Joys of Planning

I still have scabs and scars from the multitude of mosquitoes that feasted on me this summer, but I’ve already made plans for protecting myself next year. For example, I bought some khaki pants (they love the black pants I normally wear) and I intend to soak them in permethrin to make them abhorrent to the little monsters. I’m also collecting long sleeve shirts I won’t mind wearing for gardening or painting or any of the myriad outside chores that come with owning a house. And even though I do not like bug killers, I will spray my yard in self-defense. I tend to be allergic, and do not get small bumps and short-lived itching that apparently are the norm; instead I get immense lumps that itch for weeks.

Despite what it might sound like, the issue here is not the mosquitoes, but the planning. It’s been many years since I could pretty much count on being in a certain place the following year. I have lived on the edge of uncertainty for so long, that it’s a real joy to be able to plan on being somewhere and to know that, with a little luck, I will be that “somewhere.”

I have planned, of course, but always in the back of my mind was the qualifier: If I am here.

This need to qualify the future started long before Jeff died. His health was iffy for so long that we never knew from one day to the next if we could follow through on any plans, never knew if he’d even be around to put those plans into action. It was the same thing when I went to take care of my dad. I never knew from one day to the next if he’d be around and if I’d have a place to live. After he was gone, I traveled, never quite knowing where I’d be the next day, and when I returned to my dad’s town, I rented various rooms, and again, never quite knew how long I’d be there. I knew I couldn’t stay in California — didn’t want to stay — but with no compelling reason to move, I just . . . stayed.

Besides not being able to plan, I couldn’t buy anything big even if I wanted to because I didn’t know if it would fit whatever lifestyle I might have. Would I be forever a nomad? Would I move to a city? Would I bunk with a friend?

Well, now I know. Now I can plan.

And I’m planning what to do next summer when the mosquito invasion begins.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Deep in the Dismals

Several people have contacted me, wondering if I were okay since it’s been a week since I last posted.

Yes, I am okay, or as okay as one can be with more than fifty mosquito bites and a particular sensitivity to the horrific little creatures. I have tried every salve on the market and every home remedy. So far, nothing works to stop the itching, so I just have to grit my teeth and try not to scratch.

I’d been staying with friends during much of that missing week, mostly catching up on the volunteer work I do with my publisher. It’s hard for me to write or even think when I am with others, and besides I wanted to make the most of what I thought would be the final visit of my journey. Since I don’t know anyone along the I-40 corridor, I figured I would be on my own most of the time during my return trip.

When I left my friends, and to be honest, even before I left, I was beset by sorrow for no reason I can fathom other than that I would be returning without having found what I was looking for. (My visit to the East Dismal Swamp seemed a fitting place to have such an attitude, though a little hike on the wooden walkway temporarily dampened my personal dismals.)

People had told me of a sign outside Wilmington, North Carolina, where I-40 begins. The sign gave the mileage to Barstow where the highway ends (and not far from where I had been hanging out) so I went in search of the elusive sign. I found the beginning of I-40 with no problem, but didn’t see the sign. Unlike most highways I am familiar with, in the east, often there is no on ramp corresponding to the off ramp, so there is no easy way to get back on the highway. Sometimes following signs that were supposed to get me back on, led me far from my destination, which made circling back to look for the sign a tiring task. I finally gave up and headed north on East I-40, but the next day I went back and tried again to find the sign. I even stopped at the nearest gas station, but no one I asked about the sign had ever seen it. I finally realized the sign must have been removed.

That little episode (four hours of circling back on the labyrinth of highways) seems a metaphor for this journey: driving endless miles only to find that I am searching for something that isn’t there.

Don’t you have to know what you are looking for, though? I don’t know what I am looking for, so perhaps I did find it after all, and just don’t know it yet. I had been looking for adventure, and that I have found, even if all the adventures weren’t felicitous.

When staying with my friends, I tagged along to dinner at a restaurant. One guy asked about my trip, and after I told him a few of my more memorable experiences, he asked, “Was there anything you did like?” I was speechless for a moment. Do all experiences have to be likable to have meaning? Part of my desire for this trip was a need to pit myself against the world (and embrace it), to find inner resources and a deeper sense of belonging. (A reason for my sadness, I am sure, comes from the feeling of unbelonging I get when I stay with others, especially couples. No matter how kind they are to me, no matter how much they want me, no matter how at home they make me feel, I have an awareness of being in someone else’s orbit, of encroaching on their space.)

I have to count both my allergies and these mosquito bites as experiences that I didn’t like, but they came as collateral damage to things I did like, such as camping on the outer banks. (The furthest stretch of this journey was down to Cape Hatteras where I got all the bites — I used repellant on my exposed skin but didn’t think to spray my clothes. All the bites were in unexposed areas.)

I have much to ponder in the coming weeks, such as where to go next and what to do with my life, but as long as I can see to the next curve in the road, I will be fine.

I hope you didn’t waste too much worry on me, but thank you for caring.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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All these photos were taken in or by the East Dismal Swamp. The lake is Lake Phelps, the second largest lake in North Carolina.