I’ve been brainstorming ideas for a few Christmas gifts and last night it led to going through family photos on the computer.
I clicked, slowly, like licking peanut butter off a serving spoon (that’s not how you eat it?) from picture to picture to ever-loving picture of our trip to Spain. I was in tears…utter physical pain that I was sitting in my dark office with a glass of room temperature water that magically came from the front of my refrigerator instead of at a table that rocked a little unsteadily when I set down my glass of sangria to catch the sweat dripping off the foot between sips.
There is a particular picture of my girls looking out a stone window frame from the top floor of a medieval castle in Olvera and you can see the white city below and the rolling green hills and the sun in the bluest sky in the history of the world and it looks like perfection. In my head I imagine it smells like salt air even though it’s not on the ocean. For some reason I imagine it tastes like powdered sugar. This makes no sense because the reality of that exact moment is that my heart was racing from the most harrowing drive of my life, a hike up a mountainside because I was afraid to drive further so we walked and the discovery that the United States of America has considerably stricter rules than Spain about what is involved in making a historical site safe for public consumption. How’s that for powdered sugar?
They only had stick shift compact cars at the rental place when we came out of Customs in the tiny Rota airport. I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours and was feeling stupid brave so I said (shouted nervously), “sure, SI, errr, whatever!” As my tiny charges and I crossed the street with our worldly belongings in backpacks and a reusable shopping bag from the Kaneohe Bay Commissary, I was sweating. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I knew the second we left the Navy base we’d be lost, the fact that I hadn’t driven a stick shift since the day I sold Eric’s Jeep Wrangler when I was pregnant with Brynnlee and stalled it three times on the way to meet the random guy off Craigslist or because I was wearing layers of the warmest clothes I packed because they didn’t fit in my backpack and it was currently noon and 70 degrees in Rota, Spain. Whichever it was, it didn’t change the fact that we had a two hour drive ahead of us. I clicked the remote until I found a tiny European car that answered when I called to it. The trunk popped open and I threw our backpacks in and started stripping down. Once down to a tank top, rolled up jeans and flip flops, I shoved my sweater, boots and phone into the shopping bag and closed the trunk.
Next on the list was inflating the booster seats I brought for the girls to use. Bad parenting call or awesome packing decision…the jury is still out on that one, but do me a favor and picture me on the side of the road, sitting in the grass, inflating booster seats with my own breath while the kids squealed things like “the bugs are DIFFERENT HERE!”
As expected, within 5 minutes of driving off the Navy base I was lost. On a dead end residential road I saw an elderly woman get out of her car. Where the road I was on ended with a brick wall, the map I had showed an on-ramp for the highway. She and I exchanged hand signals and possibly a great deal of personal information before the interaction ended with a warm embrace and I had my first big win of the day. Once on the highway the girls drifted off to sleep and I felt peaceful satisfaction that we were going to get to our destination with no trouble. In fact, such peaceful satisfaction, that I too drifted off to sleep. I woke in a panic to the car with two wheels in the gravel on the side of the road and suddenly realized our adventure could have ended very poorly, very early in the game. After that I counted on periodic self-inflicted slaps to keep myself alert and could not have been more grateful when we finally pulled into the base where we hoped to locate our missing piece. I will publicly deny it but “may” have done a tiny touch down dance before getting my pass from the Spanish gate guard.
Knowing we had planned the entire trip with the possibility of not seeing Eric once, it was overwhelmingly satisfying to look over my shoulder to spot him directly behind us in the hotel lobby. (While editing this post, this line has made me heave a large sob every time I’ve read it.) He helped us settle in, showed us where we could buy a few groceries and after dinner the girls and slept like we had never slept before. We made it.
Knowing a tiny piece of my driving history is imperative when I tell you that the drive to Olvera was the worst of my life. I have driven in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Indianapolis, Orlando and even on the other side of the Pacific and the road in Japan. Nothing…NOTHING compares to driving stick shift on the narrow roads of Europe with no idea where we were going. With sweat dripping off my face and the kids praying with their eyes squeezed shut and hands clasped, we made our way up the hill in Olvera to park. At the height of my utter panic I put my foot on the brake and knew I could go no further up the steep incline because a line of cars had formed behind me and I could not get into first gear without rolling backwards.
On the brink of tears I inadvertently made eye contact with the man driving the trash truck coming in the opposite direction. As if by order of God Himself, the man threw his truck into park, yelled something at his passenger and jumped down from his seat to the road and made the large, quick strides a giant human being does, towards me. He opened my car door, motioned for me to scoot over and then used his behemoth body to hasten the action. To say he didn’t fit in the front seat of that tiny vehicle would be an understatement but never before had I welcomed a could-be carjacker into my car so quickly…or ever. He threw the car into first gear and got it moving up the hill until we were at a more level position. Without saying a word he parked it, jumped out and ran back down the hill to his trash truck.
I sobbed. I sat there crying and thanking God for taking me off the side of the mountain (who am I kidding, it was more like a large hill, but who am I to understate the awesomeness of God?) and my girls cheered for the man while yelling things like “thank you Jesus!” It was a big moment for us. And I was ready to settle down and make the town of Olvera my forever home, with or without my husband and children.
There are no words for the afternoon that followed or how the weeks that followed even topped that afternoon. Most things that are worth doing in life are not easy. They can be scary. They don’t all smell like salt air or taste like powdered sugar. But damn are they more than worth it and after enough days like that it is hard…so hard to go back to the daily wins of people remembering to flush, brush and put on underwear. But aren’t those the days that make it all worth it? And aren’t they the days that make us brave enough to do the crazy awesome things?
So I’m sitting here in my office, with beautiful sunshine pouring in the windows and I have a view of a river, swollen from two weeks of rain and upstairs my people are already planning their new and improved Thanksgiving play and in a few hours my really amazing husband will come home and we will eat turkey tacos for dinner because beef gives us all terrible gas and I will go to bed grateful because this is good. This is so good.
And to think I might not realize how good it is if I didn’t periodically ache for a place like Sevilla, Spain before crawling into the guest bed to keep my weird, snorty sobbing from waking my sweet, sweet, patient, sleeping husband. Because I’m a hot mess. But really…aren’t we all? If not, please don’t tell me. The delusion is a comfort.