It was the summer of 2001. There were five states that I had yet to visit: Hawaii, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Maine. Growing up, our family took a yearly two-week vacation, camping in the tent trailer my dad proudly bought at Sears for $800, as he would brag to anyone who would listen. So I was able to knock off a lot of states before I reached 18.
Travel was in my bones, and just like I assumed I would go to college, that I would get married, and that I would have kids, I always assumed I would travel with my family. I had decided long before I had my children that I was not going to be someone who couldn’t go anywhere or do anything because they had kids.
The man I married was not a traveler. As a couple, we had travelled very little since we met and married. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and truly believed it was such a great city that there was no need to go anywhere else. How I made the decision to marry someone who did not share such an important part of how I saw life is a question I’ll have to explore another time.
So while I was eager to visit new places, my husband wasn’t. But I wasn’t going to let my husband stop me from traveling either.
When my daughter was five and my son was two, a good friend from college had recently moved to Albany, New York, and she had two children as well. One glance at a map revealed that I could spend time visiting her family and then rent a car and head to Maine, so I could check Maine off my list of states I had yet to visit.
I checked in again with my husband. Nope. He had no interest in going. My marriage was well on track to falling apart.
So I booked the flights, and with no concern for gender stereotypes, bought a Spiderman rolling bag for my son and a pink rolling bag for my daughter. We would be gone for two weeks.
I can still picture my two-year-old son, in his green polo shirt and plaid shorts, pulling his bag through the airport, smile on his face. We would stop to get a bottle of water or to check flight information. And each time, he inevitably walked off without his bag. So we would run back and grab it, only to repeat the routine several times over the trip, giggling at the silliness of it all.
Reconnecting with my friend in Albany was fantastic, and we toured all of the child-friendly places we could find nearby: a children’s museum, a carnival, a concert in the park, a train ride. But the best was yet to come. I rented a car and headed north, destination Bar Harbor, Maine.
A couple of conditions made the drive a particular challenge. My six-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes three and a half years earlier, and the technology at the time consisted of vials of insulin and shots. And the type of insulin that was available at that time required a shot fifteen minutes before she ate, which required calculating the amount to inject by anticipating what she might eat in the next half hour. Keeping her blood sugar levels under some semblance of control and making sure she could get food (and food that she would be willing to eat) at the time her insulin injections demanded was a task that brought me to tears on that trip more than once. And my son? He was addicted to milk, or “mil-key” as he called it. So in the middle of nowhere, I would hear the cry from the back seat: “Mil-key. Mil-key. Mil-key.” And the hunt would be on. It was shocking how few places carried milk. That disappointment brought tears to his eyes more than once.
Right before the trip, I had discovered a singer I grew to love: Dido. Her song “Thank you” was a hit on the radio, and when I went to illegally download that song to burn it to a CD back in the day when that’s how everyone got their music, I ended up downloading about twenty songs (I later bought her CD because I felt bad for cheating her out of the money from my downloads!). I brought that homemade CD with me, along with some others, to play during our drive. Typically, within five minutes of starting out, both kids would be asleep in the back seat, I would then insert my CD, turn up the volume, and belt out the lyrics. One of the songs hit me like it had never hit me before: “The Hunter.”
The chorus goes like this:
I want to be the hunter again
Want to see the world alone again
To take a chance at life again
So let me go
Let me leave.
This was precisely what I wanted. I had felt like I had already blown my chances at this life, and the future I saw stretched out before me looked bleak and felt heavy. I had no idea what I could do about it, if anything, and an inability to express what I wanted.
But this was exactly it. “A chance at life again.”
I played that song over and over, sometimes back to back, and tears tumbled from my eyes at the thought that I might be able to take a chance at life again. To this day, when I hear that song, a pride wells up in me, a hopefulness and optimism burrows in my bones, and tears dampen my eyes.
We finally arrived in Acadia and checked into a cute little motel. Both kids commenced the requisite jumping on the beds activity performed by children at most hotels. Bouts of giggling and bouncing ensued. But I was hungry and wanted to find a place for us to eat. We walked toward the center of town and found a little restaurant that had outside seating right by the sidewalk. They told me they did serve milk, so we were in.
It was Maine. I got my first lobster roll. My daughter got the white grilled cheese she had come to love on the East Coast, and my son ordered peanut butter and jelly. With milk.
We told jokes. We played with our food. We acted goofy. We talked about going whale watching the next day. We laughed. It was all so easy. And fun. The three of us. We could do this.
It was not about me. It was about us. My kids deserved a chance at life again too. They deserved a different future than the one we were headed towards.
After five days in Maine, exploring lighthouses, spotting fin whales, witnessing the disappointing sputterings of the famous Thunder Hole, driving through Acadia National Park, running on a sandy beach, we returned to Los Angeles.
Four months after our return, my husband moved out. And I smiled for the first time in a long time. The three of us had a chance at life again.