I have a super hero power that I invoke when Yoda and I road trip: I luxuriate in being invisible. No one knows me, so we sit and people watch for hours without interruption, without that maddening and foolish little voice in my head that fears judgment for having walked outside with my hair slung in a ponytail and my face scrubbed fresh of makeup, wearing the same pair of faded jeans with a ripped knee that I’ve worn for the past five days in a row. Because I’m anonymous, Yoda and I watch parents playing with their kids, a street musician strumming his guitar, or lovers having a secret conversation with their eyes over a bottle of wine at dinner. People are utterly fascinating.
I’ve spent enough time on the road that I’ve learned when loneliness hits, then it’s time to remove my invisibility cloak. I’ve learned the art of striking up a conversation with a stranger. Asking where I can get a good cup of coffee, or asking what local must-sees I should explore, often leads not only to a short conversation, but at times has even brought laughter and new friendships.
Yet being invisible is only good when I make a conscious choice to be invisible. When I moved from Austin to rural New Jersey five months ago, I was invisible. Unfortunately this time I did not willingly make the choice. Invisibility was thrust upon me. Two days after we moved here, my boyfriend left for two weeks in Eastern Europe (he’s a musician who tours a lot). That means Yoda and I were alone, in the dark woods, without any of our belongings (the moving Pod wasn’t to arrive for another week), and without even knowing how to get to the grocery story without a GPS. Our daily walks were (and continue to be) down our long gravel driveway and back, during which there aren’t even any neighbors to see. To say I was lonely is an understatement. Although I have friends in NYC, which is an hour away, it isn’t like I can pop out and have a cup of coffee with them. I’m an introvert and have always regarded alone time as a fundamental necessity for a happy life, so this searing loneliness really took me by surprise.
I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Yoda was lonely too. He went from seeing his best friend, JC the Mailman, and all our Austin neighbors on a daily basis, to seeing no one but the deer that roam our yard. He wasn’t a happy dog with the changes, and his health suffered, leaving him with mounting anxiety and out of control stress-related colitis. His continuing struggle with the stairs in our house only made things worse.
A few weeks into my move, my close friend Beth Howard (you all probably know her best as Ms. American Pie) flew to NJ to help me adjust to rural living. Beth is a friend I met when we both lived in Los Angeles, and she has spent the past five ½ years living in Iowa, first in the iconic American Gothic House, and now with her new boyfriend on a large farm. Beth helped me decide how to make my boyfriend’s home our home, and she also provided a much needed reprieve from my intense loneliness. One day we invited Beth’s friend Janice over for pie. As luck would have it, Janice only lives 30 minutes away and I knew from the minute I saw her sunlit smile that my New Jersey friend network was beginning to grow. I continue to slowly cultivate my local web of acquaintances, and once I even ran into someone I recognized at a local coffee shop. Finding my way around without a GPS and recognizing people in public are huge landmarks for a place to feel like home.
Life is getting better for Yoda too. His anti-anxiety meds have finally kicked in, and he’s becoming more at home at a local doggy daycare when I travel. A few weeks ago Yoda had an encounter that was bittersweet. We were on one of our numerous daily walks down the driveway and when we got to the street the mail truck was pulling up to our mailbox. His excited yelping broke my heart: I knew he was expecting to see JC the mailman, who gave him a daily Milk-Bone when we lived in Austin. Instead, a friendly mailwoman poked her head out of the truck and said hello. Yoda stopped in his tracks and looked up at me with what I swear was a sad confused look in his eyes. But lucky for him, the sweet mail carrier had her own stash of Milk-Bones! We’ve yet to see her again, but the knowledge that Yoda has made another mail carrier friend is something that makes my heart warm and fuzzy.
Despite the early loneliness, life in the woods is good. Yoda and I get to wake up each day next to the most loving, genuine, fun man who has ever entered our lives. And now that the weather is warming up and we can spend time outside in the neighboring towns, I’m sure our local friend network will continue to grow. The invisibility cloak is going to stay off for awhile.