I also wanted to prove to myself that I was still capable, independent, and competent. I wanted the companionship of me and only me. I didn't want to have to talk about anything, to slow any one down or to have to do what anyone else wanted. Anonymity and privacy are hard to find as a cancer patient when you're constantly prodded in every sense of the word.
After I convinced my parents and husband that I wasn't going to off myself, and no, I wasn't going alone because I didn't enjoy their companionship, I went away. Wistfully I thought about hopping a plane to Paris or San Diego, but more practically, I chose my old stomping grounds on the campus of UNH in Durham. As much as I wanted to prove I still had it, I knew that I didn't fully have it together. My mind was pretty fuzzy and overwhelmed with this new development and I certainly wasn't feeling at the pique of physical shape. If it weren't for the course of steroids I had just started, this inflated sense of confidence probably wouldn't have manifested. So I stuck with the familiar.
I booked a room for one at a bed and breakfast in Portsmouth on the seacoast just 15 minutes away from campus. Portsmouth is easily one of my favorite places in the world. I used to escape there often while in college and for two years nannied for three adorable kids there. We'd take walks from their house into the downtown together to get ice cream or their favorite cinnamony baked treats after a day at The Children's Museum. One in the carriage. One riding the back of it and the oldest by my side.
The drive up was extremely liberating – 3-and-a-half hours of windows down, sunroof open concerts of everything from Kenny Chesney to the Rent soundtrack. It had been six years since I'd been back. But before this long gap, I made the trek from Connecticut to New Hampshire many, many, many times before, traveling at crazy hours back and forth to UConn where Craig was at school, surprising him late at night then leaving painfully early in the morning to make it back to the UNH campus for Lester Fisher's 8 a.m. Black Literature course. If you were 10 seconds late, the door was shut and locked. I narrowly squeaked in on several occasions.
Not much about the ride had changed. I-495 is very long and still under construction, not much to my surprise. The toll charges had risen a few cents and the I-90 on-ramp was as painfully packed as ever. My car probably could have driven itself there. Muscle memory, I suppose?
I got very excited when I crossed the first bridge over New Hampshire seacoast waters. There are two bridges crossed on the way into Durham after finally exiting the succession of freeways. Theses bridges bring back so many good memories. Just like I remembered, there were sail boats passing under and kids and their Dads dangling fishing poles over the edge.
I took the back way into campus so as to pass by our senior year apartment: one of many within a big, historic (maybe a little decrepit) red house. Oh, we loved that place. We even had a little first floor porch to go with our crusty kitchen and shower stall so small you had to stick your rear out the curtain to be able to pick up a dropped bar of soap as there wasn't enough clearance to bend over.
I found a street spot at the center of campus, pulled in and said out loud to the steering wheel: "I made it." Then I just wandered and reminisced amidst the college kids playing ultimate Frisbee or sprawled out studying on the great lawns. There was a warm sun shining and not one cloud in the sky – a day that even made college kids get out of bed before 11 a.m. on a Saturday.
I loved being back as an alum. I checked out the huge hockey rink where I used to play Broomball (hockey with a ball and a "broom" played while wearing sneakers and skidding across the ice). I walked all the way to the UNH Dairy Bar on the far end of campus for a milkshake. It was completely different and they don't even make their own ice cream anymore – instead, it comes from a local creamery. That doesn't mean I passed it up, however.
Sipping chocolate cookie monster through my wide straw, I meandered back through the heart of campus walking old trails and cut-throughs that I used to take. I spent some time on the couch in my favorite room at the Dimond Library with its floor to ceiling windows. Then, it was to visit Hamilton Smith, the building where most all of my English and Journalism classes were taken. I was pleased to see that literally nothing had changed but the bulletin boards with photos of new faculty members and highlighted student work. The Journalism lab was still in the same place and the other classrooms still had the very small, old wooden desks with attached seats and blackboards on the walls. I was jealous reading about upcoming programs, new majors, and internship opportunities.
I checked out the student union, the college newspaper and yearbook offices and then wandered into downtown Durham – the quaintest little place you'll ever see. Our favorite bars were still there, though some had changed names. Same went for the sub and pizza shops. The amazing falafel place was still there and so was Breaking New Grounds coffee shop–a great reading spot, and The Bagelry, a proven cure for the Sunday morning hangover. I couldn't resist popping into Hayden Sports for a UNH hoodie upgrade seeing as mine from 10 years ago is worn to shreds ... and maybe some super cozy sweat pants.
Impressed and proud that I walked the campus length I was exhausted heading back to the car and drove through frat row and out toward Portsmouth. I checked in at the Inn at Strawberry Bank and fell hard into the queen sized canopied bed that I had all to myself waking up two hours later after a glorious nap. I've never stayed overnight by myself somewhere and it felt very chic to say to the inn keeper that "No, it's just me, just wanted to get away," keeping my story very exotic and mysterious. I had made a vow not to mention the "c" word once.
Hungry, I walked through the historic district and ducked into a restaurant called The Common Man. I took a high top table in the bar. The walls were exposed brick and the lighting was very dim. I had a great view of the street. Perfect Saturday night people watching. Meal choice was a quick decision when I saw "crock of lobster mac and cheese". And, Smuttynose IPA bottles (brewed just blocks away) were only $2. It's a very rare occasion that I have a drink nowadays, but I figured this was cause for one, okay, two. The resulting flushed cheeks felt good.
Very full and quite buzzed I wandered through the chilly air, pulling my trench coat belt tight. I walked past the packed Irish pub, the bustling restaurants filled with intimate conversations, lots of groups laughing and stumbling through the lamp lit brick and cobblestone streets. It was both odd and refreshing to be by myself where no one knew who I was. Not ready to curl up back at the inn just yet, I stopped in for an old favorite: a coconut mocha coffee and took in the crowds of teenagers and the whir of conversations among scholars and lovers in the various sunken cushioned couch arrangements.
When I got back to the inn I smiled at a car parked in the driveway adorned with "Just Married" paraphernalia, including the shaving cream message: "Now make more babies!" I didn't see anyone that looked like newlyweds the next morning at breakfast ... I guess they never made it downstairs. With my coffee and a page turner I read for hours listening from my bed to an acoustic singer performing with his guitar on a roof bar blocks away. I slept lightly and discontented but slept nonetheless.
After a hearty breakfast with the New Hampshire Sunday papers and some window shopping through the quaint stores and galleries of downtown Portsmouth it was back on the road. First I took a quick detour 10 minutes north to the Kittery, Maine outlets but after stopping in one store and enduring all of the tourist traffic it took to accomplish that, I was done. Way too overwhelming. The drive home was much less exciting than the drive up. It was very cold and I was very tired and feeling progressively worse. Bad choice on the two beers. Plus, the warm pancakes and fresh fruit-filled hot oatmeal of the morning had forced me into a food coma and I was groggy and grumpy to have to hand in my room key.
With the help of some NPR talk shows and the highway-side foliage I made it back home. The closer I got, the progressively angrier I got as the realities of everything began tumbling back into focus. When I pulled in I immediately crawled into my own bed where I had a real sleep and came to the conclusion that this is the best place for healing to be done. As rough as the difficult parts in my life are, the wonderful parts are that much more pronounced. As proud as I was of myself and as much as I enjoyed my little independent escape, it felt so good when Craig walked in the door and we cuddled in with Sam to watch Sunday night football. Maybe it took getting away to appreciate that I have nothing to hide from.