I was so conflicted before the trip. I wanted to go because I wanted to get away and I wanted to show the girls the places that I love so much, but I was always worried that things would fall apart at work and I would come back to a huge mess that I’d have to deal with. Had the trip not already been booked and charged to my credit card and payments been made, I think at one point I might have been tempted to cancel it because it would have seemed like the easier choice because I was overwhelmed with trying to get everything finished at work.
Then the pain that I had been ignoring in my ribs for a while was getting worse and with some urging from dear friends, I couldn’t ignore it anymore and went and got it checked out. With test after test threatening to derail our trip, I kept thinking that the trip wasn’t going to happen; that something would get in the way. The other shoe would drop and prevent me from being happy. I would have been sad and felt bad for the kids, but honestly, for me, it would have felt pretty normal. That’s what happens more often than not for me. I make plans and something happens and what I wanted gets taken away from me. I’m not complaining or whining, it’s just kind of a pattern. When the tests came back and the doctor said I was medically ok enough to go, I was determined that that’s what we were going to do no matter what. I wasn’t surprised at all when I broke out in a rash all over my torso 2 days before we took off. I’m no stranger to surprise allergic reactions to things, so I decided to treat it with extra doses of Benadryl and hope for the best. I needed to get the kids and I out of town. I had a one track mind at this point. I was still sure that something was going to prevent us from going and I felt like I was in a race against time.
The night before we flew out, part of me knew it was too late to worry about anything else and another part of me was a wreck. What if we didn’t get up on time because of Daylight Savings ending? What if our ride didn’t show up? What if we got a flat tire on the way to the airport? What if I had problems figuring out the kiosk at the airport? What if we didn’t know what to do at the TSA checkpoint and got in trouble and they didn’t let us go? What if my butt was still too big to fit in the damn airplane seat even after all of the work I’ve done?!?! This was the running tape in my head. I finally passed out from exhaustion a couple of hours before we had to get up.
I didn’t relax until we were in the hotel in Seattle. Once we checked our bags at the front desk, things changed. I immediately felt a sense of relief. The girls and I were there, our bags were safe, and the GPS on my phone would tell us how to walk to wherever we wanted to go, it was daylight, we weren’t in a scary part of town...I WASN’T WORRIED OR AFRAID. There was not one minute in Seattle when I was scared. Sure, there were a couple moments when I was overwhelmed by the crowd or just overstimulated, but those moments passed very quickly and there was no fear attached. Each time the girls and I accomplished some new experience, I felt my confidence grow. I could get us safely from the hotel to whatever attraction we were visiting and back again. I could navigate from the hotel to the monorail to the waterfront to the ferry system to the island and back, and then do the whole thing in reverse and get us back to the hotel at some point without getting lost. I could let them ride the rides and visit the shops and go to the aquarium and experience all the things without mentioning money and making them feel guilty about their fun (like mom and dad did to us). I did that.
We only had 2 full days in Seattle and although we didn’t want to leave, we were ready for the next leg of the adventure. The girls tried to convince me they wanted to move to Seattle, but that they wanted their dad to come to. That’s where they lost me. Lol
When we got to the train station, we found that there was a mudslide just south of Seattle and the train could not get through. I had a brief moment of “Here comes the other shoe dropping” feeling, but they told us we’d be bussed to Portland and would get on the train there. We checked our luggage, waited an hour and boarded the bus for the 3-hour ride. No big deal. Getting on the train in Portland was another story. No one told us we’d wait an hour at the station before there would be any information available to tell us when we’d be getting on the train. Then we’d wait another 2 hours while they turned the train around and added a private car. Then we’d wait another hour while they tried to figure out why we were waiting so long. Waiting in line in the middle of an angry mob would have sent me over the edge had the kids not been there. I knew I had to keep it together for them. There was a whole lot of deep breathing and reading facebook and counting leaves on the ornamental fixtures near the ceiling of the station. After a while, it was pretty clear I wasn’t doing a very good job hiding what was going on internally because the kids started asking if I was ok and 12 was trying to distract me with idle chatter. At one point, I had to tell her, “I love you, but you have to stop talking to me right now unless it is something that is extremely important. I need to focus.” When she asked, “On what?” 14 said, “I think on not killing anyone, or herself.” lol She gets me. Once we finally boarded the train, I was able to start to unwind again.
The train was just like I remembered. It struck me as we were going up the stairway that just like on the airplane, last year, I physically would not have fit in this small space. We were only on Day 3, but NONE of it would have been possible had I not taken control of my health when I did. Again, gratitude doesn’t cover it. We spent 18ish hours on the train and saw areas that most people don’t see. Shanty towns and the poor districts. The kids got to see taggers in action painting a wall and even got waved at by one of them. They thought that was pretty cool. Being cooped up, sitting for that long was not my idea of fun, but we survived. Next stop was Emeryville where they put us on a bus, almost forgot our luggage, and sent us off to San Francisco. Just like 16 years prior, they dropped us off at Fisherman’s Wharf and I was caught off-guard and felt like a fish out of water and wasn’t sure where to go or how to get to our hotel. I hate that feeling. I told the travel agent I didn’t want to go through that again. I obviously wasn’t prepared enough. We only went about ¼ block in the wrong direction before the GPS started to make sense and then we walked the 8 blocks to our hotel.
Once we checked in and then began to explore the area, that’s when things really started to change in my head. I had been to Seattle many times, so I am comfortable there. I have only been to San Francisco once before. As the kids looked to me to navigate, I was struck by how much of the Wharf was still familiar, but yet how much of the area looked different after 16 years When it started to feel a little overwhelming, I thought, “How did I DO this last time?” Then I remembered, last time, the Ex planned the trip and basically decided what we were doing. We were on our honeymoon. A honeymoon we didn’t know if we were going to be able to take because I had nearly died not once, but twice, in the 6 weeks leading up to the wedding due to losing our first baby. Barely recovered from all of that, and then getting sick in Seattle before getting to San Francisco back then, I barely remember that leg of our honeymoon. So I shook off the anxiety the best I could and kept moving forward.
Everywhere we went, we just soaked in the experience. The kids asked me if things were different than they were 16 years ago and got to hear some stories about the beginning of their dad’s and my relationship. We walked and talked and walked some more. We saw street performers and sideshows and Alcatraz and the aquarium. I got to see the shipyards and then watched 12 misjudge the speed of the waves and get her feet soaked by the water and then had to buy her $25 flip-flops at a souvenir shop. 14 got called up on stage to be part of a magic show. I got to be present. I wasn’t sitting on the sidelines because I wasn’t physically capable of keeping up with the rest of them. My PTSD or anxiety wasn’t keeping me locked in the hotel room. I was out doing things successfully and having fun. ME. I realized somewhere during the trip that I could trust myself again. I was making good decisions and things were turning out well. The other shoe wasn’t dropping. No one was taking away what was making me happy. Life seemed pretty close to perfect then and there. I wish I could have bottled that feeling. There was no baggage, no bad memories, no toxic people; just me and the girls enjoying life. If there was to be a payoff for all of the work I’ve done over the last couple of years, that was it, in that moment. I felt free.