I’m in Grand Marais, it is January and snowing like crazy. The temperature is in the mid-20s, which is not too bad for this time of year in Northern Minnesota. I’m supposed to be working on book ideas, but my mind keeps traveling back to last summer when I went to California with my high school girlfriends.
After we enjoyed three days in Malibu, I headed to my best friend Jeanne’s house in Santa Barbara. Jeanne and I met in seventh grade. I saw her the hall the first day of school, loved her outfit and my seventh-grade-brain told me she would be popular so I had better become her friend quick! I walked up to her and asked if she wanted to have a sleepover. She said, “Sure, what’s your name?” The best part is that my new friend loved art just like I did! We have been best friends since and have had lots of adventures.
After college, Jeanne moved around a lot, starting out in New York City and ending up, years later, in California. I stuck close to home, got married, started doing books and had a family. Jeanne eventually found the right guy and settled down in Santa Barbara and adopted a son.
When I stayed with Jeanne last summer, we golfed and went on some short hikes. The problem was that I had a sore knee from too much hiking in Malibu. One day while I was trying to nap on Jeanne’s patio and she painted in her studio, my mind kept going back to an early summer day in 2012. Barry and I had been apartment caretakers for about six months. I was exhausted and mad and ready to divorce Barry.
The caretaking was supposed to be mostly his job, but I was doing it all! I began to realize that I was covering for all the mistakes Barry made. I didn’t trust his ability to answer a tenant call by himself. It was also at this time that I had discovered just how broke we were. I worried about paying our rent. I worried about trying to do my work, I worried about the people Barry had borrowed money from. During this time, I would go for daily walks and try to relax, but instead I worried and felt so much anger at Barry. Each time I walked, I felt smaller and smaller — like I was inches from the ground. The weight of all my worry was weighing me down.
First person I told
On one walk, I felt small, helpless and sick of it all. I decided I had to leave Barry. I remember saying it out loud — I am getting a divorce! Naturally at a time like this, I had to call Jeanne. She had no idea what was going on. Up to that point, I had not yet admitted to friends and family that I had a big problem and the problem was Barry! This was hard for me. I was failing, and I don’t think Jeanne ever thought I failed at anything.
I called Jeanne and started to fill her in on the last few months. As I walked and spilled my heart out to her, I noticed a naked man about a block ahead of me. Within seconds, a police car swung up on the sidewalk. Two police officers jumped out, threw a blanket around the naked, young man and shoved him into the police car. I was baring my soul to Jeanne and this guy was baring, well, his body. It was all so strange, but I continued on the phone with Jeanne. As I walked, I came upon a shirt and then a sock. I grabbed them and turned back to the police car that was still there along with another car. The young man’s parents were talking to the police as I held out the shirt and a sock. The parents looked so worried and sad, like they have been going through this for a long time with their son. Yes, I had big worries — but at least my kids were okay. The dad asked me to keep an eye out for his son’s phone and wallet.
I continued walking and telling Jeanne about all my troubles with Barry. Soon I came across another sock, a pair of pants and boxers. I looked into some bushes and found the cell phone and wallet. I was tempted to look in the wallet for his name and thought maybe I’d find some cash inside. But I didn’t look, instead I told Jeanne I had better go! Before we hung up, she said they would help me out, no matter what. It felt so good to finally talk about what was happening.
Some of the weight was lifting! I ran back in time to find his parents still looking around for their son’s things. The police and young man were gone; most likely he was taken to a hospital. His folks were in such a worried state that they just grabbed the items and drove off. I felt bad for them.
This was just the beginning of my long journey with Barry, but on this day, I did feel a little bit taller! I have learned that it is better to tell friends and family what is going on. The more you talk, the easier it gets. I wonder if the parents of that young man have a best friend to talk to like I do. I hope so. My trip to California ended in Santa Barbara, and it was back home to hike and teach.