on October 22, i hit the road to drive across the country to Mexico. with an over-packed car, the man in the passenger seat and a dancing heart, i pulled away from my house and began the drive to Alexandria VA, my first stop on this adventure. for weeks leading up to my departure i had been bombarded with “aren’t you afraid?”, “be careful!”, and “aren’t you going to miss Marvin and Moonshine?”. of course, there were those that were celebrating my adventurous nature, but there were definitely more folks who were questioning my sanity. i had resigned from my 14 year, upper 2-figure salary government job as a social worker; i had met a woman via the internet who would be meeting me in Phoenix to drive through Mexico with me; and i would be leaving two of the most precious things on earth–my man and my dog, for 2 and 1/2 months. i was throwing complete caution to the wind; i was throwing my life into the winds of the universe, assuring myself that the universe will take care of me; that everything will fall into the place that it is supposed to once this adventure is over.
several days into the trek across the country i dropped my boyfriend off at the Nashville airport. he, unlike me had responsibilities–a job and single dogparenthood for the next few months. my heart started to hurt soon after we left our rented east Nashville apartment and headed toward the airport. girl puh-lease! you have been through worse; and you celebrate your independent nature. don’t you dare cry. but cry, i did.
i pride myself on my independent nature, my adventurous spirit and my bravery. i have always been independent; i had no choice. my single parent suffered from mental illness and i had to learn to take care of myself at a very young age. and up until now there was never a man in my life that i could count on, that i could lean on should i need to. so, i have always had to take care of myself and very rarely asked anyone for any help.
my adventurous spirit and my bravery are another thing. when you grow up poor there is not much exposure to life outside of your neighborhood. and experiencing anything that is different from what you know can be terrifying. we did not have a car, so our neighborhood really was pretty much all i saw. the little exposure beyond my neighborhood were vacations with my aunt and uncle to Old Orchard Beach, Maine and visits to my uncle’s brother’s home in Nashua, New Hampshire. i remember being overwhelmed with fear that something bad was going to happen to my dad while we were gone, and feeling so insecure at times while visiting my uncle’s family in New Hampshire. his family was always so kind to me and my brother. but, when you grow up poor, poverty is a monkey on your back. no matter how far you have come there are times when that monkey will remind you of the days of a rumbling belly and cold showers; it will bring the shame of being poor to the forefront. whenever my uncle’s niece or nephews had friends over when we were visiting, that monkey would dance on my head. my clothes did not look like their clothes. my hair was an unruly catastrophe. my sneakers had holes in them….i remember peering out the front door window at my uncle’s niece and nephew playing with their friends. my uncle’s sister-in-law said, “go outside and play with them.” i looked at her and said that i did not want to. when she asked why, these words came out of my mouth: because i’m ugly. poverty causes many medical ailments but it can also emotionally whip your behind.
while attending community college, i lived in relatively the same area that i grew up in. when i transferred to the university in town, i decided to move on campus as it was the cheaper alternative to renting an apartment. two weeks before moving across town to my dormitory, i had lost damn near 20 pounds due to the anxiety-induced stomach ailments i dealt with. because of my earlier life, the idea of moving mere blocks away from what i knew terrified me. but i forced myself to suck it up; and praise the goddess it was one of the best things i have ever done. that was just a step…it would take many years to develop my current adventurous and brave spirit.
during, and for many years after college, my main focus was survival. i was one of one. i alone was solely responsible for my life. there was no one i could turn to when i had but one sausage dog in my freezer until payday…eventually i secured a job with state government as a social worker and soon after i bought my house. for the first time ever, i felt a sense of security; i felt my roots finally being planted. i had a decent paying job, my own house and my dog. and i thrived on that sense of security. i became unnaturally attached to that security and planted my roots way deeper than they had to be. other than going to work, i hated being away from my house and my dog. that monkey was always on my back reminding me that something could happen to rip me of my security. add to that dancing monkey on my back: my father had died of cancer when i was still a teenager and my only sibling died of a heroin overdose in 1997. maternal abandonment as a baby, childhood poverty and the loss of my father and brother stirred the pot that would become the Insecurity-Anxiety Stew. i hated being away from my home for any extended time. seriously, friends can attest to this. i felt so safe and secure in my home with my beloved dog, Asia at my feet and i didn’t want any interruptions in the security that i had been longing for all of my life. i now look back at that woman and i do not recognize her.
as i have told before, it took a really bad night with my ex-boyfriend to prompt me, on a whim, to book a flight to Costa Rica and make a reservation at an artist boutique hotel in Costa Rica (http://thefoodanista.com/we-should-all-start-to-live-before-we-get-too-old). yes, this woman who had never been out of the country; yes, this woman who thrived in the confinement of her home said fuck it in a really big way.
