Newly divorced and jobless, I asked myself: What would you do if you could do anything?
In 2010, I applied the Lottery Test to my life. It’s sort of a childish game, which makes great fun: What would you do if you had just won the lottery—money was no object?
When I’m in a quandary about a Major Life Decision, I apply this test. Do I Quit My Job? Should I Divorce Him? What Next? In this case, I had just received my Master’s degree, had no job and few prospects, had lost my home in the mortgage debacle and was a newly minted (now two-time) divorcee. And I was seized by wanderlust.
That’s not quite true. I had been in its grip for a few years—say, 40—but had not been able to conceive of the actual possibilities of wandering. Not just take trips here and there, two weeks out of every 12 for good behavior. And in truth, this time a friend applied the Test. “What would you do if you could do anything?”
By 2011, I gave up my lease, handed the keys over, and set off to Australia and New Zealand for four months. Not a vacation, but reconnaissance for a new home.
During the months of preparation, as I announced my plans to friends, I was surprised by the responses, mostly from women my own 40-ish age. These were women for whom the heavy lifting had already been done: Bras burned. The Pill readily available, covered by most health insurance plans, and condoms on the shelves of Target and Walmart. Roe v. Wade decided. The closet door on sexuality creaking open. The board room door opened, too—even though the glass ceiling was under construction. These women grew up with Title 9, a rainbow of multi-colored ribbons representative of hitherto neglected groups. Nine to Five gave way to Working Girl. Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde.
Yet for every Erin Brockovich there was still a Pretty Woman, I suppose. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when I heard the responses.
Yes. Alone. After a five-year marriage for which I moved 1,500 miles, sold my house, and gave up my job and friends, I am looking for a place to call my own. I am ready to live in a place of my own choosing, not because of a family member or because of a him. Somewhere I feel comfortable, that has unique opportunities, a friendlier climate, where I like the people and the national character. Because if there was ever a great time to leave California—indeed, America—it was during the post-mortgage bubble recession.
Oh, what an adventure you’ll have!
I am not five and you are not Dr. Seuss. I’m 40 years past that and don’t consider the trip an adventure (although a friend got offended and pointed out that the definition was accurate, and he was right). However, the word has passed into modern parlance to describe just about every outing (what an adventure at the mall!). “Adventure” has become similar to “amazing” or “awesome,” words that no longer have substantial meaning because of their inappropriate and too-frequent use. I recommend an email subscription to Wordsmith.org.
You’re so courageous.
Yet another word that has taken up residence on too many greeting cards. The Oxford English Dictionary definition: “the ability to do something that frightens one.” I don’t know that I was frightened—exhilarated, reckless, and impulsive, yes.
The word is derived from the old French corage and the earlier Latin cor meaning “heart.” I will concede that I acted from my heart’s desire. However, true courage is a lone protestor standing in front of a tank in Tianenmen Square, a fireman saving a kid from a burning building, a prisoner enduring physical, psychological, and emotional torture. Compared to those, a home search reconnaissance trip to the other side of the world didn’t rank high on the courage scale in my estimation.
You’re going to meet someone and fall in love and never come back.
I watched the New Year’s fireworks from a terrace of the Sydney Opera House. I helped deliver a Thoroughbred foal on a horse breeding farm in Australia’s Hunter Valley. I cruised one of the most beautiful sounds in New Zealand’s fjordland. I watched the Southern Cross rise. I met artists and writers. I drank the best fucking coffee I’ve ever had. How could I help but fall in love with those countries? I just couldn’t bring ’em home to meet Dad.
But the most honest comment came from a friend who was one of the women burning her bra and marching for the right to choose a life that suited her. Divesting herself of life’s trappings would not be easy—nor would she want to. She chose to marry a man whom she still loves deeply. She is a step-mother, grandmother, and, to many of her friends, wise earth goddess. When I told her my plans, she smiled.
Of course you are. Do it for those of us who can’t.
Kimbel Westerson is a freelance writer who’s written about such disparate topics as algae, weddings, the Colorado Plateau, and Australia. She lives in the Phoenix area and teaches at Grand Canyon University. Currently, she is at work on a book about the nature of home and the spirit of place.