what was I thinking? (and other reflections on 10 weeks on the road)

What was I thinking?

Nine days after ACL (and LCL) surgery, I sat on the couch in my living room trying to position my stiff and swollen leg out of view of my computer screen camera but only so uncomfortable that the pain and frustration I felt, almost constantly, wouldn’t show up on my face. It was 15 minutes before a Facetime job interview and I was determined to appear relaxed and confident.

Tense and awkward is not a good first impression.

It was a weird idea I had, looking back. As if two people sitting in a conference room 600 miles away, staring at a 15″ screen version of my tiny head would even be able to detect the physical condition of my limbs, let alone care about it.

But in those days, the whole world revolved around my right leg.

I took the job, described primarily as “traveling around North America all summer.” I got the offer while standing in the back room of my store balancing myself between my crutches and squeezing my phone between my cheek and my shoulder. I was getting pretty good at the normal-people-every-day things but my job was still near impossible to do and I left every day exhausted and sad. No matter the immobility and long-term recovery and general limitations of my current state, I enthusiastically accepted and agreed to be on a plane to Vancouver, May 31st. 4 weeks post-op.

I hoped my new manager couldn’t hear the fear and doubt in my voice.

Have you ever packed for a two week trip without using your legs? There’s a lot of lower body work involved when moving underwear from a drawer to a suitcase. Even with considerable help, it took me over an hour. When I returned from the trip, half of the neatly folded clothes remained untouched. The challenge of getting in and out of clothes inclined me to wear the same thing for three or four days in a row.

I started to cry in the airport when my mom passed me off to the nice lady at Delta airlines who wheeled me to my gate.

I pictured the worried faces of my surgeon and my physical therapist when they forced excitement through what I could tell were hesitant “congratulations.” In just a short time, they had come to know that when I set my mind to something, I can’t be stopped.

And, as my dad, who has dedicated his entire life to sacrificing his health, well-being, social life and relationships for his career, put it- You never know how many times you’ll get to say no to opportunities before you stop getting them.

Three “steps” off the airplane in Vancouver and I’m staring down an especially long, especially steep, staircase. A poetic beginning to a 10 week journey where I often felt like I was doing exactly that, over and over again.

I felt a swift “what was I thinking?” wash over me, before I sucked in a deep breath and bravely moved forward.

my ideal self

My ideal self is 5’10” tall because at that size with my god-given determination I could’ve been any type of college athlete I wanted to be. My ideal self is exquisitely put together. I have a chic haircut and an expensive closet full of classic, but always on-trend clothes. I don’t wear a lot of makeup and women around me wonder how I always look so effortlessly polished. Graceful and elegant but unadorned.

My ideal self says yes to all new and fun things. Hip restaurants and intimate concerts and parties with friends of friends of friends. My ideal self makes homemade dinners and drinks wine with my girlfriends and documents my enviably cool life on instagram with hilarious yet thought-provoking quotes and captions.

My ideal self is a world traveler. A young professional always-on-the-go. I thrive on new adventures, people and projects. I am at home away from home.

My real self is 5’3″ but only because after 6 years of yoga, in my late twenties, I grew an inch. I am now confidently an athlete, but when I was younger I was undersized and underweight and just afraid enough of everything to hold myself back. I am almost never put together. So much so that when my hair is straight or I’m wearing makeup the people I see most frequently barely believe it’s me. I have a closet full of expensive clothes because I have an addiction to shopping for them. I wear  a nice top, maybe once, before it spends a year untouched on a hanger, then is worn proudly by one of Amy’s teenage nieces. I don’t wear a lot of makeup. See above.

My favorite thing to do on a Friday night is a yoga class then dinner, still sweaty, with my best friend. On Saturdays I go see my mom and her dogs and hopefully watch the Giants on her cable tv. There are cool things going on all around me and I’m the number one advocate of how awesome it is to live in my hometown except I get tripped up on the specifics because I haven’t experienced the awesomeness myself. My instagram account is filled with pictures of my mom’s rescue dog, Toby, who is my spirit animal, and also the most photogenic person I know.

