We drove away from Idaho on a Saturday morning in Autumn of 2019. That was the last time I have ever set foot or tire on that little road that led from Main Street to our family home (that also served as our retreat center,) and the art barn, and the magical forest by the river.
Thousands of times over 8 years I’d walked that road, driven that road, ran down that road, stared out the window at the road. I waited to see my children driving up the road so I could stop worrying and go back to sleep. I watched the UPS truck come up the road and the FedEx truck, to bring me the things I thought I needed . . . things I’d later have to part with. I’d driven down that road to buy groceries for my family, to head to church (and quickly back from church.) I drove to the hospital, to the airport, to our parent’s houses, to Sonic to fuel my Diet Dr. Pepper addiction. I walked down that road to the river, to the convenience store, to my in-law’s house. I picked wild blackberries on that road with my grandchildren. I watched my teenage children drive away to school, to work, to parties. I watched my adult children drive up the road with my grandchildren in the car, and back down the road to their own homes. I blessed the dirt cloud behind my husband’s truck as he drove up the road, back home to us. I ran down that road to meet friends who were coming to visit, I ran down that road chasing the Brave Girl Bus full of women who had been there for a week of self-inquiry at our retreats – chasing the bus was the way we said goodbye.
You might think it was terribly emotional to drive down that little road for the last time, and I fully expected it would be. I prepared myself for this day for months. One the biggest surprises of my life was how numb I felt, and how not a single tear fell. I wanted to cry and I couldn’t get myself to. I was numb. I was tired. I was confused and weary and worn. I was numbing anger, and sorrow and simultaneously numbing how perfectly right it felt. I was actually angry and ashamed at how right it felt. How could something that felt like a cruel death feel like the right thing?
It had been one death after another preceding this drive down the road from the home where so much life had birthed and happened. Death after death after death after death. In retrospect, that last drive down the road was a funeral train of sorts. Rest in Peace, beautiful Brave River Ranch.
I was in our old red truck following my husband, who was in the white truck pulling the RV his parents gave us to start rebuilding our crumbled life. It was a long, slow and painful crumble that happened over the course of a few years. We’d built a beautiful life together over 30 years, and now it was rubble. Almost everything starts from almost nothing though, and I at least knew that. If anyone could build something from crumbly rubble, it was us. Still, it sucked.
I could hear our tires crunching right over the top of that rubble as we drove away — and toward.
I could see our bikes on the back of the RV. I could see Hilarie and Carl in my rear view mirror as they sent us off and stayed behind to lock everything up for the last time — a merciful act of love. They were standing at the turquoise barn, waving goodbye. They’d been there for months helping us get on the road. I did keep looking back, but if I looked forward I could see Marq’s face in his driver’s side rear view mirror ahead of me, he was numb too, only looking forward. I could see the trees as we drove by, their leaves had been falling for days, and they were almost bare. We were driving slowly, but if I had been on foot, I would have been running; away, and toward.
Running away from something and running toward something can look exactly the same from the viewpoint of a spectator. But each of these acts creates very different chemicals in the body of the person who is running. Running away and running toward also yield very different results in the life of the runner. I can’t tell you for sure which one I was doing, but I do know that when you focus on what you are running toward, you are gifted the added benefit of also moving away from wherever you’ve been. And when you are focused on running away, you could end up anywhere, maybe even somewhere worse than where you were trying to get away from.
I didn’t really know where we were going to end up, I just knew that getting away had turned into a life or death decision that had to be made. If you ask Marq, he was running toward something. Like I said, I still can’t say for sure whether I was more running away or running toward. Both of them felt too cruel and senseless and humiliating and punitive to claim at that moment. Both of them also felt like relief, and then I felt ashamed to feel relief from something that felt cruel. Hence the numbing, I didn’t want to feel any of it.
The 5 years proceeding that last drive down our little ranch road, my husband Marq had been suffering what I perceived as a relapse from his traumatic brain injury (it happened back in 2004.) For the last 5 years, around the end of October, he would start to drift into dark caverns of hell, and by the time Thanksgiving came, he had no will to get out of bed. He barely spoke. He didn’t look at me, even when I was the only human he would see for weeks at a time. His body was there but the rest of him was gone away to war, battling the fierce monsters in his head. We would spend the holidays without him, he’d try to come out to the living room and see our little grandchildren, but would end up quickly back in bed. This would last until March when the first signs of Spring came. I knew this routine well, because the first 6 years of his brain injury, he spent in our bed or at the Elk’s Rehab hospital, so each in our family were not strangers to his body being there without the rest of him.
