I’ve known my fiancé since we were kids in our very small town. I was the quiet art weirdo, and he was the smart funny guy who made socializing seem effortless. He has always loved travel, and was saving up for a year-long road trip cross-country, to take with his brother after he finished grad school, and his brother got out of the army.
When his brother passed away in Afghanistan in 2010, our lives were shattered pretty completely. He was one of those guys who knew everyone, who everyone was friends with. His death impacted everything, and left us in the center of this desolate vortex of grief.
Not knowing how else to proceed, we kept moving and decided to still take the trip together. We saved up money for a year and pretty much sleepwalked our way to the departure date. Looking back now, to some degree, I was a little scared of this great unknown — but nothing could be worse than the stagnant sadness we felt at home.
So on a hot sweltering day in July, we packed the Volvo and drove off.
The road trip brought life back into our hearts. We began to feel joyful about things, we woke up excited about the next experience. We stopped being ghosts to each other and just trying to survive the day. It gave us quiet time to talk, and listen, and revel in the freedom of anonymity in a new place.
My time on the road with my partner taught me that sometimes your backpacking tent will feel more like home than any other place in the world.
It taught me that I am so much tougher and stronger than I thought I was.
It taught us what our breaking points are, and when to push through and when to call it a day.
We learned that spicy Thai food, a pitcher of beer, and a second-run movie theater can cure any degree of road fatigue.
I learned my passion for bear safety, and that I don’t need a shower that often.
The road trip taught me that happiness can be simple and unburdened.
In time we realized that we could look to the future with joy instead of more sadness. Grief isn’t something that goes away; like a properly balanced pack, you learn its weight and how to move with it through your day.
Life is fairly normal since our return to our home. We still get the itch every now and then, to hop in the car, to disappear for a few days. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we just put another log in the wood stove and curl up on the couch.