“I just can’t take it anymore,” I complained to Tammy, cradling the phone with my neck while I finished washing the dishes. “I need a serious change and I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, why don’t you come live out here with me and Dean? That way you have a place to stay for a while until you get on your feet, and I’m happy to help out.”
I was quiet on the phone for a minute. “Wow”, I finally said through my tears. “Really, you’d do that for me? You do remember what it’s like to live with a three-year old, right?”
Tammy laughed and said: “Yes, and I miss having a little boy around. Danny wants to continue living with his father in New Hampshire, and that’s been really hard for me, but he’s thirteen, and he has good friends there, and I just have to accept that I’m only going to see him for vacations. I think it’ll be good for both of us if you come live out here.”
“Let me think about it some more, and I’ll get back to you.”
“I’m here for you, whether you stay in Maine, or come out to San Diego.”
“Thanks, Tammy. I love you.”
“Love you too. Bye.”
That conversation in March of 1994 changed my life. I had a new option, and while I had friends and some support where I was, I was a single mom in poverty, with no car and only a part-time job that I was about to lose. It snowed over a hundred inches that winter in South Portland, Maine, and I was very close to giving up my son to his alcohol-addicted father, and committing suicide. I had a plan, and I was getting the courage to implement it when chance circumstances re-connected me with a friend I hadn’t talked to in nearly ten years.
Imagining a different life helped make the life I was in a bit more tolerable, and I began preparations to make the move. Several friends and relatives told me that it would be stupid to move so far away with someone I hadn’t seen in so long, even though we had been best friends through high school, and I had a young child to consider, and what was I thinking, dragging him across the country?
The other contingent, whom I sided with, saw it as an opportunity to better myself and give my son a chance at a better life too. As I went, so went my son, type of thing.
I made my decision, and Tammy, who was going to fly back East in July to stay with her father for a few weeks while spending time with her son, decided to drive out with a friend, and bring me and my son back out with them on their return trip.
She had a pick-up truck with a tall shell for the truck bed, which she furnished with a mattress, and I was to sell my beds and other large belongings because they wouldn’t fit in the small trailer we’d rent for the trip back to California. She had a guest room with a bed that my son would sleep on, and I would stay on the couch until I found work and could buy new beds. I sold all of our big furniture, and kept my son’s books and most of his toys, as well as dishes and whatever else could fit in the trailer, because we’d be taking turns driving while one of us slept in the back of the truck. I ended up paying for one night in a motel room so we could have a shower and get a decent night’s sleep.
My boyfriend at the time and I had a rocky relationship, but we liked each other enough to work through issues. He asked me to stay in Maine, but conceded that he didn’t know where he saw our relationship going. The week before I left, he told me he would have asked me to marry him if I didn’t have a child. After he said that, I knew leaving was the right decision. So many choices in my life translated to ‘damned if I don’t, damned if I do’ propositions.
August 4th, moving day: Tammy and her friend, Ann, were to arrive around Noon. I spent the morning cleaning my apartment, and bringing whatever didn’t sell, and I didn’t want, outside to bring to the dump when my friend arrived. My son was upset that most of our things were gone, and he didn’t want to go anywhere. By the time Tammy got there, I was sweaty and irritated, and wondering if this had been such a good idea after all.
It was really good to see Tammy, and Ann and I pretty much instantly disliked one another. She made some remark about my attitude, and I was kind of stunned that this person I barely knew was openly judging me after having worked my ass off all morning, with a crabby child in tow, and no other help. “Fuck you”, I wish I had said, but having a bit more grace than her, I fluffed it off and asked Tammy if she’d bring the junk pile to the dump, while I got some lunch for my son and played with him for a while. She, being a parent herself, was completely empathetic about my state of mind, and told me to take a break, and she’d deal with the trash and help me finish whatever cleaning was left to do later.
It took several more hours than expected to finish up, rent the trailer, and make sure we were ready to hit the road. We left Maine around 5pm, with my son and I in the back of the truck for the overnight drive. Luckily the truck’s motion put my son to sleep fairly soon, but I had too much anxiety, so I slept very little.
We drove through the night, choosing a route through the Poconos, which Tammy later told me creeped her out because Ann had fallen asleep, and my son and I were out of view in the way back – the window into the cab being hidden behind boxes, blankets, and pillows – and she was thinking about the Sleepy Hollow legend, imagining seeing the Headless Horseman as she drove through the darkness, with few other travelers that late. We could have kept each other company, but I wouldn’t have been comfortable leaving my son in the back of the truck where I wouldn’t know what was going on with him, or with Ann, who wasn’t fond of children.
I drove the next morning, our route taking us through most of Ohio, and then down through Kentucky, and finally into Tennessee where we would stay on I-40 for the bulk of the trip.
We stayed in a motel in Tennessee the one night we didn’t drive through. One bane of the trip was automatic flush toilets, which seemed to be installed at every stop we made, and which my son was afraid of, along with any loud, not-easily understood noises, so we had to find rest stops with a Port-A-Potty (or a wooded area) for most of the journey.
By the third day, we were all miserable, and my son was the only one vocalizing it freely and frequently, to which Ann questioned my child-rearing style of just letting him complain. I told her I had learned to tune out most of what he said, and did my best to keep him entertained by imitating his favorite Sesame Street characters voices, while making up stories, singing songs, and playing games, which seemed to annoy Ann, and made it even more pleasurable for me. Poor Tammy was caught between trying to support her friend, but enjoying being with my son, grumpy or not.
I’m sure Ann was most happy when my son and I were riding in the back of the truck, or when she was back there sleeping. I was most happy when it was just Tammy, my son, and I, riding up front. I was driving when we neared Flagstaff, Arizona, and I saw a ‘Grand Canyon, 50 miles’ sign. Ann was riding up front with me and my son, and I asked her if it would be ok if we took a detour as I had never seen the Grand Canyon, and thought it would be a perfect opportunity. Ann said she’d rather not, but if Tammy was willing, then she’d go along with it. The hitch was that I’d have to wake Tammy up to ask her, and I didn’t want to interrupt her sleep, so we continued on into California where Ann took over the driving until we reached her apartment in Ocean Beach.
I’ve always regretted not making a unilateral decision and just driving to the Grand Canyon because I still have not been there.
I was talking to Tammy on the phone the other day, both of us amazed at how much time has gone by, and she suggested I move back out once my son is through college, and I’m seriously considering it.
© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.