So this is new: going out socially as a single entity. I’ve never really done it. Not in my daily life. I mean—yeah—to the grocery store, or kids’ sporting events, or whatever quotidian life has required. But socially…I’ve always travelled in some version of a pack. And in that pack, I feel an innate belonging. When I travel, it’s the other way. I’m a solo act and I love it. I love to get that rush of “the world is my oyster. I can do anything I want. In fact, I want to eat oysters! Where’s the best place for oysters in town???” And I get that zingy, buzzy feeling of being at home in the world. A little daring is involved. A little “anything is possible” fuels it. When I was nineteen and traveling all around Europe in trains, I used to adopt new personalities and pretend I was a completely different person. On any train, or in any restaurant, or youth hostel, or pension, I could be a woman running from the law, a college drop-out filled with a Holden Caulfield malaise, a photographer on assignment for National Geographic. I was trying life on for size and it was positively exhilarating.
Not so much now. And not so much in my own back yard. Suddenly, I find myself quite pack-less. A lone coyote yowling in a cold snowy night. Only she speaks English, and she’s standing in my living room, and she’s kinda mean: “Uh—it’s Saturday night, girl. What you gonna do with your bad-ass self? Sit here and watch freaking Netflix and drink wine in your pjs with the dogs in your lap? Again?”
“No. Actually. I’m going into town. To a brewery. To hear my friend play guitar. At a local fundraiser. Which makes me cool. And not just because I freaking know a musician…but because I’m freaking altruistic too. So suck it.” I can dish it right back at her, but it never feels very good. I mean, being at war with yourself, as it were. In your living room.
I think we all know that I’m already on the couch, with my finger on the remote control, the dogs looking up at me to invite them up on the couch. My actual pack wants me in it, and they want me here watching The Crown. Apparently they like the smell of wine breath and a proper English accent instead of my midwestern twang.
I sigh and wonder if I’m brave enough to drive the dark, snowy, foggy, black-icy, deer-full country roads. And I get mad at myself for forgetting once again to replace my windshield wiper blades. They suck. And so will I if I spend another night on that damn couch.
So I let the living room lie fallow, and invite the dogs up to my bedroom instead because I need to deal with my hair and my face and put on actual clothing that’s not plaid flannel and tied with a drawstring, and say “yes” to the lovely invitation to go out and make it count. I mean, it’s not like I’m just going into town on a pub crawl. Even though that sounds fun. I haven’t done that in years. I had some solid pack members along the way who lived for a good pub crawl. I miss that sometimes. But even if I got that wild hair…well, it would be fairly rare to find an Uber driver around here that would want to brave it out to my remote home in the woods. Sometimes they do. And sometimes they don’t. And either way, it costs more than my whole night in town costs, so is it worth it to go on that pub crawl? No. And honestly, who wants to go on a pub crawl alone. Maybe in Ireland?
“No,” I say into the mirror, and my dogs perk up like I’ve just told them we’re going for yet another walk in the wild woods where the mountain lions do NOT hibernate. Which isn’t far from what it will feel like in town on a Saturday night, solo. “I’m going to an event. Where I know the musician. And the money I buy food and drink with goes to a non-profit. That supports at-risk teens!” And I look down into my dogs’ kind, longing eyes. “But it’s true. I’m really wanting to know what happens to Charles and Camilla. Oh. Actually, I do know what happens to Charles and Camilla.”
Suddenly the coyote bellows from the other side of the mirror, and don’t tell anyone, but she looks just like me. “Go to the fund raiser! Put on some clothes and get thee out, woman!”
“Oh, so now I’m a woman, not a girl. Maybe I’ll pretend I’m a girl. I liked being a girl. She knew how to have fun. She wouldn’t be staring into the mirror thinking about how grey her roots are, and how hopefully the dark lighting will make her look like she’s got blonde highlights, not Cruella DeVille skunk stripes.
She bellows again, “God, you suck at being nice to yourself! You’re an extrovert. You come alive around people! You’re starving for human connection! Slap on some jeans and a shirt and your boots, and drive into town! You travelled around Morocco for a month last year alone. I’m pretty sure you can drive five miles of country road and walk into a micro-brewery and listen to some folk music and help a great local cause.”
I sigh and keep this to myself: I wonder if they’ll bring Diana in this season, or if they’ll stay off of her altogether. Such sensitive material. I wonder what the Royals think about The Crown. I wonder if the Queen is funny. They’re all so serious in that show. It sort of wears on me. I’m glad she has horses and corgis. Maybe I’ll watch the new season of Mrs. Maisel instead. At least that’s funny! I could use a good laugh. I wonder why it only got four stars though. Geez, when did I get so grey? Gotta get that fixed before the holidays.
This text just in: “Hey we’re hanging out wrapping Christmas presents and listening to Christmas music. Want to come over?”
