There was nothing about the site that made it welcoming. It was a dirt pit riddled with gophers who'd eaten the last shred of greenery to be found, but she rolled out her tent over their doorways with only one thing on her mind.
"I'll never go back."
The kids, two years old and 4 months old, couldn't hear her, they were asleep in their car seats as she unpacked the car. Just as the words left her mouth she felt her butt vibrating with another text from her continuously sorry husband who didn't know why she was so mad.
She started putting up the tent as the numbers in her head went about adding how long she could afford to hold out here at site 51 at Refugio State Beach. She had enough food for now, but how many nights could she really stay away?
Not long enough.
She barely had the mental wherewithal to open up the tent sticks in all their disarray without imagining they were just a symbol of her own misconstrued adult life.
"Mommy, I'm hungry."
Her oldest was awake and now she had to stop to find him a snack.
How will I feed them?
The question wasn't about this moment but rather the moments of the rest of their lives. How would she feed them-all three of them? No job, other than being mom, and no college degree to use as a pivot to something that would secure a rent payment, to say nothing of the act of disengaging from...him.
In that moment, all she could do was hold her son, who didn't want to be held, he wanted something to eat. She handed him a granola bar and set to getting a fire going, which she knew would be critical. They didn't have any of the camping gear like those around. She actually needed the fire just to cook their stupid hot dogs.
Nearly three hours went by and she was still struggling to produce a fire that would hold a flame and her half-up half-down tent was an eyesore that caught a neighboring camper's attention. He strolled over, probably wondering why a woman with such young children would attempt to camp without any of the typical conveniences, and alone. Even if the site was sitting along a coastal curve in California as beautiful as any she’d seen, it was a valid question.
She wanted out. Out of the reckless marriage where she played the fool to someone who lied and probably cheated his way through each week only to come back and whisper his heartfelt apologies in her ear after being out all night with friends. He would woo her back each time, until it felt she was his personal yo-yo.
If she became enraged at his not coming home, it was her fault. If she'd said nothing, it was her fault. It didn't matter what she did, it was going to always be her fault. His drinking, he'd decided, was only a reaction to her poor wifely behavior. How dare she yell. How dare she drop f-bombs in front of the children. How dare she throw something at his head. It was all her fault. The worst part was wondering if he might be right.
“Can I help you? You look like you could use a hand.”
“Oh, thanks, it’s OK. I’ll figure it out.”
“Well, it looks like your logs are a bit too big to catch, I’ve got some kindling that will help you out. My son, Randy here, can put up your tent. Randy, come help this lady.”
Randy didn’t look any more pleased to be helping than she felt in receiving it, but he saved her an hour and the three of them were released of pleasantries to sit by a steady fire as she tried to imagine how she would endure a life with an alcoholic. Or she might just as well wonder about becoming a murderer if she stayed. Another option was being a divorcee of someone she truly loved, but at times hated, with the same amount of conviction.
Their amusement for the evening was the resident gopher, who accepted as payment for blocking holes to his home, a steady stream of carrots, eaten nearly straight out of the hand of her son.
The fire brought their tattered minds together, bundled from the cold and bitter to a warmth and wonder at its magic. They remained like this for a long time, until the singing of young voices floated in their direction. It was a song her son immediately sat up to hear. She watched his musical mind bloom. It was the song, "Daisy" a favorite of his nursery rhyme playlists.
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do,
I'm half crazy, All for the love of you,
It won't be a stylish marriage,
I haven't got a carriage,
But you'll look sweet, up on the seat
Of a bicycle built for two!
The fire and the song reminded her of something she knew. Tomorrow they would play by the water. The water would, in turn, save her, just as it had before. Even as the last notes of "Daisy" held the notion of hope, or marital bliss, the ocean, to her, held it more. It held all her fear and hope and betrayal and treachery and romance, all at it's core. It held it all together in a soupy mix. Equal parts of each, and it was where she was in her life-who she was in her life. She just needed to learn to sail it.
The ocean was where she went whenever trouble hit. Somehow, hearing it, broke off the pieces of her armor she’d worn for years. The lies, the hating, the yelling, the hurting. All of it came off as the sun drenched her skin and water strummed her soul into a tune she’d been searching for her whole life.
They would be OK. She would be OK. This camping trip, as unprepared as she knew she was for it, had been a lesson in her own bravery. A lesson taught by the best teacher of all, the elements of sky, sun and water, which began in her a letting go of many earthly things she knew she'd learn to live without.