Snippets In A Life Gone Surreal

The past few weeks have been surreal.

At the age of five or six, I was a little kid with a big dream. I never doubted the dream. Never. It was at about that age I came to realize that there was something very unique about me amongst my kindergarten peers. Unlike them, I was born in the far off land of New Mexico. I don’t think I really understood where it was or how far away, but it made me feel different, special in a very proud and interesting way. When we were asked to write mini-autobiographies in grade school, my unconventional birth place was always mentioned. It became part of the foundation of who I was. The dream was born. It grew deep, deep roots not only in who I was, but who I would be and what I’d do and where I’d go. “Someday,” I can hear my six-year-old-self saying, “I’m going to go back to New Mexico!” My parents would always say they hoped I would. It was a good goal to have.

I poured over the family photo albums, memorizing the images of places I had no memories of. I’d listen with rapt attention whenever stories were told of this mysterious place far, far away. I was only six months old when we moved away from White Sands, yet in those six months something about the place must have been ingrained into my infant brain, this infantile sense of “this is home”. It sounds weird even to me. This Southwestern-ness sifted through my blood. My love of Mexican food arose from it. I don’t understand how that all can be, but it is and I’m not going to even attempt to explain it.

About five years ago I had reached a point in my life where I felt I’d come full circle. I’d been married and subsequently divorced. My kids were young adults. I was single. I was also feeling very lost. I had no personal goals and felt adrift on the ocean without a compass. I wasn’t sad, but I wasn’t really happy either. I existed, I didn’t live. My soul ached for a direction. Then The Dream winked at me and whispered, “It’s time.”

“Before I’m fifty,” I promised myself. “I’ll go there before I’m fifty come hell or high water.”

Fate is a funny thing. Within three months of this personal mission statement, I found myself in a new relationship. During our second conversation it was revealed we’d both lived at White Sands. The big difference was, he’d been there during his high school days. He had real memories. Fate smirked.

And so it came to pass that just over two weeks ago, four months before my 50th birthday, I found myself on a road trip with this fellow WSMR Kid, who was by now the love of my life, heading to New Mexico. The dream was more than just alive and well, it was thriving! Here I was closer and closer every minute. Mile after mile. Day after day. Until finally, after forty-five years of waiting, there it was, “Welcome To New Mexico”, signs pointing to “Las Cruces”, signs welcoming me to White Sands National Monument, signs that said, “You are now entering White Sands Missile Range”. Me, sniffling my nose and wiping away the tears of joy, of completion, of coming ‘home’. It still chokes me up.

WSNM

For five days I probably took way too many pictures of sand and buildings and mountains and cactus. I probably spent way more time than your average tourist ingraining every element my senses could possible absorb in the short time we had there into my brain. I took actual handwritten notes and have dubbed it research for a future novel. I’d waited almost my entire life for this and I didn’t know, still don’t know, if or when I’ll ever go back again. I hope I do!

On top of all that, I’m with a man I love tremendously who is suddenly showing a very healthy interest in jewelry cases and rings. As if his enthusiasm over picking out a Native American Wedding Vase wasn’t enough, now this. THIS! There’s a longer story to the choosing of a ring than I’ll get into here, but suffice to say, after a mini-meltdown on my part, one was finally selected. It would be another week before I’d be able to wear it. Again, another story for another time. In the meantime, here’s a picture of The Bling.

TheBling

Now we’ve been back in New York for five days. The dream has been lived and expanded upon. A beautiful blue topaz engagement ring has been placed on this middle-aged woman’s finger and I’m feeling that strange sense of the surreal. It crept up on me while I was telling my 22 year old daughter the story of the buying of the ring and subsequent kitchen proposal. Along with this weird near-disbelief that this is indeed my life and who I am and looking forward to who I am still becoming even at this age, I feel that questioning, eager tug of “What next?” Where will our next adventure take us? It reminds me of setting aside the first book in a series and not being able to start the second book for a few days. It’s there on your coffee table. It’s waiting. It’s ready to go.

Eventually, you are able to sit down with a cup of coffee on the front porch on a cool fall morning with that book. That’s where I am now, settling into Part Two, eager to know and live more of the story.

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I Have My Reservations

Under most circumstances when you hear someone say that, it doesn’t bode well for whatever is going on. I’m happy to report that is entirely not the case here.

