I Will Never Leave You


* This is  a re-post from September. Apologies to long -time readers. I am re-posting for some new visitors to the site.

September 2, 2011

I hear the low rumble of trucks on the freeway from my porch, back home from my 8,600 mile odyssey. What just last night felt like a predator, the rattle and whirr of tractor trailer rigs, crowding me closer, closer and closer with each mile nearer home, now seems a seductress calling from a distance.

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It’s like a pack of cigarettes in the dresser drawer, a bottle of booze in the cupboard, it is simply, there. Get in the car and just drive away, drive to the next town, the next motel, the next deserted stretch of highway, where your faithful dog waits patiently, no matter how long the photo takes.

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How many places did we stop? How many vistas shared, we two?

Libby the Dog Travels

She enjoyed the view as much as I did.

I understand why people become gypsies. Life on the road is simple: move, eat, sleep, move, eat, sleep. Back to reality, with all its tangential threads, is proving to be its own challenge after eight weeks on the road. I knew this when I was out there, I knew what I’d be coming back to. I was awakened by a bill collector this morning. Welcome home.
I need to take deep breaths, one after another. Remember the sunsets.

Blue Mesa Lake

Blue Mesa Lake, Near Gunison, CO


Like monitoring the trip meter on a dark highway, driving beyond sunset, beyond fatigue, too many stops to take photos, I’d watch the miles click by, bringing me closer to the next stop, the next damn hamburger, the next bed.

Motel - Salinas KS

The last motel. Salina, Kansas

I now measure my progress, one weed at a time, one creditor at a time, cleaning one kitchen appliance at a time.

To say that I am grateful to be home though, is like saying the Grand Canyon is big. Of course I am. Hugging Seannie and Lauren and that giant ball of mischievous fur, called Louie, I was never so grateful to see two humans and a dog in my life.

Louie the Dog at Home

King Louie, Guardian of the home front in Libby’s absence

I was back, I’d made it! Eight weeks and 8,600 miles after I backed out the driveway full of fear and doubt, I had driven from the Midwest, to the east coast all the way to San Francisco and back again, by myself, with just my dog. Just my sweet, darling Libby, who wasn’t nearly as emotional as I was at the sight of our little house on Grant Road. But then, she wasn’t as emotional as I’d been about any number of events on this trip. She reacted to familiar turf with moderate enthusiasm, sniffing all the old familiar places. She wagged her tail at Sean, but she didn’t jump on him, Sean, her savior! The boy who chose her, over all the other puppies at the shelter. She was somewhat dismissive of Louie, as if to say, “are you still here?” and then trotted in the house like she owns the joint. You see what I mean.

Dog Sleeping on Couch

We never let dogs on the couch.

And while I am still seeing thousands of images in my mind, and thunder last night made me think of the motel maid’s cart, it’s as if Libby’s wiped her doggie memory clean. In just one day, she no longer springs to her feet when I jiggle the car keys. She no longer stands by the door, fearful I’ll take off without her.
A Dog's Love

How could she think I could ever leave her? Lake Tahoe, CA

I captured this photo in Lake Tahoe and it nearly broke my heart. From New York to California, she did this every time I started loading the car. She’d stand by the door, worried, heart racing, riveted gaze on my every move, afraid I would leave her.

Leave her?

As if I ever could. She was my rock, my bed buddy, my muse, my witness, my confessor and accomplice, my golden guardian and my friend. So how to prove my love? How could I ever convince her that I could not abandon her.

I come in the door and get down on the floor and whisper in her ear.

“I will never leave you.”
“I will never leave you.”
“I will never leave you.”

Oh that we humans should be so fortunate to have such ironclad assurance, patting us on the head, scouting up ahead, around the bend, tucking us in at night, raising us up into a bosom of protection.

Ah, but we do. And it is God. This is the God which, if we are open to the bending, will forge us into our better selves. This is the God who speaks to us through the tired lips of the dying and the wind through mountain pines, the God who appears to us in sun drenched boys on desert highways and freckled-faced girls who hand us coffee through the window, the God who stirs our soul at the wonder of creation and sends us one of his best to ride along with us  – to witness, to heal and humor us, asking little in return.

Libby trusts me. She trusts me implicitly, without question or reservation, motive or malice. I am her God. I am her guardian.

Off the Leash in Nevada

She never rushed me. Somewhere in Nevada.

Just as I am my own. Eight weeks, eighty-six hundred miles and I am still with me. I am the faithful guardian on this one life. My life. There is no one alive better qualified to watch over me than me. Lucky is the little girl who is now in the loving hands of the woman I’ve become.

I am still with me.

Through abandonment, betrayal, loss and pain, I am still with me, the same little girl who rode out far from the farm house, still I ride unworried, alone. We come in alone, we go out alone. We have these blessed companions, husbands, wives, sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, friends and dogs, of course dogs, but through it all, we journey alone.

Stop and Enjoy the View

Conference calls forgotten here.

Yet, we are bound together. Whether through blood, by choice or chance, for a lifetime or a minute, we’re like traffic on the highway, pulsing blue spheres on the GPS of time. We merge, with a “come on” nod from the driver who lets us in their lane for awhile;  their path, their journey, their family, their life, until such time our paths diverge and we’re traveling solo, seeking our own true north.

How fortunate are those who find and follow.

Led my love, self-love, brotherly love, maternal, passionate and puppy. Love is all that matters.  Love knows no boundaries. It transcends all race, gender, geography, station in life and species. Love is what we’re sent here for, or more importantly, the courage to love, the willingness to face your fear, to turn the key and start your engine.

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About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Daryl Shadrick says:

    The story of your trip, and the banner photograph showing you and your dog overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, reminded me of my own cross-country road trip in the summer of 2006. I also made the trip with a dog, my son’s dog Tina. My son was living in San Francisco and finally had an apartment where he was allowed to have pets. I was going to Santa Fe to attend massage school. But first I drove from Bloomington, Indiana to San Francisco to take Tina to live with my son. Already she was an older dog, and I thought she would live out the rest of her life with him. And as we drove across the Bay Bridge, with Tina sitting upright in the passenger seat, an ear-to-ear grin on her face with the San Francisco skyline behind her, I thought to myself that those probably were the last few minutes I would ever spend with her. I delivered Tina to my son, stayed overnight to rest, then started out for Santa Fe the next day. I drove across Route 50 in Nevada, dubbed the Loneliest Road in America, over-nighted in Ely, then wound across south-central Utah to the southeast, through Moab and on eventually to another overnight in Cortez, Colorado. Finally I got to Santa Fe, 3,000 miles and seven days after I’d started. Massage school didn’t pan out, and there were yet more road trips to come before I returned to Indiana the following summer. The next fall, in 2007, my son had to move out, and at first he was just going to try and find a new home for Tina. But I told him I wanted her back. I went and got her in San Francisco and brought her back to Indiana, this time by airplane. I believe it was just a coincidence, but very soon after I came back with her, Tina’s kidneys started failing rapidly. I had her euthanized just before Christmas. So she isn’t with us any more. But that late summer road trip in 2006 across the country with my son’s dog and then back to New Mexico will stay with me as long as I have a memory to remember. So I enjoyed reading about your trip. I hope there is more to come. And I wish for many more good times for you and your dog together.
    Daryl Shadrick, Bloomington, Indiana

    • I have tried to respond to your comment three times, but every time I’d just start bawling. So, here I sit, Daryl, eyes filled with tears in the university library working on “the book” which is the journey from the rear view mirror, and I had to stop and just say thank you so very much for your beautiful story.

      You get it. You get what it feels like to be out on the open highway, with vistas of every imaginable kind, with a your silent, soulful, faithful companion by your side, every minute, every mile. As I wrote a post here last summer, “Get Another Dog,” these four-legged angels have no idea
      what they do for us. They have no idea. We’re the fortunate guardians, aren’t we ? Your story is absolutely beautiful, touched my heart on a day when I needed a lift AND I did not know that Highway 50 across Nevada is known as the “Loneliest Highway in America” but it is certainly an apt description — and for me, the setting for some profound discoveries which I will talk more about in the book. Santa Fe, that’s close to home, dude, I’m from Albuquerque!

      Peace out, darlin’ and thank you so very much.

