Dipping My Toe Into Wanderlust Again

Facebook has a feature where they show us our memories — the pictures or articles we had posted on this day a year or more ago. Today Facebook reminded me of a blog post I wrote two years ago called “Dipping My Toe Into Wanderlust,” which I found synchronous because today, once again, I dipped my toe into wanderlust.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? And, in its way, it is very exciting. I drove today! I’ve only driven twice since I fell on November 19, once to the hospital with my wrist wrapped in the glittery veil from my dance costume, and once very carefully when I moved to my new place. Both times I knew the danger of driving a standard transmission one handed, so I’ve been keeping my car packed away. I knew eventually I would have to start driving again, maybe in another week or two, but my erstwhile occupational therapist stopped by to visit with me yesterday (such a treat to see her!), and she thought I should start driving as part of my physical therapy.

She expressed dismay at the surgeon’s disinclination to prescribe therapy yet, but I am okay with his decision. I am doing what I can, taking myself to the edge of tolerable pain, and that is enough for now. At least that is what I tell myself.

Apparently though, I am doing okay for one who is a mere two weeks past surgery and a week past having the soft cast removed. I drove for a couple of hours today — perhaps foolishly, but it felt so good to be on the road that I didn’t want to come back. (And the poor, long-suffering bug needed exercise.) Although my hand is still too swollen to make a tight fist, I was able to get a good grip on the steering wheel. I had no problem at all, not even backing up or making tight turns, even though my ultra-basic car has no power steering.

I ache now of course, but I am at that stage in healing where I almost always ache. If I don’t ache, I use the pain-free interval to do wrist and hand exercises, which returns me to the place of pain. I don’t like pain, I’m certainly no masochist, but I’m learning to appreciate whatever sensations come my way. With as much damage as there was to the elbow, arm, wrist, and hand (although the hand bones were not broken, they had all been pushed close to the thumb), including the breaks in the the bones and the rips and tears in the tendons and ligaments, it’s miraculous that I had no nerve damage. And so, lucky me — truly! — I have full sensory use of my fingers and arm, and if that sensory awareness includes pain, so be it.

But this is not a time to be talking about pain, but to celebrate. I drove today! Can wanderlust be far behind?

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Small Steps and Big Adventures

I don’t know if the title of this post should be “Small Steps and Big Adventures” or “Small Adventures and Big Steps.” Nor do I know which are the steps and which the adventures. Perhaps each activity is a bit of both.

Although I have been using speech recognition software for my blogs, today, in the interest of physical therapy, I am typing by hand. Two hands. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

The effort to type probably falls more in the category of masochism rather than a step or an adventure. My real adventure came the day after my “I Have a Secret” post. Not wanting to spend another day dealing with the emotional side effects of my injury, I made plans to meet a friend for ice cream. Normally, this would be a simple and quick pleasure — drive for ten minutes straight down the closest major road to the ice cream shop. But when one is not able to drive — it’s too dangerous to drive one-armed in traffic, especially under the influence of pain pills, and without the pills, I would be in too much pain — the trip is more complicated, involving buses and transfers, and two hours of travel time one way. But I did it! And it was nice. A small adventure and a simple pleasure.

Yesterday a friend took me shopping, which is always wonderful. We stopped for lunch, had a good time, decided to do the thirty-day cleansing diet (no grains, milk products, legumes, or sweeteners of any kind) starting on Monday. And I promised to stop by ballet class for barre work on Tuesday. Both of those (the diet and dance) were major decisions. I haven’t been feeling well — understandable because of the pain, the continued effects of the injury, and my attempts at rehabilitation — but some of my malaise, I am sure, is due to my need for treats and poisons. (Hot dogs, potato chips, and soda. And jellybeans. Oh, my. How low I have fallen!) I hope the stringent diet will help me get back into more sensible eating habits.

The dance class promise is more problematic. I don’t want to go back to class. I feel as if the deformed arm and resulting disability are a direct result from dancing (or indirect, since I was walking out of the theater after a performance when I fell), and though people tell me I can’t feel that way, I can’t help it. Besides, the injury is way too severe to come from something that was supposed to be fun. Even more than that, I am not ready to confront all I have lost — there is too much I can’t do, too much I shouldn’t do, at least not yet. And most of all, I took dance classes to bring me to life after Jeff died, and now here I am, right back where I was — in agony.

