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Westward Musings: Trip 1, Days 1-2

***One of the promises I made to myself recently when I left my 9-5 to pursue my photography full time is that I would also indulge my original creative obsession: writing. This is not professional writing - it might not always have to do with photography even - it is highly stylized so the grammar might feel off, but this is how my ADHD brain thinks, and I am trying to regurgitate my bring into a cohesive essay. Stay tuned for more tip-inspired musings and other random tirades (and sometimes fiction).***

June 12, 2023

I don’t know how much more American I can get than the fact that exploring the West tugs at my heart stronger than anything I know. Maybe it is a generational instinct. Maybe it is the diverse and breath-taking landscape.

Whatever it is, I stopped denying it.

Being a good Midwest girl - I drive every time. The beauty of driving is the time to think. And think, I do.

We left Wisconsin at 4:30am yesterday - drowsy on 4 hours of sleep after shooting a wedding for 9 hours the day before - with 14.5 hours of road ahead of us (see Midwest manual for measuring distance with time).

After a quick 10-minute cat-nap just past Madison, the pull of the West grabbed me and sucked me in…we were full-steam ahead, fueled on 5-hour energy and pretzels, with some Childers, Sturgill, and Waylon in my ears.

One of the things I have been struggling with lately, and it overwhelmed me on this trip, is being a single parent. I have been doing this on my own for over 13 years now. I have always celebrated the beauty and perfection of my life as a single parent. Lately though, I feel robbed.

Two weeks ago, we packed up my boyfriend’s house to move him into his new place. As we did it, we encountered a lot of old pictures - the kids when they were little.

Every single frame we put in a box hit me with a pang of envy. He and his late wife have all these photos with their kids: on vacation, at home, doing the extraordinary and the mundane.

I have selfies with my son, a handful of posed pictures, and a rare few photos of us in action that my friends and previous significant others have randomly captured.

It is the last piece that kills me.

There is no authentic evidence of our lives, except for in my mind. What happens one day, when my mind goes? What happens when the perfectly-preserved memories start to fade.

I see photos all over of my friends as parents - laughing, irritated, overwhelmed, exhilarated.

All I have are the pictures I made a point to take myself.

It fucking sucks.

It highlights that I did it all by myself. Every diaper. Every trip. Every experience.

And some days I am mad that I didn’t have a partner to lean on. I didn’t have someone to bounce ideas off of, to share the mental load, to support me.

Then I have to ask why. Why did the universe give me this path? Why did I choose this life?

So with the blacktop in front of me, and cruise control set, I spent some time with my only regret in life - and regret isn’t even the right word. My only annoyance.

Let’s start off with a positive: my marriage would have made me miserable. Getting divorced was the best thing I ever did. My former husband is not a bad person. We co-parent beautifully. However, we were never a good match. I would have driven him insane and he would have made me feel claustrophobic.

So I never see my first marriage as a failure. We saw an issue, we fixed it, and we are friends.

Getting divorced forced me into uncomfortable growth. I had to shake all the things I THOUGHT I wanted and evolve into the person I was always meant to be.

Regardless of how happy and successful I feel I am, there was always something missing.

Miss Independent always wanted someone to run alongside her on this impulsive adventure called my life.

I came close once to finding it - we moved in together, we grew together - but eventually I felt tied-down and overwhelmed with the monotony of everyday life and I threw it away. In hindsight, we had trauma-bonded - him after his military service and me after ending a supremely abusive relationship - so we never would have made it.

For a minute though, it was nice to have someone to do life with.

Before this devolves into a woe-is-me essay, I just want you to know that I am satisfied with my life so far.

I am just sad that my son is now a teenager, and I feel like I missed out on so many opportunities for more happiness. So maybe that makes me selfish.

I hated pregnancy because I felt rejected and unwanted.

I hated the newborn stage because I had such bad post-partum depression I contemplated killing myself.

I hated the toddler/young child stage because I felt isolated from my friends.

I hated the pre-teen stage because it was so close to some freedom, but still required my presence.

At the same time, I have enjoyed every minute of raising my child. He is a good young man - this whole trip he goes out of his way to hold doors for people, to be polite, and to put his phone down to engage in the moments.

I did - his dad and I - we did a good job with him, even with all the back-and-forth and occasional discord in parenting choices.

I just really am sad I didn’t have someone to do all of this with. Not for Charlie’s sake, but for mine.

And yet, I did. I had my parents and my brothers first. I had Tyson. I had Dena and Danny and Lauren and all my other friends who made time for Charlie and I. I had endless help from everyone in my world.

I just always wanted there to be one person that was mine to share all the moments with.

So that is it - my one thing I need to learn to let go of, because it is too late to have it now, in terms of parenting. My son has moved into independence. He needs me, but not like before. I have given him all the tools I can, and now he must sharpen them and learn how to use them, so that when he is ready, he can go out and live his own adventures.

I wish there were a way to go back and freeze just a few moments. I wish so much that I had made better choices - maybe then I would have found someone to do everything with.

That isn’t the case though, and it is okay.

Tomorrow we leave North Dakota for our next adventure, and I plan on leaving this regret behind.

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Love this- so real and raw and true- and love you and Charlie always ❤️ -L

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