I was never late, but on this day, as I walked into my second-grade classroom, I realized that I would have to sit at a bench all by myself. See, these benches sat two, and I was the only one in the classroom who would have to sit by herself. Flustered, my mom ushered me across the room, to the empty bench and helped me unpack. I reached into my backpack nearly burying my head inside pretending to look for a pencil. I found the pencil, and quickly threw it back inside in order to lose it again so that it could give me more time to collect myself. I felt the pressure of my blood running to my head and tears welling up along the ridge of my bottom eyelid, my vision blurred and even if I had been looking for a pencil, I wouldn’t have been able to find it. I could taste the bitterness of the knot in my throat.
I must have taken a long time in my pursuit of the pencil or maybe the quiet sobbing gave me away, because my mom pulled me in towards her and I couldn’t resist crying into her arms. I didn’t want to be alone. That is the first memory I can recall of feeling lonely, and worse yet, feeling like a loser because of it.
Fast forward nearly twenty years later, and I found myself sitting alone in my car in the parking-lot of a Super Walmart, feeling like a loser and sobbing like I did back then. I was traveling to Denver on my way to Fort Collins to see a concert. The two friends I was supposed to meet up with in Denver had both flaked and suddenly, so had the third friend whom I was supposed to go to the concert with the following day.
With my spirits dragging behind me like deflated balloons, I contemplated driving the three hours I had just driven to Denver, back home. I wanted to call my mom and tell her all about my misfortune. However, the day before, I had pep-talked her into traveling to Utah on her own to attend a conference she wanted to go to but was afraid to because like me, she didn’t want to be alone.
The negative thoughts began to stream in, whispering ever so softly, everything I was afraid to hear. As my ego tried to protect me from getting too close to the wounds of abandonment inside myself that had yet to heal, it coaxed me into burying my head in the sand and forgetting any of it had happened. How was I going to tell my mom that I went back home? I kept wishing I had gone to Utah with her instead. My brother lived in Denver, but he wasn’t expecting me until later that night. How was I going to tell him my friends bailed?
In the midst of my wallowing, I pulled up the GPS to see exactly where I was and to check if there was a shitty food place that had vegan options where I could eat. As I looked through the map, I realized my proximity to the house of an ex. My ego immediately solved my problem! Go to the ex’s house, cry heart out, have him console me, convince him to go to concert with me, and deal with the repercussions of my actions in the future. My desperation to not feel forsaken began to convince me that I could give the relationship another chance, regardless of how much I had struggled to leave what was becoming a psychologically and emotionally abusive relationship.
I began to shed layers as I felt my temperature rise, the uncertainty and indecisiveness was throwing me once again into an anxiety attack that made me feel like an insignificant speck of dust. I thought about the many times I had wanted to do something and had not given myself the chance because I didn’t want to do it alone. I was creating a track record of codependent relationship after codependent relationship because I felt like being with a man would keep me safe and allow me to be an adventurer. But many of them did not want to travel and experience the world in the same way I did.
Just like when I was a child, I wanted to curl up in my mother’s arms, have her soothe my pain and coach me through deep inhales and exhales. Yet, I wasn’t a child anymore, I was a woman in her mid-twenties still feeling like she didn’t belong in the world. It was as if the Universe kept presenting me with opportunities to lean into my fear so that I could see that if only I persisted, I would come out the other end. I don’t play video games, but I can assume it compares to being stuck in the same level, having your avatar die making the same mistakes, all while knowing there’s still a whole adventure to undertake.
Regardless of the frustration I felt, intuitively, I knew I would continue to be crippled unless I sat with my loneliness and processed what I was feeling instead of trying to hide from it. My avatar kept dying and was unable to continue on to the next level because as soon as I was faced with a challenge, I hid under the cover of my security blanket that was my mother. I needed to let her die. It sounds morbid, but it’s in reference to, Vasalisa the Wise, a folk story from the book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, written by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. The story is about a young girl named Vasalisa, whose “too-good” mother is dying, and before she does, she gifts her a small doll that looks just like her. She tells her that if she ever loses her way or is in need of help, the doll would tell her what to do.
