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Part 5: Heart Failure and Airstreams

This is part of a series where I write about how I moved to Austin, Texas. You can start from the beginning here.

I do remember it like it was yesterday. If you’re reading along you know like my mother, I cry every time I leave a place. This time was no different.

Billy watched me anxiously as I ran around the house packing our things and riding in the car with me as I moved some things to storage— knowing that it was possible that in a few months movers would arrive to Indianapolis to relocate our belongings to somewhere new.

Later as the sun was setting on our last night in Indiana, I stopped by my sister’s to kiss my niece goodbye—and she cried. I remember holding onto her for dear life trying to remind her that I am always with her, perhaps more than that, I was reminding myself that our love has no geographical bounds.

Would she forget me? I wondered.

My sister had packed a road trip bag for me full of vegan snacks and treats for Billy. You have to know my sister to know this, but this is the kind of gesture my sister uses to say, “I love you. I support you. No, we won’t forget you.”

I hate leaving her, I think as I put the bag over my shoulder.

I walked to the car, shut the door, waved goodbye and cried all the way back to my dads.

We don’t talk about this. We don’t talk about the desire to be in full support and proximity to our families and also our need to grow and evolve into this person we see we are meant to become.

In our society we allow women to do this when they get married—it seems to be, that if we are leaving home for a man that it is celebrated and the right thing. They hand us over at the alter like a possession.

She’s fragile, protect her.

My dad’s loving and concerning voice rings loudly in my ears, “Oh Teresa, I hope you find a good man some day”.

Will it ever make sense to him that I am leaving home for me?

The next day my dad watched me as I gathered the last of my things. He mentioned a few heart pains he was having and I asked him if maybe it was because I was leaving.

“No,” he replied. This is different.”

He walked me out to the car and helped me carry a few things. He told me how much he loved me and hoped that Austin would be everything I needed.

“You deserve it,” he whispered in my ear as he held me close.

Billy and I got in the car and it took everything in me to pull the car out of the parking lot and turn right and away from him.

It isn’t fair that he is alone. They had plans. They talked about getting that RV when they retired and traveling around the country to have an adventure of a lifetime—just like they had dreamed we would do as a family when we were little but time got away and reality set in and we never went.

The last trip they took was to Europe. When the cancer spread to my mom’s liver my dad just started doing everything my mom ever wanted. He bought the good outdoor furniture so she could sit outside with her plants. He booked the trip to Europe and took her to the Vatican and to eat delicious Italian food in Rome. They went to Ireland to visit with my sister and drink Guinness in an Irish pub.

Oh what I would do to have my mother here, standing next to my dad with a smile on her face, waving us off on our adventure.

She would have loved Billy.

We began our trip to Lexington where we would stay the night in a little airstream airbnb as we continued our way south.

The trip was easy and we arrived to the most adorable backyard of a white historical home that had been completely renovated inside. It was a quiet street with sparse parked cars and tea lights leading us down a path along the side of the house to our accommodations.

Billy often doesn’t know what to do on our first night of travel and a stay in a new place. This was his first time in an airstream so he kept trying to go in and out, in and out. I finally made him a bed next to me and he agreed to rest.

We woke early to the sound of rain dripping on the leaves of the large oak trees. I found a place nearby to grab coffee and carried our things along the path to our car.

A few hours later I got a call from my sister.

It seems my dad’s chest pains got so bad last night that she drove him to the emergency room and he was admitted to the hospital for observation.

“Should I turn around?” I asked her wishing I didn’t have to ask her to mother me in this moment.

My sister replies a quick no, we won’t know anything until Monday and no one is even allowed to be with him in the hospital because of Covid protocol.

Damnit mom, I think, as I curse her and God that she is not here to help us.

I thank her for helping him and reveal my regrets for not being there to help her and we hang up.

I call my best friend in New York, the one who can handle my alligator tears without trying to fix me. She asks me to pull over.

We talk through my options. I could turn around the car and drive 8 hours back to Indiana and sit with my family to wait for information, or I could continue in the direction of this new life I am trying to create.

This may seem simple. I can’t be in the hospital. I can’t do anything to change the circumstance. My sister is there to help.

It should be easy to make this choice.

But life isn’t like that. We aren’t built like that. In these moments our brains race to far off horrible places and paint images of death and loss.

My brain is no different than yours and it plays tapes of me bedside at the hospital with my mom, of funeral precessions. It punches me in the gut with familiar feelings of grief and pain.

But I made a promise to myself awhile ago that I would no longer live there. I would not allow my life to be driven by fear and suffering and old tapes.

And it hurts. It feels like I am breaking again into a thousand pieces. My chest pounds and my stomach turns and I feel like I am letting the whole world down.

I call my dad seeking permission for my choice and he gives it to to me, full stop.

He sounds tired, I think to myself. A good daughter would turn the car around.

But that story is old. My definition of a good daughter is no longer one who sacrifices herself at every turn—and that’s never what my dad wanted.

I realize I am not breaking and there is no evidence present that says I am letting anyone down. For the first time I think I have decided not to let myself down.

Why does it hurt this much?

What’s breaking is my loyalty to a conditioning that keeps women small. And small is comfortable, and familiar, and safe.

But I don’t want to be small.

So I decide to keep driving in the direction of my own life. We will know more about his heart on Monday.

Pain or no pain I want to move toward love and joy and hope and possibility and something tells me all of that is waiting for me in Austin.

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