A Risk I Took to Save Myself

In Wild, the author recounts her months-long hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, a journey that she took entirely alone after life as she’d known it had fallen apart.

“It was a world I’d never been to and yet had known was there all along…one I’d staggered to in sorrow and confusion and fear and hope. A world I thought would both make me into the woman I knew I could become and turn me back into the girl I’d once been.”

–Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Write about a time when you embarked upon something new and challenging, frightening, or even dangerous—as a way to find an answer, to rediscover something essential about yourself. Tell us about what you did—the adventure, the journey, the risks you took—what drove you there, and who you were when you emerged afterwards.

Comments

  1. Fran Stekoll says

    I was forty three, I had three children aged 22,19, and 16. I had worked two jobs and supported my husband through night school. It was time for me to complete college. I was scared. Didn’t know if I could study and retain knowledge. I was never a good student.
    I made an appointment with Gladys Rohe, Career Planning counselor at San Jose State. She became my mentor. She took me to a mid-life career workshop in San Francisco. The guest speaker was Richard Bolles, author of “What Color is Your Parachute” There were 300 in attendance. We learned how to present ourselves to employers, how to prepare for careers,
    how to focus . I came away from that experience feeling encouraged and ready to resume my goal. I signed up for two classes each semester. I sent for my transcript from Redlands University and found I only had two years to achieve my degree. My most challenging class was Law & The Black Community. The teacher was black, all the students were black, I was the only white. I felt discriminated against; but passed with a C. The other class
    that totally scared me included a cadaver . We had to know every part of the body. I could verbally identify parts and functions; but trying to answer written questions was difficult and challenging. The teacher was accepting of my problem and let me verbalize the final exam. It took me four years to achieve my degree. My husband was not supportive and strayed often. I became the woman I needed to be to succeed in life. As I look back I don’t know how I
    did what it took to get to my goal. I only know how totally whole and complete it made me feel. My philosophy has always been, Never say Never. I only hope I instilled encouragement in my children. Looking at them today I see them making new paths in their lives in an unpredictable time. I realize they cannot live through my achievements and I cannot project what I went through to their goals. I can only support them right where they are and love them for who they are.

    • says

      Fran, I loved this piece and this window into your life–and your parenting philosophy. I loved hearing about your experiences going back to school–and would love to hear more.

      • Hazel Muller says

        Fran,
        I feel like I could have written the description of classes as San Jose State in the mid 1960′s when I was finishing my last two years of college at age 36. It was a GRAND adventure, intimidating and exhilerating and it was worth taking the journey.
        Hazel

    • Debbie says

      Fran – I could so identify with your fears of returning to school and trying to be an adult student. I went back to school in my mid-thirties as part of a major career change. I was terrified. Reading your post tonight, I can feel your pride of accomplishment – prevailing against the odds. I imagine that this is a source of encouragement for the rest of your family as well. Thank you!

  2. Hazel Muller says

    I have just finished writing the introduction to my latest book and I think it really speaks to the writer’s prompt for today. This was about the hardest thing I have ever done because if it were a trick, I would have been dead. It is written to my granddaughter who died of SIDS and I never got to see her, now she would be about 34 years old and the book is written to her as though she were now a young woman.

    Taliesin —
    I did not know you, and this is how I came to know about you and your short three and a half month life from September to December of 1979.

    Your mother’s father was so abusive with me that in 1973 when your mother was thirteen I disappeared out of their lives leaving her, her older brother and your grandfather in Seattle, Washington. Your mother will have to tell you what happened to her in the years after I left, because I feared for my life and had no contact with them or with my family in Salem, Oregon for more than five years. I filed for divorce just before I left. The divorce was granted even though I was not there because my mother went to Seattle and testified in my behalf, and I never saw your grandfather again.
    I changed my name and fled to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada where I was able to get a visa and a good job. There I met Peter Muller who was the only person on earth who believed the danger I was in, and who stayed close to me to hug me; quiet me when I awakened screaming from a nightmare of being caught by your grandfather and beaten or shot.
    Remember, this was before you were born and at that time there was no sympathy for women in abusive relationships, that’s just the way it was. No one believed a woman. The police said, “Call us while he is beating you and we can do something if we see it.” Like that would ever happen. What woman could get to the phone in those circumstances? Remember the phone was most likely on the wall in the kitchen or on a table in the livingroom. No one had cell phones.
    Peter, my present husband, and I traveled and moved a lot because of my so called “paranoia”, but once my car was shot at. About five years after I left Seattle, Peter and I were living in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada when I received a phone call from my sister saying that your mother needed to talk to me; that it was really serious. Terrified and thinking it might be a cruel trick, I thought about whether or not to call for twenty four hours, I could not sleep or stop shaking. Then I came up with a plan: I would have Peter call about 10 o’clock and say: “Melody, please do not hang up. You do not know me but this is important. Is your father there with you?”
    She answered a hesitant “no”.
    “Where is he?”
    “In Seattle, I think.” she sounded puzzled.
    “You’re sure he is not there with you?”
    “Yes, I’m sure.”
    “Would you like to talk with your mother?” Peter asked.
    “My mom? . . . . Yes. Yes! I would!”
    “Okay, here she is.”
    I was really shaking as I took the receiver from Peter and slowly put it up to my ear. I am sure that my voice was shaking as I said that first “Hello Mel?” We were both overjoyed to be speaking to each other once again even though there were uneasy feelings on both sides. That’s when she told me about you. How perfect you were. How much she loved you. That you had only been with her less than four months and now you were gone. She was devastated. I love your mother as much as she loved you and I wanted to hold her; console her; to reassure her that she would not die of grief for you. Since it was Christmas holiday time and your father, being a college professor, had a couple of weeks off, I invited them to take the ferry and come stay with us, in Victoria, British Columbia, for the holidays.
    As the ferry pulled into the dock I began to wonder, would I recognize her and, of course, I had never seen your father. Worse yet, it could still be a trick and your grandfather could be walking down the plank instead of your mother. Most of the cars had disembarked and the people walking off had really thinned out yet I had not spotted them. What if they did not come? Where were they? I think I was holding my breath when I said to Peter, “that has to be them – there are no more passengers on the ramp.” Your mother was carrying a small quilt and she looked exhausted. We ran toward each other then a long sobbing embrace. Finally we released each other and she held out the quilt – “I made this for Tally.” she sobbed. It was lovely.
    This was the beginning of a treasured relationship between your mother and I. It was not always easy as old hurts sometimes raised their nasty snarling heads, and their tongues slashed at particularly vulnerable spots in our feelings. But, both of us wanted this close friendship that goes far beyond any genetic connection.
    Now, as I am older than seventy five years, I realize how much I would have had to share with you as you grew into a young woman. Your world now is so much different than mine or your great grandmother’s, or your great great grandmother’s and I am the connection to all of you. I love your brother, Clayton, but girls and women have a special bond.
    As your maternal grandmother . . . as you would have matured into womanhood . . . these are things I would have told you.

    • says

      Hazel, thanks for sharing this heartbreaking and powerful story. I love the idea of writing your book to your granddaughter. I’m sure imagining her as your reader brought out the truest, deepest voice.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Hazel, What a moving, sometimes frightening, testament to your survival abilities and the love you carry inside for the bonds of women in your life (daughter and granddaughter)! I valued hearing the truth about those times when the Police demanded the impossible with regards to proving that a husband, father, or anyone else was beating a woman. I lived and worked in Ottawa as well and dealt with those men when I’d meet rape victims at the hospitals after an assault; they were so disrespectful, it made me livid. Also, I must say that I know how people can consider someone crazy when they describe things like gun shots; I have had more subtle attacks over the years but they do happen, no matter what other people say. I can hardly wait to read your book! Such a loving gift. To me, it is also a treasure for all those girls and women out there who may have never known a grandmother’s love or shared wisdom; I am one and feel nurtured. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Ilana says

      Hazel- Thank you for sharing this story of love and courage. It was engrossing and had a lot to teach. It also spoke to me because my husband lost his twin brother to SIDS. To some it may not have mattered but Zander mourned, as an 8 week old, so deeply that he became very ill and almost died himself. We talk about Micah all the time. (This is the only time I will use the person’s real name.) We wonder what he would have been like and imagine he is out there somewhere watching over us. Zander’s grief was only eased when our son was born to carry on the name and honor his memory. Your piece seemed to recognize our need to remember Micah, to think about him. Thank you for that. IM

      • Hazel Muller says

        Thank you all for your feedback. This book has been simmering for a long time but I hve decided to take the plunge and write it as I am not getting any younger (76 this summer). Since my daughter came to visit me this summer, I realize how much needs to be written down. I missed so much of her life at a crutial time (teen years) when I would have given her a lot of advice on what it takes to be a woman. And, about never becoming a victim but also just about being a good human being. So writing this book to my grandaughter is a way of sharing a lot of history with her as well.

        • virginia Fagan says

          Dear Hazel
          As a grandmother of twin boys age 6, I so can feel the love you have for Your daughter and granddaughter spilling over the pages of your heartfelt book
          Thank you for sharing your journey
          Virginia

    • Debbie says

      Hazel – this is such a bittersweet story. Your love and fear so deeply intertwined over the years. So interesting how much we can miss those we never really had the chance to know. Thank you for this moving post.

      • Hazel Muller says

        I cannot tell all of you how encouraging your feedback has been for me to continue and finish my book. I have about 100 pages done. There will be more inevetably for now I am just writing, next comes the organizing of all I have written so there is some kind of order to it all. At times I feel that I am writing in a vaccumn and who would be interested anyway, but I know that sharing helps us all.

        Again, I thank you!

  3. Nancy Qualls-Collins says

    Grade school through my junior year of high school was spent riding bikes and horses in the desert and mountains of west Texas and New Mexico. And of all my classmates and friends diving and having swimming races at Crystal Pool, the cool clear round pool that was large enough for a couple hundred bathers. That summer before my senior year my father’s job, as a retail window display designer, was transferred to Arizona. It was hot, dirty and most unfriendly. The high school kids were distant and the majority of them on drugs.

    That August we attended a family wedding in Indiana. My blonde, bubbly cousin, Connie (who is my age), set me up on a double blind date with my first love. My parents allowed me to remain in Indiana with my Aunt, Uncle, five cousins and fields of pigs and dairy cows. My parents and younger sister returned to the desert with plans to move up at the end of the school year.
    I had a new family, new school, new friends and a lot of animals.

    Some of the natives were not so friendly. A prospective girlfriend for my new boyfriend, and her friends, were not so welcoming and it took me time to determine who was friend or foe. I was made fun of for my Texas drawl and people stared at me. It was a small town and everyone knew I had arrived. If it were not for all my cousins, and having a well respected boyfriend, I fear I would have melted in the ice and snow. I learned about dealing with jealousy and benevolence to others feelings. My aunts and grandmother talked to me a lot and made it easy to reveal that which confused and frustrated me. It was impossible not to be happy around Connie.

    It was an adjustment to have so many ‘siblings’ with one bathroom and one car. There were cheer leading, choir and band practice, football and basketball games and family dinners interspersed with house and farm chores and dates. I shared a bed with Connie. My aunt and uncle were slightly more strict than my parents and required me get a Saturday part time job to help pay for my ancillary expenses. I never was forced to accept responsibility before. And Connie would do the grocery shopping while I worked developing films and sucking spittle in a dentists office.

    The whole experience was a true adventure, especially for one so young. I am thankful for learning responsibility for family, the animals and my life, and for communicating with my family both near and far. Most of all the massive, unconditional love and friendship of all my relatives after living in the desert with only my immediate family.

    • Ilana says

      Nancy- What a beautiful story. I love how you showed us the range of relationships and emotions; the distance of the other students, the unfriendliness of those who laughed at your drawl and finally the support you got from you family and boyfriend. A sweet story and well written. IM

  4. virginia fagan says

    The Dilemna
    It was my husband’s idea that we should climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to celebrate my 60th birthday almost two years ago . In essence to welcome in the next stage of my life – and he would accompany me. Now what was most surprising was that he had even offered since I was the “mountain climber,” and he was “slow and steady,’ more inclined to less vertical challenges.
    As it turned out, I did decide to go but not with him. That is after mulling over all the “what if”s” that could impact my/our success.

    Ultimately, I decided to go with an all women’s adventure group after thinking that female bonding would surely get us all to the top. I was enthralled with the fantasy of us high fiveing at the summit, exchanging emails with promises to plan further adventures together, and well just being special friends for life! And of course a joyful happy birthday to moi, the Swahili version of course!

    As I’m remembering my time on the mountain, I feel a deep belly resonance that’s drawing me deeper to a more complete truth. That is I had already acknowledged my disappointment in how very little of my expectations were met and ultimately felt betrayed and abandoned by my team of eight, who began to “fall out,” as we neared the base camp of the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
    Our collective energy was essentially down. Comments circulating re: various states of our thighs, feet, seemed to take on a life of their own and debilitated us further.

    Upon arrival at our base camp we were met with hilly, icy terrain. Shortly we discovered that the food and water supply was limited and just hunkered down in our tents and prepared for the midnight assent.

    A little before midnight, I discovered that it would just be myself and the youngest member of our group making the assent. I remember it was a awesomely beautiful night as she and I adjusted our packs and began the slow climb under the watchful gaze of a full moon illuminating the glistening snow covered landscape. As we neared 17,000 ft., she decided to retreat, mumbling about “back problems.”
    That left just me and “Good Luck,” our Swahili guide, his name the english translation. He shared his name story with me, but all I can really remember now was his big handsome grin, and that his parents were happy.

    It was an erie quiet that surrounded he and I, the only hikers on the mountain. The pace was staggering slow, dictated by the extremely high altitude. My eyes glued to Good Luck’s feet, following him in a trance like dance. We were close to 18,000 ft., when I realized that the smaller rocks were resembling people enjoying a picnic in the moonlight- perhaps I was hallucinating? We continued a few hundred feet more up and up, and all of a sudden I realized I had been asleep propped up on my trekking poles.
    This was a wake-up call for me, no lalasalama ( Swahili for sweet dreams) for this trekker.
    I had to decide if it was worth it. And in a flash I saw myself responding to my husband’s question,” Hey, did ya make it to the top?” And I heard my response and saw the look of disappointment in his face. My next thought was whose dream is this anyway?- it wasn’t even my idea, and besides it really isn’t fun anymore. I could get seriously hurt.

    Had it been my desire to make him proud of me that made me train up and down hills for months? Yes, I loved the adventure but now I needed to take the risk of disappointing the most important person in my life and it wasn’t me.
    I took the risk to choose myself and in the process realized my worth with all it’s imperfections.

    • says

      Virginia, welcome to the Roadmap blog and thanks for introducing yourself with such a powerful, important story of true empowerment and choice. I was with you every step of the way!

      • Fran Stekoll says

        Virginia: I find it healing to hear about your climb.
        Your experience touched my soul. I’ve never climbed like you; but I have gone deep sea diving and also wondered about zip lining. Certain experiences touch our inner being. Yours certainly touched mine.

        • Hazel Muller says

          Sometimes we all have to stop, and like all writers, ask ourselves whose story are we writing. After all, we are writing our own story by the things we do and the choices we make but it is so important to know we are making them because we want to do those things for ourselves.

          Thank you for sharing.
          Hazel

    • Debbie says

      Virginia – i enjoyed your honestly about the reality of the trip versus your fantasy/expectations. And the underlying metaphor of climbing the mountain of others’ expectations for us – sometimes even at our own detriment. Welcome to the blog – I can’t wait to read more!

  5. Jennifer Ire says

    I had applied to a doctoral program in counseling psychology mainly. I had been in family therapy for a while. I was trying to figure out myself by doing family of origin therapy. This was the third phase of my seemingly life task of trying to understand the family I chose to be born into and so understand why I was there. During childhood I read books on psychiatry that helped keep me sane I believe and verified that something was off in the family mind field. My pursuit of an MBA led me into the study of group dynamics and family systems. These were focused on family systems and gave me the hint as to where I should look next, so here I was in family therapy. I was looking into my family as a group and as a system with all the intricacies of both.
    I wanted more and that included how to “fix” what was wrong, so I moved towards a doctoral program in counseling psychology. But first will I get into the college program. I was an older student, heading towards 50 years old, had done only business programs and now was about to switch brain. Would that be allowed? Well I had always been left brain right brain balanced, almost identical scores on those tests, so that was good. I could write well, good, had never done anything with psychology, not so good. I argued for my acceptance and gave explicit reasons for wanting to do this. I also fit two of the categories that gave schools some federal government benefit, minority, woman, older and so this time it brought me some benefit as well.
    So I entered another graduate school this time with the focus on me. Classes were good, I love to study. My personality needs a new challenge every four years or so and this was a challenge. Fortunately at 47 I had learned how to assess what to take seriously and what to let slide, and so it was manageable. I had to learn how to balance the graduate student life in a public university, a whole different challenge. Student housing, “part-time” teaching as a graduate teaching assistant was a huge source of aggravation although it paid tuition and gave a stipend, as they called it. I did what I needed to do and got to enjoy teaching as well.
    I learned a lot that helped me get a grip on the family mind. And, I was able to employ my previous learning of history, culture, race, class, societal dynamics to obtain a different look into the life and mindset of the family matriarch and her reaction to my appearance in the family. Understanding came and with it a different way to look at my life in the system. Doors and windows opened into understanding, which led me to create my research project. Another challenge was that I was not following the implicit rules of the doctorate program. I was not tagging my work onto any other professor’s work, but was going in my own direction. Oh yes, some of their work was relevant and were properly cited, but I was not working off of any of their paradigms or interests, and I was looking at myself and my family. Not good!
    My advisor told me he would not have had the courage to do what I was attempting. That floored me and I knew I was in trouble. The paper for my comprehensive exam was focused on my life with my grandmother. I was looking at her life and through social, historical and cultural lenses and seeing how those systems impacted her reception of her first grandchild, who was dark-skinned and female. That was successfully done in my eyes because it turned my world upside down an I received another view of the years of abuse. I realized that as bad as it was it gave me incredible independence of being, self-love, warrior-ship, stamina, independence of thinking and being, ability to sustain myself in a world that was and would be hostile to me because of how I looked.
    It was the first time I could find benefit from all that happened between us. I saw the benefit in the constant attack on mentaI, emotional, and psychic level. I learned to protect myself on all those levels and fight back when necessary. I learned to be strong in ways that allowed me to thrive in this world of hostile and cruel people and keep growing. I learned to accept that betrayal and abuse could be normalized and ignored while living internally from a place of clarity and grace. I came to understand that a beautiful dark-skinned woman born into colonialism and the hatred of all that looked black, the abuse of women on so many levels during slavery and colonial rule and all that went with it would not want to see another dark-skinned black female child arrive in her world. She did not know what to do when her worst fear arrived.
    At the end of that piece of work I could find myself more empathic to my grandmother, and understand what she might not have been able to articulate or even allow herself to recognize. I could recognize how her behavior, as cruel as it was mostly, made me the person I was at that point, I could find the strengths I gained from my childhood and youth with her. I could wish that life was different and a bit more friendly, but I am not certain that I would have survived life on this planet or in the US then.
    So I passed my comprehensive exam, and was on to the next phase through the program. Next I presented my research project and got it approved by the committee of professors with whom I was working. At the end of that event my advisor and the only family therapy professor both dropped out of my committee for various reasons. That was two of my three professors gone and the one left was from outside of my department. I told them thanks very much for bringing me thus far and let them go. I was unfazed though annoyed. I could expect nothing less because they had not much to gain from my work. I was doing my own thing outside of their interests. Prior to that day, my advisor told me that I should be doing work with a professor, using her/his work as the base of my work. I asked him when I would have the chance to do what I wanted. He said after I was done. I told him that at my age I could not wait.
    Because of my grandmother and mother I had learned to deal with living through abandonment. I decided that I wanted to complete the degree. With that done, I had to create a new committee. I walked into the Dean of the school that housed my department with my research proposal and comprehensive exam paper. I told him what had happened to my committee and asked him if he would chair my committee. I suggested he thought about it and let me know his decision. He agreed and next day told me that he would. We set out the terms of the interaction that would work for both of us. I knew what he would be able to do and what I needed to do. Next I went to another professor and asked her to be on the committee and told her what I would like her to do. She agreed and we shook hands on the deal. I had my committee. One year later I was done completed all work for the degree.
    My research and dissertation was on the use of autobiographical writing in self-understanding and change. At the end of this I knew that writing and the incorporation of social, historical and cultural understanding allows for the flowering of self-knowledge and help personal and interpersonal change happen. I emerged changed in many ways. I could not now think that I could understand what is driving someone’s behavior, including mine, without understanding more of the externalities that interact with that person. I knew that in some strange ways my grandmother was preparing me for life using the understanding, beliefs and methods she had available to her. That softened my life for a long while.

  6. Terry Gibson says

    How many risks did I take to save my life? More than I could ever remember.

    A small town girl, who rarely spoke, I ran away to strange cities. Learned about passports, tickets and boarding passes as I hopped my first international flight to Paris, France. Fiji. Seoul. Tokyo. New Zealand. Australia. I moved in with complete strangers. Followed men because they told me to in a soft voice and didn’t hit while giving the order; of course, soft manner or not, at home, I was beaten into doing what I was told and I couldn’t just shut that off when I got to hell out. I always submitted–as the Police advised us during Rape Crisis Center training sessions–so I would never, ever again suffer the brutality I already knew. I discarded ‘love’ because everything was about sex. Nobody loved me or ever would. That was an easy truth for my brain to grasp. Being pawed at. Drugged. Humiliated. Tricked. Trapped. I didn’t know how to live or take care of myself. I felt dead as my feet dragged me all over the map constantly searching. Maybe movement staved off death for me; this is still true today.

    A huge risk I took was venturing outside the psychiatric framework I gravitated to when I moved to Vancouver. There were no free counselling centers and, as I was hell bent on doing some serious damage to myself, I had to be there to find a way to stay alive.

    “You just keep goin’ to that psychiatrist,” Mom said, happily, after Penny spread the gossip. “Mine told me I was just perfect!” As long as it was ME having my thoughts prodded by strangers, she was deliriously contented. If her doctor said she was great, then it was all ME after all.

    I was deluded. I had horrific nightmares from which I awoke with my heart in my throat, struggling for air and recognition of my hazy surroundings. Bits of conversations from long ago would suddenly flash into my consciousness, no matter where I was, nor what I was doing. I held my head in my hands so often, wanting to wrench my hair away from my skull. I fantasized about having a gun and just blowing my head off. Why couldn’t I quell the torrential waves of my emotion and thought? That must be what crazy feels like. It had to be. Was it? Is it?

    I took the pills they offered me and when slashing myself got worse, I gulped the higher doses. My fear impulse froze to the dead of winter. Ripping myself open hardly made me flinch. I spilled my pain at night and bled out the contents of my brain the next morning. I was in a therapeutic situation where the therapist didn’t speak at all, so I always felt worse. I ridiculed my attempts to talk rationally about my family’s madness.
    I became stuck on two things: them threatening to have me raped (the incredible coincidence that their friends were the ones who did it), and something else Mom said sometimes.

    “There was one time,” she announced, referring to when we lived with her parents and brother. “I stood in the doorway and Uncle Mike was in the room, squatting down beside the bed where you slept…and I heard him say, Queenie. Queenie. One day you’re gonna kill yourself.”

    I had to be insane to have that memory. Didn’t I? Where in hell was this stuff coming from? I couldn’t stand living my life as a family ‘crazy’ joke and just being odd and pathetic to the world. Made fun of for my speech. I was always too much. Too little. Too small. Too intense. Feeling too much love. Having too little backbone. No self-respect.

    Maybe drugs weren’t enough. I remembered watching the movie “Frances” in absolute horror at the electroshock therapy sessions. Yet the thought sprouted in my brain. Was it the solution? I couldn’t imagine having peace between my ears; what value were these disgusting and sickening thoughts anyway? The torment I experienced every day left me depleted of all will to live. Then I’d flash on Jessica Lange in the last scene of the movie. After all the rapes, beatings, drugs and ECT treatments, she was a beautiful and sad shell of a woman. I was terrified of ending up that damaged. Vaccuous emotionally–especially in the face of Harry (Sam Shepard) who loved her desperately.

    The day arrived. I was feeling vulnerable and afraid of my self-hatred, so I chose to go to the hospital for the weekend. To keep myself safe. During one group meeting, as I was just about to do the beggar’s dance–hoping they’d fry my brain–my rational self cut in. A voice that had been there all along caught a lull in the noise and found its breath.

    Half-hour by half-hour, quarter-day by twelve-hour period, I took on the more interesting but dangerous path. I had to find my own way and trust what Candy Finnigan from “Intervention” wrote to me, “God don’t make no junk.” I try to hang on to this on my worst days and the many, many kind and loving comments I get back from my writer’s community. With that, I somehow sustain myself, and by sharing what little I know in the best ways I know how.

    • Ilana says

      Terry you are a mystery; a beautiful, startling mystery. You give us another piece of the puzzle each week. Small pieces of your story and the strength with which you’ve lived it, continue to live it. “God don’t make no junk”? I have a hard time with that when I think of my brother and other people who have hurt me. Still, whether it’s true or not, even if God does make junk, He certainly didn’t when he made you. Thank you for sharing these pieces of your incredible story with us each week. IM

      • Terry Gibson says

        Wow. If I could’ve just looked at myself from your perspective for the last few days. Even as I know I must let the contents of my head spill on the page, I am deeply embarrassed by my thoughts, actions, memories and ideations. I also, oddly enough, feel guilty and disloyal to my Mom for even voicing these things.
        God don’t make no junk! I have trouble with that one now. What about all the abusers? Wait. That’s too big a puzzle for me, especially tonight. I do hope I’m worth it; I know I have a good, solid, compassionate and loving base inside me; there’s no end to the love and respect I feel for those who deserve it. Thanks for being my mirror, as mine has gone askew.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Laura, I would never think of inviting people I love into this mess. I imagine I’m dragging you and them in, even as the readers are grabbing at stones or sticks, anything to help them find a groove and secure a foothold. Thank you for reading, reflecting, and being who you so awesomely are.

        • Hazel Muller says

          We honor you for your courage and trust in us enough to share your story. You’ve come a long way Baby! You are valued. Hang onto that because it is true.
          Hazel

    • Debbie says

      Terry – I couldn’t sleep for a week and it took months to stop thinking about Jessica Lange in Frances. Oh my god! No one could understand why that movie affected me so much. That was because no one knew – about the abuse, about the self-loathing, about the constant chorus of accusing voices. And I was too afraid to speak about it, afraid of losing the small handhold on “normalcy” I had carved out for myself. I think I could have told you, had I known you then, and you would have understood.

      I am glad you are sharing more and more about your life, feelings and challenges with us. Each week your voice seems a little stronger, the understandings clearer, maybe self-acceptance a little more possible? This is a safe place and you are among friends. Thank you for the honor of receiving your story tonight.

  7. Ilana says

    I Am Significant!

    I’m really scared to write this post. You might laugh at me. Shame, though, that’s the real reason. I’m so ashamed. You might think it ridiculous that I’d choose this story. It doesn’t constitute a real “Journey” by anyone’s standards but mine. “Dangerous”? “Frightening?” Just for me. What I’m going to talk about is something that most people do all the time without really giving it much thought. What you’ve got to understand is that this is part of a much longer, bigger journey. At the beginning I was terrified to take more than a few steps. My God, look how far I’ve come.

    I’ve spent years overcoming this fear, twenty years, to be exact. It was a full blown phobia when I started. I mean it; text book. The definition of a phobia is “a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational.” I got that from Wikipedia but um, yeah. That’d be me. I would do anything, miss out on anything. I would beg, plead and threaten to avoid it. I endured whatever ridicule others wanted to dish out; anything to avoid going somewhere where I could get lost.

    Before I start I’d like to tell you what exactly I thought would happen if I got lost. It might help you to understand. You see, for all of my childhood and most of my young adulthood I summed up my whole existence in a single word, “INSIGNIFICANT”. Where did I get this? I could go on for several pages about the way my dysfunctional family functioned. I’m not going to do that. Suffice it to say that through the twenty some odd years of sexual, physical and psychological abuse I suffered at the hands of my older brother, my parents either blamed me or minimized what was happening. Thus I came to the conclusion that my suffering, and therefore my very existence, was insignificant. I was unnecessary. They could do without me. If I disappeared they would say, “Where’s Ilana? You haven’t seen her? Oh well.” I firmly believed that if I got lost no one would come looking for me and I’d end up homeless on the street.

    As a child I was sure it was the truth. Over and over again I made my parents promise that they’d come looking for me if I got lost. Over and over again they made that promise but I never believed them. How could I? I was already so lost in my own home. They didn’t notice what Andrew was doing to me right under their noses. It followed that they wouldn’t notice if I disappeared altogether. As I got older I rationally knew that this was impossible but the fear still loomed. The idea of getting lost brought visions of myself wandering the streets with nothing to eat, nowhere to go when it got cold and no one to take care of me. I knew it was unrealistic but those visions haunted me, none the less.

    So there it is, the thinking behind my fear. At ten I never walked more than a block from my house unless someone was with me. Having someone with me, anyone, calmed my fears. Someone besides me would be significant enough that people would look for them if we got lost. Then, in finding that person with me, inconsequential little Ilana would be found. At 15 I took driver’s ED with everyone else but secretly dreaded getting my license. When I got older there were times when I could not avoid going out, leaving the tiny island of safety. With my heart in my mouth I carefully followed directions with a landmark every ten feet. I held my breath the whole way. If it took a little while longer to get to a landmark than I had thought it would I went into full on panic mode. You might think that public transportation would be the answer. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about every turn and landmark. Nope. The idea of getting off at the wrong stop and finding myself anywhere that I didn’t recognize was ten times worse.

    I have flown by myself, a couple of times. That was another step in the journey. I practiced finding my way from the door I was dropped off at and then from gate to gate for two hours. Whoever was picking me up was under strict instructions to meet me at the gate. That was before 9/11. I was already married when it became impossible to have someone meet you at the gate. It wasn’t an issue. I never went anywhere without my husband.

    So where am I going? I am going to fly all by myself to California for the Memory to Memoir retreat. My husband, Zander, will drop me off at the airport in the morning but I’ve got to take a shuttle to the Land of Medicine Buddha. Then, when the retreat is over I’ll take a shuttle back to the airport. There will be no one to meet me at the gate when I get home on Sunday night. Zander has to stay at home with our children.

    This trip is a gift from him, a thank you for the half dozen or so trips he has gone on while I stayed home with the children. He is grateful that having three young children did not mean he had to miss the national nurse practitioner symposium and other educational opportunities offered to him. He appreciates the weekends he has flown out to visit his cousin for some badly needed guy time. I have his complete support and he wants me to enjoy the retreat.

    Zander has watched me conquer so many fears over the last year. Ever since I was honest with myself that I am an incest survivor I’ve been on a mission to eradicate its devastating effects. He’s been so supportive and proud of me. He was unaware, however, that I have never traveled alone. “Oh.” His face darkened when I told him of my anxieties. “I wish there was some way I could pick you up from the airport. It’ll be hard because of the timing but I could try to get a sitter.”

    “No!” I said, vehemently. “I’m going to do this by myself. That’s part of the trip. It’s going to be an incredible growing experience for me.”

    “But if you didn’t have to do that…”

    “Zander, you’ve seen me overcome my fear of cooking. You’ve seen me learn to MapQuest an address and go to a place I’ve never been to before. Now you’re going to see me travel all by myself. Can you imagine the triumph it’s going to be when I get out of that airport shuttle, walk into this house and tell you how great the retreat was? It’s going to be amazing.”

    He stared at me for a second as he realized how much thought I had put into my plans. “I’m proud of you.” He said softly. It was the same startled, awed, look he had on his face when I threw my first dinner party. That was all I needed. Whatever fears I have about this trip, they are nothing compared to the support I have waiting at home. I’ll never worry again that if I get lost no one will come looking for me.

    • says

      Ilana, I’m so glad you shared the incredible journey you’re about to make to come to the retreat–and that I now know what a huge triumph it will be for you to just arrive. We will greet you warmly with pride in your accomplishment.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Ilana, I’m so happy you wrote this! You will definitely be greeted with warmth, care, and kindness. I’m so proud of you for taking this trip. (Secretly, I’m proud of myself for making the commitment too.) Of course, I’m distracted now, wondering if we will be at the same airport and on the same shuttle. Meeting you will be the best. So excited for us all. :)

    • Beverly Boyd says

      Ilana, this is so powerful!
      Because I live in Santa Cruz, the rescuer in me wants to charge in like the hero in a melodrama, “I’ll take you to the airport!”
      But, I heard your response to Zander, “I’m going to do this myself!”

      The recovered rescuer in me knows that following that impulse would deny you the opportunity for a truly empowering experience. So instead I will cheer you on to follow your well laid plans and wait for your triumphant “I did it” when it is over and you’ve added one more to the list of fears you have overcome!

      • Hazel Muller says

        In a way, I can relate to what you are saying about being invisible. Now at 76 and having many physical ailments and disabilities I cannot socialize or just do as many things as I used to. In this time it is very easy to become forgotten and there are many days that I feel I am “unvisible.” That no one sees or remebers that I am here. Most days I never look in the mirror and if I do, I don’t even see myself. I am not afraid to go out but it has to be for a good reason. This is not a good feeling.

        Thank you for sharing.
        Hazel

    • Debbie says

      Ilana – do you know the Cherokee tail of being evicted from their tribal lands in Georgia and made to walk hundreds of miles to Oklahoma to their new “home”? This journey has been called the “Trail of Tears”. In the winter of 1992 I set off along across country (before the days of cell phones and mapquest!) to take a trip I had dreamed of since I was 16. I didn’t really want to go alone but everyone else I knew was working – there was no way around it. I either had to go alone or give up the dream. So I as started out from my home in Georgia, I realized initially my route was not too far from that the Cherokee had to walk so many years before. That inspired me and I dubbed my trip the “Trail of Fears”. Anytime a thought came into my mind and I realized I was afraid to try – it went on my list to accomplish on this trip. As a result – I had an amazing, life altering adventure!!

      You are going to have the same. While Colorado is beautiful, there is something especially welcoming and serene about the tall trees and mountains of that part of the world. You will return a proud warrior woman who has successfully conquered her own “Trail of Fears”!

    • Ilana says

      Laura, Terry, Beverly and Debbie- Thank you all for your kind words. I was too overwhelmed to respond until now. (I’ve also been sick but enough with excuses.) I look forward to this challenge with not only the enthusiasm I had before but also that has been replenished by your encouragement. It’s scary but I’m learning that most things that are worthwhile are very challenging. Thank you so much sIMz

        • Debbie says

          You snuck this in! Good for you – this is going to be such a wonderful and rich experience on so many levels. I have attended Laura’s writing class and then a week at Commonweal. These are experiences from which I learned much – about writing and about myself. I can’t think of a better “reward” for your courage than the upcoming writing weekend!

    • Ilana says

      I did it! Thank you Laura! Thank you Terry! So wonderful to meet you both. Thank you everyone who gave me support through this prompt and the responses. It was an amazing retreat and an amazing experience to conquer my fears. I’m going to get some sleep now. ;)

      • says

        Ilana, it was such an incredible gift to meet you. It’s amazing to read someone’s words here, week after week (you in this case!) and then have those words embodied by a real, breathing, living, brave, human, lovable, remarkable human being. I’m so glad you came to the retreat and that I got to meet you. It was so much more touching and powerful knowing all you did to get there!

      • Debbie says

        Ilana – so terrific! Not only am I proud for you, I am also happy for you to have had the experience of attending one of Laura’s sessions. What a terrific experience on so many levels! Hooray for you!!

  8. Jim Dowling says

    We were on I-40, the pull of home strong. Me and the dog. Towns ticked past, but mostly desert. The sun was going down and it was time to find a place to sleep. The easy thing would be to find a campground or pick one of these little roadside motels and get a room. Not tonight. Nope. I’d be home in a couple of days and the one experience I’d managed to skirt for two entire months was sleeping alone in some remote location. As a twenty-something kid determined to re-invent himself while on the road, I’d promised myself I’d try it. It topped my “fears to conquer” list.
    I’ll admit to a little compromise. Travis. My dog. A friendly mutt I was still getting to know.
    Out of Gallup, heading west and shadows lengthening, the search began in earnest. I had an hour until dark. We were rolling through country foreign to me. To my eyes it seemed a vast and dry region of lonely ranches, scrubby, a place bathed in dusty hues of yellow and orange – rusted pickups built in Detroit, arrowheads painted on signs. Solitude with a tinge of foreboding. The sun crept lower. I didn’t want to plunk my bag down in the dirt and listen to big rigs ply the interstate. Off to right I began to notice mountains to the north. Not the tall and jagged kind, they looked rounded and ancient. I picked a nameless gravel road and drove in that direction, toward a line of peaks. It turned to dirt and billowing red dust. In fifteen minutes, I was pushing my VW Bug up a winding road. Scrub gave way to trees. It was the tail end of dusk when the road panned out, ending without warning or apparent purpose on a steep slope very close to the top of a small mountain. I backed up, found a relatively flat spot, killed the engine and yanked the emergency brake. Travis and I quickly hiked the last hundred yards to the top.
    The peak was a mostly barren knob of stone dotted here and there with small tufts of grass. A lone, weather-tormented pine stood anchored near the center. It felt like the place. At the base of the tree, I cleared away some dead branches and rocks and spread my sleeping bag on the ground. I took off my shoes, shirt and pants and climbed in. My little cocoon.
    No sooner had the sun disappeared than a radiant orb of a full moon welled up from behind distant peaks. I’d picked a rare evening for this undertaking. Travis would probably wander off for a little while. No big deal. I knew his habits. He liked to run off and check things out. But he never left. For a long time I listened to the tinkling of dog tags moving about the perimeter. Tiring of the sound, I called him over so I could remove the collar, maybe even get him to lay down for a while. I just wanted to fall asleep and wake to a glorious New Mexico sunrise. That would more than suffice.
    Travis took his time, but finally came close. I reached up and draped my wrist across his back. He was tense and alert, not the least bit interested in laying down. His head jerked right and left, like he saw or heard things I couldn’t. I tried petting him. The hair on his back was up!
    The coyotes started in. And they were close. Loud. Yipping. Howling drug-crazed banshees in the dark. I jumped out of my sleeping bag, found some rocks and hurled them into the night. As if I’d flipped a light switch, it all stopped. Silence. I sat down and pulled Travis to my side. Minutes passed. Except for a thumping heart, a perfect quiet enveloped us. Time to get a grip. Coyote: a smallish desert canine not known for eviscerating campers. Timid, in fact. Damn near harmless. I could still do this! I’d keep Travis close and we’d hold our ground for the night. Why not?
    Because the damn coyotes came back again and again and again. Closer and bolder. It’s one thing when you can see the source, but in that strange, murky world of shadows, the wild-dog chorus seemed otherworldly, menacing – borderline demonic. Toward the end, it was nuts. I’d sit bolt upright and the howling would cease. I’d lay back down and they’d start up again. Did I say, toward the end? You bet. Somewhere in there I lost it completely. I jumped from the bag, scooped up shoes, pants, shirt and sleeping bag, hugged it all to my chest and ran pell mell down the mountain. In my socks. Travis wasn’t about to wait on me and vanished somewhere up ahead. At the car I jammed a key in the lock, got the door open and threw it all in the back seat. Travis crawled out from beneath the car and scampered in.
    Safe at last! Panting, out of breath, a little shaky with adrenalin, I attempted to calm myself down, make sense of the evening. I shut the door, leaned up against the car and folded my arms. It was actually kind of funny. Me, standing there in underwear and socks. The night I tackled my fears head on. Hah! Make a humorous tale someday… I was well into this flight of whimsy when I heard it, a distinct and deep grunt from the shadows. In a flash I was back in the car, locking doors, jamming the key in the ignition.
    I drove down the mountain and found a new place to sleep. Travis stayed in the car. I cleared some trash, swept a few shards of broken glass from the ground and spread out my bag. Only a chain-link fence separated me from the interstate and the loud hiss of passing tires. And I was fine with that.
    Sleeping alone in some remote location has been stricken from the list.

    • Beverly Boyd says

      As usual, I loved the way you told this story. You pulled me right in. And you did it. You faced down your fear and used common sense when those noisy coyotes or whatever possibly more ominous animal made that “deep grunt from the shadows”.

    • Debbie says

      Jim – I ended reading your story with a smile on my face. I did make an amusing story one day! And a great allegory for all of us about those times when the source of our fears keeps coming back over and over again until we face it head on, admit how we feel and move on. I enjoy your posts – thanks for contributing to our community story-telling!

  9. Debbie says

    What is most remarkable about this event is that it wasn’t remarkable at all, though it could have altered my life completely. The risks of the journey had slipped just out of mind’s reach landing on a dusty shelf of casual confidence. The experience, however, was very revealing.