I mostly forget to take pictures of important events and milestones. I rely on an excellent memory and hope many days in the future I still remember them. I don’t drink wine because it makes me feel sleepy, and hungover, even if I only have half a glass.

My ideal self is terrified of flying and pretty terrible at traveling in general. I get bad anxiety and I don’t want to eat, then I feel awful because I haven’t eaten anything. I like to practice in my home yoga studio, drink coffee that I make in my kitchen and look forward, at the end of a long day, to falling peacefully asleep on my couch. I feel joy and comfort in the familiar. And weird and uncomfortable in the unknown.

All summer, my ideal self was warring with my real self. My ideal self shamed my real self for all her sloppy, unsophisticated shortcomings. Before every trip my real self recommitted to being more like ideal self. To loving the adventure and the newness and embracing the unexpected. To walking off the airplane excited and open-instead of exhausted and burnt from the stress of the trip. I’d get up a little earlier every day to style my hair and put on the cute outfit I packed. I’d ask the locals where to eat and order a fancy appetizer with my wine.

Inevitably, I’d spend at least one night eating a room-service peanut butter and jelly sandwich on my bed, watching the food network.

I’d arrive home depleted and dejected about another failure to live up to my own expectations.

logistics and needs

My family used to take the most outrageous vacations. So many flights and even more rental car miles and a hotel, in a new city, every night. My dad planned all of it, meticulously, with the level of detail I didn’t even have the patience for in my law practice. To me, his endless paper trail of boarding passes and itineraries and hotel reservations, securely fastened to the metal piece of a wooden clipboard were mostly just an annoyance. He’d play these games with us where he’d give away a tiny hint on a single document and we’d have to guess the next destination, or name of the hotel, or most famous confederate general whose burial site we were visiting.

I just wanted to watch my favorite show and take a nap in my own bed.

This summer I lived in the logistics. What time do I need to land and how far away is the store where I’m training and what’s the most economical way to get there. Where can I get coffee before 7am and is there vegetarian food within hobbling distance because I still can’t walk right. All but one of my twenty flights were delayed or cancelled. Every trip landed me in a city I hadn’t before visited as an adult. I couldn’t believe the work and focus and pure luck that went into making a successful trip out of a series of change-suscetible steps in an inflexible sequence. The time it took me to plan and execute each training added up to a separate full time job.

I can’t believe what my dad accomplished. With three other people. When he worked 90 hours per week.

Before the internet.

While my dad captained the ship my mom held the crew together.

I drove her crazy with my incorrigible eating habits and terror-stricken flying face. She packed all of our suitcases and made sure we were fed and bathed and happy. While my dad was caught up in the execution of his many, elaborate plans, my mom was constantly circling the group ensuring everyone’s needs were met.

As an adult, on the road, I was almost constantly thirsty, hungry, tired or otherwise inconvenienced by the circumstances or environment around me. The endless stream of my own demands interfered with the ease of just about everything and I thought about the joyless, thankless job my mom performed every minute of her so-called vacation.

broken home

During the last two months, I spent about 40% of my work time in airports. The summertime airport scene is crowded with families of all kinds. I shared planes with new moms and dads desperate to quiet and comfort their disgruntled babies. I noticed how well behaved my eight-month old nephew is and what good parents my brother and sister-in-law are. Bless those who travel with anyone under age 10.

I waited patiently for my boarding group to be called among hundreds of families of four. An athletic looking mom and a nerdy dad, buried in a hardcover book or fascinated by his ability to track the location of the inbound aircraft from his phone. Two kids, a boy and a girl, about two years apart. Ordinarily leading separate lives but bound together by the limited social interaction of family vacations.

I wondered how family vacations have changed since the arrival of texting and snapchat.

