What I Didn’t Know Then


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One year ago tonight, at this precise moment of sundown on a Midwestern prairie, Libby and I were headed eastbound on U.S. 64 near Springfield, Illinois, where I would pull in to a nondescript Red Roof Inn, ushering in the first of many nights in which the motel maid was often the first and last human I’d speak to all day.

Libby's Beds

How many beds did she sleep on?

Looking back, I shudder to think of what could have gone wrong. So much could have, what with a middle-aged woman, traveling all over the country with nobody but her dog. And the fatigue, oh my God, there were times when I would be so tired of driving –I mean eight solid weeks on the road, no relief driver. It freaks me out to think about it, I’m so grateful I made it home.

When I started out, it was as if there was this light outside my windows, pulling me out, calling to me to come discover what lay beyond my ability to see. Out there, somewhere is where my contentment lies, out there, somewhere are my answers.  As early as Akron, only the fourth day on the road, I was on the outside looking in, wondering about the people who lived inside the houses Libby and I drove by, inconsequential interlopers, transient, invisible.

The sun was going down. I backtracked through the streets under a canopy of trees, the low-lying sun throwing long, twilight shadows. I drove past the country club, where fancy-dressed folks carried white-wrapped boxes, the girls in clicky heels and low-cut dresses, boys in suits with skinny ties: a wedding, of course. It must have been a wedding on a lovely summer evening. At a four-way stop, a couple crossed in front of me, walking their dog. A half-block down, two adolescent boys on skateboards, laughing, rolled past a jogger logging his miles before dark. Lights popped on here and there: table lamps, porch lights, street lights, the blue light from TVs spilling across kitchen counters and coffee tables. I could see through sheer curtains eight o’clock, Saturday night, Akron, Ohio, coming on. I couldn’t help but wonder, were the lights turned on back home?

What I didn’t know then, was that I possessed all the light I needed, inside of me, to illuminate my path for the rest of my life. This is the part of the story I can not wait to share with you.  I am so grateful for the journey. I’m so grateful for my dog and I am eternally grateful for all of you who went along for the ride, starting one year ago tonight.

I hope to have the ebook up within the next two weeks (I’ll let you know where you can download it)  and here’s a VERY exciting development — I am actually in talks with a publisher about the print version of the book. So, hold a good thought,  this could be very, very cool.

In the meantime, I’ll be reporting here on how the folks I introduced you to last summer are getting along this summer, one year down the road. I’m also interested in hearing how you are doing and if you’ve figured out your own way to get, “off the leash.”

These gals sure as hell know how.

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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. Jean

    Brilliant. I’m so happy for you – and I was just thinking of you YESTERDAY. How weird. I’d love to share my “off the leash” story. Short version: I now own my own training and behavior company specializing in aggressive dog cases. I love it. While I appreciate my former employer so very much (and am still a paid adviser for them) – I so very much love being off the leash and on my own. So fun!

    Peace and Love

    • Just so everybody will know, and as further evidence that there are SO many connections which we can’t even fathom, I was just thinking about this guy, Michael Baugh yesterday too. Okay, cosmic connection or unruly dog? Both! Michael used to be our 10:00 producer at KDNL (ABC) here in St. Louis, wonderful guy, good producer, and a fine writer in his own right. So, I was wondering about how his new venture in dog behavior was going, since I have Louie, who is not aggressive, well, except to other dogs we pass on the street, and who is TERRIFIED to the point of near stroke of going to the vet or the groomer, unlike Libby who simply rolls over on her belly. So ol’ Mikey and I are going to have a little sit down and we’re going to share his story here, as part of my invitation to tell me how you have broken free from the choke holds on your life. Tomorrow, I’m going to tell you about my friend with breast cancer who lives in Chicago, my first “friend stop” last year who has a new job….and it’s doggone satisfying. (Okay, lame, I know.)

  2. Looking forward to seeing your book on the shelves of an honest-to-God bookstore (there are a few left), picking it up, turning it over with a smile and telling the gorgeous, wealthy, normal, single guy in his mid to late 40’s (who, by the way, is totally checking me out) standing next to me that “Hey, you gotta get this one – this is a friend of mine!”
    Congrats to you Jean. Oh, and by the way… I believe we still have to make good on those plans we made last year to meet up for a crunchy taco and a cool beer at Nacho Mama’s…?

    While my own leash is still attached, it is loosened by degrees… I’m still dreamin’ and, God willing, someday. Someday.

    • Yes, indeedy. Since we’ve never met in person, only virtually, we definitely need to do that. I’ll even treat. Honestly, Beth, it’s been folks like you who have kept me going when I didn’t think I could. I mean that so sincerely — there have been so many wonderful folks, whom I’ve never EVEN MET who would post comments, while I was on the road and in some of the challenging months since then, who kept urging me to finish the job. Which is hilarious, because since I quit the latest one to push on with the book, my most steady relationship these days are with the bill collectors. “This is an attempt to collect a debt. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose.”
      Well, okay. I’ll get back to them later. For now, I’m gonna keep on working on these final, final, final (3rd round) of revisions, so I can upload and get the book out, at least electronically, in the next two weeks. So funny you said that about Nacho Mama’s, was just getting ready to write about that. More later….it involves drive thru margaritas and getting a late start of the road trip of a lifetime…