But . . . I promised. So I will go. I also said I would try to get to Hawaiian class tomorrow. We’ll see. (I’m using a photo of me in a costume in the hope it would make me feel better about going, but it doesn’t seem to be working.)

The main thing that happened is that I took a shower!!! All by myself!!! The last time I took a shower, I had help. For the past two months, I’ve been washing my hair in the sink and taking one-handed sponge baths, but my new bathroom (private!) came with a shower chair, so today I took the plunge.

A shower should not be such a big deal. I spent decades showering by myself. And yet, today, showering (and typing) are huge steps. Painful steps, but still steps. The hardest part about all these steps and adventures is trying not to look back at what was or forward to what will or won’t be, but taking it from here.

My brother, the mostly sane one, has a golf metaphor about hitting a ball into a sand trap. Once you’re there, you can’t worry about how you got into the mess. You have to assess the situation and go from there.

Well, I assessed this situation and decided I much prefer speech recognition software. It is a lot less painful.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Once Upon a Time Under the Sonoran Stars

A little more than a year ago, I stopped at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on my way across the country. It was a fantastic experience, like living in a southwestern botanical garden. It seemed such a magical spot that I stayed a day longer than I’d planned.

One of the special moments of my stay at the park was hiking with a couple of fellow campers. After we returned to our tents and rested a bit, one of the hikers, a guy who was exploring the south and west on his motorcycle, brought a bottle of Grand Marnier to my campsite. He and I sat under the bright stars with the glow of Mexico to the south and sipped our drinks.

I just got an email from the fellow. Once again he is camping at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, sipping Grand Marnier under the stars, and oh! How I wish I were there. I often think about that monumental park, especially now that I am homebound, and I dream of going back and spending more than just a couple of days.

My fixator will come off in exactly 13 days. (But who’s counting.) Planning new adventures and a replay of previous adventures will give me courage during the arduous months of physical therapy.

And maybe, one day, I will be back in my tent under the sonoran stars.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

There is Magic

When I was younger, I always wanted to have a special gift — ESP, maybe, or an ability to see ghosts. Or perhaps to have a touch of magic at my fingertips.

Now I am just as glad not to be special, glad to be mostly down-to-earth and pragmatic. I prefer to see the truth in the everyday world, though that never stops me from trying to become more than I currently am — to see further, to know more, to understand deeper.

magicWould I want to know what the future holds? Only if that future revolves around winning lottery numbers. I would love to win the lottery, to buy houses all over the country for the women I know who need a place to live, who want a bit of adventure but not much, so they could stay in whatever house they wanted for as long as they wanted before moving to another. Other than that, I don’t particularly care to know what will happen. I do know there will be good and bad. (Except that I don’t really believe in good and bad. It’s all life. All experience. All opportunity for growth.) Besides, I know what the future holds in the end, the same as it holds for all of us. Death. The getting there is the fun, or the not-fun. Either way, it should be interesting. (Grief wasn’t fun at all, but it sure was all-consuming, the most intense and life-changing emotional experience I’ve had besides falling in love.)

I certainly wouldn’t want the responsibility of seeing other people’s futures. What if I saw that something bad would happen? Would I be obligated to try to stop it? And if so, would it be the right thing to do? Maybe the bad thing would turn out to be good, and my interpretation of it was bad. And even if I saw it correctly, maybe changing the bad thing would create a vacuum for a worse thing to happen. Who needs that sort of pressure? Not me!

Would I want a touch of magic? Only if I could magic my books to bestsellerdom. Other than that, I wouldn’t know what to do with magic. To give myself what I want, first I need to know what I want, and that has been my problem for the past few years. I haven’t a clue what I want, don’t have any idea how I would like to shape my life. And anyway, I’m tired of trying to figure out what I want. It’s making me question everything I do, and that makes it harder to like anything.

Magic realism author Malcolm R. Campbell (who gave me the idea for this post) suggested I could use magic to wish for happiness and contentment, but I wouldn’t waste magic on such a paltry wish. I never thought happiness was all that important (other things are more important to me such as truth, experiencing, learning.) Even if I were so inclined to happiness, finding happiness and contentment on my own would make it all the sweeter. And anyway, today I am happy and content. I get to start a new life tomorrow. Technically, it’s just a new place to stay awhile, but who knows? Anything can happen. And there is magic in that.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Refreshment

I had a great day yesterday, but then, I always have an especially good time when hiking. Hiking is my therapy, my peace, my freedom. And when I have the perfect companion, hiking is bliss, even when the temperature hits a hundred or more.

