I was intent on ruining my good time as we crested the hills of Tehachapi. For the first three hours of our journey I felt sick to my stomach, a passenger during a drive where I could have contented myself with conversation amongst friends, or enjoyed music. I spent my time instead glancing out at sad dairy cows and tilled-up acres of farmland, consumed with wallowing in my own guilt. I didn’t belong here. I said it over and over. My 15 month old would need me. I had abandoned my family to deal with her misery.
With her natural disposition as an independent woman, and her joyful propensity for adventure, it was Sara’s firm conviction that life would continue on without me, I only had to go. We were now in route, three friends on their way to Arizona. Sara sang along softly to the lyrics as she drove. The wind coming in through a cracked window picked up strands of her golden curls and tossed them freely about in the air.
But I was intent on thinking about John, the kids clambered about him like a tiny mountain as we pulled out of the driveway. “Have a good time.” He had said it endearingly, like he knew the cost of my absence, but my enjoyment would make it a worthy expenditure. I was letting him down. We were headed to Cottonwood, Jerome, Sedona and ultimate freedom. He would have to do it all. The cooking, the cleaning, the butt wiping, the peace making.
The giant white windmills droned silently through the sky and led us to the valley below where we stopped to stretch our legs amongst the Joshua trees. I flung open my door and headed straight out to nowhere. The sand sunk into the backs of my shoes as I walked. I stopped in the thin line of shade provided by a sad excuse for a tree. My breasts ached, filled to capacity with nourishment that my daughter would never receive. I trudged back to the car and grabbed by handheld breast pump. I almost grabbed a container to collect the milk, but of course, there was no need. I popped out a boob in the evening desert air and watched as the white liquid trickled off the end and straight into the sand. This might have sent me over the edge if it wasn’t for another very dear to my heart friend. I watched as she tucked her hands over her own swelling breasts. She asked “Can I use that when you’re done?”
The desperateness that we were both feeling in that moment, she a mother to a year-old child just as I was, I realized we could wallow in our self loathing together, or we could mirror each other’s strength. We both began to laugh at the terrible situation, our liquid gold squandered to the earth like a splattered sacrifice to the journey ahead. Breasts resolved, we looked around us at the alien landscape. It was all here for me, right now. I was suddenly aware of the vacancy that unrelenting responsibility had left. What did I want to fill that space with? That day, absorbed in the now, I chose joy. We darted through the sand past the crooked giant hands of Joshua trees, reaching up out of the ground. We dragged sticks behind us leaving swirls and circles in the sand. I promised not to waste the gift that my family was giving me with this trip. And after that moment, it was an easy promise to fulfill.
As a woman I experienced a plentitude of wealth on that trip; rediscovering the delicacy of solitude, identifying and calmly challenging my social vulnerabilities, and restoring the awareness of my natural beauty by a hippy woman along the shores of the Verde River, (but that’s another story!). My family invested in me, and I returned to them as a more complete person, ready to resolve disputes, slice apples, hose off muddy feet and be loved by my favorite people in the world.