Swimming Solo

I am, at last, an almost-nomad. I have been on the road since August. Not exclusively. I’ve had some much, much-needed layovers here and there; Kauai, Malibu, Rancho Palos Verdes, New York, for example. Not too shabby real estate, I’d say. But I’ve been picking up, moving, exploring, planning the next adventure for more days than I ever done in my entire life.

I am literally living the dream I’ve been dreaming about for the last decade.

For the first time, the Sunday afternoon my family departed after our Wild and Zany Thanksgiving Camping Adventure 2022 concluded, I felt profoundly lonely. When Monet and I went for a walk, I had this compelling urge to jump in the van and follow my beloved son and grandsons. I just wanted to wrap myself in their love and goofiness. I wanted to protect them and be there for them with a plate of chewy chocolate cookies and milk. What kind of grandma was I for wanting to “discover my path” on the road?

For the first time, I questioned this overwhelming longing to travel and just wanted to pull the covers over my head, sip a hot toddy, and mentally check out. 

Little did I know, the seas were about to get stormy. 

Plan B Disappointment: The little Cambria cottage I hoped to rent, envisioned myself nestling in during the dank, grey weather, just wasn’t a good fit. It was less than 400 square feet, and really funky—not in a good way. I told the property manager that I wanted it, took the application, then realized if I stayed there, I might get really depressed. It just wouldn’t replicate the Cambria experience I was hoping to try-out. In fact, I realized, the experience of living in the ultra tiny storage unit, under the dark canopy of trees, would drive me away from my decades-long dream of one day re-locating to the coastal community.

What I know for sure about myself is that I love being a nomad for blocks of time. Not forever. In truth, I am a nester. An empty nester–almost. I have my Monet, my buddy, my love, my last, cherished, responsibility. My little cattle dog Katie found on the internet when our white lab. Bailey, who tragically died at 1.5 years after being poisoned by the ingredients in Gromulch, by Kellogg. Our hearts were broken. A few weeks after Bailey died, Katie and I looked at each other and simultaneously knew, “Our hearts need to love again.” Thus, our darling Monet became a freckled-faced member of the tribe. 

So, in truth, I’m not alone. My buddy and I have each other.

The day of Ryan and my grandson’s departure, I allowed myself to “feel the feelings” and explore what the sense of loss really meant. I am not a drifter. I am anchored, solid. A true mother hen wanting to protect her baby chicks. Why, I wondered before drifting off to sleep, did I need to swim solo?

It was a fretful night and I slept a couple of hours, at most. When I woke up the next day, I checked the time, 7 a.m., and read a text from my eldest daughter: “Ryan was in a car accident.”

With no cell reception at the campground, I did my best to calm myself down before bolting out of the van to find a place where I could get phone service. As Monet and I walked closer to the beach, I prayed, “Please Lord, let it not be serious.” All the while, I was imagining the worse. Ryan in the hospital, the grandkids seriously injured. I was about to lose my mind. 

Recently, I’ve been having nightmares. I dreamt that Monet died and I wasn’t there for her. I imagined an earthquake destroying everything along the California coast. 

“Please God, let everyone be OK.” 

Thankfully, my prayers were answered: my grandson had back and neck pain, a whiplash, as did my son. The car was totaled. All the bikes in the back of the car were demolished, but probably saved them. All the camping equipment was crushed or thrown out of the window in the back. The accident on the 405 Freeway was bad, but the Lord definitely had His arms wrapped around them. Not everyone, I told my shaken son, had your outcome. Not everyone made it home.

Thank you, God, thank you God, thank you God.

A chance to re-think, re-commit, start anew with abundant gratitude for simple things, like re-stocking the cooler, tidying-up the camper, getting new windshield wipers and auxiliary battery and renew the UTI medicine for Monet, which I did later that day. With a smile on my face—It must be fate!—the Cambria vet technician said, “You’re in luck! We have one opening this afternoon.” Monet had been peeing a lot, so I grabbed the opening and we went to our beach for a run (Monet) and hike (Me). I figured Monet probably had a UTI infection that antibiotics would clear up in a week.

When we returned for the 3:30 p.m. appointment, Dr. Suzy took Monet inside to examine her, but when she came back to the van, she said, “I have some bad news.” She suspected Monet might have more going-on than a treatable UTI; she suggested taking an X-ray and further blood work. The initial results weren’t good: the vet said it looked like she had three masses, one near her bladder, the other in her tummy, and a small mass in her lungs. She suspected they were cancerous, but needed further lab work to verify. 

A few days later, her suspicions were confirmed. Treatment options were limited. One medicine, similar to chemo, would make her feel sick and lethargic. And, the vet said, although it is possible the meds might shrink the tumors, it is unlikely.

“How long does she have to live?” I asked, barely able to speak.  

“Maybe two months.”

It is hard to believe. Except for needing to urinate frequently, here in Cambria, Monet is her old, prancing, exploring, self. She runs like a pup on the beach, chasing birds, fetching sticks. Her happy place. And mine too. 

Even with three tumors inside her, my girl has fun and enjoys the moment with innocence and grace.

It seems to always come down to the same lesson: Don’t project ahead. Be present. 

Monet, my teacher, is showing me how to live life. Take the leash off. Chase birds. Jump into the freezing ocean. Pee wherever you damn well like (OK, maybe just dogs). Eat barnacles from the rocks, just because they are tasty. And love. Big. Don’t hold back.

My buddy and I are hitting the road before the rain starts falling again. We’re going to enjoy the journey, sing songs, eat snacks in the van, take a nap, and tonight we’ll cuddle up under the stars and purr words of love. 

Soon enough, we’ll both be on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. But not today. God willing, not today. 

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