law’s by mid-afternoon. They always stop (the three other times they have visited the new place) for lunch at a cheery, cheap cafe situated just between breakfast and Anne’s place. Lucille looks forward to the route, an easy drive to the townhouse where Anne and Toby and their son, Edsel–the first grandchild, two today!–now reside at the edge of the capital city.

“I just want to get there. After a good lunch at Clare’s Classic Cafe. We can meander our way back on Sunday. There will be time then.”

“There’s time now, and the sun’s shining away and the corn will be growing vigorously in the country. Turn at the next exit, please, honey.” He reaches across the back of the seat and twice squeezes her plump shoulder, as if a loving signal she ought to obey.

She squints at the sign: six miles to the exit where there is also a rest stop. She might reconsider for the rest stop but then he will argue that they should continue down his vitally important side road. If he had flown planes or run trains for a living, the passengers would have ended up in unwanted, surprising, perhaps shocking, destinations. Luckily, he’s a reluctant businessman who discovered he had a knack for baking. And married her to keep all the slippery organizational data straight. The complementary set they make works well, like salt and pepper.

She presses the gas pedal and switches lanes in one swift move, as if their compact Ford is a dominant force on the road, then looks at her husband. “I think Toby is doing very well now. Anne didn’t say, but she did mention they bought a new–oh, what do they call it? A dial-your-own-firmness sort of mattress. And a new leather couch. So he must have.”

“Or she got a raise. She’s a good French teacher.” He smiles at the thought of her early French as a teen. “Toby’s just a hard guy to know. Sells car parts, likes rugby. And reads John LeCarre–in agreement with that interest.”

Gerry is holding the map closer to his nose. He recently got bifocals and it’s still a guessing game more often than not. He recalls seeing another side road, a county road that seemed to curl around hills, right into wine country. Maybe that would be more fun.

“Foreign car parts, not domestic. Makes a big difference.”

“I suppose so. You know, we might skip Clare’s Cafe and take our chances on roadside stands. If we follow this way.” His finger creeps along the tiny black line from exit 41 to nowhere in particular. He knows they might end up being late but it’s not as if they’re taking a meeting with the Pope. Anne will hardly notice.

“I think she is happier since the baby, don’t you?” She is certainly happier with a grandbaby.

“Hmmm, yes, and he seems happier. He wants a bushel of babies. I’m not sure Anne was consulted on that. She wants to live in France for a couple of years.”

“Oh, time for that.”

Gerry takes his eye off the map a moment to register the last few out-stations of suburban sprawl flashing by. Ping pong pow, he thinks irrelevantly as sunshine flashes off windows. He wishes they had a week off, not just two days. He feels an urge to get out and walk across the entire country. He often has this unruly impulse. It’s a childhood dream of his, given fresh impetus whenever they leave the city. It feels so close inside their house and bakery and also this dull grey car interior, even with windows cracked. He’d rather be in full control of his feet, pointing them elsewhere. Seeing more color. Anne understands, or did.

“If he wants her happy, Paris should figure into his big picture,” he mumbles.

When she was still a teen he’d told her he’d take her when she grew up. Then she grew up and went, anyway, and then got married. Gerry thinks Lucille is rather too optimistic about their son-in-law, though. He isn’t exotic, that’s for sure. Gerry also thinks they just need to focus on the pretty drive, not the family they will visit with for two days. Riding in the car always seeems to bring up subjects better left behind.

“Don’t start.”

Lucille waves away his words, then grips the steering wheel with renewed surety. Soon she will hug Edsel long and hard. She will just continue on. Exit 41 will come and go; he may not even notice with his nose in the crisp map. Gerry and his maps of everywhere, something she’s never understood. If not going there, why trace the routes?

The map is opened up. He loves to look at the entirety of Oregon, its topography highlighted in a select spectrum of soft colors, lighter to darker. The greens draw him in, just as actual forests do. On the map they’re series of irregular puzzle pieces. Inviting yet mysterious. They make populated areas notable for their comparative scarcity. This is a land shaped and regulated by trees. Owned by nature.

“It’s like a portrait, really, a rendering of places and experiences. History made. A record of dreams and daring. The earth.”

“What?” It’s map talk but it is habit to ask. Her dreamy husband.

“This updated map. I’d like to dive right in and find out more of what’s going on.”

“Gerry, here we are on the road, which is a squiggle on the paper map. You are actually having your experience right now.”

He almost disagrees but says nothing. She is thinking of one thing; he, another. He typically wants more.

“The exit, there, coming up!” He points.

“I’d rather keep going, stick to schedule.”

“I need the rest stop, anyway, don’t you?”

She taps the steering wheel with her short index fingernail.  “Yes.”

Once she parks and they get out they both stretch. Travelling makes her cramp up. She lumbers to the ladies’, he strides with looser limbs to the men’s. Afterwards, he enjoys a small cup of coffee after donating a dollar to the jar, tipping his baseball cap at volunteers from a service club. He likes the fact that they take time to serve mediocre coffee and cookies, welcoming everyone; it seems the best of being on the road in America. Gerry imagines they sit at rest stops all over the country, chatting and sharing treats. He’d like to find out if coffee is better in Georgia or Maine.

“You’ll just have to go again after drinking more,” she notes sharply as they start back to the Ford.

But she is not looking where she’s walking, and before Gerry can warn her, a small runaway dog dragging its leash crosses her path. It yelps as her foot entangles with the leash, giving the dog and her a yank.

Lucille knees start to buckle as her foot turns over but she grabs a trash receptacle.

And she half-straightens up. “Gerry?” Her round face is stormy with distress as she reaches to him, standing on the good foot. “My ankle!”

