The dense smell of body odor is permeating the close quarters and opening a window means letting in a burst of cold air and possibly waking my sleeping passengers which have only recently succumbed to slumber on our journey to Albuquerque, NM. My son let’s “one” fly and I can feel my nose hairs curling while my nauseated stomach churns feebly. Fresh air is now the only option before my eyes cross and I drive off the road. What is it with teenage boys and the unrestricted unleashing of sweat glands while they slumber? I giggle to myself in spite of my sleep laden eyelids, the late hour and the miles left to go before we reach our destination. This is just what I wanted for Mother’s Day; time spent with my kids before they fly the coup.
We left Friday afternoon for a 48 hour burnout trip to New Mexico to attend our cousin’s high school graduation party in Albuquerque, then a quick visit to Santa Fé, a night’s camping, then home again for a Mother’s Day BBQ with my mom hosted by my brother. I wanted to pack in as much as possible and hang out with my kids on our 7 hour journey from Denver.
Kyler, who is graduating high school the following weekend, is in the front seat with me chatting away about work, friends, and future life plans. I listen and insert just enough to keep him talking; hard lessons about talking less and listening more have finally sunk in and it is delightful to listen to his thoughts and funny stories.
Kegan, my eldest son and a US Marine, calls unexpectedly while driving in southern Colorado on the trip south and with blue-tooth technology, we could all talk and listen simultaneously over the car’s speakers. He sounds angry and annoyed while talking vaguely about his experiences in South Korea. My heart cringes as I listen; concern about his welfare, both emotional and physical fills me. I wonder if we will be friends again someday; I lose control and begin to cry a deep soul cleansing cry. The tears last long after the call ends as the wave of emotion rolls over me, but the tears relinquish pent-up sorrow.
The beauty of my surrounding and my three other children riding silently in the car beside me shake me out of my release and we are talking and dreaming together while spotting antelope across the landscape. Gratitude permeates these precious moments of awareness of the magnificents of life.
At the hotel, my head hits the pillow and in minutes, I am out cold. I do not move for 7 hours; it is the best sleep I have had in a long time. The kids are still sleeping so I have the added luxury of a quiet cup of coffee and my journal before the day begins. Several family members are staying at the hotel and we see my aunt at breakfast; she is a late comer to our family, but a great treasure and it is a treat to have some time to catch up with her alone before splitting my time with so many at the graduation celebration.
Everyone has a morning agenda, so Alaya and I head to the hills for a quick hike to take in some of New Mexico’s natural beauty. At 7 years old, she is becoming an avid outdoor enthusiast and I could not be happier. She is my late baby and we share a love of the outdoors in a way my older boys did not; they love fishing and hunting, where Alaya and I love hiking and biking. Since she was able to walk, she has loved to hike and discover the uniqueness of distinct insects, flowers, moss, plants and animals. We are about a week too soon for the spring desert bloom, but Alaya and I are enchanted with the large beetles and desert ecology. A lizard darts out across the path and we follow him until he hides too well under the bush and rocks for our eyes to follow. We imagine all the butterflies as good fairies watching over us as we walk through grumpy troll lands. Running down the path, Alaya takes a misstep, rolls her ankle and cries in the dust. I moan as I hold her and relate to her pain, but with some encouragement, she gets up and continues to walk the mile and a half before we reach our car. Alaya sees an old bird’s nest nestled in a cactus as she rises to get up and walk; an appropriate reward.
The boys are ready to check out of the hotel when we arrive from the hike and we smoothly transition into party mode. My cousin’s home is lovely; we have never been here in the decade or so that they have lived in Albuquerque. Seeing family gathered together to celebrate warms my heart as I notice our commonalities, as well as, our individuality. I remember being a little girl and loving being with our large family, playing with cousins and eating amazing mid-western style food. The girls outnumbered the boys 4 to 1 and my brother was left to his own devices while we girl cousins played hide and seek, house, or school non-stop for hours. My cousin has 3 girls and a boy where conversely I have 3 boys and a girl, however, our children did not grow up together and do not share the same camaraderie as we did. Seeing aunts and uncles, friends and families makes me feel old as the young, beautiful, and spirited youth take the place we once occupied. I am grateful for my life and as I observe my children, my heart grows to near bursting.
I manage to keep the “Minnesota Good-Bye” to around 30 minutes and we leave for Santa Fé on our journey towards home. Hunter, now sitting in the front seat, directs the music and, of course, we must listen to the 11 minute Weird Al Yankovic song, “Albuquerque”. He continues playing strange, but entertaining music until the traffic slows to a stop not far from the city. As we crawl along, we can see emergency crews on either side of the highway with the south bound traffic at a stop; Hunter stops the music. Everyone is peering out the windows to see what happened when Kyler spots the body, face down not far from the railroad tracks dividing I-25. The train is several hundred yards to the north frozen in shock. No one is around the body, but crews are walking the perimeter of the scene; a heaviness descends over me and the boys as we realize the man is dead we are all silent. We cover Alaya’s head as we drive by to prevent disturbing images from entering her innocent brain. I try not to gawk out of respect for the dead, his family and friends. Kyler gets a good look as the body is not far from the edge of the road. We talk in hushed tones and then send love and compassion to the unknown man, his family, friends, the emergency crew and the train driver. I ask Hunter to put on some music to change the mood and not to dwell on death as we continue our journey to Santa Fé. “Sh Boom Sh Boom,” by the Crew Cuts flows out of the speakers like a spell; nobody says a word and I my mind transports to the movie, “Stand by Me” after they find the dead kid.
Santa Fé is fairly quiet as we peruse the vendors, galleries and Plaza; the mysterious staircase in Loretto Chapel is off-limits due to a wedding. We enter the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi instead to explore the art and architecture. It always amazes me to see church activities continue as visitors and sight seers quietly take silent tours inside. I turn towards the sound of a choir amazed to see 20 or so young boys in street clothes singing their canticles in Latin with a priest conducting their practice. A rush of thoughts flood into my brain like a hundred stories at once and I am dumbstruck by the beauty and reality of the boys’ choir.
After dinner of green chili cheeseburgers, we go in search of a camp site in the Pecos Wilderness Area, but the navigation system takes us in a large circle only to arrive back in Santa Fé. Frustrated, I make the call to go to the KOA just outside of town to the north. It’s not the type of camping my boys enjoy, but we have limited daylight and it works. The weather is perfect and Hunter decides to sleep outside without a tent until a rogue 45 minutes storm whips up heavy winds and rain and we all find ourselves packed into the back of the SUV watching “Nine Lives”, a movie about a neglectful father being turned into a cat until he learns the value of his family. Delighted to have her brothers watching a movie with her, she snuggles into the packed car with contentment. The boys filter out before the end of the movie; we skip the fire and marshmallows but most of us sleep well and leave for home early the next morning.
The greatest thing about now is that I savor the awesomeness of life in all its love, grandeur and beauty. Swelling with gratitude for the experience, both good times and bad because I appreciate its systems and order among the chaos. I did not always have this interpretation; I spent decades waiting to die to experience joy in heaven, but now I find it is all right here and I find contentment in my conclusion. Life is a gift in all its heartache, as well as, its felicity and I honor it with exultation.