Gone But Not Forgotten

Being a very emotional person, I knew I would eventually shed tears at some point(s) along this journey. However, I was surprised by WHY the first drops would actually fall.

Waiting for the train to St. Jean de-Pied-de-Port, where I will be (God-willing) beginning my trek for the next 7 weeks by pied (foot), I was killing time over a Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins which was given to me by my friends BH and LJ as suitable reading material for a long and spiritual trip.

Amanda, the main character of the story, although pregnant and ignoring the advice from her friend “Nearly Normal,” that she might jostle the baby loose, decides to take the risk and ride on the back of her new hubby’s motorcycle, rather than spend one minute apart from him on their road trip.

The scene, though not even remotely connected, immediately transported me back to a memory I haven’t thought about in years. Near the end of 2003, I had also just learned I was pregnant and decided to continue on with my planned ski trip with my Dad’s friend BJ even though pregnancy at the time still implied some sort of disability to many.

BJ had always been like an aunt to me, or rather, the “cool aunt,” who knew how to listen and was never too old to horse around. Camping, hiking, swimming, golfing, skiing, you name it.

While I hadn’t known officially about my pregnancy until arriving in the Bay Area, I did know intuitively before flying out from San Antonio where I was stationed with my then husband.

Maybe because I was so young at the time, just 23, I was too embarrassed to buy a pregnancy test on my own. Much like I had been too embarrassed to head into the store to buy “light days” for my grandmother as an adolescent, literally running away down the block to avoid the shame of what would entail becoming a “woman”. (Even writing the words “light days” makes me want to delete the paragraph.)

Never feeling comfortable being a girl, as they were either portrayed as weak and helpless and/or loving dolls and dresses, not matching up with my boyish look or preference for G.I. Joes, I would be embarrassed by many things seemingly required of my gender. Even fearing a simple shopping trip to the mall with my mom, worrying that someone from school might see me in the women’s clothes section, which, I admit, still makes me uncomfortable today, like I am still some sort of imposter that shouldn’t be there.

So having “the feeling” that I was pregnant was very foreign to me and quite unexpected, although I had been married for almost four years by then and the risk was always in the back of mind. However, my husband and I had just agreed to “call it quits” on our marriage.

He had already been discharged from the service and planned on heading to Colorado for college and I had already been struggling with my sexuality and was on the verge, though delayed once again, of admitting to myself that I was actually more attracted to women.

As we had been married so young and so suddenly, only having dated for three months prior to eloping, we had reached an accord, to let bygones be bygones. We both agreed that we had been young and foolish to have taken on a responsibility such a marriage, which, I’ll admit, I had never given it’s due respect, always preferring to run with the going got tough.

And so that winter, I was heading to California for the holiday alone to tell my friends they could expect me home permanently, that Mike and I were splitting up (cordially), and I would come home to Cali after my discharge the following year.

When I got to the Bay Area at the start of my trip, I would head directly to my buddies’ place, as was my normal routine. Even confiding in them was difficult but I knew they would be there for me as always. And of course, they were.

One of my buddies even went to the store with me to get the pregnancy test, which she would end up buying for me along with a pack of cigarettes for herself. (She would keep the receipt for that purchase on the fridge for quite some time).

Its no secret now that my intuition was right and I was indeed pregnant. And now it was time to tell all my family. Well, I wouldn’t say that they were totally supportive or to say the least thrilled. Not that I could blame them, already knowing the status of my already crumbling marriage.

I tried not to let it bother me, and even though I never doubted my decision to go through with the pregnancy, as something internally assured me it would be okay, I was sensing the worry from my family that my decision would somehow be ruining my future. So, I guess it came as a relief that I had the chance to get away from my relations and head to the slopes for a few days with BJ and company.

BJ was a bit of a role model for me because she was as tough as she was sweet, smart, financially independent, and had just as many male friends as female, if not more. And as a “tomboy” trying to fit into the straight world back then, she gave me some semblance of hope that a girl like me possibly could be attracted to men too, after all, I thought I was in love with Cary Grant (…yeah, I get it).

So when I worked up the courage to tell her on our drive up to Tahoe, I was trying hard to hide the fact that I was really seeking her approval. Approval, for one, that it wasn’t going to kill me or the baby to go skiing, as I wasn’t any kind of thrill seeking skier, never diverting from the “blue squares” that marked the intermediate slopes, and two, that having a baby wasn’t going to ruin my life.

Tense as I was in anticipation of her response, to my relief, she just smiled and, thinking back on it now, she would be the first one (outside of my buddies) to say congratulations without having to choke down any kind of shock or disappointment, which, as it turned out, was all I needed and wanted to hear from someone in my parents circle, their opinions meaning so much to me, as they still do today.

She would never know how much this would mean to me, as it allowed me to shore up the courage I needed to carry on without fear of the future I would be realigning with my decisions. And though it wasn’t easy, Mike and I would end up trying to stay together for the sake of our son, doing the best we could at the time, though the inevitable would end up prevailing.

It was a tough time for both of us and I, shamed by our failing marriage, would withdraw from much of my contact with my parents friends, feeling as though I had somehow been letting them all down with my choices, and I would consequently, see BJ less and less as I grew older with my own issues and new family to tend to.

Unfortunately, BJ would end up dying unexpectedly leaving anybody whoever knew her with an incredible hole in their heart. But looking back now, I think her own intuition was at work as she struggled to maintain her usual jovial demeanor that last day I saw her on the golf course years ago.

I wish I could remember everything she told me that day as I get the feeling that she was trying to convey an important message about life and everything she had learned but at the time I was only wishing for the “good ole BJ” to reemerge who I could enjoy a few beers with to numb my own selfish woes.

It occurs to me now that I never had a chance to grieve her properly, my father having spared me the invite to her memorial service. I think he was always doing his best to spare me any bad news or unhappy event including the severity of his own terminal illness.

But I see now the value of really having a chance to mourn the ones we lose. That maybe becoming a whole person is understanding the idea of impermanence so that we might better treasure each of our waking moments to their fullest.

As the death of my father sparked my interest for this trip on the Camino in the first place, maybe it is fitting to remember BJ now as well, as she, like my Dad, was an avid traveler and it’s easy to imagine her taking this journey with me, talking and laughing in her awesome Boston accent every step of the way.

I like to think maybe her spirit flashed upon me right there and then while I was reading, as the sudden emotion washed over me as I was waiting for the train to take me to my next destination. I even imagined that maybe it was her in the form of the little train station swallow that swooped down right at that moment, fearlessly, looking me up and down before grabbing a spare crumb on the cement floor at my feet.

But it doesn’t really matter why I was brought back to that memory, I guess it’s just important that I remembered it at all. And while this post really doesn’t have much to do with the Camino itself, I’m beginning to see how simply undertaking this writing project, letting out the past events that still haunt me, is in fact healing my heart and making space for new beginnings.

So here’s to all the awesome “adopted” aunts out there! They might not be related by blood, but they love with all their hearts just the same. I miss you Beej and I’m only sorry now that I couldn’t tell you to your face how much of a blessing you were to me in my youth and how, by your actions, you gave me permission to be the rough and tumbly, yet sensitive person that I am today.

….Thanks to everyone again for reading as I never could imagine that I would be brave enough to put any of this out there in the public ethers. And just so you know, I have made it to St. Jean and will begin the “strange walk” tomorrow morning, headed for my first stop at the tiny mountain town of Orisson. But until then, please enjoy the following pics as I recommend, to anyone who has the chance, to visit this beautiful and historic town of St. Jean de Pied de Port! Stay tuned 🙂


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