Although my cross-country road trip was supposed to include a lot of hiking, I wrenched my hip at ballet class shortly before I left. And driving — all that sitting — only exacerbated the matter. I still managed a few good hikes along the way, but often the pain kept me from long treks. It was only after I figured out that the pain came not from the sciatic nerve but the accompanying piriformis muscle that I was able to find the proper stretches to help heal the muscle. And now, finally, I can hike again.

When a neighbor invited me to go on a hike with her on the nearby Pacific Crest Trail, I jumped at the chance. And oh, how sublime! The part of the trail we walked was fairly easy with no severe elevation changes and only a couple of treacherous spots where the trail had degraded. We ended up at a lovely tree-shaded spot by the golden Deep Creek where we lazed so long, I missed my dance class. But a hike, a new friend, easy conversation, and a creekside idyll were things not to be missed.

The hike back seemed even easier because we were prepared for the bad spots.

Although it can be dangerous hiking in the desert heat, which is why I always carry plenty of water, there is one factor besides the obvious joy of being out in nature that comes from such a trek — the feeling of deep and abiding inside-out cleanliness and freshness that results when one finally gets a chance to shower away the sweat.

Refreshment. Means a whole lot more than just the simple snack we enjoyed beneath the trees by the side of the creek.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Happy or Sad — It’s All Part of the Adventure

Sometimes I wonder if it’s time for me to stop talking about the ups and downs of my life, just stick with . . . I don’t know . . . upbeat thoughts, perhaps. I won’t, though. I do not believe it is either healthy or wise to always put on a smiling face. Life is good, but it is also cruel. Life is happy, but it is also sad. Life is easy, but it is also hard. How can we ignore the parts of life that might not be comfortable?

The truth is, although I can handle the downs of my life, the emotion lows, most other people can’t. It makes them uncomfortable. And rightly so. People who are smug in their couplehood don’t want to have to think of being the one left behind. People who own houses do not want to admit that some people might be homeless (not in a disfunctional sort of way, but in simply a roofless and rootless sort of way) through no fault of their own. People who are surrounded by family don’t want to know what it is like to be a generation of one.

Perhaps oddly, I have never considered happiness something to pursue. It seems more of a hindsight sort of thing, realizing after the fact that one was happy, which makes happiness a thing of the past, not the present, and therefore irrelevant. Being unhappy at times in the present is not a crime. Sometimes not being particularly happy is a proper response. Most reasonable people, in a hurricane, try to get out of the wind, not revel in the devastation. And above all, I am reasonable.

It is not just the loss of the brother closest to me in age ten years ago, the loss of my mother nine years ago, the loss of my life mate/soul mate six years ago, the loss to mental illness of my older brother two and a half years ago, and the loss of my father one and a half years ago. It’s also the loss of my livelihood (my life mate and I were in business together; although I am a writer, I am not one of the lucky ones who make a living at it). The loss of my home — twice (once six years ago when I came to the desert to take care of my dad, and then again a year and a half ago when my dad died.) And the loss of the feeling of purposefulness more times than I can count. (Lost the feeling of purposefulness that came from building a coupled relationship, from taking care of the sick and the dying, from grieving.)

Considering all that pain and loss, I do not think it is unreasonable to still have times of sadness. To still have times when death makes me cry. (I ran over a snake this morning, couldn’t stop in time, and I cried over the pain and eventual loss of that beautiful creature.)

I do not need to be cured. Happy or sad, I am perfectly fine. Happy is easier, of course, but why does life have to be easy?

I often mention my difficulty finding a place to live, but it only bothers me sporadically. Like when the outside temperature is over 100, and I am exhausted. Then life gets daunting. Meantime, I am staying in an incredible part of the desert, at the foot of the Ord Mountains. I have to drive the worst road imaginable, but I have made new friends, hiked some glorious terrains (and gloriously hot terrains), will go hiking tomorrow with a woman who can show me hidden trails. I am negotiating with a fellow for a room in his house for next month (and space in his garage!). And if that falls apart, I will stay here on the road from hell another month. And if that becomes impossible? Well, something else will come along. Or not.

