I Will Never Leave You


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?

Desert sky at sunset - Castle Valley, Utah

She appreciates a good desert sky at sunset. Castle Valley, Utah

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.

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.

Louie the Dog at Home

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

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, 8600 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. Leasa Roberts says:

    Beautiful story. I followed the whole trip. I thought to myself maybe one day I could take my dog and venture out like you did. I bet it’s a great way to find yourself. Because wherever you go, you take yourself with you.

  2. Simply put: I want to read your book. Thank you for doing this and for sharing. I’ve had so many cathartic cries from reading your posts.

  3. Bravo! Now for a quick $200.00 Chicken Soup is looking for I Can’t Believe My Dog Did That…you have your story right here!

  4. jean, the only thing i can say is thank you.

  5. I am so glad you did this and experienced so many positive things and changes in your life. For some reason I thought you were going for months. But you accomplished what you set out to do and yu did it. Now back to another life with all new adventures.

  6. Thank you for your stories from the road. Thank you for taking us along on your journey. Thank you for sharing this part of your life. And finally, thank you for letting us be a part of it. I can’t wait for a book!

  7. “Lucky is the little girl who is now in the hands of the woman I’ve become.” Wow. May we all come to be that comfortable with ourselves.

  8. Nancy Parker says:

    Wow, Jean….you “get” it…congratulations!!! Never mind the bill collectors, there is this issue of living that you are doing…..it will all be OK….promise! I respect your courage, faith and spunk. I am so glad I met you in person and so grateful to take the joureny with you…..we ARE gypsies….no doubt….THANK GOD for that wonderful aspect. If you are ever in Weatherford, Texas again….I have a bottle of wine and a beautiful Texas sunset waiting in your honor….and Libby too, of course.

    God HAS blessed you…and me!
    Fabulous Friday
    Nancy Parker

    • Hi Nancy,
      Well, I’ll never forget pulling over to in Weatherford to see, “who is this woman in the cowboy hat and boots in this heat?” And lo and behold it was Miss Nancy. So good to meet you, thank you so much for following along with me. Best of luck and I WILL be back through Weatherford. I love it there.

  9. That’s a great piece. I hope the book is already in progress.

  10. Great trip for you. Great stories for us. Welcome home, Jean and Libby.

  11. Katy Mackay says:

    I’ll be seeing you and Libby on your speaking tour…that’s right, once the book is out, you’ll be doing “stand ups” again. thank you for the journey, Jean

    • Thanks for the TV news nod, Katy. I actually miss those stand ups, Many times when I was out in the desert, I’d think about the number of times I stood out in 40MPH winds and tried to look good. Impossible. Thank you for your attention.

  12. Melba Lanham says:

    I knew when I had the privilege of sitting next to you in that very crowded Sushi Restaurant I was in for a fun time… you are very much a ‘story’ in motion. What a pleasure that was and I am so delighted we met.

    One thing I constantly find to be such a dilemma… tomorrow we adopt our foster dog to a great couple. He has been our foster dog for well over a year. He came to us lost, nameless, fearful of thunderstorms, fearful of being left alone and having a seizure disorder. Now, all these months later having built some confidence, letting him know by using the Thundershirt and fun things he can indeed be okay through thunderstorms, showing him we always come back after closing that door… we will be walking away for a final time. I have promised him for over a year we would come back… and now we won’t. The new family will take good care of him, they will love him and he loved them when he met them… but will I ever forget that look through the door – ‘are you going to leave me?’
    We rarely have foster dogs for this long in our home. This one is hard…
    Thanks for this piece that you shared and thanks for the great time at dinner!

  13. Wonderful piece:) Love you very much and am so proud of your faith, courage and determination. I treasure all the stories and look forward to more!

  14. Gerry Mandel says:

    Years from now, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, whatever happiness and sadness you’ve encountered, you can look back on the Summer of 2011 and say, “I did it.” No one can ever take that from you, Jean. Welcome home… and happy trails.

    • Hi Gerry,
      I really appreciate you reminding me of this — right now, it already seems like a long time ago, with all the pressing details of my back to reality. But, I do stop and visualize the rolling hills of the Appalachians, and the canyons in Utah and wide open spaces of Nevada — and SO many sunsets, SO many. I will never forget. Thank you for keeping me honest.

  15. This was so beautiful and moving – as your whole jouney has been. I admire you so much for having done it! And I can’t thank you enough for sharing it with us! Enjoy your first days back home…though I definitely understand the call of the road.

    Bravo – you did it!!!! I can’t wait to read the book.

  16. Welcome back to St. Louis, Jean! I hope I get to see you soon! And congratulations on all youve seen and discovered!

  17. Jean, my other mother, congrats on your journey and welcome home. I loved living a piece of your life through your writing you continue to inspire me everyday. You are the strongest person I know. Thanks for bringing me along for the ride. I only wish I was there to greet you at the door. See you soon enough. Love you. Peace

    • Hey Connor,

      Wow, what a wonderful comment. I don’t know if strongest gets you anything other than sore muscles, baby. But if I inspire you, then, I’m happy, but you’re no chopped liver yourself. Why do they say chopped? As if liver isn’t bad enough just as plain old liver? Peace out and love you too, honey. Glad to be home.

  18. Charles Fremont says:

    Welcome back to Webster Groves. Welcome Home! But truly, throughout your travels, you were always home, home within yourself, and with Libby. May it always be so. It will be so.

    Some of your snapshots really haunt me, Jean, in a good way. Libby looking through the door at Lake Tahoe. Wow. The place –among so many– where conference calls are forgotten. Those vistas in the middle of nowhere just knock me out; I want to paint that ineffable edge, that shifting line between the desert ridge and the glowing sky, which you know will become a silhouette at night with a toenail moon rising and the sound of a coyote far off. How beautiful are the truths you’ve written down. Just keep on snapping, keep on writing. It will be good to see you when you are ready to put your feet up and sip some wine. Though you may be “home” the journey never ends.