After a successful career and raising a family, author Marcia DeSanctis craved something more. She found it on the open road.
Illustration by Michelle D’Urbano
Abandon. This is the word we carry when we arrive somewhere else. To give ourselves over without restraint. It is a singular thrill, to pitch out of the satisfying but predictable order of domestic life and into this state of disarray. We become vagabonds, searchers, giddy tourists.
How strange and wonderful it is to stash only the essentials into a bag and shut the door behind us. We lift off. We land somewhere across the world, sometimes alone. What, exactly, has been left behind? And what might lead us back home? Every arrival is a crash course in possibility, but being somewhere new does not always open a path to immediate clarity. Waiting for a bus under a battering sun or breathing the bug spray on a hotel pillow, we crave the safety of our old couch, the comfort of friends and family. But for me, comfort never endures. Restlessness prickles under my skin.
Traveling alone and writing about it is my work, a career I began at 50. It was a discovery at midlife, one that exposed both the escape and the adventure I craved as I confronted my life’s second half. One that reached back to the most elemental part of me, the younger woman I once was, the child I had been.
In third grade, as soon as my mother allowed me to walk to the center of Winchester, Massachusetts, along a half-mile of flat, suburban streets, I always wanted to go alone. “Why don’t you ask a friend to walk with you?” my mother would ask. But I didn’t want a friend. Not then, and not now. I preferred to drift unaccompanied, unencumbered, and I grew intimate with my own independence. Even then, I think I understood the restorative power, the joyous exuberance, of these stretches of time spent alone.
In my twenties and thirties, I traveled — for my work as a television journalist, for weddings, for the heck of it. And then I stopped. I gave up my career as a producer and media executive and moved with my husband and two young children to a rural New England town. During the next several years, I barely set foot on a plane. It was as if this phase of life erected a tough membrane I could not cross. During this time, home was where I belonged, where I needed to be.
Five years of dislocation later, I was in my mid-forties, the land of reckoning. Middle age was less an ebb and flow than a relentless tide. “Your children are all that matter” is the bromide foisted upon every woman as soon as she gives birth, a vague notion about the primacy of mothering above all else that is deeply embedded into our collective consciousness. But if my children were everything that mattered, what, then, was I?
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