Happy or sad. Comfortable or uncomfortable. Easy or hard. It’s all part of the adventure.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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You Call This a Road?

I seem to have backed myself into a corner with only a nightmare that barely resembles a road as a way out.

Ever since I returned from my road trip, I’ve tried to find a room or an apartment to rent without any luck. I considered just heading out again, but it’s way too hot to drive in a car without an air conditioner, and even if I drove two days north to find cooler weather, there would still be the problem of summer vacation. Not only is it harder to find good camping sites during the summer, but it’s almost impossible to find the quiet I crave. Too many screaming and squealing children everywhere. In fact, the motels and hotels I have been staying were unpleasant for that very reason.

I’d run out of alternatives when I got an answer to my ad on Craig’s List. A woman wanted to rent a room, and offered full house privileges at a reasonable price. I went to see the room, which was pleasant, the woman was nice, the area was beautiful in a desert-y sort of way, and her friend (who was there to offer help in case I turned out to be a nefarious character) assured me that the aura of those highlands would help my creativity. Even though the place was many miles from the dance studio where I am back taking classes, I figured the distance was doable.

What wasn’t doable was the one-lane dirt road leading to her house. Imagine the worst road, the steepest hill, the most rutted and rocky dirt track you have ever driven, and times that by two.

If I hadn’t fixed up my car and was still driving what I considered a throw-away car, I might not have minded. If I were driving a modern car with great suspension, I might not have minded. But driving my 44-year-old vintage Volkswagen was terrifying. No matter how slowly I drove, very rock, every rut jolted the poor relic until I feared the ancient welds and rusty bolts would give way, and my car would simply fall apart, leaving me sitting, holding the steering wheel, in the midst of a thousand pieces, like a character in a cartoon.

After the friend left, after the woman and I visited a bit, I stood there in her living room, totally flummoxed.

If it weren’t summer with temperatures over 100, I would have packed my car and hit the road, but I am still a month away from that being a viable option. So, what to do? Find another unsatisfactory room in a noisy motel? Or deal with the road from hell?

I finally told the woman I had no place to go and asked if I could pay for a couple of weeks on a trial basis. She agreed. So far, we get along fine (well, it’s just been one night and we are both still on our best behavior), and it would be a good situation for me . . .

But oh, that road! I dread the very thought of it.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Laughlin Adventure

In the last years of their shared life, my parents often went to Laughlin, Nevada. In fact, that was the destination of the last trip they took together. On the way home, my mother felt ill, and she died nine months later.

My mother loved to play the penny slots, and when she could no longer go to a casino, my brother bought her a slot machine. She kept a bucket of quarters by the machine, and even though she only won her own money back, she spent many happy hours in her own private casino.

I never understood her fascination for the game. It seemed boring to me because there was no real challenge except to keep playing as long as you could before your allotted money ran out.

I’d never been to Laughlin, and since I needed an escape from my failure to find a place to live, last weekend I headed to Nevada to the hotel where my parents always stayed. I treated myself to a prime rib and crab buffet dinner, then wandered the riverwalk that connected the casinos, which were strung along the Colorado River. An advertisement for a jet boat trip to Lake Havasu caught my eye, so the next morning when the ticket kiosk opened, I went to buy a ticket, but they were sold out. Determined to get out on the water, I went to get a ticket for a more localized boat tour, but I got there too early to buy a ticket.

So I hopped on a water taxi, paid for an all day pass, and didn’t get off again for five hours. If I hadn’t been kicked off when the boat needed to stop for refueling, I might be there still. There was something so soothing about being on the water, feeling the power of the engine beneath my feet, the rocking of the waves, the surge of speed when the boat accelerated.

It seemed like a carnival tour, watching all the activity of the vacationing hordes. People riding jet skis, sunbathing on a minuscule beach, wading in a roped off area. People excited about eating, shopping, playing.

Most entertaining of all was Captain Joel, the taxi driver, who had a kind word, a joke, a flirtatious tease, or a witty comment for each of his passengers. He kept a bag of gold fish crackers to feed the birds who met the boat. If he was late handing them their treat, they hopped aboard and helped themselves. One perky fellow named Black Jack even attempted to steer the boat, but as Captain Joel admitted after we almost ended up on the rocks, he hadn’t yet trained Black Jack to steer properly.

