Homeward Unbound — Chapter 4: The Worst Day Ever, Tears, and Triumph

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

It was 7:00 PM. We had just traveled about 6 hours from Phoenix, AZ to San Diego, CA. There, Alicia felt terrible and I was agonizing over yet another emergency room visit. We knew the drill. It would be yet another visit where doctors tell us nothing. Another tedious emergency room bill to deal with. Another visit with no answers, diminishing hope, and continued despair.

I made the decision to drive back to Phoenix, AZ. It’s where she felt good. It was her safe zone. A term we use for locations where the potential of her health being comprised is minimal. She has the nose of a bloodhound and her body responds in accordance with her present environment.

While I was driving, Alicia scurried to get us a hotel for the day. Even that was a challenge since most hotels cause her to react to her biotoxin illness.

Alicia was trying to find us a hotel and was having a hard time because of the Barrett Jackson’s Car Show, the first real event in Arizona since the start of the pandemic. I feel as if I am in a futuristic movie when I say pandemic, but that’s neither here nor there.

After about 10 phone calls, we found a Residence Inn that had one room left. It came with a hefty price tag of $300. We booked it as we were at the whim of supply and demand.

We arrived in Phoenix around 2:00 AM. I was exhausted from a continuous 12-hour drive loop.

We checked into the hotel and grabbed our keys. We inspect each hotel room before moving our bags in. We look like detectives from CSI looking for hidden clues that can tell us if a building has signs of current or previous mold.

Upon checking the room, a smell of mildew, chemical bleach, and chlorine wreaked havoc through our nostrils. I was feeling a bit lightheaded and I knew if this was the case, Alicia was probably feeling 10x worse. These were already red flags, but the icing on the cake was a gargantuan cockroach that greeted Alicia in style when she was looking for signs of mold below the sink.

We knew we couldn’t stay there.

I tried calling other hotels but the entire Phoenix Metropolitan area had zilch. We knew Walmart allows people to stay overnight in their parking lots so that’s what we did. We slept in our car, seats upright, with all that we had to survive packed neatly behind us.

I was exhausted, tired, smelled of sweat, stress, and refried beans. I was a man, defeated.

We awoke the next day at 5:00 AM. I had slept about 20 minutes in the past 24 hours. Alicia had to go to the bathroom but nothing was open. She said she would use the Home Depot bucket we bought for such emergency occasions.

I couldn’t believe it had come to this.

My heart was heavy.

The light of optimism and gratitude I carry tightly withered in the wind. My hope was diminishing.

I saw a Starbucks that had just opened and suggested we go there. I attempted to start the car but the battery was dead. Turns out that despite the car being off and no electricity running, the plugging in of a device, in our case a phone, still leeches power from the car battery.

I lost it.

The mind that I thought I had control over made me its unequivocal bitch real quick. I was frustrated, and yelled, “Why can’t we catch a fucking break?!”

I stormed out and slammed our car door. Later that day Alicia told me she thought I would leave her stranded in the parking lot.

That was never an option.

Was I frustrated? Yes.

Was this time one of the hardest in my life? Yes and no. My life has been riddled with struggle.

Would I change anything? Absolutely not.

It’s because of the fucked up situations, that I am who I am. With every challenge, the harder I become on the exterior, while still maintaining reverence and gratitude for existence.

Life only has meaning because of love. The thought of experiencing life and not being able to do it with Alicia is unbearable. This quote from Jim to Dwight from The Office is able to capture my sentiments clearly.

Jim: “I don’t know what you want me to tell you, man. All I know is that every time I’ve been faced with a tough decision, there’s only one thing that outweighs every other concern — one thing that will make you give up on everything you thought you knew. Every instinct. Every rational calculation

Dwight: Some sort of virus?

Jim: Love… Dwight, listen, no matter happens, you gotta forget about all the other stuff. You gotta forget about logic and fear and doubt. You just gotta do everything you can do get to the one woman who’s going to make all this worth it. At the end of the day, you gotta jump. You love Angela, Dwight. I think you always have.

When your beloved is in the emergency room and she feels that her life is ending, it puts things into perspective quickly. “What if today was Alicia’s last day?” I would say to myself. Wouldn’t I want to make sure she’s safe and healthy? Wouldn’t I want to treasure her like the gift she is?

Leaving Alicia is something that my heart can’t do because it doesn’t know-how.

We eventually got AAA to come, give us a jump, and we decided that day that we are done traveling and we are ready to set up shop in Arizona for the time being.

I booked a hotel for a week. I made it a point to find a place within that time.

During the same day, we started hunting for a place with a type of ferocity that a lion embodies when he’s a meal away from starvation.

Finding a place was serious work. Alicia vetted every place with a fine comb. We had the following requirements:

  • The washer had to be top-loading. Front-loading washers have the propensity to collect mold between their rubber perimeter lips
  • There needed to be proper ventilation and the vents needed to be clean. I can’t tell you how many places we visited where this wasn’t the case
  • The apartment had to allow us to put in our own HEPA filters
  • No apartments with gas stoves
  • The kitchen had to have proper ventilation above the stove. You’d be surprised how many places didn’t have this
  • The majority of the apartment must have hardwood floors
  • We needed a place where maintenance is quick to respond
  • We must avoid apartment buildings located near any cellphone towers, golf courses, agricultural farms, standing or flowing water, airports, highly trafficked areas, or major highways. These all add toxicity to the surrounding environment.
  • We needed a place where Alicia felt good. Her illness has given her a superpower to detect inadequate living spaces and surrounding environments.

After 3 days and viewing almost 25 places, we finally found a place that met all of our requirements. It even exceeded a few!

We are beyond grateful to call North Scottsdale home for a while. Oregon is still our primary residence, but we will be selling that house during the end of the year and re-evaluating where we want to live then.

After 2 1/2 months of traveling, near-death experiences, and being enchanted by so many national and state parks, we are tired, relieved, and happy to have a stomping ground.

This journey has taught me many things, but the most important is gratitude.

Every fucking day I wake up and practice gratitude. I take a few minutes, close my eyes, and deliberately and consciously take time to identify those things that I am grateful for. It’s become my daily prayer.

Today I feel a richness that words can’t comprehend.

I have clothes, shelter, food, a career, a few close family/friends, a passion for writing, and my feisty, loving, smokin’ hot wife back.

Beyond this, everything else is a bonus.

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