Following any major shake up in my life, from encountering bullies to dealing with death, I have two immediate reactions. First, is to buck up, dive deep into work/school, and take care of my friends and family. The second is to high tail it the hell out of the source of my grief as soon as possible. For what it’s worth, you’re catching me on the second half of this endeavor: the travel bit. Except back then it was to go visit my grandparents *laughs*.
It has been a little over a week since the passing of my Father. I catch myself glancing at the other Word doc on the other half of my screen; amassed with words that form the eulogy to be read at his memorial. At the time I agreed to the task, I was overwhelmed & exhausted mentally, physically, & emotionally. It was my birthday & my gift to myself was to sleep. Where I am today compared to that day is truly a testament of “mind over matter”.
I was the primary caregiver for my Dad’s “end-of-life-care”. The days leading up to his passing were more demanding than the six months prior, when I quietly moved home to help care for him. I was with him when he passed but as family streamed in to give their condolences the day of, I cleaned the house, washed the dishes, & mowed the lawn. It wasn’t until I was sitting in my car alone that I broke down. Per a family request, it was my duty to be the “rock”. So, after taking a few days to care & provide comfort for everyone, I packed a weekender bag, & decided to retrace an old family trip from a time when the summers seemed to last forever.
For starters, I completely underestimated the mileage of this endeavor. It was LONG! Regardless, as a history buff, I visited a few historical landmarks & the Montana Zoo in Billings, MT. I found myself feeling uneasy at the zoo. The animals looked immensely, for lack of a better word, lonely. Except for the few animals that were saved in the wild or born in captivity, it pulled at my heartstrings, so I left. However, what flooded my mind constantly, were all the memories from the trip with my folks. Then, I was made painfully aware of my “oddness” via my bully in middle school. I was antagonized frequently & my Dad helped me navigate the situation. While standing on a bluff at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, my Dad, in all his wisdom said, “You know road trips can be a bit like a bully but know there is something greater on the other end.” My Dad didn’t elaborate on how road trips & bullies are similar but well over a decade & an hour later, after reflecting on the same bluff, I think I may have figured it out.
- They take all your money. – My bully took my lunch money a few times (seriously) & so did my road trip *laughs*. Of course, before I went I set aside enough to cover estimated fuel charges, campgrounds, & food. What I did not expect were the little expenses that popped up for activities. Let’s be honest, I didn’t think there would be that much to do in ND & MT. I’m glad to be proven wrong.
- Always distrust popularity. – My bully was quite popular; however, unlike everyone, I was privy to her insecurities, secrets, & inner family turmoil. I knew why she acted the way she did & her popularity was only a cover for all the ugly in her life. This trip reminded me, as I was sitting at a “popular” but terrible restaurant (the dodgy one ended up being the best), the irony that popularity & being reputable are not mutually exclusive. Trip Advisor & every other travel resource may say one thing but go where the locals tells you to go. That’s where the real authentic experiences are.
- Gain a different perspective. – The older I got, the more I was able to view my experience through a different lens, including my bully’s. The moment I stepped foot on the battlegrounds of the Little Bighorn, I refused to leave until I looked at the battle through the eyes of my Lakota ancestors. And while my heart is with every tribe forced to concede their ancestral lands & every Native American killed defending their way of life, I found myself pitying those that raised arms whether it was via the sword, rifle, Howitzer, or pen against the OG Americans.
- My road trip & my bully helped me grow. – Sometimes the beaten path is just that… beat. Travel, especially to areas that are not often traveled, allow you to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong, Jet Blue Mint & first class flights are the bees knees. As are 5-star hotels, fast cars, Wi-Fi, low-top Converse, tempurpedic mattresses, rooftop bars, and civilization (re: cities with 100,000K people or more). However, there is enlightenment in having to rough it. There is inner peace when forced to confront your inner demons, grief, faults, regrets, & more while staring off into the distance, still able to find self-love.
So, as I get ready to pack up my car & embark on the long trek home, I feel a bit renewed, a little refreshed, & a lot more connected to my Dad. My Dad died young – too young. In fact, both of my fathers died young. But as I sat there, I felt their presence & like a scene from Dead Poets Society, I could hear them whispering “Carpe Diem” across the wind. A reminder to do all of the things I want instead of just wishing to do so.
The list of places I want to see, foods I want to eat, views I want to wake up to, and people I want to meet is long. And although my world is a lot more “jet-setting maven” than “road trip guru”, I will always look fondly back on the time when I was just a kid, standing on a bluff with her Dad, learning how the similarities of road trips & bullies go hand in hand.
*Help equated to don’t hit them first, walk away if you can, & outsmart them with cleverness