    It was Indian Summer in the North Georgia mountains. One of those special fall afternoons when the crisp morning air gives way to a warm, sunny afternoon. We had decided to go white water rafting. We being; my brother Doug, his wife Ellyn, son Matthew, daughter Jennifer and me. All the rafting gear was laid out and inspected as the midday heat began to build. My brother, and his family, were experienced white water rafters. I, the relative novice among them.

    I love the water; rushing rivers that spring forth from the mountain coves. Quiet, still lakes whose clear water reveals the perfectly circular beds on the lake floor created by the spawning fish. Roaring ocean waves that pound the bluffs with unrelenting energy. The particular sound of a stream, gurgling over pebbles and stones brings a sense of serenity and peace no matter where I encounter it.

    So as we set out on our river expedition that afternoon, I was full of joyous anticipation to be on the water, any water, on such a beautiful day. It was decided by my brother that Ellyn and Matthew would take the two inflatable kayaks while Doug, Jennifer and I would paddle the larger six man raft. It was a tall order for the three of us as Jennifer was small, petite and inexperienced at being a “working member” of the crew. I was a strong armed paddler but was inexperienced in steering the raft or navigating the flow of the river. Doug, however, had spent countless hours rafting and kayaking – many on this very river. I was confident that he would captain us well and I could follow his directions enough to keep us out of trouble.

    The Nantahala river is a controlled river. What that means is that it no longer flows wild but has a dam upstream placed by the energy company to form a lake and power the turbines that produced the region’s electricity. This was one of the last weekends that Duke Power allowed flow levels to support rafting trips. Soon the cold weather would send even the hardiest outdoorsman scurrying to the shores , out of the frigid water and off the icy banks. That afternoon, I noticed a strong current as we waded in with our flotilla of kayaks and raft. I smiled in anticipation of a faster, more exciting “float” downstream.

    The first half of the trip was uneventful. It takes a little while for the rapids to build up past Class 1 & 2. Class 1 whitewater is barely more than the ripple you see when there are rocks under the surface, just the beginning of white, frothy spots. Class 2 rapids are when the surface of the water starts to rise and fall along with the contour of the rocks, dips and fall of the river. Class 3 rapids are what most of us have experienced where the water speeds up, often narrows and creates waves, pools and strong currents that begin to challenge your strength and navigation. As the river continues to fall in elevation, the rapids become larger, the current stronger and the rocks, well they seem bigger but maybe that is because you are coming at them at a much quicker pace. I have never attempted Class 4 or 5 rapids – think “The River Wild” with Meryl Streep. Too much for me!

    We had just completed a run of some fun Class 3 rapids and were taking a bit of a break. Ellyn and Matthew had passed through easily in their kayaks. It had taken some strong pulling and back strokes to get the larger, more cumbersome raft through the same passage. Jennifer had been gamely trying to do her part but it was clear that Doug and I would have to really work to compensate for her lack of strength and experience. As a result, we were a little off track and were drifting closer to the bank of the river than normal. No one was really paying much attention as the river was calm and wide here. Good time to catch our breath.

    Then something went wrong. Instead of floating, one side of the raft was starting to life up into the air. Before I knew it, Jennifer had fallen from her perch directly onto my chest. Instinctively I grabbed her and held her tight wondering why I didn’t just slip out of the raft into the river. Then I noticed the tightness across my breasts. Somehow the outside guide rope had slipped across me and was binding me to my side of the raft even as my head kept getting closer and closer to the rushing water. Just as I was realizing the severity of my situation, suddenly I was free of the boat and into the cold water.

    I kept hold of Jennifer’s hand but could feel her literally running up my back, instinctively reaching for the surface. I had been relieved to be free of the boat. We were both wearing life vests, personal flotation devices of PFDs in the vernacular of the river people. But something was wrong. There was no light. We should have already crested the surface. Instead we were being pushed downstream in darkness.

    I remember clearly pulling Jennifer around to the front of me and pushing her up to where the air and light should have been. I knew with certainty, in that moment, I would give my life for hers if needed. Then just as quickly, the world was “right again” – our heads popped out of the water. We could hear the voices of our family. There were great gulps of air for the taking!

    I continued to hold Jennifer in my arms, gently reminding her to hold her feet up in front of her, reassuring her that all was well. I was calm, collected and knew the danger had passed. Just then I heard her mother’s voice over my right shoulder as Ellyn guided her kayak to us. I helped Jennifer get a good hold on the kayak then floated with them both off to the left, to a calm spot on the river’s edge. It was only then that I realized I was trembling and my face was wet with more than spray from the rapids.

    Sitting together in the warm afternoon comparing notes, we began to piece the whole story together. The guide rope along the outside of the raft’s perimeter had gotten snagged by a branch on the shore. The constant pressure of the downstream flow against the large branch had caused the raft to upend and broken the rope free of its grommets. This threw Jennifer onto me at the same time it bound me to the boat. Because my brother was an experienced boater, he traveled with a knife in his PFD. It was that knife, applied with skill, that saved my life. Had he not had it with him, my head would have been forced underwater while my body was trapped in the boat.

    As soon as he cut the rope, Jennifer and I slid into the water. Then the raft came down right on top of us. That is why is was dark and we could not find the surface light. Suspended in the dark coldness, the question of who I would be when faced an emergency was revealed. Inside many of us lives a fear that, when tested, we might not “do ourselves proud” – maybe pushing aside others for our own survival.

    There have been two lasting gifts from this unremarkable, remarkable trip. I continue to have a special place in my heart for my niece Jennifer. Even writing about this, I am overflowing with the deep love I felt for her that day as I lifted her young body toward the surface. And the powerful reminder that in a moment, your life can change forever.

    • Beverly Boyd says

      I cannot find the words to say how deeply, in many ways, your story touched me. I do know that the climax was when you “knew with certainty” you would give up your life for Jennifer if needed!

    • Terry Gibson says

      Debbie, This story is startingly beautiful. I love your descriptions and tidbits of info for the non whitewater rafters among us. What a scare! I was jolted by that, you being so quickly in danger, and then Jennifer’s well-being in jeopardy too. I can see you doing what you did–being who you are–rescuing someone else. I’m so happy it all turned out okay. A big hug to you, Amazon woman.

        • Liz F. says

          I agree totally! Good writing! I was there and wanted to know what was going to happen. And the description in the writing reflected the story as it unfolded beautifully….

    • says

      I’m not at all surprised that you would give your life for your niece. That kind of love and deep commitment resonate in every fiber of your being. Thanks for sharing this story confirming it!

    • Ilana says

      Debbie- I loved this story. It was engrossing and touching and so well written. An interesting thing happened to me when I got to the (now famous) line “I knew with certainty, in that moment, I would give my life for hers if needed.” I feel the same way about my own three little darlings. Because I know the feeling or perhaps because there was such a sense of sureness in your words, a great peace came over me. Thank you for taking me on this journey with you. IM

  10. says

    Dear Roadmap Writers,

    Just wanted you all to know I’m in Boston visiting my son at college for Parent’s Weekend. I’ll have to catch up with your posts next week! But I love the increase in folks visiting. That’s just what I love most–building community.

