I was 23 when I decided to run away from home. I felt stifled by my parents nd their love. I had just watched 1.5 years of romantic endeavor end very unremarkably (for the other person involved, as for me, I was devastated). And I’d just realized that the career I’d planned on having since I was 5 years old was not really the career for me. I felt stagnant, disillusioned, worthless, and protected to the point of never having to exert myself or discover what I was truly capable of. Running away to Oregon seemed the only good option.
A couple months earlier I’d blown the engine out of my pontiac. The Brother Just Younger than I was putting a new engine into a Mazda for me. He was being slower than I liked, so I decided to give him some incentive. I told him he could have my room when I left, and I set a date that I was leaving so he’d have the car finished by then.
The car was finished the day before I was set to go. I didn’t even have time to test drive it. My brother gave me careful instructions about how often to change the oil and how to break the engine in on my trip. No one in my family was happy about my leaving; but it was something I had to do. The next morning I got up, packed the car, and hopped on the freeway. I was picking up my friend in a nearby town. She was going to drive with me and keep me company, and then fly home. Immediately I knew something was wrong with the car. The back end kept fishtailing. Did I turn around and take the car back to my mechanic brother? No. No I did not. I didn’t want to delay my emancipation. I kept going.
I found out that if I stuffed a pillow between my body and the door, I could rest my arm on it and I could stabilize the steering wheel that way. I was able to make all the minute corrections necessary to keep the car moving in the correct direction. My friend was supposed to help me with the driving, but she couldn’t keep the car going straight enough and nearly sideswiped someone. She told me that she thought something was seriously wrong with the suspension or some other mysterious car-steering mechanism. I, with $150 to my name and too much pride to turn around, just started praying, “just get me to Oregon, just get me to Oregon, just get me to Oregon.” Thinking that once I got there everything would magically work out.
I should have been a bit more specific in my prayer. I had chosen the most direct route to the city in Oregon I was headed for. And that meant I took a mostly-deserted highway from Winnemucca up into South-Central Oregon. So when I hit the Oregon border I was leaving Middle of Fucking Nowhere Nevada and entering Middle of Fucking Nowhere Oregon. Traffic on the highway was sparse at best. 10 miles past the border, on a bare hill speckled with stunted sagebrush, the Mazda blew a back tire, sending the car into a serious tailspin that took everything I had to get myself facing the correct direction and off the highway and onto the shoulder. Like I’ve said before: I am a fantastic driver, but a stupid car owner. We had made it to Oregon as requested, but there was no respite or shelter to be found.
We knew this year was going to be a difficult one. With Kristin needing to work 40 hours, and carry a full class load AND work a 12 hour practicum, we knew it would take everything we had to get through this year. But there was a respite. Christmas break. 3 weeks at least to catch our breaths, sleep, recover, spend time as a family.
As the semester wore on, Kristin got sicker and sicker. She was exhausted all the time. If she wasn’t taking antibiotics then she was sick. But the antibiotics were making her sick, too, giving her gastrointestinal problems. We were blaming the semester… if only Kristin had more time to rest she would get well. If only we had more time as a family we wouldn’t be so stressed out. The infection and the hell semester became a chicken and egg situation… Which caused the other: was it the infection making the semester unbearable, or was it an unbearable semester that was making the infection so difficult to kick?
And then Julia started reacting to the stress like a toddler… with tantrums and messes and clinginess. Her sleeping deteriorated and it was never that strong to start with. She stopped sleeping through the night at the end of October and added a 3 hour period in the middle of the night where she needed a mom awake and holding her. Kristin and I started taking shifts and switching off nights to try and cope. At this point crying it out was adding to our stress… and besides, Julia is as stubborn as her mothers. But as time went on more and more frequently I would let Kristin sleep through her shifts. Even though I’d been sick for weeks myself, I am usually the lighter sleeper. And I would hear Julia cry, and turn to wake Kristin up, and then sigh and get up myself. How can you wake up your wife to go care for the baby when you look at her sleeping and even in rest she looks so ragged and worn and exhausted? So I would get up and let her keep sleeping, hoping each time that the extra sleep would work a miracle and she would wake up rested and feeling fine. And as I rocked Julia I would mutter to myself, “Just get to Christmas break, just get to Christmas break, just get to Christmas break. Everything will be better once Christmas break is here.”
And then Christmas break arrived hand in hand with a cancer scare, and a surgery, and my poor, exhausted brain flipped out. We’ve been living in a state of constant adrenaline saturation for months. I don’t know about you, but adrenaline feels like a poison to me. It’s never a pleasant rush – it gives me the strength to do what I need to do, but afterward leaves me shaky and vomiting and crying and headachy. And when my adrenal glands are bathing me in a steady stream just to get through my life… first I start to need more and more just to keep going. And then I start to go a little crazy. And then I crash.
I have shy bowels. I can’t go to the bathroom in a public place where someone could walk in and sit down next to me… or walk in and sit down right after me. I would rather die than have someone smell my shit. So, for the 10 hours or so of the drive to the Oregon border, I’d been holding it. And holding the pee, too, for fear that the shit would take my opening the door to the pee as an invitation to let loose. It was ok. The adrenaline from driving the car, along with the vibrations from the shaking car, were enough to keep everything up there. When you’re fighting or flighting there’s no time for shitting. But then, suddenly, there were no more vibrations, and the massive dose of adrenaline that my glands had pumped out to get me through the stopping of the car, wore off as quickly as it had come… leaving me really needing to empty my bowels.