There is a flurry of activity as a couple of strangers check to see if she is okay and Gerry helps her to a bench, the anxious dog owner following. They examine it but find nothing remarkable; she can turn it without significant pain. There are effusive apologies amid Lucille’s stern advice, the dog given a very bad look. It backs away, panting. After a few minutes all seems better and they start back arm-in-arm.

“I’d better drive.”

“I think I’ll be fine, just a bit sore.” She turns back to glare at the offenders, now vanished. “Of all things!”

“It’s your brake and gas pedal foot.” Gerry takes the keys and helps her into the passenger seat.

Lucille grabs map and tosses it into the back seat. Dogs! Irresponsible pet owners! She is annoyed with the whole situation although she consoles herself with the fact of a sprained ankle being far better than a broken one. And it may not be sprained, only stressed. She hopes she can play with Edsel without impediment. That she can still help Anne while Gerry and Toby get to know one another better as they admire the updated patio and grill.

But there is nothing she can do about Gerry driving. No telling where they will end up. She thinks he looks a tad smug behind the wheel. If only he have any urges to stop, doesn’t take unnecessary chances on the unknown road.

She tells him so: “Just get us there soon, in one piece.”

“What sort of chances can you take with a six-year-old car on a lonely back road?” A smile skips across his narrow face.

Gerry’s chest prickles with excitement as he backs out, then soon enters the country. The road is eighteen miles long. A detour, sure, but it will reconnect to the highway. If that is what he decides to do.

His wife rubs her forehead with both sets of fingers. He lapses into happy silence though Lucille comments on the rough ride, barns in need of repair, farmers toiling in the summer heat. There are few other vehicles after a battered truck trundles down a private road with its load of crates and huge bags of , perhaps, fertilizer. He wonders what are in those crates.

“Don’t take the curves so fast. There might be pheasants or snakes or a stray cow, one never knows.”

Her hand often checks the tender ankle as she sips from a water bottle. Removes her slip-on sneakers and repositions her bulk. Her eyelids falter, then fall.

Gerry feels the release that comes with this quasi-solitude. The rows and rows of corn look triumphant. Wide front porches of farmhouses are dressed up with hanging flower baskets, painted chairs. Cats dash into driveways, chasing birds or mice or dust whorls and a few dogs chase him as he slows for a better look at barns and sheds, the yards, the men on the tractors who wave back. He has the windows open and the air is overwhelmingly sweet in that wilder way he misses smelling at home. Everything is brighter, clearer out here. The grasses dance in a rifling of wind. The treetops net light so that an entire line of them–are they only ash or cottonwood?–are pulsating against a sapphire backdrop. And then the rolling vineyards–stately, precisely designed, flourishing as intended, soon to be transformed into drink. What beautiful sorts of grapes ripen, ready themselves for offering delights?

This is what he waits for, a curvy country road on a summer’s afternoon. Oh, he loves his daughter and maybe her husband a bit. Of course, that Edsel boy! And Lucille, his right hand, his trusted partner in good and bad times. But to be free like a leaf tossed into a rippling river, that is what his soul craves, he would welcome the bumps and being submerged, the turning this way and that, the wondrous shock of fresh air above the surface. The heart-shaking thrill of tumbling over an unseen cliff and landing somewhere new again. To feel the stunning energy of life being lived up close, at full speed.

How can he live such a stationary life? Why was he born with such a terrible urge to roam? But he does not go and do. He has a business and a family and he does the right thing. But there are times he studies the collection of old maps in his home office, smooths the frayed world map on his wall, spins the globe the family got him for his fiftieth and stops it with eyes closed. Where will he go now? Mongolia! Patagonia! He wants to pack a light bag and head out.

The car carries them down the road, Lucille dozing, Gerry driving a little faster now, the breeze catching his cap so he takes it off to let the last of greying wisps rise like little flags. He sees horses ambling from one good feed spot to another, heads nodding, their elegant bodies without conceit. Everything here is only as it seems. A purity of animate and inanimate. Gerry drinks deeply of this peace. His sport shirt collar and sleeves flap. He stares at sheep grazing and black and white cows lounging in cool greenness. A bumble bee zooms in, buzzes about and then exits past Lucille’s lovely double chin. She turns her face to him. Gerry chuckles. He has mapped out this time and he is free of cares.

And then the car lurches and sways as a tire hits a pothole. He slows down, rolls to a stop near a fruit stand. Lucille has bolted awake but softness clings to her, the part that often hides when she’s awake. Her blue eyes are tender.

“What’s going on?”

“Fruit stop.” He gestures to the stand which is manned by a boy of perhaps nine along with a big, old dog with a long snout.

“Oh, my, look at that beautiful line up.” Her eyes dance, perhaps now grasping his devious plan.

She eases out the door and finds her ankle fit enough. After he inspects the tire and finds it intact, they take their time looking over a surfeit of blackberries, blueberries, raspberries. They inhale the scent of heavy cantaloupes, burgundy plums and ruby nectarines. He chooses a warm blackberry and pops it into his mouth, savoring its succulence, then places one into Lucille’s. They buy and snack more on the fruits of summer than planned. The boy carefully counts his cash and wishes them a good trip, his dog’s tail wagging in accord.

But they hesitate, lean against the door and listen to crows confer on the fence and follow a red-tailed hawk as it sails high, then low. A heron makes its way from meadow to sky. They try to identify a songbird’s mellifluous call, practicing the notes. They each eat a nectarine, juice dripping down chins. Sweat runs its path between her pendulum breasts, down his broad back.

Lucille takes his face between her hands and plants a kiss on his unsuspecting cheek. Her sticky lips fall just right onto his sun-warmed skin. He returns it, smack dab on her lips. The shimmering, endless road beckons them a little but neither mentions time or destination. No one suggests the highway. They’re right here and they don’t need to say one word.

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Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson