Sunday, March 30, 2008

Travlin' Girl

Travel used to terrify me. Getting lost. Being broken down on some dark, secluded road. Missing flights, stranded in a strange city. Muggings. Plane crashes. All manners of horrific incidents (like limb loss) occurring somewhere no one speaks English. These were the bars of my gilded phobic cage. I was content to never travel far beyond the safe and familiar confines of my own state.

When the man who now refers to himself as my husband first entered my life, one of the many gifts he brought with him to our relationship was a passion for travel. Over the years, he gradually and somewhat forcefully pried me out of my cozy little cage. Among the many challenges we endured: innumerable heated squabbles, lost hotel reservations, fevered races through airports, and one particularly insane bum in a D.C. McDonald’s. All in the name of ridding me of my irrational fear of the open road.

Despite these hurdles, I am proud to say I contracted a hearty case of wanderlust. I learned to love the possibilities of an unknown city. I became passionate about trying new cuisine and supporting quirky local shops and artists. My role on road trips has become that of head navigatrix , and nobody best question my map-reading skills. Unearthed was my dormant talent for successfully charting the labyrinthine waters of major metropolitan subway systems.

I’m not completely cured of my phobia. My chest still tightens at the thought of rushing up to an empty gate, having just missed the last boarding call by moments. I’m terrified of losing my luggage and have been known on more than one occasion to cram my carry-on bag with a week’s worth of socks and underwear. But I’ve gotten over the worst of my fears, culminating in a trip to Europe some years ago where I bravely faced a land of non-English speakers and never needed to stammer in French that my husband’s arm had been lopped off and that he needed a doctor.

Despite my experiences, even solo jaunts across the country, I hadn’t yet conquered staying in a hotel by myself. I have a girlfriend from college who spent months gallivanting across Europe and South Asia by her lonesome. She frequently recounted tales of wandering into foreign towns and cities with nary a clue where she would lay her head for the evening. I think she is insane. Sleeping alone in a hotel forces to the surface that fear and vulnerability that all women hate but must face as an inevitability, no matter how tough and independent we think we are. I dreaded the thought of laying my head down all alone in a strange hotel room. The experience conjured up a crazy quilt of images culled from improbable Lifetime movies and The Shining.

In the fall of 2005, I finally had the opportunity to vanquish that residual fear on a business trip to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. (Call centers!) I was also almost seven months pregnant. Thanks to the fabulous combination of a lengthy layover in Boston made extra tortuous by added hours of delays, my little coterie of coworkers and I didn’t arrive at our hotel until the wee hours of the morning. And I was so weary from the journey that no manner of dread crept into my heart as I crawled all alone under the clean but slightly stiff sheets that first night.

The second evening, with a tasty local meal in my belly and the heavy cloak of a long day about my shoulders, I returned to my hotel room. Slightly envious of some of my coworkers who were out enjoying drinks and what I would later learn were some pretty nutty adventures for a little Canadian ‘burg, I settled into an exciting night of being pregnant and watching television. After a chat with the Mister, I sat on my bed steeling myself against those hysteria-inducing images of masked men bursting into my room or of a naked spectral woman in my bathtub. But these waking nightmares never came.

Because I wasn’t alone. Floating and bobbing in the dark, warm confines of my womb was that lumpy little creation who now calls me Mommy. And it was his presence within me that made me feel safe and protected. He chased away the stench of loneliness that was at the core of my fears with just a few jabs to my lower abdomen. It’s a ridiculous logic, a sentimental rationale born of the same goofy reasoning that also birthed the notion that the presence of my two cats in bed with me is better protection when my husband is out of town than my handgun in the nightstand.

I spent those nights on my trip comforted by the growing pea in my pod, chatting with him about how I spent my day and how excited I was about the prospect of some day soon giving him the white souvenir bear that laid on the pillow next to me. In the mornings, I wished aloud that he could see the savory vision of the sunrise over those wooly, evergreen hills outside my window. Well, just past the parking lot outside my window.

This is the mystical motherhood that we often let slip our hearts when our children emerge post-uterus to become noisy, messy, contrary infants who then morph into noisy, messy, contrary toddlers; and then noisy, messy, contrary children; noisy, messy, contrary teenagers; finally breaking from these cocoons of sloppy contrariness to become retreads of our own messy adulthoods.

The mysticism of the unborn munchkin, how he shares with us in those nine months the food we eat and the air we breathe. How he lives suspended within our organs, tissues, and bones, surrounded by the noises of our own inner workings-the blood whooshing through veins, the gurgling of the stomach, the liquid booming of his mommy’s voice and laughter. It is this mysticism that makes us on our more contemplative occasions during gestation realize we are not alone. Our baby is with us, within us, and in a way, is us.

Sad moments sometimes slide into my heart when I think my son will never be that close to me again. I know that in our lifetime together our relationship will ebb and flow. The little boy who wraps his arms around me and gleefully pooches out his lips for a kiss will someday give me a cold, adolescent shoulder. Such is the mobius ring of parenthood, a fate you must accept the moment your kid takes that first gargled scream of life.

In a few years, my hope is that my son and I can relive our first journey together when he “illegally” crossed the northern borders and kept his mommy’s loneliness at bay. I’ll wait until he’s old enough that an airplane voyage isn’t a frightening affair, and notions of passports and foreign currency are fascinating and exotic to a his brain. Maybe we won’t go back to New Glasgow. But we will sleep in our own comfy Canadian hotel room, curled up together with that little gift shop bear tucked under his arm.

Someday we'll go round the world
I'll make the journey so sublime
I know you're not a travelin' girl.
-Scissor Sisters


Jayne said...

I was sitting on my couch enjoying the feeling of my baby (5 1/2 months along) kicking around inside of me before I read your post. As I read it I had to explain to my husband why there were tears coming down my face. thank you for this!!

Alex the Odd said...

I think you know me well enough to know that when I say "your writing about your son almost makes me want to have children, not someday but right now" that's a big deal, right?

Because it does. Lovely stuff.

ahamos said...

ATO: Maybe we should record some of his tirades for you. I think that'd cure you pretty quickly.

I love him to death, but sometimes I feel like loving him with the back-side of my hand.

Kim said...

It's not always easy to bear your soul to whomever lurks in cyberspace... excellent story that drew me in from the first sentence! Keep writing!!!!