Last year I discovered the experience that is the life changing road trip. Until this particular trip down the California coast, my knowledge was mostly relegated to shorter trips from New York to Boston or D.C. And I-95 isn’t particularly picturesque from the driver or passenger side. But the California coastline? It’s magnificent.
At this time last year I needed magnificent. I needed beauty, open space and places I had never before seen. I needed something that felt like an escape. My heart was broken. At that particular time, all the careful plans that I had laid out for the next three months of my life had just evaporated because I had said to someone, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.” Because I didn’t know. And it turned out he didn’t know either. And then the only thing to do seemed to be to separate and figure it out.
I thought I would go alone on this trip. Which seemed a little daunting. But last minute a friend decided he would accompany me. I was partly relieved that I wouldn’t be alone with my thoughts, and partly apprehensive that I might need to be. That there would be times that I couldn’t even summon up the vestiges of decent conversation with a friend while I worked through my whirlwind of emotions. Or the horror that I might spontaneously burst into tears on occasion without warning.
Instead he became everything that I didn’t even know I needed in a road trip partner. My expressive face can never hide a thing and when he could see I was having a moment of sentimental struggle, he’d announce that he was going to go off and do some solo exploring. Giving me ample time to wander around myself and pull it together. Each evening over great dinners we’d carefully plan our stops for the next day as well as leave time for some spontaneous pull overs. He was kind enough to do the majority of the driving so I could take picture after picture of the incredibly beautiful California coastline and occasionally shout, “wait we gotta pull over here and take pictures outside the car!”
We went to Berkeley, Marin, San Francisco, Carmel, Big Sur, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara. There was something special in each place. Waterfalls. Sea lions. Seafood. The beaches. The anticipation of what there was to see, to eat, to do was what I needed to help start to close the gaping hole I’d felt inside since right before I’d had to tell someone I really loved that I wasn’t sure love was enough.
And in the end. In Los Angeles. The culmination of our days of traveling together. My tendency to lapse into long silences that he didn’t question had begun to dissipate, and I now felt compelled to talk. I tried to logically lay out what I was feeling, what I had been feeling and what I believed I should be feeling. He listened. He nodded. And then it was time for me to drop him off at the airport for him to head back home and me to continue a little further on my own, he finally offered his advice.
“We always want to come back to something that’s good you know,” he said thoughtfully. “If something was good, but other things just got in the way for awhile, we will find a way to get back to it.”
“What if it’s too late when you try to get back?” I asked, not sure I even believed that going back to anything ever worked for anyone.
“Then it’s still ok, because you know you’ll never forget them. And maybe that has to be enough.” He smiled and I smiled back. We hugged goodbye and I watched him walk to his terminal before getting shooed back to my car by TSA.
It felt weird to be back on the highway alone. Even though our time together in the car hadn’t always been chatty, his absence was palpable and I could feel the emptiness that I warded off the whole trip starting to sneak back inside. But I shook my head. I went to the nearest In-N-Out Burger and this time alone, plotted out everything I wanted to do for the following day. And my trip continued.
I wasn’t fully healed. It was much too soon. But I was loving the weather, the sunsets and reaching a status of feeling a little less broken at what I had given up. And maybe there are times when that too has to be enough.