In JR Ward’s world, however, this quotidian dislocation is considered a positive, not a negative, as each of her carefully constructed characters move onto something better—lives that are full and meaningful and overflowing with connection and purpose, all of which were missing in their former incarnations. I get that, and, of course, she needs to populate her plots, but I question the validity of some of her assumptions. The problem with starting a new life is that we take ourselves with us.
I’ve mentioned before that I had a hard time when my kids were born. I was both physically and emotionally unwell. It was a very dark time for me, made all the more difficult because I had worked so hard to have those babies and almost nothing went well with the experience. I felt trapped in a body and a life that didn’t feel familiar or comfortable, and I was scared and confused. My response to these realities was to fantasize about escape. I hadn’t yet discovered the joys of reading paranormal and urban fantasy, so I wasn’t aware of the whole poof-yourself-out-of-your-current-life-and-replant-yourself-into-a-better-alternative-reality motif, but I would have been all over that action if I’d known about it. The idea of being Butch O’Neal would have been very appealing to me.
Instead, my fantasy involved moving to the most remote, inaccessible place I could think of and living by myself in a cave and not having to deal. At all. For me, Nepal seemed like the perfect place to do my imitation of the invisible woman, who’s there one minute and gone the next. Beam me up, Scotty.
So, my fantasy was called Nepal, which was code for “I-want-to-run-screaming-from-my-life-as-far-and-as-fast-as-I-can-where-no-one-can-find-me.” And I “enjoyed” my time in Nepal, at least on a relative scale. I recognized that Nepal was a better place to go than, say, substance abuse or any other form of actual self-destruction, which was a road I’d traveled in the past and had no wish to revisit. It was the least bad option in a range of not good choices.
And even though I knew, mostly, that Nepal was a fantasy, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t give actual consideration to implementing the plan to ditch my life and start all over with a “clean slate,” whatever I thought that meant (remember, my brain was not firing on all cylinders, given my post-partum hormonal upheaval—I was really not myself in those days). Thankfully, however, enough of my higher-functioning faculties were still working well enough for me to realize a few immutable truths.
The first truth is that you can’t escape your past. As I thought about life in that cave in Nepal, I appreciated that no matter what, I was a wife and a mother and nothing, including total separation from those who conveyed my relationship status upon me, would change that. I would still be someone’s wife and two someones’ mother, even in my Nepalese cave. I would simply have failed in those roles, not escaped them.
The second truth I could not deny was that I’d still be me in that cave. I would have to take myself with me—not just the roles I played in others’ lives, but the role I play in my own drama—the starring one—as I was the agent of all the commotion in the first place. Even in Nepal, I couldn’t escape myself. And if I had created circumstances in the good old U. S. of A that I didn’t like, then it would only be a matter of time before I created similar problems for myself in Nepal. Only then, I’d have other complexities to add to the drama, including a lack of indoor plumbing and electricity, not to mention the mess I’d left behind.
When I read about Butch O’Neal, who gets his HEA, of course, I wondered about it all. This is JR Ward, though, so she makes it work because each of her characters does the hard emotional and spiritual labor necessary to grow and progress and achieve the HEAs they get. So it didn’t bother me too much. In the real world, however, the work we are called to do is most often accomplished in the life we have, not the one we wish we had.
I remember taking scuba diving lessons (as a token of my love for my husband, because I am deathly afraid of the water). I’ve forgotten most of what I learned, except one thing that has stayed with me all this time: the instructor explained that when you are sixty feet deep, you’ve got to solve all your problems where you are, with the tools at hand, in the environment you’re in. Because the solutions are not at the surface. Once you are safely there, you will, by definition, have resolved your troubles.
It’s the same with life. We have to tackle adversity where we find it, not run away from it. If we feel like we’re underwater, we probably are, and we need to figure out how to resurface and breathe again. But we have to do that from where we are, with the tools at hand. And it can take a while. If you shoot to the surface from sixty feet deep, you risk the bends and possible death—you need to surface slowly, stopping along the way to let your body acclimate and your lungs work under the decreasing pressure. If that’s not a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.
I never did go to Nepal. Or anywhere near there, thankfully. I realized that such a place didn’t really exist, and that any attempt to go there or to try to find it was a losing proposition. I’m grateful that I didn’t have a life I could just opt out of. I’m grateful that I didn’t choose to opt out anyway. I’m grateful that those closest to me didn’t give up on me and helped me break through to the other side of the nightmare I had mistaken for an escapist fantasy.