Saturday, August 15, 2009
Tugging at That Single Thing
Yosemite Creek was the low point. The car was sputtering and spit firing, and we had just reached the bottom of a long, steep, unpaved, potholed road. Our last hope for a place to stay had run out, it was pitch dark, and we weren’t sure the car would make it back up the hill. So we made dinner.
I chopped tomatoes. One of our headlamps started sputtering like the car and went out. I helped Jeff comb the ground for his misplaced sunglasses, which we eventually found, not on the ground, but on the bridge of his nose. We ate our Greek salad out of a big salad bowl between us in the front seat of the car. We sat for a few minutes just taking a breather. And then Jeff spit out a one of his zingers as he hoisted himself out of the car. My laughter started slowly, built, gained momentum as he joined me until we were both doubled over convulsing, stumbling, and crying like a scene from a Cheech and Chong movie.
Before I married Jeff at 40, I had at least a dozen substantial relationships. I wanted very badly to get married and have a family. But I couldn’t pull the trigger with any of these guys until Jeff came along. But this isn’t one of those happily ever after stories that happens when you finally meet your prince. The biggest blow came when it became clear I wasn’t going to get my dream of having a family. I’ve been finding my way out of that disappointment for awhile now. In surprising ways, this trip was one more stepping stone along the path.
John Muir wrote, “When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world,” When he wrote this, I’m sure he didn’t have in mind a 450-mile round trip to Yosemite for a 10-minute walk. But that’s what I got.
Jeff waited at the car while I went scouting for a site at the backpacker’s walk-in campground. Within minutes of my short walk, I was overcome with a sense of bodily ease and serenity that shocked me with its speed in arriving and profundity. I came back to the car shaking my head, “Nope. Full,” I said.
Before I married Jeff, I found a guy who had never been married and wanted a family. He was 35, three years younger than I, and very sympathetic to starting a family on my time clock instead of his. The relationship worked best on visits to his parents’ where his mother would look into my eyes and gently finger my long hair resting on my shoulders. He knew all the words to Queen, would belt it out to the delight of my friends, and listened to NPR. All this was very, very good.
But no wedding bells rang. We took a trip once—a cross-country trip from Boston to Palo Alto, California--that ended with our being stranded in Tallahassee, Florida. For four days we drove up and down Tennessee Street, the car dealership row, to try and get the car fixed, to try and buy a car, and eventually, unload and junk the car. Elizabeth, who was nine at the time, plotted the adventure on a map that she updated with a pin every time she got an email. When the trip ended with only a few plotted pins, Elizabeth simply drew a picture of a plane and pasted it over the string that stretched across the United States to Palo Alto in one swoop. I found it all hysterical. Day after day as we passed one of dozens of those ridiculous inflatable stick figure air tube dancers demanding our attention at every car lot, I busted up as they began to symbolize the mockery of the trip. My potential, perfect future husband, however, grew as serious and humorless as a spokesperson for Palestinian rights.
Jeff and I got out of Yosemite creek, drove home in the middle of the night and were detoured and delayed nearly every 30 miles by an Obama-stimulus-plan road crew. We got lost. A hubcap flew off. And the laughter never stopped. Flopping in our bed that night, I lay looking at the once-divorced, ten-years-old-than-I, father to a 21-year-old, ESPN-loving man lying next to me and felt certain that I married the right guy and that sometimes 10 minutes is enough to get everything you need.