      • Daryl Shadrick says:

        Thanks, Jean. I’m glad to know my story resonated. Actually, my story contains a couple of minor errors, to be persnickety about things. On my trip back across Nevada heading for Santa Fe, I overnighted in Ely, not Elko (I overnighted in Elko on the way to San Francisco…got the two towns mixed up in my mind). I actually spent two nights and one full day in San Francisco before I headed on to Santa Fe. And actually, Route 50 in Nevada was labeled “The Loneliest Road [not “highway”] in America” by Life Magazine in 1986. But those errors creep in when one extemporizes as 4:30 AM, I suppose.

        I didn’t mention it because it seemed extraneous to the story at hand, but growing up my family used to go on road trips to Colorado, and I still have childhood memories of those road trips, especially the trek across Kansas and the high plains of eastern Colorado. And I’m toying with the idea of celebrating my 60th next year by retracing the exact route, as much as is still possible, that we took on those trips to Colorado.

        If you don’t mind, I have a story for you about Albuquerque. In the summer of 1999, my son (age 14 at the time) decided to spend 6 weeks of his summer vacation at his grandmother’s house in upstate New York. I was a widower, and not with anyone at the time, so I had the opportunity to vacation alone for the first time since forever, it seemed. I thought over all the places where I’d never been but might want to go, and I decided to go to Santa Fe. But rather than stay in Santa Fe proper, I decided to stay at a rural bed & breakfast on the side of Ortiz Mountain, a three mile drive up a gravel road off of Route 14 (the “Turquoise Trail”). I wanted quiet and alone, and I had plenty of each out there on the mountainside, yet in the evening I could still see all the way to the lights in Santa Fe. Anyway, on the morning I left, I drove back down Rt. 14 to where it intersects with the interstate highway. I was listening to this radio station that called itself Radio Romantica, a station that isn’t still on the dial anymore, or has changed formats, at least. And right at that spot where you come around a curve and suddenly there’s the city and the entire valley stretching out before you, they were playing this mournful bolero, and I started weeping right there on Route 25. I had to pull over into the emergency lane because I couldn’t even see to drive. That was the first time I felt the call of the land, *that* land. I haven’t figured out how to heed that call, or for sure, even, whether I want to heed the call. Maybe it will be enough just to go for Christmas in Santa Fe, like I did just a few weeks ago. I don’t quite feel well enough off, just yet, to go for Christmas every single year. This last one was my second Christmas in Santa Fe. But if I could, I for certain would, ’cause these were the two nicest Christmases I’ve ever had.

        But you know, there’s one important thing I learned in Santa Fe. There are people who aren’t storytellers. For those of us who by nature *are* storytellers, it seems inconceivable. I always tended to think that in the world there were either storytellers or suppressed/repressed storytellers. But it’s not true. There really are people who don’t organize and shape their experiences by telling stories about them. They may still express themselves, but not in ways that readily translate back into narratives, or even into words.

        Well, I’m occupied enough of your attention, if you’re still reading. I’ll follow your blog, and if you’re writing a book, I’ll be watching for it to come out someday. If you maintain a mailing list, you’d be welcome to add my email to it — catalpa00@gmail.com. Me? Well, I don’t have a blog or a Web site, and haven’t really felt the urge to have either. But if I change my mind, I’ll send you a note or something.


  2. Sharon Love says:

    RIP Daryl. He passed In early June….he is now traveling the beyond with Tina by his side. Good nite Daryl, happy trails to you and Tina.

    • Hello Sharon,
      I am so sorry to hear about Daryl’s passing. For the rest of you all, Daryl was a nice man, he translated Japanese and was a dog lover/photographer who found my blog site and had been corresponding with me occasionally. He’d told me about taking a road trip with his dog Tina, from Indiana to San Francisco, if memory serves. And he spent a lot of time in New Mexico as well, mi tierra madre. We’d swap photos of some of our favorite, inspiring New Mexico landscapes, once in a while I’d get a pic and he’d say, “guess where this is?” and it would be some lonesome highway. Often I was right, sometimes not. He’d also send me clips from national publications, just in May he sent me a link to a New York Times article on traveling with your dog, with a simple note, “thought you’d enjoy this.” How blessed are we who make friends with thoughtful strangers who enrich our lives. I never met Daryl, never laid eyes on him, but I will miss his sweet soul.