(writing prompt: when I was poor)
“Suisun!” I said, pointing to a place on the Map opened in my lap. We were on our way home, a squiggly line connected Suisun and Napa, where we planned to stop and camp somewhere.
“Did I tell you about running away from home and flying to Suisun?”
“I don’t think so” R said, turning the wheel as we left hwy 12.
” I just had no idea it was so green and beautiful here near Sacremento,” he said this several times over the next hour and we were both delighted and surprised by the intense spring green of smooth unbroken hills, marshlands, vinyards and gnarled oaks.
I told him bits of the past as we stared at the present and drove at fifty miles an hour into the future.
About twenty-five years ago, desperate to change my path, I and my two little boys boarded a plane to a place I didn’t know, a place that wasn’t where so many bad things and people and decisions seemed to conspire to entrap me. In AA they would have called it a geographic cure. My problem was not drink, but this was indeed my geographic cure.
Grandmother’s old mustard colored Dodge Dart had given me its last mile. My wages only covered daycare for two, leaving nothing. My last date, actually recommended by friends, had an odious criminal history. The previous one thought he performed dangerous action-filled missions for the government that involved karate.
Today, rolling through the smooth emerald hills lined with vinyards and looking into the blue sky with storybook white clouds, I could have been in a made for children movie about a princess, or a goose or a beanstalk.
The lake we are camping at is populated by honking Canadian Geese and a Redhead duck pair. A woodpecker is tapping out the seconds. Our dog is sleeping hard after long miles of a zigzagging and oak-lined one hour drive to a quiet vacant recreation area.
I couldn’t see how beautiful it was here those many years ago. We had no car and I took the bus when I found a job as a telemarketer for a gym after failing to quickly nail a nursing job at the conglomerate medical corporation, though I had my LPN.
I do remember walking through frosty November orchards. I do remember making a Turkey shaped loaf of fragrant wheat bread and heading for the hills on a long Thanksgiving Day walk for a picnic under blue skies like this late March one.
I do remember the great love and compassion of my dear friend N and her husband and their two little blond girls. They shared their room with my little boys and N shared her roses. They shared their luxurious pool and their evening couch and their gratitude for their then fragile sobriety.
“I wonder what became of N?” I wondered out loud. I had run into her out dancing years ago, and she was smiling, talkative and lithe out on the dance floor. And how could we have let the time and changes part us. She was dear to me and I to her during our hard days. We had learned together how to trust, not just another person, but our very selves again.
I change into a skirt and sandals and recline in the sun by a wooden picnic table on a green lake. The dock is there. My paddleboard is here, fastened up on the trailer by the kayak, but my shoulders are still recovering from the beautiful baja morning whale watches.
I would rather sit here and remember for a moment how close I had come to making my second month’s rent as a houseshare with a young airtraffic controller in Suisun.
He lived in a big new house on a culdesac that looked like all the others. I remember too, how he mentioned my coffee cup being out of place in the sink, and remember my worry about our messy little lives. My boys were sleeping in brand new empty echoing bedrooms on brand new cartoon sleeping bags that he had kindly produced. We put our three clothing changes in the cavernous closets. I wasn’t going to ask him to wait for his rent. We would return home by Christmas.
In our truck camper, with freshly stocked food and water, R and I decide to stay two nights instead of one. It is beautiful, warm and green here, and the bugs are buzzing, not biting. I hear an echo of a hatchet splitting wood somewhere across the lake.
I would rather think about that and remember, sighing, for how that other story of Suisun ended.
We took a greyhound bus all the long way home. Through the snowy dark passes, stopping for “world famous cinnamon rolls” where a barrel stove burned in a restaurant at Snoqualmie. The boys rubbed their sleepy eyes and held my hand as we stood in line, smelling steaming wool and crackling fir.
We lived then for a while back in Bellingham at a homeless shelter. Before long I found employment again, a kind of faith again, even love again, a different sort than ever before.
Suisun is beautiful. More beautiful than I could have realized when my life was impossible and I couldn’t seem to make it change.
They discourage geographic cures, saying “no matter where you go, there you are,” but in this particular instance, the DOING of SOMETHING lifted the dark veil from my spirit and I was empowered with my own volition, my own agency. That, and the saintliness of my family and friends, and yes, some well placed social services, made me know that I could go on from that dark place. There would be other places that were light, other people, yes imperfect like myself, but with souls intact and worth the trusting.
“Are you in for the night?”. I ask R, as he clambers up on the soft camper bed at dusk.
I climb in behind him, tea in hand and watch the red sun set out my little window, somewhere near Suisun.