I text back: “Actually…I’m going to a fund-raiser. It’s for a good cause. I know the musician.” Whatever. There was a time in my life when I knew every member of the Grateful Dead. Just not Jerry. No one knew Jerry, really. So that makes me cool, right? How many years can you ride that cool wave? Pretty sure that wave got sucked back out to sea a long time ago.
“Well if you want to stop by, we’d love to have you.”
Huh. I smile and get a warm soup feeling in my belly. Hanging out wrapping Christmas presents feels pack-ish. Maybe I could just throw on my pjs and go to my friend’s house and blow off the fund-raiser. She lives in town. So that counts. Doesn’t it? Not really a crawl, or a good cause, but… I mean, the brewery party is going to be full of couples and families and do-gooders. And I’m not feeling very good. At all.
I swear that coyote me reaches her hand through the mirror and practically pokes my eyes out with the eyeliner stick, and concealer wand, but she’s really damn good at covering up the dark circles. “I admire your work,” I tell her. And she smiles. “Now go have some fun. You need to be around people. A lot of them. And music. You need it like oxygen. You can wrap presents with your friend another day.”
Sigh. I’m grateful for my friend, but I text her. “I’m going to go to this event. But thanks. #snowcheck for sure.” Santa Claus emoji. It occurs to me that she runs a rad non-profit too, so she gets it. Hell, I run one too, for what it’s worth. We’re all trying to do such good in this valley! We have to support one another!
I put the dogs in their beds, and say, “I’ll be back a little later. Protect the house!” And kiss them each on the nose.
And I get in my truck and put on the Charlie Brown Christmas album and take in a deep breath. Why is this so hard? And I think of the comfort and security and belonging that living in a pack brings a person. At least that it brings to me. And with the kids grown up and gone (thank GOD they’re coming home for Christmas), I know that my community is my pack now. And the people who will be at this party…are my oldest friends in my community. It would be reckless and remiss not to share this night with them, however it goes down. And for such a good cause.
So, I pull out onto the snowy country road, listening to the jazzy music that was the soundtrack for years of Christmas tree decorating and will be again in a few weeks when my little pack is home. They love it too. Us. Though they have new packs now and I’m glad for that.
The drive is deerless and easy and even cheerful, as I pass the Christmas tree lights in windows of little log houses frosted with snow, and as I spot the first garlands festooned with red bells and tinsel snowflakes, draping over the road, marking the start of town…the road feels like an umbilical cord connecting me to the worldy womb of my little mountain community.
I walk into the party. There is my old friend finishing a song on his guitar, playing Christmas music in his enchanted folky, slightly funky way. He smiles and says my name into the mic, and offers me a hug. I get a beer and sit down to listen to him. There are other friends there too. It’s not missed on me that they’re actors. Writers. Creative, salt of the earth sorts of people that I’ve known for years. We give hugs and make light conversation. We’re here to support our friend who runs the Flathead Valley Youth Home. And after a few hours of fighting back tears, when he gets to pah rum puh pump pum…I let them spill. I need this like I need oxygen. It’s true. My inner coyote isn’t so mean after all. She just knows that it takes some prodding these days. These days of learning how to be my own pack. Coyote is the trickster, after all…
And it’s not lost on me that this night becomes a night sprinkled with holiday magic. Because by the end of it, I am sitting with my musician friend, and my other dear friends, in their home on the side of a mountain, eating spontaneous tamales in front of a woodstove, a towering Christmas tree lighting our conversation. Which is the conversation we’ve been having for almost thirty years: We talk of love. We talk of pain. We talk of truth. We talk about the sacred. We talk of loss. We talk of fear. And we talk some more about love.
It’s midnight. It’s time to drive home. To trace my tracks back down the mountain, back through town, back toward my part of the valley. There are deer. I honk and say what I always say, “Love love love.” And they run back into the woods. I have never hit a deer in twenty-five years of driving this road. Which means…I know very well how to fight fear with love. I just needed a reminder.
But tonight…I’m watching The Crown. In front of my own woodstove. With my dogs. My pack of three. Right where I belong.
May all of you who are fighting the loss of your pack in whatever way: empty nest, divorce, recent break up, death of a loved one, whatever it is…please know that you are not alone. And that you can get up off of your couch. And put on some clothes. And go into town. And find the kind of love you long for. Home is there for you, wherever you go.
Pre-order my new novel, “Willa’s Grove,” from your local bookseller or here. It’s a great gift for the holidays and will arrive hot-off-the-press on March 3rd! This is a book for ANYONE asking the pressing question we all ask many times in our life: So Now What?
Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky. You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven. Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!
Haven 2020 Schedule:
February 5-9 (full with wait list)
October 28-November 1
Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura!