Five years ago, I started out on a journey, having no idea how much my life was actually about to change. On August 19, 2007, I packed my car with 1 suitcase of clothes for me and my then-three-year-old daughter; 1 bag of her toys; a jar of peanut butter, jelly, and a loaf of bread; and a heart so empty I didn’t think even the biggest of miracles could ever make it full again.
I had just finished my Master’s classes, sort of, and my internship, and still couldn’t find a job anywhere in Illinois, so the plan was to take a three week road trip across the U.S., see some beloved friends and family along the way; and rest, relax, and then figure out what to do next. A good, long, drive always helped me clear my head. We would be home just after Labor Day, or so the plan went. As many of you know, things never go as planned-especially when it involves Barnards on a road trip.
On the first day, Nadia and I drove from Girard, IL to Colorado Springs, CO, about 900 miles, stopping for PB&J picnics along the way. First stop, to see Uncle Tony and Aunt Margie. We stayed with them for a few days and then headed to Salt Lake City (about 600 miles), stopping in Cheyenne, WY for a few hours to see the Cowboy Boots on display, and to have another PB&J picnic. Salt Lake City was beautiful, interesting. But it was there that the loneliness really hit me. I had my little girl with me, a 3 year old, that was probably the only person on Earth capable of understanding what I was feeling. Maybe she felt the same way? Directionless, confused, unsettled.
Next, stop? Vegas, baby. Yes, Nadia LOVED Vegas. My princess and I stayed in a huge castle, with a huge arcade inside, and waterslides and a pool and a donut factory. What’s not to love? She won so many toys and stuffed animals in the Kiddie Casino, and fell asleep around midnight that night surrounded by all her loot. Nadia still asks to go back to Vegas.
After only one night in Vegas, and only one pit-stop for PB&Js, we made it to San Diego, where we stayed with my dear friends, Fiona and Devon, a.k.a the Aunties. We toured around Balboa Park, went to the Del Mar Races, splashed around on the beach, went kayaking in the bay, took a short trip to Disneyland, I applied for a few jobs-just because it seemed like a fun, silly idea, and why not?
From San Diego, we started heading home, going the southern route through Phoenix. We stayed in Phoenix for two days, but before we left, I got a call from one of those silly applications I submitted in San Diego. They wanted me to come in for an interview. What to do, what to do? I decided I needed to go back and check it out. We stayed with Fiona and Devon in a small 2-bedroom apartment. It was tough to say the least, us stepping into their territory, and them allowing us to invade their space.
That first interview didn’t pan out, and I didn’t know why I was staying there. Maybe I was just didn’t want to go “home.” Maybe this city was my new “home” and I needed to make it work. One thing was for sure, the vacation was over, and I had some real decision-making to do. I don’t know if it was stubbornness, or determination, or just plain stupidity, but I knew I had to make it work, though I constantly questioned whether it was the right thing to do. I had nothing, but a little girl, a suitcase, a car and two best friends.
I enrolled my daughter into a daycare, where she was the only white child. I had my mom send me some dress clothes so I could go to more interviews, and perhaps take things a bit more seriously. After just a few weeks, I ended up with a job at Qualcomm. It was a company I had never heard of before, and a company I didn’t really want to work for (I’m not much of the Corporate type), but it was a good paying job with good benefits. Not what I wanted to do forever, but it’s what I needed to do to get by, and hopefully it would mean we could stop eating so many PB&Js. Nadia and I found a little 1-bedroom apartment, wheeled in our suitcase, and we were fully moved in. Life as we know it, was forever altered. I knew I had broken the hearts of my parents by moving so far away and by taking their sweet granddaughter, whom they helped me raise, so far away from them, too.
After taking such risks, I was even more determined to make things work. We struggled, but we also had lots of fun. For the first time, I actually had to be Mom. My mom and dad weren’t around to play parent to my daughter, so I was the family leader, and my decisions were the final say. Whatever I decided would affect our future. Scary, but it really made me start to feel like a grown-up. Well, that, and the purchase of my very own first couch.
Looking back on things now, I don’t know what the heck I was thinking…but perhaps it was a good thing I wasn’t thinking. There have been some great things to come out of such a tough transition. My bond with my best friends has just gotten even stronger; Nadia has a great relationship with her aunties; I am even closer to my parents (even though a greater distance separates us), and I made some more really great friends out here. Oh, and I met this guy. And he loves me for who I am, even with all of my quirky traits, especially my indecisiveness. And we got married, and we have another baby. And that emptiness I felt? Well, I don’t really feel it anymore. Knowing how it feels to love and be loved in so many different ways, as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a mother, and a wife; well, it’s pretty overwhelming sometimes. I am happy with how things have changed over the past 5 years. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have the freedom of the open road again; the choice to go away for awhile. But then I realize how full of life I feel and how much better it feels to be full, than to be empty. And I see the love that surrounds me, and I decide to stay.
What does the next five years hold in store for me? I do not know, but I know that I don’t face it alone. And I know Nadia and I will never eat another peanut butter and jelly sandwich again.