Many hours have passed since we left Mississippi in this orange-striped moving truck. Interstate 20 cuts a corridor from where we embarked in Jackson all the way through most of Texas, and it stretches out before us now as we make our way towards the Pacific coast. Our truck forms a mini convoy with my brother’s car, where he and his wife ride, their cat Lily set up in the back of the car like a queen. By size, she certainly has the largest ratio of wiggle room on this journey across the country. The bumps in the poorly-surfaced highway around Shreveport shake the entire dashboard of the moving truck, spilling drinks and rattling me to the teeth. I can only imagine what Deanna must feel with each bump. She is in so much pain with the progression of her cancer that she is floored by it. Because of all the narcotics she is rarely awake, and when she is, she wails with pain. Soon after this trip we will learn that the pain is likely due to the cancer making its final push into her spinal nerves and bones.
This has been a season of great change in the lives of my closest friends and family members, and by proxy in my own life. Be it the alignment of the stars or perhaps just pure chaos, this winter has sent many of us on a spin and spiral away from the familiar. Drastic change seems to crackle in the air around us. I wonder if we are all not so different in our existential crises. Several weeks ago, I said goodbye to a close friend who set out on an unmoored journey across the world to seek inspiration. Her uncertainties and fears tumbled around her in the weeks prior. Other friends are finding and losing love, saying goodbye and moving across the country, leaving unhappy marriages and giving birth to babies, and it turns out that many of us find ourselves adrift between two places. Our past and our future. Deanna approaches the veil between two states of being, the diaphanous place between life and death where all our combined fears find their roots.
Our truck bounces down Interstate 10 in southern Arizona, saguaro cacti on either side of the freeway and the occasional fleeting glimpse of Mexico just beyond. There are three years of married life packed up in our 28-foot rig, and despite the omnipresent spilling clutter every time we open the hatch, it is apparent that each item contains a short story in and of itself. My personal favorites are 1) the giant bag of tutus in every color of the rainbow, and 2) the unicorn-shaped piñata. Those two make me laugh. Other items that fall out of the trunk during our move make me cry. One is the package of weight-gain protein shakes. Deanna has lost so much weight over the past few years (and this illness) that she has decreased in size to a mere whisper of arms and legs. My first sight of her this week knocked the wind out of me. That. Is. My. Little. Brother’s. Wife.
We are making this push across the country to deposit Dave and Deanna in San Diego, where they lived 3 years prior - it is in this place where they feel most at home. We drive along their new street, lined with lush green, sweeping views, the ocean just past a hillside or two. It is dark when we unload the moving truck in a flurry. My brother holds his chin high but cracks after we get Deanna comfortable inside their new home. She doesn’t recognize it as the happy return it was intended to be; she is disoriented and awash with her pain. All I can do is hug him hard enough that he won’t collapse under the weight of it. I have been rendered speechless by this experience. My understanding of the emotional spectrum has changed drastically – watching loved ones suffer physical and emotional pain of this caliber is the true test of what we can bear as humans.
Several years ago, just before Deanna’s initial cancer diagnosis, I went out for an open-water triathlon training ocean swim with my brothers in La Jolla. The swim beach was just down the road from a spot where harbor seals and sea lions gather en masse to be photographed by tourists. I had never self-propelled out this far into open ocean, and the waves kept crashing into my face, choking me with salt water. The water was choppy and disorienting. At one point a little seal face popped out of the water next to me. I kept losing sight of my target spots and having to check that the shore was indeed where I had left it. We sat on the beach later, peeling off wetsuits and laughing and me coughing up salt water.
Deanna is adrift between states. We all are. It feels sad and painful along this road. Loving each other makes us vulnerable. The balance of life is cruel in its exactness – yin and yang must exist together. We would not have pure and levitating joy without the deep sadness with which to compare it. So, we wait for a glimpse of the shore, and we kick toward it with a mighty effort. And we will always find our loved ones there, or the memory of a loved one, arms outstretched in the sun.