My family took wonderful vacations together. Many spring breaks were spent at Disney World and on beaches. We enjoyed national parks in summer. I saw a lot of the country from the back seat of the family car. Long days, close quarters, and nothing but family from sea to shining sea. I loved those car rides.
One summer we went to Vermont. Dad had a meeting in Burlington. The rest of us always went along to the summer dairy conventions that were held in a different city every summer. There were activities planned while he was in meetings all day. When the convention was over, we loaded up the car and stopped somewhere along the way to extend the vacation.
Stowe was our next stop on the Vermont trip. Stowe is unbelievably scenic and quaint. It’s known for skiing. There is a tennis academy. The Von Trapp Family (the Sound of Music Von Trapps) settled in Stowe when they escaped Europe because the hills reminded them of Austria. They re-established themselves and built a family lodge that is now a luxury resort.
My sister was always the big shopper in the family. Into all the gift shops and boutiques we would traipse. One after the other, not skipping a one. Rarely was anything bought. Small souvenirs. I was into collecting teddy bear stuffed animals back in the day and had already purchased one in Burlington. I think this trip was where I got my taste for maple candies. I found shopping tiring and slow. She found it exhilarating. This hasn’t changed much. I’m done after about an hour of the touristy shops when we vacation together whereas she can go all day. I now drive separately and have more flexibility with present day trips together.
Back to shopping in Stowe. Like me, Dad didn’t have the shopping gene either. He was chief bench sitter. He’d scope out a bench along the main strip quickly and relax while the girls went shopping. Wise man, my dad. On this occasion, my mom and sister were taking forever in a store and I was done. I didn’t want to go in any more stores. I was at the age where I was exercising a little more independence. I announced I would go back and to the bench and hang out with my dad. Off I went.
He wasn’t there.
No problem. I hurried back to the last shop where I had left my mom and sister.
They weren’t there.
Bit of a problem. I darted into the next store thinking they’d be there, but they were not. I tried a couple more. I got a little more terrified in each shop I couldn’t find them. It’s tough to remain calm and think straight when you’re scared. Remember this point.
I was lost in Vermont and felt on my own and very alone.
I was scared but could figure it out. Instead of racing from store to store where they were not, I timidly started walking back to the last place where I saw them. My eyes combed the street for any sign of my family. I think I finally just stopped walking and stood out of the way on the sidewalk hoping to see one of them. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was a plan, and eventually it worked.
I was lost for about five or ten minutes. Long unknowing minutes to me. I was safe again. My parents didn’t seem worried – at all – and that itself felt odd. We were out of state for Pete’s sake. A little comfort and concern was all I wanted. Why did my dad leave his post? Where had they all been? Didn’t anyone care about me? I can tell you that I stayed pretty close to the parental units for the rest of the trip. They needed to know where I was at all times.
It’s one of the first memories I have of feeling scared in real life. It was very different from a scary story or hiding when the wicked witch appeared in Oz. Being lost was real. Feeling alone and possibly left in a strange state didn’t fill my heart with the sound of music.
I was growing up. This brush with difficulty would be one of many as I worked through growing pains, learning as I went through each experience. I’m pretty aware of my surroundings. I notice landmarks, curves in the road, little things that stand out to me. I wonder if I started to see these things after this experience in case I ever got lost again and I needed to retrace my steps. Maybe I would have developed this skill set anyway. I don’t plan to find myself lost in the wilderness or really anywhere without my cell phone.
The whole thing could have been prevented if cell phones had been developed decades earlier.
I have learned to do a lot on my own. The little girl in Stowe grew up and traveled to European countries on her own. She lived in one for a year. She’s taken vacations by herself because it was preferable to not doing something she wanted that she knew she could get done. I know how to travel by myself. There’s some freedom to flying solo. It’s also great to have travel companions. I usually don’t and decided years ago I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
Cancer has left me in the familiar territory of feeling lost far too often. It’s still tough to remain calm and think straight when I’m scared. Daddy and Mommy can’t make it all better. Parents make things better – they just do. I’m not sure what specifically they would do for me if they were still living, but I know they would make a lot of the cancer crap more bearable. My mom was with me for my first year. Often, I would just lay my head in her lap and feel safe as she laid her hand on my shoulder. How I wish for my mother’s comfort. I’ve been missing my parents a lot. I lost mine rather early in the grand scheme of life.
With cancer, I feel on my own just like I did for those brief moments in Stowe. I flounder about and keep looking for something without much success. I can’t dart into every shop and hope to find what I need. I can’t just stand and wait to be found. Treatment choices need to be weighed carefully. I may need to seek out new trials or even other clinics. I can’t see confidently past the next few months. It’s a hard way to live. I feel out of control and on my own more than ever. Eventually, being lost leads somewhere. A person finds their way back to where they need to be. Maybe they even discover something pleasant along the way. That isn’t how metastatic cancer works. The lines on a map, directions to follow, and new destinations are unclear, scary, and I wind up someplace I don’t want to be where I can’t find my way.
Finding a way can be awfully hard.