Early in my travel I looked longingly at them, sometimes getting teary-eyed from both happiness and regret. Joy-filled memories collided with real-time shame. I was reminded of the era where my family was so normal it scared me. I used to wonder how and when the fairness of the universe would balance out the ridiculously good lot I was handed at birth. My perfect family, my perfect life. Nothing was perfect, ever, really. But when it all came unraveled and everything felt worse than I could have ever imagined, it looked so bad in every direction except backwards. In my memory, it was still perfect.

On the later trips I felt gratitude for the time we all spent together before the yelling and threatening and ugly fights. Before the sleepness nights and week-long arguments and rehab stints. I’m clear now that the enrichment and adventure and shared experiences all helped us survive the rest of it, together.

By the end, my perspective shifted again. I felt love for the family I have now, different as it is from when I was a kid. We’ll likely never vacation again, the four of us, but I know my brother and I will carry on our family traditions with his kids.

My dad and I have traveled many miles together but we didn’t have a relationship until I was all grown up. The next time we have time together, I’ll show my appreciation for his humor and attention to detail and outrageously precise planning skills. I’ll agree to go to Scotland with him to discover our heritage as long as he books all the flights.

Someday soon my mom will hover around her grandkids as we trek through an airport, then three or four national parks. When the scenery gets dull, my brother and I will relive and retell our heroic thousand-mile car rides for the entertainment of my nephew and niece.

Years from now my brother and his wife will stand in an airport with their flight delayed, watching over their son and daughter who’ve become on-the-road best friends. Nearby, a frustrated traveling professional will soften, just for a moment, when she meets their gaze.

my body is a fucking miracle

I had no business doing what I’ve done for the last 10 weeks. ACL recovery is no joke and I am no Adrian Peterson. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, physically and emotionally. When i made the decision to take this job and committed to what it required of me, my body did not have a seat at the table. I decided for both of us what it was capable of.

In and out of airplane seats and up and down jetways. Hustling to make connections and hoisting baggage up to and down from the overhead bin. Bent knees for 6 or 7 hours followed by long days on my feet.

Little or no rest for a couple of weeks at a time.

And, at the end of all of it, I’m back on my yoga mat and learning how to run again. I can almost feel the touch of the soccer ball when I practice swinging my right foot back and forth. I’ll be on a spin bike by September and will be stand up paddle boarding on Lake Tahoe to celebrate labor day.

My body is a fucking miracle.

It takes on the thankless, endless task of carrying me through my demanding, unpredictable, insanely fast-paced life. It mostly doesn’t talk back and it pretty much does whatever I tell it to, all of the time. When I over do it, I ask for forgiveness and it obliges, typically, right away. It bends and sweats and moves and sits and falls and gets back up again. I sometimes judge the way it looks and say harsh words to it when no one else is around. But every morning, it wakes up again to exist purely so I can be who I want and need to be for the world and the people around me. With no boundaries or expectations.

My body is a fucking miracle.

And so is yours.

fear will hold you back or move you forward

The choice is up to you.

I am terrified of flying. I hate every minute of it. I’m indescribably jealous of people who feel positive or even neutral about the experience.

The fear is real to me.

I chose to fly for a living this summer because I choose my life over my fear. I choose my goals and I choose my career and I choose myself in the face of it.

I choose to move forward, through the fear.

Or at least to the middle of it.

Maybe someday to the other side.

25: The way back

Thick mist makes the road invisible and dense clusters of small trees blur the boundary between pavement and marsh. It’s eight or nine p.m. but the night has settled into a singular darkness that will last until sunrise. When I look out the window, it could easily be midnight.

An hour ago my mom and I left a bay area restaurant, headed for our home in Sacramento. Both of my parents grew up in the bay area and I have two full sets of grandparents that still live there. We’ve made the drive between there and home more times than I could possibly count. I know the route like I’ve walked it every day of my life.

But it’s never looked like this.

