I should be working right now, preparing notes and a test and a study guide for my classes.
But a recent email from my dear friend Laura with the title of this post in the subject line has been on my mind for several days. I can't stop thinking of our journey and the distance we have traveled in such a short time.
Two years ago this past weekend, the air was full of promise. Paul and I were living our yuppie existence in Raleigh, NC, in a house we loved with all the amenities of a "good life." Owen Jane was six months old and were were embarking on our first family adventure--her first camping trip. We planned to take her to Davidson River in the Pisgah National Forest, a place that held great sentimental pull for both of us (having spent many of our own childhood camping excursions there).
Six months earlier, as I have recounted before here, Paul had been offered a position back in Western NC--a dream job teaching in our beloved Blue Ridge mountains. At the same time he was offered a higher-paying industry job in Raleigh. Our first daughter a mewling newborn in our arms, we took the "safe" route and turned down our dream in favor of the money. Vaguely haunted with doubts about this decision, we still wanted to share our love of these mountains with her, even if in small doses. Hence the camping trip.
It was a Friday. We rushed home from work and packed up the car, loading Owen, already nodding asleep, into her car seat. We had a 4-5 hour drive ahead of us to a dark campsite, but we were ready for a lovely fall weekend away. We spoke quietly to each other of our dreams as we drove, Owen and the dog sleeping in the backseat.
I don't know when, exactly, the pain began, but an hour into our trip, it was clear that Paul was more than uncomfortable. Five years earlier, Paul had a partial hip replacement, due to damage caused by osteoarthritis resulting from a combination of a congenital defect in the way his hip joint was formed and years of athletics--racquetball and marathon running. The partial hip replacement involved replacing only the ball of his femur (which was elliptical in shape rather than rounded as the rest of us) and not the socket, which appeared intact and healthy at the time. It was never--nor was it meant to be--a complete solution to his pain and ambulation issues. The pain was still there, on and off, but was more manageable and the surgery allowed him to put off having the total hip replacement for several more years (it was hoped).
So his existence had not been pain-free for many years. But this was different. He knew it was different. He couldn't find a comfortable position, nothing would relieve this. And it was increasing. By the time we reached Charlotte (2 hours away from home and 2 hours away from our destination), he was clearly suffering. We pulled over once to see if walking around would help. No. Reclining the seat so he could straighten his leg. No. Nothing seemed to work. He was in tears. I didn't know what to do for him. Neither of us knew what was wrong, although we both suspected it had to do with the prosthetic.
Finally, I asked him if I should find an emergency room. He agreed. We spent the next three hours in a second-rate county hospital outside Charlotte, while Paul was x-rayed and poked and prodded and finally given high-powered pain medications for what the tired, disinterested physician dismissed as a back problem. We knew it was the hip and not his back but nothing appeared out of the ordinary on their ancient x-ray machine, so the conclusion was--must be muscular in nature. I spent those three hours entertaining a 6-month-old in the emergency room waiting area, trying to keep her away from the coughing, sneezing crowd around me. Finally, he was released and we were on our way, after a stop at the pharmacy for crutches and an Rx of Demerol.
Clearly, camping was now out of the picture for the weekend, so we spent the next two days camped out at my mom's house in Hendersonville, Paul unable to walk without great difficulty even to the bathroom. On Sunday, we drugged him up, loaded our stuff back into the car, and ported him home. Thankfully, Mom followed, prepared to stay with us for a few days to help out with the baby (at the time my job required 24-hour on-call days, during which I relied on Paul for childcare).
It was Sunday. Halloween Night, 2004. Our daughter's first Halloween.
Little did we know the journey we were just beginning. Nor could we envision where the journey would ultimately lead.
We were falling toward Middle Earth, to the dark lands, through which, like Frodo, we would only survive with the love, generosity, and practical help of our family and friends. Luckily our journey out would be quick (in relative terms), and ultimately we would find our way, not just back home, but closer still...to the cradle of our dreams.
(to be continued)