and i have not looked back since. my adventurous spirit started to bloom that night in February 2011 and it has just continued to explode with beautiful colors. this adventure is like nothing i have ever done: quit my job, drive across the country and live in another country alone for 2 months.
return to the scene of dropping my boyfriend off at the Nashville airport. while i allowed myself to enjoy my travels after my boyfriend returned home, i longed for him. i longed for our dog. i longed to be in our bed. i longed for the security and comfort of our routine. by the time i reached Phoenix i was an emotional, irrational mess. i had spent the two days prior in the fabulous, quirky town of Bisbee in Arizona (to give you an idea of the quirkiness, its nickname is Mayberry on Acid). i fell in love with it. i had booked one night in a just as fabulous and just as quirky cottage. i was not quite sure what my plans were after my one night in Bisbee, so i had made no other reservations. apparently, Halloween is legendary in Bisbee. and well, it was Halloween. so, i scrambled to find a room for the night. it was in a building with several rooms with shared bathrooms and it boasts as having the smallest bar in Arizona. and that smallest bar was in the room right next to mine. i did not get a wink of sleep. there was a horrific odor that stayed in my nostrils for days; and even if i was able to close my eyes and fall asleep i would have been afraid of what might crawl on my bed……at 3 AM i left and drove to Phoenix. my travel partner that would be driving through Mexico with me was expecting me to pick her up at the airport at 12 noon and then we would drive to El Centro, CA for the night where we would meet a 3rd woman, before we crossed the border as a caravan and began our drive through Mexico. well, she missed her flight. and i had to roam around Phoenix until 9:00 PM until her new flight arrived. i was exhausted. i was already feeling the pangs of homesickness. my physical exhaustion just pushed me over the emotional cliff. i cried on the phone to my boyfriend that i was miserable; that i wanted to get on a flight and come back home……nose running, eyes swollen red….it was not pretty. in fact, it was downright ugly.
but, i carried on. and we drove 3 days through Mexico to get to my destination. and things did not get easier. the first day of driving went pretty smooth; however the next day was supposed to be about a 7 hour drive; it turned into a 15 hour day and near the very end of the drive i was alone in my car following my two fellow travelers in another car. they went through military check-point without an issue. as soon as i pulled up i was ordered to get out of my vehicle and my car was being thoroughly checked—-glove compartment, bags and boxes being opened and rummaged through; all the while i am standing with three military officers with machine guns slung across their chests who were flirting with me in broken English. finally one of my travel companions walked up to my car speaking to the men in Spanish. once they realized that i was indeed not alone, i was free to be on my way. the entire scene was quite unnerving. i know i was targeted because they assumed that i was a female traveling alone. and what if i had been traveling alone??? soldiers were rummaging through my belongings and several officers with machine guns across their chests were flirting with me. inside i was indignant; yet i knew i had absolutely no power in the situation. i was at their mercy. i can not tell you how thankful i was that i indeed was not traveling through Mexico alone. we drove another 40 minutes or so until we reached Loreto where we found rooms for the night. as i was falling asleep that night, i said out loud what the fuck am i doing?
the next day we had reached our destination. hallelujah (that hallelujah would be short-lived). i spent my first night in Todos Santos at the home of one of my travel companions. i was up bright and early the next day to meet a mutual friend of mine and the homeowners whose house i would be living in for the next two months. i arrived at our meeting place early. i was anxious to get settled after living on the road for the past two weeks. well, my friend forgot that she was supposed to meet me; i drove to her house the next town over and got stuck in 3 feet of sand (a result of the category 4 hurricane that had terrorized this region back in September); the protective plastic on the bottom of my car was pulled off by a large rock on the road leading to the house i would be staying in (another result of the hurricane). but, eventually i turned the key to what would be my writing sanctuary.
the pangs of homesickness stayed with me for days. internet service was down at the house which prevented me from doing any “writing” as all my documents are cloud based; it prevented communication with my boyfriend. i was feeling pretty sorry for myself. then one morning, i walked out my back door and walked about 300 feet to my backyard: the pacific ocean. i was overwhelmed by the beauty. i breathed soul-deep breaths; i closed my eyes; listened to the crashing waves while the sea mist fell upon me. i was standing in a foreign country being hugged by natural beauty. me. the once motherless little girl. me. the once little girl whose childhood was filled with hunger, rats, cold showers….me. the young woman who fought hard to make it to and through college. me. who has worked with folks who will never know life outside of their impoverished neighborhoods. me. whose brother was unable to survive our childhood dysfunction and will never have the opportunity to be adventurous. well, it was at that moment that i shook my blues loose.
what i know is that you can not grow if you give into your fears. what i know is you have to be uncomfortable and afraid at times in order to grow. what i know is that had i given into my fears and ran from changes that made me uncomfortable, i would still be that the poor little girl in a grown woman’s body.