In the River of Now

Finding a new way of life in a Knoxville RV park

Maybe it was all those Harleys rolling into the campground. I mean, I've had small realizations seep in over the last few months and certainly moments of synchronicity surfaced when Joel and I looked at each other, wordless, and smiled in simultaneous recognition. But the roaring engines brought it home for me. Brought it to this new home, this temporary home, called Knoxville.

We don't have to wait for falling leaves to view an ever-changing landscape. This landscape has a current. Though we get level and remain stationary for a time, we feel its flow around us, acknowledging we are part of it, beckoning acceptance. Like a tide rushes in and pulls discreetly away, RVs arrive and park for a week or an evening. Tent occupants wander to the port-o-johns in early morning. Barking dogs chase squirrels up trees for days and then disappear. Even when our own wheels are securely chocked and the three slide-outs protrude from the belly of our odd-shaped vessel, our obvious transience molds affinity with others.

An anonymous intimacy exists among the extended family of campers. Eager to socialize, they've helped us improve the vague neighborly wave we'd practiced on people whose names we weren't sure of even after seven years. Judgment dissipates as I find myself sharing barbecue recipes and relationship details with those who parked next to me the night before. Knowing we may never cross each other's paths again only unites us closer in the moment, and we observe the singularity of each passing day.

A permanent vacation? Not exactly. We didn't want a retreat from life but a life of retreat. Retreat, that is, from our compulsive consumerism and type-A workaholic tendencies. Somehow diminished by endless opportunity in our land of plenty, we held out hoping to find more than corporate stock options and generous bonus plans. An English teacher and an MRI technologist, we were perfectly middle class. Only Joel had the glorious option of bringing his career with him to wherever we traveled.

Maybe we can't live forever in the confines of 32 feet. Perhaps we'll go stir crazy once we experience our first snowfall or trip over each other's Birkenstocks in our six-by-eight living room one too many times. But for now, the blessed Now, I'm growing into the beautiful simplicity of it all. I'm suddenly diving in and submerging myself in the comfort of just getting by. Vacuuming, for example, takes five minutes. If I need to retrieve some cat food, our basement is just two steps down. With only three burners and a miniature oven, I've simplified our meals, though I'm mystified by the myriad spices we've managed to lug over 1,000 miles. Choices are otherwise limited, so we settle within our parameters.

But what of stability and the American Dream? My mother questions, smiling but earnest, why we can't just settle down. But Mom, we tried that. We settled, but not in the right direction. It wasn't a better life, and this new life isn't as complicated as it seems. Sure, there's the black water tank to contend with and it's a bitch to park, but hey, aren't we, after all, just creatures of habit? Establish a new habit and we fall into that groove just as easily as anything else. So it seems adolescent to wander aimlessly, following the fluid curvatures of chance. Maybe we're just stubborn, unwilling to succumb to our age, imposing on ourselves an early mid-life crisis. But even if I come back for another time around on this earth, it will not be in this form, in this Now. I will only be me this once, so how can I let the other possibilities slip by unexplored? She just doesn't know what to say to that.

Suburbia took its toll on us. Emerson's notion of "quiet desperation" gnawed at me during those fleeting pauses induced by an onset of South Florida traffic jam. I couldn't resolve my longing to divert course. Yet I stayed: Another man-made dam in a dark river deep enough to drown in. Our house was ultimately on the market for nine numbing months.

It was a large life, brimming with obligations, lists and deadlines, weighted with expectations, effort and good intentions. But it was not our life. Although I didn't know it exactly as we spent days loading up the POD, giving away the furniture, generator and excess clothes, I needed to reconstruct myself. Joel said we should "decompress." I understand what he meant, and that's worked for him. But for me it was more about compression. It's a process, and after four months I am still capturing the frayed edges and reeling them in. I'm pushing inwards, reducing mass, getting denser. I recognize to where my personal periphery extends. Yes, there are limits to things after all.

Occasionally, like today, adrenaline pumps and perks up my attention. Good Morning, America! I guess I was expecting the Hell's Angels. I was warned they would drink a lot and rowdy up the campground. Bring it on, I thought. The ebb, the flow. But the Harley Hogs emerged as a vibrant crew living their weekend dream. More advanced in their middle-age than we are, these folks are clear on what it takes to have a good time. A strong engine roaring between your legs and the promise of a soulful drive on a clear day. I can't deny my attraction to that quintessential symbol of freedom on the open road. Individuals pour impressive savings and credit card advances into building their dreams. I've seen it; I've done it. Why not a motorcycle, if it gets the job done and brings you closer to Home?

Some people immediately get it; they smile at our fifth wheel, sharing stories of how they almost… or how they wish they… or how when they retire… We appreciate their feedback, though I for one feel a bit misunderstood. Others—like my best friend, who, when entering our new abode, deadpanned me with, "I could never live like this"—heighten my awareness that this is not for everyone, nor should it be.

Life is different now. We aren't who we were, but evolving representations of who we've always wanted to be. Isn't that the best we can reasonably hope for? Anonymity frees us, but deepens our universal bond with others even if we don't know their names. I'm less about me and more about Us, all of Us. I'm learning to detach from the nit-pickiness of life. Less obsessed with my split ends, I no longer acquiesce to monthly pedicures. Though my heels have gone rough, my smile has grown wide. Isn't that what strangers see anyway? So maybe I can't cultivate a garden or pick backyard hibiscus blooms in my nightie. My backyard no longer has a fence, and I could walk along forever calling each pebble my own.

A quiet acceptance of everything permeates not only my miniscule dwelling but also the air surrounding me as I linger along the water's edge, because at the end of the day it's all okay—and I realize the (wo-)man-made struggles and the hells we create for ourselves are self-imposed. I cast my sword adrift. I wish I could have understood a decade ago that life doesn't have to be a salmon's struggle upstream; sometimes you've just got to go with the flow and see where the river takes you. m

Other Lives is a new column wherein readers give us a window into their own experiences. Got an interesting story about your life to share? Tell us about it: