Holding It Together:
Target-ing the City with Bungee Cords, Tarps and Bad Heels
July 11, 2013
“I bet you have never met a woman who can wield a bungee cord quite like I do,” I teased as he watched me tighten my luggage onto the doggie-trailer rack.
He had watched me do it a number of times over the past few days as I had recovered from road roar at the motel he managed, a quaint spot located a few feet from Lincoln Highway Memorial Bridge. The eaves of his motel echoed that of the nearby roadside park marking the historical location.
“No, in fact, I doubt most women even know what a bungee cord is, much less how to use one,” he replied.
My daughter during a phone call from Colorado had helped me make my shopping list: tarp, camel-back, spare tubes, pump, bungee cords, matches, insect and bear repellent.
I spent days bouncing back and forth from store to store in Chicago, driving home the lesson that I am not quite cut from the same fabric as most city girls. The city store shelves were lined with party goods, fingernail polish and bad shoes, not camping supplies.
I taught my children young how to pack for “roughing it,” heading into the “hills” of Colorado’s Fourteeners, dog, tent, bikes and sleeping bags in tow. We would spend most of our summers on tranquil lakeshores found alongside still mountain roads, joined occasionally by my husband when he would take the time away from the office on a Friday afternoon.
Within a few years, our outings included a shared pop-up tent a friend and his wife had purchased months before filing for divorce. With or without the added security of a locking screen door, I always felt safe as long as I had my golden retriever to alert me to intruders—even if a wagging tail accompanied her barks.
The memories remain as vivid as the scars, ranging from the time I tripped over an unseen boulder to the burn marks from dropping the marshmallow roasting stick onto my bare foot. Echoes of my children’s exultation as they sped down the mountain road for the first time, skipped their first stone across the surface of a lake, roasted the perfectly charred, black-skinned hot dog skip through my mind like a scratched, worn vinyl album.
The colors, sounds, textures of the memories are as vivid as the double rainbow we saw arching over Lake Dillon after a summer mountain rain shower.
Motherhood is at once the most rewarding and most despicable job in the world, and these memories remain the most haunting element of a life-time career of nurturing and shaping young lives.
I have my mother’s genes, and aging has come as slowly as empty nest syndrome, which had been interrupted by the discovery of an affair and ensuing divorce, further postponed by what had seemed to be a flourishing career and a promising relationship.
Sure, I missed my children when they left for college, crying over Dr. Seuss books, faded photos, scraps of old, worn “beakies” that lurked in obscure corners of shelves and drawers. But the empty house was not painfully quiet, but quietly reposeful.
Then it hit. The relationship ended as quickly as it had begun, the pink slip issued as effortlessly as the contract had been offered, and the house, once empty except for the memories, had been passed back to the ex and his new bride.
Yes, I had the excitement of being accepted into the second best art school in the nation (in the same city, ironically, where the new relationship had first blossomed), but no distraction, no museum, no cultural event, no amount of homework or volunteer work could silence the memories, and six consecutive months of hot flashes (with all the accompanying unmentionable symptoms) served as a hellish reminder that I am, at last, getting old.
Over the hill, and what was on the other side, unlike those times I had ventured into Colorado’s fourteeners, scared the hell out of me. So, I did what every healthy American does: I chose to ignore, postpone, procrastinate by heading into a mind-numbing, soul-wrenching, body-torturing mid-life crisis.
My legs were ready for it, but my fingers ache from wielding the bungee cords as I struggle to hold together my luggage while my frayed mind circles around far more quickly than the wheels on my bike in an attempt to silence the memories, run from age, clear out the empty nest.
Why did I embark on this trip? I’d hoped to stave off old age, and as a vestige of long lost youth is jostled back into the saddle, I reach one more time for what every city or country store always has in stock: yet another package of feminine napkins.
Empty nest, floundering career, no relationship…just one last push of my aging ovaries to remind me I am not quite as old as I thought. Irony at its best.