January 2016 marks a big change for me: I am jobless for the first time in more than a decade, but I am not looking for work. Instead, I am preparing for a voyage of uncertain exploration, and I’m unbelievably excited about it all.
The short story is this: last fall, Susan and I purchased a small travel trailer,1 and our hope is to spend much of this year wandering throughout America (and possibly parts of Canada). My goal for our travels is simple: to photograph the beauty that surrounds us, and to write about some of the things that have been rolling around in my head for the past few years.
This is the culmination of a dream that dates back to my last years with Lee. As I have noted elsewhere, she and I had many conversations during that time about ‘after,’ as we called it, but I simply could not picture that world.2 Five or six months before her death, however, I did get a fleeting vision of myself, camping in the desert with a small teardrop trailer—nothing more than a traveling bed with a kitchen. This was a comforting image to me, and I came back to it in the following months, rolling the idea of a long road trip with no set destination over and over in my mind.
This dream became a talisman for me, and not long after Lee’s death, it turned into a plan. I’d work for another year, research the whole trailer thing and buy one, then sell the house and take off for a while. This tiny home would be the sacred space that would help me right myself after my loss, and the solitude and the uncertainty of the journey would help me determine where I needed to take my new life.
I hadn’t quite planned on meeting someone like Susan, however (and I am very thankful for it). I told her of my dream early on, and she thought it beautiful, but it didn’t change things at the time; it was still my dream.3 And, really, falling in love, marrying, and building a new life with Susan took precedence over everything else, so the plan was shelved for a bit.4 I had no problems with that. Or so I thought.
Last year was a tough year, with as much disaffection and sadness as there was happiness and love. Along with a few health issues of my own, I lost two close friends by mid-year, one of whom had been part of my inner circle during Lee’s illness. In addition, I had other good friends who lost loved ones, and I mourned for them as well.
There was joy, however, and in late June, Susan and I went to Greece to witness the wedding of one of my dearest friends and his true love. We had a wonderful trip, spending time with a fun group of friends, exploring a new and unfamiliar country, and basking in the warmth of the Greek people—despite the implosion of their economy and the political backlash that came with it.5
On the last day of our trip, I was sitting on the patio of the enchanting windmill we were renting with friends in Mykonos. It was a beautiful Mediterranean morning, and all I should have been doing was soaking up the warmth in preparation for our long trip home. Instead, there was an unfamiliar sadness inside me, something that had been with me all through the previous week. I knew that it was related to the recent deaths of my friends, but it also seemed to go beyond that, and I sat there, looking out over the bay, pondering the past few months of death and grief.
This all led me to Lee, of course, and I soon realized that I was also preparing for the second anniversary of her death, which was less than two weeks away. I hadn’t yet made that connection—I hadn’t even thought about it, frankly—but it made sense to me. It didn’t make me feel any less unbalanced, but it did dislodge some of the discontent, so I left my meditation and returned to the day.
It took Susan and me two days to get home, and during the first part of our journey back, these things kept tumbling through my head. At one point—I think it was while we were waiting to take off in Frankfurt—something bigger hit me: the deaths of my friends were a trigger, and they had set off an alarm. The tremor that was rattling my soul was that I had misplaced my plan.
During the flight home, I talked with Susan about my revelation. By the time we arrived in the States, I knew that the time had come to walk away from the last movable part of my old world—my job—and stride fully into my new one. I needed to head out on the adventure that I had promised myself nearly two years before.
When we returned from Greece, we put things in motion. I spoke with my boss about leaving at the end of the year. He understood, which wasn’t surprising, given how kindly he had treated Lee and me throughout her illness. Next, we did a bunch of research about trailers,6 and, after a bit of trailer ‘Whac-a-Mole’ on Craigslist, we found our Casita in Deming, New Mexico, down near the Mexican border. I drove for two-and-a-half days to buy it and had a pretty surreal (and giddy) drive home, realizing that this whole adventure was going to happen.7
Since then, Susan and I have taken the trailer out a few times, to Waldo Lake and Eastern Oregon, and we’re itching to get out on the road for real. Our first trips will be to Southern California and the Southwest, for about eight weeks. That will give us a good idea of how we do in close quarters, and how we each feel about being away from home for so long. (And how much stuff we really need to take with us.) We’ll start mapping out the back half of the year after this first journey.
I said up front that I was jobless, but that’s not really true. I do have a job; I’m just not quite sure how it will manifest itself to me, but I am expecting that it will emerge during our travels. (Trust me, I can’t retire quite yet.)
As I look back over the past five years, my life has been beautiful and sad, difficult and uplifting, chaotic and peaceful. I have lost one great love and found another, and have been humbled by it all. I find it rather unbelievable, actually, that I somehow ended up here, relatively unscathed, and deeply loved, but much of that I owe to Lee, and the way that she taught me to live.
Lee was an extraordinary individual in so many ways, but what has stuck with me was her incredible attitude towards life. Despite a long, debilitating illness, she had a passion for living her life as fully as possible, with her eyes open and her mind aware. Her life and her death were inspirational, to me and to her family and her close friends. When I tell parts of her story to others, they are often inspired as well, and a number of people have suggested that I write a book. I really am not sure about that, but while we’re on the road, I’m going to work through some of those stories and see what comes of them. There are some beautiful stories to tell, and some raw ones, and I need to work them all out.
I believe this is my work for the next year or two, but I will also balance this work with the joy of being out on that road, exploring this new world with my love. For if I have learned anything from the past five years, it is that you must seize life with all that your heart and soul will allow, and be as fearless as you can be in the light of your own mortality. So, I am ready to go off, to explore and love and live this next chapter of my life.
Be well, my friends.Notes:
- A 17-foot, very cozy fiberglass trailer made by Casita. We love it.
- The most I would entertain was something I called “The Three Me’s.” I have been working on a piece about this, which I should post in the next month or so.
- It didn’t take long, however, for it to become our shared dream. Of course, with two people, our trailer vision expanded slightly—a bathroom and bigger bed were mandatory.
- I also did enjoy my job; it wasn’t just having Susan in my life. Talking about “The Three Me’s” will explain this further.
- This last part could be—should be—an essay all its own. I was amazed at how truly kind and generous the Greek people were in the midst of chaos.
- If you really want to know, we’ve actually bought two trailers, one of which is not going to be ready until later this year. That one, from Escape Trailer Industries in British Columbia, is really our dream machine (it has a queen-size bed). Once the Escape gets close to completion, we’ll sell the Casita.
- I was pretty intimidated that first day, to be honest. I had never towed anything like this, and I was petrified that I would have to back up with the Casita somewhere along the line. And the whole ‘hitching’ thing; what would happen if I needed to hitch the trailer up all by myself? Could I do it? (I just didn’t unhitch it for that trip.) Of course, by now, I’m an old hand at all this stuff, but that first day, I was very glad for adrenaline.