For months I’ve imagined two of us on the upcoming Portugal trip, but, alas, a family emergency necessitates my friend Susan’s staying home. When word of this came, I worried about her situation, and her disappointment. She had been such an eager participant. It took me two or three days to fully comprehend I’d be landing in Porto alone, renting a car alone, navigating alone, considering how I might turn a few-day foray into a long-term stay alone.  To process, as they say, the change. She says the same thing happened to her. She was still imagining herself on the plane long after it was evident our plans had dissolved.

I’ve traveled alone before. Quite a lot. But this trip is different, because it’s not for business, not for sightseeing — although there will be plenty of that, too. This is a reconnaissance trip. An exploration. I expect it to be fulfilling. But I expected it to be shared.

I’m okay. I’m not okay that her family is in emergency mode, but I’m happy to report there’s steady improvement on her home front. I have stopped imagining how we might spend the seven-hour flight, and started downloading podcasts and music to stay occupied. I’ve stopped imagining us getting lost on back roads together, and decided to invest in the GPS option on the car rental. I’ll be a different sort of explorer. This situation better mimics what living in a new country alone might feel like — just as, I might add, a low-residency MFA program might better duplicate the frequently solitude writer’s life better than full residency when one is surrounded with like minds.

Susan has left me with two pieces of advice, fulfilling her role as navigator in a different way: As I drive, be calm, be patient. wait for the right exit, wait for the right turn. But, if I exit too soon, turn left instead of right, simply change my destination.


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