Pinkola Estes talks about the, too-good mother, as a hindrance of growth and development due to her, “overly safeguarding values,” and that is why we must let her die:
In order for Vasalisa to become the heroine of her own journey, she reverted to the knowledge of the doll she carried with her, which is used in the story as a symbol for Vasalisa’s own intuition.
I thought of all of this, it’s knowledge that I’ve carried with me yet failed to apply. In that moment, still paralyzed in my car, I thought about the journey I would soon embark in. I had chosen to walk The Camino to Santiago de Compostela alone. How was I supposed to do this in a foreign country, when I couldn’t even go to a concert by myself in my home state? I thought of myself as that small, introverted, girl wanting to make connections with other people and being so terrified of being rejected and left alone. I imagined her sitting next to me, crying like I was, confused with all of her emotions. If that would have been my daughter, I wouldn’t have told her she was unworthy and that was why her friends had not followed through. I wouldn’t have taken her to eat shitty food, I would’ve taken her to her favorite restaurant. And knowing how much she wanted to go to this concert, I wouldn’t have punished her by taking her home, I would’ve made that following day one of her best.
I allowed myself exactly five more minutes to immerse myself in my pity, after that, I would take a deep breath and move forward. I chose my favorite restaurant in Denver, had a feast and even ordered a chocolate ho-ho to go. Before going to bed that night, I promised myself to sit with my ego and listen to its fears. I realized that The Camino had already begun. I was being pushed and pricked. I had asked the Universe for growth and this was the demon She knew I had to confront.
I’m approaching my trip to Santiago de Compostela in five weeks. Between the time of this story to now, I’ve plunged into my share of moments where I’ve allowed myself to be in solitude. Each experience has challenged me in a different way, bringing up insecurities that were ingrained so deep within that I had adopted as a personality trait instead of a coping mechanism. As I’m getting ready to go out and walk day in and day out for approximately seven weeks, the question I get asked the most is, “why am I traveling by myself; am I not scared?” I don’t have a great answer for this yet.
I am scared. I was born into a culture that has taught me that it is a dangerous thing to experience the world as a woman. I am constantly thinking of how to keep myself safe from others; how to keep myself safe from men. I think about the clothes I’ll wear. What if I wear a leotard with leggings over it? Would that make it more difficult? God knows I struggle when I try to go to the bathroom while wearing that. The thought is sickening but it is the reality of my fear. It’s mostly women that look at me perturbed and say, “...But you’re such a pretty girl, you shouldn’t be out there by yourself.” There are so many things wrong with this mentality. As if my physical appearance will determine my level of safety.
We all belong to a lineage of women who have carried pain and have tried to keep each other from harm. Women hiding their daughters from the world and as a consequence hiding the world from their daughters. My great grandmother, a tiny raisin of a woman, would say, “have many boyfriends and travel plenty.” Two things she never did. Like my great grandmother, my grandmother and my mother, have only dreamed of seeing the world. Murmurs of spilled blood plague them when they try to step outside their front door. I refuse to carry the same message, it’s been passed down for too long. I will lead them across the Atlantic Ocean so that through me they can feel the salt water breeze when I finish my trek and reach Finisterre, the end of the world.
Life can be measured in teaspoons and time is ephemeral. The last time I saw my great grandmother, I asked her for her blessing. I choose to believe that she is still protecting me, even more so now than before. I choose to see the goodness in the strangers I meet, and I know I will be safe, even if it’s still a mantra I need to repeat to convince myself.
That weekend in Denver, I took myself out to brunch the morning of the concert, I sat outside letting the sun kiss my bare feet. I feasted again along with an almond milk latte reading the very book that started it all, The Pilgrimage, written by Paulo Coelho. He talked about fighting the good fight of following your dreams. I walked through the galleries of the Denver Art Museum daydreaming of the day when my artwork will hang on those walls. Later that evening, I sat in a bus on my way to The Mishawaka Amphitheater to see The Marias and Cafe Tacvba perform. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life, everyone on the bus was laughing and introducing themselves. I wasn’t by myself, I was with myself and that was one of the first times feeling rooted on this Earth and feeling like I belonged, because I belonged to me.