I jumped out of the car to inspect the damage. There was a pick-up truck pulling a trailer that we’d been playing leap frog with for 200 miles. I looked at them as they caught up to us…and they drove right on by. And then the urge hit me. I was frustrated by the car, the near death experience, the lack of help, and now NOW my body was going to assert it’s put-off-too-long needs… it was going to make me shit in the open without even any TOILET PAPER. I started swearing and crying and dancing. And my poor friend was watching me fall to pieces in front of her. She could understand the swearing, but the dancing? Just go to the bathroom, she kept telling me. NO! I’ll be fine once we get the car moving again. I just need to get the fucking donut on the fucking car. Did I mention we were on an incline? And that I was shaking from too much poisonous adrenalin?
I’d been counting down how much longer it would be before we reached my new home and haven, until we reached a place where I could relax and take care of my immediate needs. And now this. I’d gotten what I’d asked for: I’d just made it to Oregon, but everything had gotten immeasurably harder, and my physical needs that I’d been putting off for so long were letting me know in no uncertain terms that I needed to either find a way to meet them or I was going to lose control, and end up with a big, stinky mess right out in the open. But I couldn’t see a way to meet those needs; I couldn’t go forward, I was in too much pain, and my hands were too shaky to change the tire by myself.
And then a car came up that lonely road, and a man got out – a friendly woman waving at us from the passenger’s side in reassurance – and the man took the crowbar from my shaking hand, and put that donut on for me. And my friend and I got back in the car, and when we got going again the fishtailing wasn’t so bad. We were still far from haven, but the kindness of a stranger had made it possible for me to get moving toward safety again.
Of course, I still had to move through the insanity of being pushed far FAR beyond what I had thought I could endure… My poor friend. After we got going again we continued to climb, slowly, up that hill and came out onto a plateau. We journeyed on this plateau for a while and then, horror of horrors, the descent. 8% grades, a narrow switch-back road. I think it was called the Devil’s Spine or Dragon’s Ridgeback or something like that. Me driving a stick (had I mentioned that I had never driven a standard until I got started on that trip?) with a donut and still fishtailing a bit. And, yes, I still had to answer the call of the wild. One half of the way down I snapped, and started singing an old song my dad had taught us kids. A very ugly song called 3 wheels on my Rover. (I am very ashamed that this song was part of my childhood repertoire, and I haven’t sung it or even thought of it in years, and it’s a testament to my insanity that it came out in this moment)
Three wheels on my rover
And I’m still rolling along
Those cannibals are after me.
Spears they fly
Right on by
But I’m singing a happy song.
Each verse you lose a wheel… My poor friend started crying as I was laughing hysterically. It took us two hours, but eventually we made it down the Demon’s Backbone and found, at the very end of the descent, that the road teed off with a steep drop-off at the dead end… there were flashing lights and sheriffs’ cars and a fire truck… and upside down in the gully below, the trailer smashed on top of it… that truck that shared the road with us for so long and didn’t stop to help.
If I hadn’t blown that tire on the ascent… and if I had managed not to blow it on the descent and kill us that way, then that runaway truck and trailer would have been behind us coming down off that plateau. There was (finally) a town just 5 miles away. It was Sunday night. We checked into a hotel... there had been some vagues ideas of us "entertaining" each other in a glorious celebration of life or something, but I crashed slept for about 12 hours.
This past weekend was the shits. But life goes on, you know? Julia was getting dedicated in our Unitarian Universalist church on Sunday (pictures tomorrow, hopefully), and we’d planned a brunch with family and friends after to celebrate. We couldn’t figure out how to cancel the brunch without also telling everyone why we wanted to cancel. Broadcasting the news to the entire blogosphere aside, Kristin wasn’t sure she wanted everyone we knew to know, you know? So we cleaned the house and made Belgian waffles, and went to Church and smiled, even though everything inside us was eaten away by adrenalin and anxiety. We were both of us absolutely convinced that the mass would turn out to be cancerous. The problem with having a long, long, long serious infection, is that it looks a lot like cancer. Kristin’s lymph nodes have been swollen and painful for weeks, her white blood cell count is through the roof, she’s exhausted and achy and in pain. She was needing care – more care even than I’d already been giving her.
But my resources were depleted. I’d been running on fumes for weeks myself – pushing everything off until a specified time. And telling you lovelies about what was going on, and the resulting support that you gave me, was enough to help me keep moving forward this weekend. It was enough to put some conviction in my voice when I told her it was just going to be a cyst. And it was enough to convince me that even if we had to push on through a terrible disease, there would be people there to support us and cheer us and pray for us and bitch with us and lend us strength. And that is why, even though the scare was only for 5 days, and even though it turned out to be nothing, I am determined not to call what I posted overdramatic or overreactionary.
I am overdramatic to the point of being melodramatic.
I am overreactionary.
Yes, I know.
But I also needed the help. We needed the help that you provided. We needed something to tether us to this world. Strangely enough, some of the strongest tethers came from the people who are the furthest away.
Oh, and the car? When we finally got to a town and a mechanics shop… it turned out that I hadn’t had a major problem at all… I’d been driving on two flat tires the whole damn time.
And now I'm off to crash...