When All Else Fails
“29?! Shit. Do we want kids? Do we want to be tied down to a mortgage, and in turn a location, for the next 30 years? Do I want to keep working wherein there is no room to grow? Should I go back to school and get a ‘real’ job? Why has another year passed and nothing is different? What am I doing wrong?”
This year has been tough. If I’m being truthful, the past three years have been unrelenting. Since I moved back to New Jersey, my husband W and I had lived with his dad. It wasn’t out of necessity but stemmed from the great relationship we both had with him. He was an amazing man, friend, mentor, and father. We were an unbreakable team. He was always a part of our long-term plans. Then he died.
No one saw it coming, not even the man who accidently left his vehicle in gear and took his foot off of the brake.
It was earth shattering. All of our plans were completely obliterated after a split second. We decided to move from the rental we had all lived in and at the eleventh hour decided to stay. W’s brother and girlfriend moved in a few months later and we tread water for two years, trying to hold on to a semblance of home. The time to leave had long since passed- W had been laid off from work and was going back to school. Plenty of money was going out and not enough was coming in. Leaving the key behind in our empty house that was once so vibrant, full of life, full of love, hopes, and dreams and locking the door behind me was the hardest thing I have ever done. I knew there was no turning back.
We moved into my parent’s dungeon (ahem, basement) to try to get back on track financially and to figure out our next move. W & I had always talked about traveling the country in an RV or converted van for a while and finally settle down in a home we would build ourselves. A couple of months later, I was desperate to get out. There was no way I could stay for as long as would be necessary to build our own house. We found a tiny little house in a marginal neighborhood that we thought would do. Inspection time came and it was atrocious. We killed the contract.
Another six months passed and I was feeling incredibly confused and sorry for myself. New Jersey is a horrible place to live when your salary is laughable. I was lost in my own little world of self-loathing and pity when I got a call from W. He had been home sick for a few days, so I was expecting the typical “can you come home and take care of me” call. Instead, W was on the other line absolutely frantic. He said he felt as though he was having a heart attack. I told him to call an ambulance and I met him at the hospital. W is a rock- he’s the least fearful person I know. He’s vivacious and physically active. He’s never even had a panic attack.
When I arrived, he was as white as a sheet. He was screaming (literally) that it felt like someone was crushing his chest. To hear my husband begging for help in a hospital bed was tantamount to torture. After some testing, we were told that cardiac enzymes had been released in his blood which is indicative of heart damage. His EKG’s were abnormal. He was admitted with a diagnosis of myopericarditis- inflammation of the heart and the sac surrounding it. The next morning, they did an echocardiogram to look for more significant damage. It came back clear, they put him on a course of supportive meds and told him his body needed to do the rest. Apparently, myopericarditis is often caused by a viral illness and sometimes it ‘just goes’ to your heart. I hated to hear the cardiologists say that, like ‘whelp, you lost the life lottery, here’s a pile of shit to deal with. It just happens for no good reason and we aren’t really sure why! By the way, there is a high risk of recurrences. Be wary when you get sick again! No big deal, though, you’ll probably be fine!’ Unfortunately, it seems to affect young, active, otherwise healthy people. It also accounts for 40% of sudden deaths in young adults. We were terrified. The hospital wanted to discharge him but W begged to stay. His cries fell on deaf ears and we were sent home.
A few days later, he had another attack of extreme pain with heart palpitations, and we found ourselves at another hospital. They kept him for five days, performing more EKGs and echocardiograms and tweaking his medications. He would be laying down and his heart rate would skyrocket from 50 beats per minute to 140. He was told it wasn’t dangerous and the only explanation they could give was that the inflammatory response screwed with his electrical system. Their solution was more medication- beta blockers to be exact- and the side effects would prove to be worse than the palpitations themselves.
We were in and out of emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and testing facilities for months.
The doctors would say he was fine but he was still experiencing these episodes. No explanation, no solution- just ‘hopefully you’ll grow out of it’. We had conversations I never thought we would. He was convinced his was dying, that it was just a matter of time until his heart stopped, that the doctors were missing something critical. He gave me instructions on who to give his belongings to when he died. He would look at me as though it was the last time he would. Every single day I would attempt to talk him off of the ledge.
After the first three months, he started having longer stretches where he would be okay. In the midst of the first one, I thought that we should have our own place as it would make the healing process easier. We found another house that had an awful inspection. A few days after the deal was dead, we were back in the hospital. Several weeks passed, and we found another house. Termite damage, foundation problems, and cracked sewer pipes were only the tip of the iceberg. In retrospect, it was a terrible idea to push buying a house at that point in time. I was just convinced that this would help him, to give him something to look forward to – to look towards the future he was sure he wouldn’t have. I was convinced that we’d never be able to build our own home now; never be able to travel long-term. Buying a home was the next best thing. A couple of weeks later, we were back in the hospital.
W’s been doing pretty well as of late. He still struggles with pain but the palpitations have mostly stopped. It’s more of a mental game for him right now- he’s got to learn that he’s going to be okay.
We’ve tried the traditional way, getting caught in the vortex that sucks you in and makes you think that there aren’t any other options. For a while, it seemed that way to us. We lost the vigor necessary to get what we wanted. We lost perspective because every day was a struggle. We felt young and old at the same time. We were angry. No option seemed like a good one. I was running into a brick wall, constantly at odds with myself and what I thought was possible. We came back to building a home and I quickly realized that I couldn’t do it. Not yet. We came back to our RV.
Buying a home would likely mean I’d need to make more money, which in turn would mean I’d have to go back to college, which in turn would mean I’d be at least 35 and need to pop out a kid asap. To see the next ten or so years of my life laid out in front of me, fitting into perfect little boxes, one event quickly succeeding the other, is terrifying and lackluster. The greatest thing I’ve ever learned about myself is that I like change. I get bored easily. I feel like I should always be moving, whether physically or mentally.
I have no illusions as to what camper van living will mean.
I know that the grass isn’t always greener. I know that there will be problems, but they’ll be tangible ones with real answers. I’d rather deal with engine trouble, where we’ll park for the night, a broken furnace in the middle of winter than the problems we’re facing now or will be if we settle down. I want to spend more quality time with W. I don’t want life to get away from us – it almost did. I honestly don’t see anything changing unless we physically remove ourselves from Jersey. I know we’ll probably be back someday, hopefully with enough money to build a house. Until then, I want to get the fuck outta dodge. I’m not running away from my problems; I’m looking for a solution to them. W always says “if you don’t like something, change it.”
I need a break from the esoteric questions and impossible to find answers. I have confidence that they’ll find me on the road. I need a break from my obsessive tendencies. I feel as though solace will find me in our 30 feet of living space. I need a break from thinking about the future and just let the future come. I need a break from the confines of getting older. I’m positive that traveling will make me feel younger again. I feel so beat down by life. Everything we try doesn’t work out. Why not try something new?
I know there will be tough days. I’m no stranger to hard work. I simply want to get out of my head and back into real life again. W’s illness provided a strange dichotomy – on one hand, I want to stay put because I’m terrified of what the future will bring. On the other hand, it allowed me to step outside of our day-to-day living in search of something bigger and more meaningful. In a sense, it pulled me out of my ass- though I wish life had an easier way to teach me a lesson. I’m throwing my hands up and on the steering wheel.
The author of this post is in the process of trading regular life for hitting the road in an RV. She is not ready to go public with her real name but can’t wait to test out the new wheels and try life on the road. We wish her happy trails!