Every so often I glance over at my mom who is doing her best to look calm and confident. Once or twice I catch her eyes darting from her side view mirror to the rear view and back again. She has the distinct look of barely holding it together. Inside, I know she’s panicked.

The repetition of darkness and the absence of city-driving landmarks traps us in a cycle of uncertainty and fear. 20 years from now, our phones and watches can pinpoint exactly where we are and tell 2,000 of our closest friends. But right now, driving alone on the Sacramento river delta, it feels like we may never get home.

10 years later I’m hiking in the San Bernadino mountains with twelve urban teenagers and my best friend from college. We’ve been walking in the wilderness for four days, each carrying 50 pounds on our backs. Prior to our trip, most of the kids hadn’t spent more than 5 consecutive hours in the outdoors. They are mostly clad in jeans and low-support, trendy tennis shoes. I can feel blisters forming between my toes that are covered in eighteen-dollar wool socks and two-hundred dollar hiking boots.

I appear to be the only one in pain.

We are singing and giggling uncontrollably, completely delirious from a combination of exhaustion, dehydration and the type of uninterrupted joy that emerges from the collective triumph of a bonded team. Yesterday, we climbed to the summit of the highest peak in Southern California. Today we make the victory march back to base camp. Too caught up in connection and exhilaration to notice anything but each other, we miss the sky darkening and the wind intensifying. Someone mentions the weather change just in time for us to look up and see the momentary illumination of a lightning crack immediately followed by the loudest crash of thunder I’ve ever heard. A sixteen year old boy, who is six feet tall, jumps into my arms and a couple of the young women shriek in terror. Then, together, we experience a long pause, a palpable suspension of breath. The silent acknowledgment that a giant electrical storm is right on top of us.

In an instant, the parade of laughter and lightness dissolves into a chaotic, desperate scramble.

My memory is blurry in the details between “oh shit” and finally making it to our destination. There was collaboration followed by evaluation and ultimately executive decision-making. There were pros and cons of charging forward at full speed and attempting to wait it out. There was sharp, critical thinking mixed with total confusion and dysfunction.

I remember thinking I’m not old enough or mature enough for this much responsibility.

The return trip seems seems like it should be easier than the journey required to get there. It’s familiar and predictable and there are encouraging signs along the way that you’re “almost there” or “on the right track.” Even when the road there was a surprising adventure, the road back is a retracing of recognizable steps.

Unless it isn’t.

Right now my life feels like an endless series of trips home. I’m finding my way back into my body and back into my life. After ten years on a yoga mat, a three month hiatus feels like I’m brand new again. Except my body is different and the ease I found, even back then, is replaced by tightness and hesitation and discomfort. Most of my work is done from hotel rooms and coffee shops and lululemon stores where I don’t know any of the employees. Thursday nights or Friday mornings are spent negotiating airport security lines and glaring at “departures” monitors wondering why no one ever wants to get to Sacramento on time. I’m texting my mom about the latest travel debacle and checking the weather report across the country to accurately anticipate the severity of turbulence on my flight.

Each time I’m caught off guard by the effort it requires. All of it.

What I should be learning, or know already, is that the way back is sometimes, many times, more challenging than the rest. I arrive to the trip home with a armful of expectations about how it will unfold. I’m attached to a certain sequence of events, experiences and sensations. “I’ve been here before” lulls me into a knowing comfort, a predictable security, a false sense of control. I settle into the celebration of “making it,” take a deep breath, recline my seat, then look up and see terrain I don’t recognize, or the undeniable signs of a thunderstorm.

When I woke up groggy and disoriented in the recovery room after my surgery my heart was beating so fast I almost told my nurse I was having a heart attack. As my pulse slowed I realized where I was and found relief in the observation that the thing I’d been dreading for two months was finally over. Soon, they’d let me go home.

During the car ride to my mom’s house I felt the type of nauseous where you pray you throw up everything you’ve eaten for a week just so you can feel better. It was not the peaceful, gentle, graceful arrival to healing I had hoped for.

As it turns out, it never is.