At one port, striped bass were waiting for their treat, jumping out of the water to catch the orange crackers. It seemed cannibalistic to me to feed fish to fish, but Captain Joel assured me the crackers were whales, so the fish were nibbling on mammals.

Captain Joel had been a park ranger when he was young, flipflopping between Alaska and the Everglades. After seeing every bit of the USA and Canada between those two far points, he is now a world traveler. The most fascinating story he told was about his visit to the Galapagos Islands. Apparently there is a barrel there where people drop addressed but unstamped post cards for other tourists to pick up and hand deliver when they get back home, a tradition begun in the nineteenth century when sailors would leave their mail for homebound ships in the hopes the letters would get to their destination. Captain Joel hand delivered four such postcards to people in Huntington Beach, who were amazed both by the post card and the delivery system.

When I had to leave the boat, I went to the casino to do a bit of gambling in my mother’s honor. At first, it was as boring as I remembered, then I got into the swing of it, enjoying the energy of the place, enjoying the whir of the spinning icons in the machine, enjoying even more when I won. At one point, my twenty-dollar seed money grew to about a hundred dollars. I considered taking the money, but decided that the tribute to my mother was about playing the game, not necessarily winning, so I used the money to play the maximum bet instead of just the few pennies at a time I had been playing. I enjoyed feeling like a high roller, felt, in some way, my mother’s presence. And then an old lady came and hung over me. Wouldn’t go away. And I lost the illusion of my mother’s presence. The old woman sat on the stool next to mine and asked me to teach her to play. Although she was there with her daughter and son-in-law, she seemed lonely, chattering on and on about her dead husband, her new hair style, her family, so I tried not to resent the intrusion and helped her. Weirdly, she started to win and I began losing. And continued to lose. I was actually glad to zero out because then I had an excuse to leave without being rude. I wandered around the casino for a while. I didn’t want to go back to my room and do the things I always do — read or use the computer — so I went back to play again. Again, I started winning, and again, the old woman came to play and chatter next to me, and again I lost.

So I went out and took a couple more circuits on a boat taxi, then went to bed.

The drive back was hard — not just the unremitting heat, but the feeling of foolishly losing all that money.

Now that I have some perspective on the experience, I am glad I spent the money. All I truly lost was my original stake, and since it allowed me to play and to channel my mother for five or six hours, it was money well spent. I also feel as if I have a greater understanding of my mother, which was priceless.

Another weekend is coming up, and again I need to escape. I considered going back to Laughlin, but I don’t think I could handle that long drive in the heat. Besides, it wouldn’t be the same. The experience was profound, a once-in-a-lifetime gift of connection, wealth, feeling free. Being.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Still in Flux

I’m back in the high desert after a 21-week road trip across the USA and it seems as if nothing was accomplished. Nothing was gained. Nothing has changed.

That isn’t true, of course. I’ve seen 12,000 miles worth of scenery, met in person at least a dozen people I’d known only online and talked to many others in passing, have experienced various cuisines and entertainments, walked for miles in all sorts of terrain, camped and moteled, endured sadness and loneliness and occasionally felt pure joy.

And yet, it still feels as if nothing was gained (except pounds — I’d hoped to lose ten pounds on the journey, and I still have eighteen to go).

Before I left, I had a hard time finding a place to live, and that hasn’t changed. I still can’t find a place to live. There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as a one-bedroom or a studio apartment around here, so I’ve been checking out rooms to rent. One room I went to see was a windowless cell no larger than seven feet by nine feet, and the “private” bathroom was three rooms away. Another place would have been ideal — a fabulous suite in a farmhouse — but it’s an hour or two drive from here, and I would have had to contend with some of the world’s worst traffic to get to dance class three or four days a week.

Mostly, things have been falling into place without too much trouble, so perhaps things are still falling into place. If it’s this hard to find somewhere to live, it’s possible I’m not supposed to be here for long. At the moment, I am staying in a fleabag motel, but the bed is comfortable, there is room for me to do my daily stretching, and there is a quiet road near here where I can take a walk every morning. I might even be able to do some writing while here. (I did pull out my WIP and set it on the desk, so we’ll see.)

Even though it feels as if I am just vegetating (there are no dance classes until next week, so I am mostly just lounging around reading), I am gradually getting things organized for the next leg of my journey. I finally got my computer fixed. I have an appointment next week to get my car serviced. And I am rethinking my supplies. I brought things with me I didn’t use, sometimes because the item was packed too deeply to easily retrieve, and sometimes because the emergency it was meant for didn’t arise. One thing I know I need to get is a couple of pairs of light colored pants. Apparently, mosquitoes love black, and that’s mostly what’s available in my size, so that’s what I’ve been wearing. I also need to figure out how to do better with food. I didn’t eat the freeze-dried meals I brought, didn’t open the peanut butter, ate only a bit of the tuna, but I did go through all the various food bars I brought. And I ate too much convenience store non-foods.

I’d always planned to come back here and settle down for a while, take dance classes, wander in the desert to soothe my soul, but now I don’t expect to stay for more than a couple of months. Whatever it is that has been driving me ever since the death of my life mate/soul mate and more recently, the death of my father, which left me without a place to live, is stronger than ever. I don’t think I’m looking for anything in particular (except the wisdom and wonder I am always looking for) but still, I continue to feel that need for . . . something. Something to override the lingering void those deaths left behind, perhaps. (Writing might do it, but I am too much alone to welcome the thought of spending even more time inside myself.)

So, see? Nothing has changed. I am still in flux. Still planning for . . . I don’t know what.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Rainbow-Colored Mysteries

I read once that to be happy you need to narrow the distance between expectation and reality. The article was about happy marriages, and the premise was that unhappy people had unmet expectations, and the greater those unmet expectations, the greater the unhappiness. The closer the reality was to expectation, the happier the people were. The solution, then, was not to stop expecting, but to temper one’s expectation to reality. For example, if you envision life as a perpetual dance and your spouse is a klutz who can’t follow a beat, you can either hold to your vision and be miserable, or reevaluate your expectations and find a more realistic vision.

This expectation-to-reality formula works in other ways. For example, if I looked only at my expectation of the Petrified Forest to be an actual forest, my visit to the park would have been highly disappointing because a few pieces of tree trunks is not my idea of a forest. Yet, when I gave up my expectation and just enjoyed what that visit brought, it was a wonderful side trip on my drive across Arizona. For one thing, the Painted Desert, the scene of the Petrified Forest, was totally unexpected and simply stunning — panoramic views with many hues. For another, the individual tree rocks were spectacular in their own way. (Oddly, there is way more petrified wood outside the protected park than inside, so anyone who wishes to own such a piece of geographic history can easily obtain a piece or ten. In fact, the museum/gift shops at the gate give away small chips as a come-on to get you inside the shop.)

Painted Desert

The mysteries of the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest weren’t the only rainbow-colored mysteries of my drive across Arizona, but first, let me set the scene.

As I drove to Flagstaff after I left the park, I felt sorry for myself because although I was looking forward to journey’s end, there was no joy in the expectation. I would be able to take care of a few matter such as getting my computer fixed and my car serviced, and I would be able to visit friends and take dance classes again, but I wasn’t going home to a special someone, wasn’t going home to a special place. I was simply going.

And then, as if the very heavens took pity on me and wanted to send me a bit of encouragement, a streak of emerald flashed in the sky. I leaned forward and peered up over the steering wheel to get a better look, and the sky lit up with drapes of horizontal color. For a second I thought I might be seeing the aurora borealis, but there is no way the northern lights could be seen so far south. I watched, amazed, as the emerald gave way to peacock blue, and the rainbow swathe grew crayon bright. I pulled off the highway as soon as I came across an exit so I could get a photo, but by the time I finally was able to take the picture, the bright rainbow had faded to pale sunset colors, though the peacock blue still held true.

fire rainbow

Apparently, what I saw was a rare fire rainbow. (Fire rainbows are formed when the sun, high in the sky, shines through cirrus clouds made up of hexagonal ice crystals.)

Awesome. Unexpected. And totally joyous.

You’d think that the message of the heavenly sign (if a sign it was) that things would be okay would sink in, but no. The next day, as I drove from Barstow to Apple Valley, unexpectedly, I started to cry. Then it occurred to me what those tears were about: this was the first time I had driven that road since my life mate/soul mate’s death. On that previous trip, I was on my way to visit my father, and Jeff was still alive, waiting for me back home. It’s amazing to me that no matter how long it’s been since Jeff’s death, “firsts” still can freshen the sorrow.

I did learn something from my Arizona drive, though. Don’t expect what isn’t. Instead, accept what is.

Now I just have to put the lesson into practice.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)