I had wanted—in fact, deliberately outlined—a triumphant ending to my book tracing Edith Wharton’s trip to Morocco in 1917. As a grad student in the 1990s and early-2000s, I had lived in Morocco and France and traveled to Egypt, Tunisia, Mali and Mauritania. This spring, I intended to evoke that experience by spending six months in various cities in Morocco and France. There, I would seek out archives that shed light on North African history and reflect deeply about my youthful engagement with Morocco.
I had expended a lot of energy writing grants to secure one year for travel and writing. And I won a Fulbright! With the time off from teaching that this grant provided me, I could close my long and complicated relationship with Morocco on my own terms as I completed research on Edith Wharton’s Morocco.
Morocco, however, kicked my a$%, and the universe denied me the ending of the book I wanted to write.
The a$%-kicking began when I came back to Indiana for a supposedly quick trip to renew my tourist visa to Morocco. I returned on my 52nd birthday and traveled every single hour of March 18th…and then some.
I did not get to return to Morocco.
I came down with a sinus infection within twelve hours of landing, but antibiotics did not help all symptoms. I would sweat at odd times. I couldn’t eat, even though I was hungry. I was tired…so tired. I sweat for no reason, and it was hard to breathe. My memory banks were running slow, and I searched for words.
My husband insisted that I see his doctor, a talented diagnostician. A blood panel revealed that my thyroid is out-of-whack, and I am anemic. I also have low levels Vitamin D and Vitamin B. And prediabetes.
The doctor advised that I defer the end of my Fulbright grant to Morocco to an unspecified future date. I also cancelled a once-in-a-lifetime trip to France. I gave up a two-bedroom apartment that I had rented in Paris’s 6th arrondissement, near the café where Camus and Sartre had once discussed philosophy. I also cancelled a reservation at a boutique hotel in Nantes, a renovated cathedral where I had been sure to book the apse.
I began then to recognize that I had hocked a part of my financial security in order to stage my midlife transition in NICE places in SHI-SHI neighborhoods.
Instead, I returned abruptly to my everyday life.
At first, I railed at the gods, because I missed my chance to have the exciting and scintillating trip that would provide a perfect ending to a literary pilgrimage that I had wanted to function also as a reflection on aging. I desperately wanted that celebratory and glamorous finale that I had so carefully devised.
But no one can script a book about her life in advance.
One morning last week, I paged through Real Simple Magazine as I drank coffee. A photo of a sapphire and yellow butterfly caught my eye. Dazzlingly green clover surrounded the rock on which it rested.
The quote underneath spoke to me: “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you come from with new eyes and extra colors.”
It is time to live fully as a middle-aged American woman in a Midwestern town. I am ready to settle down for the long haul. In fact, a contractor comes on Friday to assess home improvement projects that Mark and I have put off for years, while I traveled.
I am buckling down. Every day, I take my medications, like the doctor ordered, and one day soon, I swear, I will start to exercise, too. I embrace my work as a historian and a teacher. I make sure my cats receive appropriate adoration and care. I love my husband, no longer expecting him to act like a hero in a romance novel.
Most of all, I forgive myself for not staying that outgoing, somewhat reckless traveler that I was twenty-five years ago.