Married Life!

Hearts and HurricanesR9

Priscilla Dann-Courtney

If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it.

—Toni Morrison

My husband and I are rookies when it comes to travel as a couple. We stay in the United States and have ventured to Mexico only recently.

In contrast, I grew up in a family where travel was one of the four food groups—good health demanded it. Summers were spent voyaging to Europe on the Queen Mary, picnicking in the English countryside and watching tremendous men throw logs the size of redwood trees at the Scottish Highland games. At six years old, I found nothing about this interesting, romantic or beautiful. I spent a lot of time just wanting a hot dog. The youngest of three children, I was squashed in the back seat between my brother and sister, feeling carsick and dreading the next castle. Inevitably I would feel lost in a large group of foreigners, listening to a French guide point to doorways and furniture in excited tones. Castles smelled like a mixture of my father's starchy shirts and musty closets. In between museums, my mother read to us from Michelin guidebooks as my father drove haltingly ahead on a different side of the road. Like the guides, she too would get very excited, interjecting, "Isn't that fascinating?" like a chorus hoping we'd sing along.

So now, decades later, I am trying to find my own sweet melody in travel—as my husband and I venture away each year without children. Our recent trip to the California wine country began with yellow sticky notes decorating the kitchen counter, as my son and daughter would be left in the care of a dear friend. The notes were yellow reminders about two tennis lessons, one dentist appointment, my son's volunteer work with developmentally disabled adults, two Halloween parties, one school field trip, garbage pick-up and plant watering. Puppy care, bunny care and fish feeding had their own full page. The puppy goes to Canine Campovers and I had to remind my friend she gets car sick so to avoid stop and go traffic.

My careful note taking occurred before a couple of last-minute emergencies threatened to scuttle our vacation plans. A Florida hurricane hit my son's university and my father-in-law had triple bypass surgery.

Suddenly my organized sticky notes provided no comfort, no direction. When I was making reservations at our Mendocino bed and breakfast, I hadn't taken into account old hearts and young hurricanes. Our family looked like the route map in an airline magazine—my son was driving north, my father-in-law was ailing in the south and we were considering going west.

My father advised, "Go west, your son will be fine."

My mother said, "Stay home, you should be there."

My husband was pondering traveling to a southern ICU, and I was left with a lot of cross-outs on sticky notes. My heart told me we needed to get away. I'd recently had a dream in which my husband and I stopped in the kitchen to talk to each other! Obviously our lives were moving too quickly. As I zipped my suitcase, guilt was stuffed in the corners next to a good novel and my running shoes. We were going anyway, with charged cell phones, Internet access and the hope our self-care wouldn't impinge on dying hurricane winds and recovering hearts.

We landed on a rainy San Francisco runway. The Hertz lady said we needed a six-cylinder engine for the curvy wine-country roads. I was more concerned about the color of the car and was just happy to be standing next to my husband with no one asking me for anything. We weaved our way up north on Highway 1, listening a radio station that played old songs from when we were in ninth grade.

After stopping in Santa Rosa for tofu and vegetables, a shared glass of wine, a shared cup of decaf coffee, and a shared chocolate chip cookie, we were feeling like adolescents again. Without children, we were free to be children. The Mendocino coast brings together the redwood forests, rocky cliffs and a quiet blue ocean. The stillness of the forest on morning runs matched an inner stillness allowed by our solitude. In our regular life, my husband and I have gotten used to running separately. Young children demanded "revolving door" running. My husband would return through the front door and I'd head out the back. He usually did the early run just because he felt more comfortable with a headlamp—but no revolving doors in Mendocino.

Daily calls back to the "real world" kept us informed about heart and hurricane realities. Power to the university campus was restored; my father-in-law's pacemaker at full charge.

There are no sticky notes on vacation, and stepping out of a morning shower has no deadline. We hit more coffee shops and bakeries than wineries. Heading home, our suitcase zipped more easily because we had no guilt stuffed in corners. Everyone survived. And I am reminded of the importance of making the pace slower—it strengthens the heart in a marriage. So tomorrow when the winds blow again, we're that much stronger to take care and hold tight. And someday, we might even make it to a French castle.

(875 words)