I see you. Smiling faces peering over ship railings. Eyes squinting in the brilliant Italian sun. Bodies sleek in scuba gear in the Galapagos. One more happy Facebook vacation picture — and the computer gets it.
Okay, I feel better now.
Somewhere among those Facebook pictures of a river cruise and toes in the sand, I ran dry. Don’t get me wrong. I’m more than happy for friends’ ability to get outta Dodge and realize their travel dreams, just as they’d be for me. When you’re livin’ the hard-earned dream, it’s only natural to share it – with everyone. Glimpsing a buddy trekking through the Grand Canyon can be an actual public service, right? (I’m kidding) Poring over gorgeous Instagram shots might be the only way I’ll ever get to see those magical sites. (Those pics also incite my inner wannabe fabulous photographer)
It’s a big world. We all want to press ESC and see all we can before the curtain closes. Travel is what we save for, and dream of. It jazzes us to check off each destination box, especially when it comes equipped with memories to relive again and again. I know. I have pictures to prove it.
These days though, not so much. Maybe that’s one reason the rolling visual travelogues on my Facebook timeline triggers me; but not for the reasons you might think. At first, even I thought the cheerful travel odysseys were a sneaky bazinga of all the places I may never see. But slowly I realized that’s only one piece of the missing. Maybe those barefoot in the sand toe shots, or glistening views of the Eiffel tower point up the sedentary chiaroscuro of a shadow life. Yet, hey, I’m not exactly STUCK to that couch; my life is pretty damn full. In fact, the only thing that needs changing is the empty space next to me, but that ship sailed when my husband left. So why the stupid pity party? Why, when I click those ‘hearts’ and ‘likes’ on friends’ vaca pics to parts known and unknown, do I sometimes feel so empty? And what’s with the wanderenvy?
Then I got it. It was there in plain sight. I wasn’t jealous of my friends’ taking a big juicy bite of their travel dreams. I wasn’t envious of the destination (except maybe Italy, always Italy) It was the ‘other’, the laughing plus one in those shots on that cute little street in Ireland. Or the arms-around-each other Zen pose in Sedona. It wasn’t the locale at all. Truth be told, Alaska doesn’t top my bucket list. I’m way too claustrophobic to scuba in the Galapagos and way too afraid of heights to ever zipline in a Costa Rican jungle. What I’m missing is the simplest – and hardest thing in the world. What’s absent from the pictures is the space never to be filled again; the person who was my love, life and travel partner. That’s a wrap.
Travel is just one more thing that drastically changes when your partner leaves the building. Oh, sure, you had individual lives and personalities. You functioned well as two separate people but the union itself became part of your identity. And, even when you think that ‘phantom’ limb is playing hooky, it makes itself known at the weirdest times.
When you lose your partner, you lose several people; friend, lover, confidant, and yes, travel companion. The loss of your husband or wife creates many vacancies that no amount of ‘help wanted’ ads could fill, including your custom-made travel mate. We often take for granted the importance of having that one, true half by your side. The simple, complex comfort is often lost in the daily detritus, the mundane calendar of days; little things of life.
I remember spontaneous Saturday trips to Lowes or even the grocery store, when the mission of our search overshadowed who we shared that search with. Yet, now we glimpse every couple shopping together, arms linked, some who even look bored or barely aware of the partner next to them. Now we want to poke them and plead, “Be in the moment; it may not come again”. But that’s the business of life, isn’t it? Like Emily in Our Town said, “”Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?”
I’d like to think my husband and I made a pretty good run at appreciating what we had, which is a damn good thing since what we had was a short run. Yet, who really is in the moment – every moment? Too late we wish we could have that afternoon back, that weekend away, even that night, that dinner. Would we change anything? Everything? Maybe not but, no matter how few regrets we have, I think we’d all like a few do-overs. Wouldn’t you?
As far as those travel pictures, maybe we’d like a few do ‘nows’. The playing field changed, but we have a choice. Either wallow in past wanderlust or take a leap into the unknown. And it’s all unknown. I can live in pictures that populate my computer and photo books of bed and breakfasts, trips to Cape Cod, that free cruise to Bermuda and honeymoon to Italy. Or I can choose a new future.
My inner tour guide knows any trip, just like my surprise working foray to California, will never include my other half again. Future treks will push my boundaries, challenge my sense of security, and comfort zone. I will need to be in a new head space, one that welcomes new companions on the journey, which include the usual suspects – my very treasured buds. There will be new eyes to share the sights, and new thoughts on experiences. But, I know I need to cross that bridge of change with anticipation, instead of resignation, if I am to find ‘new and different’ not merely lesser than.
Right now, my options are open. I might find myself in some yearned for spot this year (Cape Cod, here I come!) — or not. It’s on me. I don’t have it all together. Sometimes I talk a whole lot braver than I feel. I may still wallow. I may groan when I click like on your travel pics or, maybe I’ll live vicariously through them. And that’s (mostly) okay. Bring ‘em on. I’m on a ‘long, strange trip’, not at all like the Grateful Dead’s. There’s no shortcut through through this journey, no travelogue for it and fortunately, it’s a path not the destination.
But when I get to the other side, get ready. My travel photos are gonna rock!