    Laura

  11. Beverly Boyd says

    I stepped into the cool of my home after returning one September day from taking my youngest daughter back to college after her summer vacation and it hit me…for the first time in my fifty some years I was alone! The ten days since my husband’s death from a heart attack had been so filled with events: friends and family coming for the memorial service, some staying for a day or two with me and then the trip today taking Karen back to college, I had not realized what it would feel like to step in my door and realize that for more than just a couple of nights, I was totally alone for the first time in my life.
    I was one of five children and the mother of seven. I was used to being surrounded by people. During my college years I lived in a dorm or a sorority with others coming and going.
    Now I was alone.
    After a few days, the movements of my very regular hours and my very noticeable big blue Dodge van would make it easy for any one interested to know when I was likely to gone or home alone.
    The quiet street I lived on in the Oakland Hills had constant foot traffic of walkers headed for the fire trail that started at its dead end. In the evening an undetermined number of homeless made their way one at a time to the encampments where they slept hidden in the underbrush along the canyon above one of the few uncovered streams in Oakland. In the morning they left early just as quietly. Most of these folks we weren’t worried about. They seemed to try to keep a low profile so they would have a place to go at night. Even the occasional cars that drove to the end briefly for what we believed were drug transactions did their business and left before a call to the police produced results.
    Still, there had been a few burglaries in the neighborhood. I began to be afraid someone might be watching. My anxiety was growing into a full grown fear of living alone in that big house. I had friends who were happy living alone, sometimes in large houses. I wanted to be like them. So I began a routine of making sure the house was secure: accessible doors and windows locked, locked my bedroom door from the inside and told God, I’ve done all I can do…the rest is up to you. I said “now I lay me”. Yes, I literally said that earliest prayer from my childhood, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
    On a day off, I started out in mid morning to do a few errands. As I started down the street, I realized that a jogger passing as I left the house seemed too interested in my actions. I parked the car walked back toward the house. I noticed the jogger had gone on up the street and was looking back at me. I decided to let my errands wait, went into the house and called the police to report a suspicious stranger.
    I told a couple of neighbors about him, one of them showed me an item in the “police blotter” of our local newspaper. Later that morning there had in fact been a couple of burglaries above us. One on the canyon side, the other across the street from that house. That owner came home while the burglary was in process and saw the him leaving by an open window. The description was that of the man I had seen earlier in the day.
    So I went out and bought several timers to install on lamps and a radio to make it appear that someone might be home.
    After a few months I was comfortable and happy to be alone. When one of my daughters boomeranged a couple of years later, I was glad to share the house with her. I had proved to myself I could live alone.

    This post already seems awfully long but I want to add another story. In 1998 when I sold that house I bought a “98 Dodge Grand Caravan” with the intention of loading some of the inventory of old prints and trying my hand at working the business alone as I had done with my husband for about ten years before his death. The closer it came to the day to leave, the more fear began to take over. I had traveled many times across the country with my family and with my husband. I knew how long and lonely some of the stretches of road could be. Years before I had experienced a panic attack in the middle of the night when I had breakdown on the way home from a late night job. I could feel that panic rising and threatening to ruin my plans. I had bought a cell phone, which made me feel more secure, but I still had to give myself a good talking to. I was a good long haul driver and I had a late model car in good repair. I wasn’t going to take any chances.

    That trip was the first of many…I lost track at ten round trips…usually alone. I focused on places my far-flung family lived and worked to develop accounts in those areas so I could combine the business trips with family time. I took every possible route I could think of to see different places. I became a shameless Route 66″roadie” .traveling almost all of of the original highway. I rolled down the windows and turned the radio to the regional station that played the period pop music of the 50′s and 60′s, stopped at some of the classic restaurants and diners along the way, even a classic motel or two.

    About Motels. The first couple of trips I used them, stopping before dinner, then tossing and turning in an unfamiliar bed, determined to spend the whole night to “get my money’s worth”. One day I was trying to make up for lost time and by the time I started looking there were no vacancies. I drove on and found an interstate roadside stop crawled into the back seat that I had already made up for naps and slept a few hours before driving on. That began a routine that I still prefer today. I forego the motels and use the roadside stops, truck stops and an occasional parking lot for my naps. My family and friends have expressed some worry. I assure them I have a routine that I feel helps my security. I stop at a stop and use the restroom, then drive on to the next stop and climb over into the back seat so no one can see that I am a woman traveling alone. I hold the computerized key in my had ready to press the panic alarm. I’ve never had to use it. Three or four times I have pulled off prepared to stop and for some reason, sometimes I didn’t know why have decided to move on.

    This activity is probably more risky than living alone in a big house, but I think having the courage to live alone made it possible for me to travel alone.

    It’s been a couple of years since my last trip, but I have plans to transport a significant part of that print inventory to my son in Dallas. I’m not as young as I was for the first trips, but I still plan to use the same method. It may take longer, because I may have to stop more often, but I look forward to it with a sense of freedom and excitement about having another adventure on the road.

    • Hazel Muller says

      Beverly,
      Thank you for sharing your story. I to love to drive and travel and have many times driven alone from San Diego to Vancouver, B.C. and various other over the country trips. Many of these trips I have driven by myself. The last one was from Salem, OR to Farmington, NM 4 years ago when I was 72. All my friends were concerned for me as I was driving U-Haul’s biggest truck, a diesel. It was one of the nicest trips I have ever done by myself. The scenery was gorgeous, the truck comfortable to drive (watch those low overhangs though) and best of all I had time to think my own thoughts, sing with the radio if I wanted, stop when I wanted. Wonderful!

      I do know what you mean about feeling it is not the right place to stop. You can’t explain it but you know to get out of there. I always trust those feelings. One time I found out that 4 girls were murdered just a few hours after I had quickly left a roadside rest area. Thank You Great Spirit for giving me that feeling!
      Hazel

    • Terry Gibson says

      I admire your spirit of adventure, Beverly. I’d be quite scared starting out all alone in a big house. You’ve come a long way though and I trust that you’ll keep listening to those instincts as you explore everything around you. Take care.

  12. Debbie says

    Beverly – I could so identify with your fears of being in a large home all alone and feeling vulnerable. I recently moved across the country to a new, large, urban city from a small, quiet town. To me, being able to sleep at night means feeling safe.

    I have taken many trips across country alone – and likely will again. However, I have never had the courage to sleep in my vehicle. IT sounds like you are cautious and careful. But if I am honest, I do feel my anxiety start to rise thinking of sleeping somewhere along the way.

    Good for you in balancing being aware with adventure! Be careful – and enjoy – the trip to Texas!

    • Beverly Boyd says

      Hazel, Laura, Terry and Debbie
      I’m so glad to have such supportive and understanding responses from fellow adventurous women. Thank you!
      Funny…when I was in sixth grade our teacher did a sociogram/ an exercise where she asked us to answer questions and then used the answers to understand the social dynamics in the classroom. The most number of students, even the boys, named me as the person they would want to be with if they had to do something difficult or scary! I’m glad I only temporarily lost my brave mojo!
      And I will be careful and listen to that inner knowing that I have come to trust.

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