July 2013 …
Trying to find a place where I could breathe and rest was taking too much energy. I stopped searching for a hotel or motel room that wouldn’t induce headaches and nausea. I had woken up too many times in the middle of the night with my head on fire and a burning throat, desperate for air.
But I could breathe, sort of, in the car.
Back at Fred Meyer, I bought bedding: a big brown comforter, soft warm blankets in shades of lavender, a small pillow to match. What else does one need for car camping? A plum colored hand towel and wash cloth; a fork, knife, and spoon; a thermos. Groceries.
In the soup aisle, I could not tear my eyes away from the box of beef broth on the bottom shelf. Pacific brand. Organic. I tried to talk myself out of it, but my body would not move until I put the box in the cart. Obviously, I needed protein. Fast. I found Tiger Milk bars on another aisle and grabbed a box of the extra peanut butter flavor. Packets of Emergen-C (powdered vitamin C) followed suit. Then Kava Kava tea for stress relief. Right.
A blank journal with a yellowish cover grabbed my attention. On the front were the words:
you are master of your own destiny
The color of the inside cover matched the biggest new blanket — chocolate.
Back in Olympia, when all this started going down — the difficulty breathing, the heart palpitations, the mold-induced-asthma diagnosis — my father invited me to his house in northern California, “for a respite.” Eventually I agreed, which is why I was traveling south. Respite was exactly what I needed. A place to take a deep breath, if possible, and assess the situation. I hadn’t slept for more than 30 minutes at a time for more than a week. I was afraid I would die in my sleep. Asphyxiate.
The first night in Florence was okay, but I was in a busy part of town. The tourists looked at me funny in the morning when I unwrapped the blankets and climbed out of my car to find a bathroom. The next night I attempted to sleep on a residential side street. But coastal Oregon is damp. And round about 4 a.m. the sprinklers went on and the air became damper. I tried to walk it out, but I still couldn’t catch a good breath.
Throughout this travail, I talked to myself constantly in a reassuring tone. “You are breathing, yes? Not as deeply as you’d like, but you are receiving some air. I know it’s hard, sweetheart. Just in, and out. That’s right. In, and out. Good job. In, and out. You can do it.”
Walking down the dark Florence street, breathing — shallowly yes, but breathing — I suddenly felt Emmett beside me. A big black Malamute mix with a huge plumy tail, we had traveled together through snow and rain and sun for six years. Through forests, on beaches, in boats. He finally left his cancerous body on New Year’s Eve 2007. But here he was, next to me. The comfort was visceral.
Some folks find Jesus or Buddha or Quan Yin in times of trouble, or get religion in other ways. I found Emmett, or rather, he found me — back in 2001, and now here in 2013. Tears of relief flowed down my face.
I returned to the Jetta. On a small flap on the outside of my new journal, I wrote:
Book 1: Project Susie
(My family calls me Susie.)
I need to dry out, I thought. This damp air is not helping. I need to go inland. Back on the same road where I’d met the local EMTs two days earlier — State Highway 126 — I headed east. Eugene, Oregon: 62 miles.
As I drove I sang a new song:
Help me out
Help me out.