I’ve been dreaming of these reservations for as long as I’ve been able to dream. As a small child I remember thumbing through two small photo albums showing images of missiles and sand dunes, of my brother squinting against the blinding sun, of my dad in uniform working on trucks and tanks as well as sitting on horseback – a temporary member of the U.S. Cavalry, so to speak when missiles went astray; of my mom so young and thin, holding little baby me on her lap. I heard stories of my brother, who would have been about three at the time, and his dreaded fear of the monsters known as tumbleweeds. There was a trip to Carlsbad Caverns and another into the mountains where Mom had a terrible time cooking at a much higher elevation than she was used to. The neighbors on Hawk Street were the Caverlys. Mrs. Caverly and my mom were both due around the same time. I was destined to be Penelope, but fate smiled upon me and Baby Caverly came along first and took the name out from under me. Darn! LOL.

The day I came along, Mom walked to the base hospital for her weekly appointment and was told she was in labor. Dad was notified and came in from the range. A few hours later, I came into the world.

And I don’t remember any of it.

All I have are the pictures to look at and the stories I’ve been told, and this deep, personal longing to ‘go home’ again. I’ve totally lost count of how many times I’ve said I’m going back. My parents can probably confirm that they have lost count too at how many times they’ve heard me say, “I want to go back to White Sands.”

It almost happened when I was around twelve or thirteen. Friends of my parents sold their house and moved to Las Cruces one summer. I don’t know what their motivation was, but the idea so appealed to my parents they put our house in Upstate NY up for sale with the intentions that if it sold, they too were going to head west. The house did not sell and as a result I grew up right in the same place and now live less than 40 miles from there.

2011 was a critical year. Life felt on hold. I didn’t feel like I had any goals and not much to look forward to. I was just getting out of a horrible 7-year relationship. My eldest child was out of college and working. My youngest was done with high school, also working, and living with her dad. I was free as a bird. It was Me Time! It was time to ask some questions of myself. When I was last this single, what was I doing that made me happy? How could I now, 20+ years later, recapture some of that joy? I needed a goal.

I came up with two answers. 1) All through high school I scrimped and saved nearly every dollar I could for a trip to England. At the time, I was totally obsessed with the place. I managed to save enough and the fall after I graduated, made the trip that lasted for 6 weeks of bliss on the British Isles. 2) A couple years later, I decided I wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. Two of my uncles had bikes and I’d never pass up the chance to go riding with them. It was time I stopped being the passenger and became the driver. And so, more money saving took place and I bought a 1985 Honda Rebel with cash without a clue how to drive the thing. Good times!

In 1988 I met the man who would become my husband and the father of our two previously mentioned kids. I’m not saying those days were bad. Not at all. I loved being a mom and raising a family and doing all that stuff, but at the same time, I slowly lost part of myself in the process. Everything was about the kids and the family and as much as I loved it and would not take a second of it back, there wasn’t much Me Time for the next 20 years.

I never lost sight of the trip out west though. I never forgot the little photo albums and the stories. The longing to ‘go home’ never left me. That was the answer to my question in 2011. I needed to plan that trip and I meant to take it before my 50th birthday come hell or high water. I still had a few years to save. This was going to be the most awesome trip of my life!

Then, Fate stepped in again and said, “Whoa! Not so fast there, Almost Penelope! You can’t do this alone! You need to meet someone first.” Lord knows, I wasn’t looking for a relationship. This was ME TIME! Last thing I wanted was some guy to cramp my style and stifle my dreams. Fate, that Crafty Wench, must have been bent over in hysterics for those first few days, knowing what was to come.

So, yeah, Mr. Biker from Texas who just happened to have lived in Las Cruces at WSMR on base not even a mile from where my family once lived, during his high school years turned out to be a pretty awesome guy, despite my early reservations. He’s done anything but cramp my style or stifle my dreams.

So, we have our room reservations booked now. I know I’m going to cry. I know Jim will probably laugh at me for crying, but I don’t care. Some men will just never understand the concept of “Happy Tears”. I think I need to recreate some of those images from the old family album, me sitting on a blanket on a wind-swept white sand dune, screaming my head off, for instance. I think I’ll pass on wearing the baby bonnet and little frilly dress though.

And yes, I’m still going to make it before my 50th birthday!