For those of us with travel in our veins, this pandemic has smothered us like a down blanket. And if there’s one feeling I can’t stand, it’s being stifled in a mattress with the heavy bedding tucked in at the corners. It’s a suffocating feeling that temporarily induces panic in me and leaves me breathless until I’ve kicked every last centimetre of the bedding out freely and can breathe again.
Being locked down, locked out, trapped in, trapped out… Unable to make decisions or continue the way of life I always knew has been a hammer blow. One by one, the trips, the plans, and the life I was building began to drop like flies this year as the “temporary restrictions” to “flatten the curve” evolved into the enduring nightmare we’re living.
My need to be constantly in motion, continuously moving, discovering, tasting, testing, listening, learning–whether that meant changing as I grew older to incorporate the children or simply breathing in a 20-minute glance of a city during a work visit–it was still travel. There was wonder and marvel in every second of it.
Wise people say to look for the joy in the small things. To pause. To relax. To appreciate what we may have overlooked. Plenty more (wise or otherwise) wax lyrical about how lockdown allowed them to take time off and view their lives through a different lens, learn to cook, connect with family, discover a new talent, lose weight. I’m happy for them but that wasn’t true for me.
None of it was true for me.
When they said we were “all in this together” it was a lie larger than the multi-trillion-dollar stimulus package injected into the economy. We may be “all in the same boat” but some of us are rowing the oars while others are sunning on deck–and many more are falling overboard.
Forgive Me for Being Tense
I didn’t get a chance to reflect or pause or take up a new hobby. I had to lock down and work like I’ve never worked before. With travel out of my reach for the first time in my four decades on this earth, it was only through work that I could ensure the children’s future, and dim out the relentless abuse and persistent harm from the one person in my life who was meant to matter the most.
Only by throwing myself into the keyboard could I actually actively tackle this miserable pandemic that’s clipping my wings and pinning me down to the bed with the corners tucked in.
When the need became clearer to put a country between me and my past, we were finally able to move to Portugal where the children could run a little freer, go to school, and be kids.
I still wonder every day how this pandemic will affect them in the long run. My three year-old comes running out the house telling me I’ve forgotten my mask. My five year old doesn’t remember what it’s like going down a slide in a park. I’ve tried hard, but how do you recreate a world in which children roam freely and adults have visible smiles?
For my incessant efforts, I’ve been accused of being too tense, of not knowing how to enjoy life or allowing myself to let go. This isn’t a groundless accusation. It’s probably painfully obvious.
But even if I could shed the constant guilt about not being at the bedside of my moribund mother or the omnipresent pressure of having to be absolutely everything to my children, I still wouldn’t be able to do it.
My traveler’s soul is restless. And it aches.
People do their best to empathize and say they understand how hard it is. But the truth is, they have no idea what it is to be a working single mother with no help. If they did, they wouldn’t suggest I went on city walks on the weekends full of steep inclines or beach trips where I have to carry endless piles of equipment and two children who don’t feel like walking. They would stop talking to me about yoga or dinner or “something just for me” if they knew how many times my children asked for me if I’m gone during the day or screamed for me in the evenings if I’m not in the same room.
So, right now, I appreciate the good intentions. But there is no way to fix a single mother with the spirit of an eternal traveler locked in a box.
A box full of screams and shouts and bumps and cuts and smashes and breaks and spills and slips and constant neediness. A world far from the bustling streets of Marrakesh or the lofty volcanoes of Central America, the crashing waves of Costa Rica or the packed Karaoke bars of Seoul.
All the things we may never experience again.
So, yeah, I am tense. I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss my freedom and the life that no longer is. And most of all, I miss myself all alone on the open road with endless horizon–and possibilities–ahead.