But we had some really good years in between there, and so it felt particularly cruel when this Winter relapse started to happen.
Over those 5 years of relapse, we tried SO MANY THINGS to help him through the Winters. And ultimately, the doctors, healers and fellow brain injury survivors helped us come to the conclusion that if we tried to winter in a sunny place, maybe that would help.
So that’s reason #1 that we had to find a road to get away on, and to go toward something else. We were chasing the sun, hoping maybe the brightest light of all could chase away this darkness. It was a solid enough reason, I suppose. What I didn’t know at the time (thankfully) is that there were countless other reasons that would be revealed later.
So we waited until our last child was a legal adult, and we drove away from the place where we were born and raised. We drove away from 4 generations of family who had homesteaded that land. We drove away from lifelong friends. We drove away from painful memories and memories that were so sparkling with love and goodness that it would blind your eyes. We drove away from the identities we had so carefully forged in an effort to belong. The young entrepreneurs. The fun ones. The ones who were sickeningly in love. The guy with the tools who would drop everything to help you. The girl who could create something beautiful. The ones who had the parties at their house. We drove away from the other identities too. The failures. The guy with the head injury. The ones who seem to attract disasters. The woman who hardly comes out of her house anymore. The woman who hides in her bedroom so she doesn’t have to talk to you. The couple who seems to have come undone.
The identities were a crushing weight. And no one gave them to us but our own selves. When you invest everything in an identity that you hope will give your life the meaning that you so desperately feel you need, and then that identity gets stripped away, it just feels like death. Even the crummy identities you forge for yourself are at least something. You even have to grieve the crummy identities.
So I begin this travelogue of 50 Roads with this Road Away From Everything. This road is not where it all started, but it’s a fine place to start this memoir because that day driving away (and toward) down our little dirt road was one of those defining experiences in life where you later catch yourself saying either “that was before we left Idaho” or “that was after we left Idaho.”
I am going to share 49 more roads with you and I just want you to know that this story is not a sad one. Like all good stories, it has sad parts. It also has very good parts. It has heroes and villains and helpers and guides and tricksters, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that ALL OF US play every single one of these roles at sometime in our life, whether we want to or not. I have been the hero and the villain and the helper and the guide and the trickster. And I have learned something from every other person who has ever come into my life, no matter what role they were playing in my life at the time. I have been molded and changed and transformed by my interactions with every hero, every villain, every helper, every guide, every trickster. I have also learned, unforgettably, that a person can be the hero and the villain in the very same story — it all depends on who you ask, where you’re standing, what you’re seeing and how willing you are to be truthful with yourself.
On this day, as I write this, it’s been just about 2 years since we drove down that broken road of rubble that was our old life. I wrote a poem sometime in the last few years that I will end Road #1 with:
WHEN WE BROKE
When we broke, we thought it was over –
we thought we were ruined.
When we broke, it was the last action we took
with our last drop of energy.
When we broke, we surrendered to the fractures
we surrendered to the fire that ignited
after the explosion.
When we broke, we were soaked in tears
but on the inside we were dried out
and used up .
But even so…
Things flowed from somewhere.
When we broke, we didn’t know that out of every crack
would flow out of us all that wasn’t good for our lives anymore.
Every last drop of all of it
When we broke, we didn’t know that pieces of what used to be
Would be scattered everywhere.
And that we wouldn’t be able to find them all.
When we broke, some of our various pieces were sharp and flew in all directions
with so much force that they may have cut people and beautiful things that mattered to us
When we broke, we learned that we didn’t have to find all of those old pieces
and when we did find them, we got to re-choose them, piece by piece
And let some of them go entirely.
When we broke, we didn’t know we were a pressure cooker
pushed to the limit, and that we were bound to break
When we broke, we got the chance to know
that we have limits and we will break if they are exceeded
When we broke, we got the chance to learn
that we are worth more than what we can do and produce
When we broke, everything got so quiet
that we could finally hear our own voices
When we broke, we surprised ourselves
with how much we needed to be alone
AND how much we needed to be together
When we broke, we didn’t know that we were
breaking ourselves back together.
I have some questions for you, friends….
What do YOU feel the call to walk away from?
What do YOU feel called to walk toward?
What’s keeping you from getting up and moving in that direction?
Road #2 is THE ROAD OF UNBECOMING…I will see you there tomorrow.
Thanks for traveling along with me.
I love you.