I know a lot of adult women who stand up with square shoulders when life gets rocky.
There’s Ramona, my neighbor who goes to meetings at the high school for me, pretending to be my boys’ real mother because I hate fucking meetings, not to mention leaving the house, listening to people talk, and showing up places at the scheduled time.
There’s Jenn, my co-worker, who walks into the faculty office and looks us each in the eye and smiles. “Good Morning!” she says and we can tell that she means it, which is so weird to me that I can’t even try to decipher where she finds the strength.
I can’t forget Amy, my tennis team-mate who, at our last tournament, pried me out of the backseat of Sally’s car where I sat oozing tears and cellulite and double-chinned defeat. “Come on,” Amy said unflinching. “Let’s go get a beer.”
And let’s mention Andrea, my Writing 121 student who stepped in when I was trying to divide the class into small groups of equal size and intellectual weft. When I grabbed her arm and hissed “I don’t know what the hell is going on. YOU figure it out,” she did.
I turned fifty this year. When I was young and limber, I assumed that I would have had it all figured out by now. It seemed obvious that once my uterus shriveled, my je ne sais quoi would bloom.
Well, that’s a lie, because guess what? My kids are sixteen years old and in China, and even though I am proud, my heart is sad.
My boys are sixteen years old and they are in China because they want to be, which is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard in my life.
They are young and beautiful and free, and I am sitting on the couch drinking wine and watching bronzed twenty-somethings dry humping each on “The Bachelorette” because I don’t know where else to go or what else to be.
Some evening early in Alabama Hannah’s Bachelorette season, I decided to do something. Anything.
I booked myself a solo trip to Madagascar.
Why Madagascar? you may ask.
YOU may ask. Guy didn’t. He knows better.
At first I considered going to China to see my boys, but then they asked in a polite way, “Why?”
I switched my sights to Kyrgyzstan because it’s close to China and the Khyrgs, God bless their nomadic souls, love horses as much as the Mongolians, in a non-oil seeking way.
But even though I asked around, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to join me in a horseback riding tour of Kyrgyzstan.
This surprised me, but my friends are busy people, and plus it gets cold in the Pamir mountains at night. Riding alone through the chilly mountains of a faraway country with dubious political stability seemed a bit daunting to me.
Then I thought, what do you like to do when you are by yourself and not on the couch drinking wine? And the answer was: I like to look at bugs and birds and animals, the weirder the better.
I remembered a Lonely Planet travel thread that I read last spring in the Beijing airport, drinking the beer I bought for $2 from a vending machine and pretending not to be nervous about flying…a thread where people kept posting about how Madagascar is the most random and wonderful place they had ever been, even if it doesn’t have roads or consistent electricity.
Madagascar offers 70 species of lemur and 346 species of reptiles found nowhere else in the world, including a chameleons as big as house cats. Oh and also a current measles epidemic, but we’ve got that here too, right?
I paused the Bachelorette and logged onto Google flights, just for research purposes.
I found that a flight from San Francisco to Antananarivo was $1000 cheaper than flight from ANYWHERE ELSE to Antananarivo…including Seattle, Paris and Johannesburg.
Oh my god, I love saving money.
Of course I booked it. You would have booked it, too. I saved $1000! That doesn’t happen every day, ‘specially not from your couch.
Then I wide-eyed tossed and turned all that long dark night, overthinking, as one does. Because who do I think I am, booking a flight to Madagascar?
Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its infrastructure is more or less non-existent. The people who live there have bigger problems that which boy-toy to make out with on Monday night TV.
Also, lets be real. I have never really traveled by myself for a long period of time. The times I HAVE gone from one place to another, I have made dubious friends…the soldier on the train from Rome to Calais? The actor on the way to Carmarthen? That hotel owner with the motor bike on the island of Kos?
And realistically, I can barely stand myself when I am at home. How will I be able to stand myself when I am all alone in Madagascar, the 14th most unhappy country in the world?
But whatever, I booked it.
The next day, blearily looking at my phone in my car in the parking lot five minutes before a tennis match, I doubled checked my reservation to make sure it was real.
Guess what? It wasn’t.
It didn’t exist. Anywhere.
Speak, memory, what does this mean?
Was the disappearance of my reservation an act of God? A free pass from Jesus to stay home where I belong?
Or perhaps it was a huge scam from American Express, who charged me anyway, even though Delta never had record of my reservation…but I didn’t find that out until later and I’ll keep you posted.
Faced with the enigmatical, I decided to let the universe show me whether she wanted me to travel to Madagascar.
I played tennis for a couple hours and then checked the flights again.
Lo, the deal was still available.
In my car, sweatier but in that same parking lot, I booked it again, this time through Detroit. Who knew you could get to Madagascar from Detroit?
Hopefully in the Detroit airport there is a confident fifty year old woman waiting to step up and square my shoulders, because I am freaking the fuck out.