“Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation” ― Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
Our trip to Iceland started out in the worst sort of way. There was a lot of drama around my separation with my Ex-girlfriend. She was supposed to go to Iceland with Orion and I, but the plane ticket I bought for her ended up going to waste. I talked to Orion’s mom about all the trouble with my Ex-girlfriend and she still trusted me enough to go with Orion to Iceland. To call her a saint would be an understatement. I feel so blessed to have so many people who love me and trust me more than I trust myself at times.
We drove to JFK and I knew things were going to be rough when Orion threw up in the parking lot. He threw up 3 more times on the plane, the woman sitting next to us in my Ex’s seat was very pleasant about the whole thing. I couldn’t help wishing that she was with us, her backing out on the Iceland trip was really hard on me. I knew that I would have to find a way to deal with it as soon as possible, otherwise it would do nothing but interfere with Orion and I having a good time together. There was serious rifts that had come between Orion and I between his struggles in public school. No matter what came I knew I had to be focused and present for him throughout the entire trip, whatever sacrifices that meant that I would have to make for myself.
We arrived in Iceland and I had forgotten to print out the rental car confirmation. There was no one waiting for us at the airport exit and I was left wandering around like an idiot. I talked to the rental car companies and got insane quotes like $2800,2000 Euros and $1800. The guy at Budget seemed the most reasonable and he managed to get the price down to $1800 so I set off working on him. I went without the insurance and ended up getting the number down to $1350 which was closer to what I wanted to pay. That may seem like a lot for 2 weeks, but I assure you Iceland car rentals are out of sight and that price was the best I was ever going to get. The car we got was really nice, it was a large SUV with leather heated seats and a sunroof and tons of space. We set off and almost immediately fell asleep in the car for several hours. We drove into Reykavik and got lost a lot trying to find the downtown. Eventually we found it and found a bookstore after much looking. The lonely planet Iceland guide was over $35 so I decided to travel for the first time in 10 years without a guidebook. I took notes on interesting places to visit and got as many free maps as I could. I ordered a copy of lonely planet Iceland when I was in NY, but it didn’t come by the time we had left.
We left the big city and went Northwest into the Fjords. I loved the fjords of Norway enough to want to name my next son ‘Fjord’ after their beauty and magnificence. These Fjords in Iceland did not disappoint. The roads were really rough but we drove for a whole day and camped next to one of the most beautiful waterfalls I had ever seen. We awoke the next day and continued driving until we hit Holmavik. It was a tiny town with a really awesomely creepy sorcerer’s museum. They had wonderful displays like the necro pants (someone else’s skin from the waist down). You would put coins in the scrotum and wear them which would bring good fortune and wealth. There was also some creepy exhibits about creatures that sorceresses would summon and create a nipple on their leg to feed it until it grew large enough to let it go free. This sorcerer stuff was right out of the creepiest horror movies you can imagine. We left and drove even further North to Djupavik. That night we camped at the most amazing spot you can imagine right on the Ocean. The wind and water were chilly, but the sun never sets so it never got that cold at night.
It was incredibly windy (40+ mph) most of the time here and I made the mistake of pissing downwind towards a big rock. There was an intense updraft and I ended up with a face full of urine. It took me a while to figure out what was happening and shut off my stream. Once I started to go I couldn’t stop so I kept trying different angles, but I still ended up getting drenched. Amazingly enough I laughed about it, and Orion though it was funny too. Until I tried wiping my face off on his shirt, then he got really upset.
Orion was sick for the first several days which was challenging for me to deal with. We made it to Djupavik and explored a giant abandoned herring factory that was there. As you pulled into the town there was also a giant rusted ship which we wandered around in and took lots of photos of. There was ‘official’ tours of the factory, but it cost a $10 each and looked pretty boring, so we snuck around and checked out what we could get away with without getting caught and then split. The roads were atrociously bad and around every turn was the most beautiful breathtaking scenery you’ve ever seen. After a while I got tired of taking photos because every view was more magnificent than the last.
We got a flat tire on the way back, but we managed to get it patched for about $20 by this really nice guy in his garage. When the car got a flat tire I was actually pretty happy, it gave me something to focus my energy on and a problem to fix. When I resolved it for minimum cost and stress I felt very relieved. Orion threw up again in Blondous on route 1. He had been sick for most of the trip and sleeping 14+ hrs a day and I had thought he had been getting better.
As the days went on Orion got a lot sicker. One day he threw up 6 times. He never ran a fever and stayed pretty lucid so I didn’t panic. Anyone who is a parent can tell you, it doesn’t matter if you are in the most beautiful place on earth, when you have a sick kid you just can’t have any fun. So here I am thousands of miles from home, hundreds of miles from civilization, trying to deal with a vomiting child. For 3 or 4 days he puked pretty much continuously. Mostly we just drove and looked at the sights. I would park and take short walks, but almost always within sight of the car.
We drove around the Ring Road camping at the most beautiful spots. We had to stop and find wifi every day to talk to his mom which was really difficult because most people in Iceland actually lock down their wifi. We made jokes about zombie sheep and peanut butter and jelly and in some ways I felt like I was a kid again. Some men are born to be policemen, or bankers, or lawyers. I was born to be a homeschooling dad. Every day that I get to pour all my love and affection into this child is a day where I feel whole and complete as a person. When Orion goes to college I will have to completely redefine myself as a person again.
We were in constant communication with his mother, and his sickness took quite a strain on her. Many of the times I called and talked to her she would break down in tears from the stress. Near the end of his sickness she insisted that if he threw up ‘one more time’ that we come right back home immediately. I felt like it was an unreasonable request, but I had no choice but to concede. With Marlo every time I have resisted her requests, it hasn’t worked out well for anyone. We decided to start visiting all these amazing sites and stage pictures of Orion vomiting by pouring a hidden water bottle out of what looked like his mouth. It really changed the whole mood and energy of the entire trip. To go from the heaviness of his mystery sickness to the lightness of our usual playful mood allowed us to really enjoy the rest of the trip.
We took the amphibious boat tour of the calving glacier. It was really fun and we met some neat travelers from Chicago. One of the best parts of traveling is that whenever you meet someone from your home country that ordinarily you would just completely ignore, when you are traveling it’s like they are your best friend. Orion and I walked along the black volcanic sand seashore for a long time looking at all the amazing ice formations we saw there. They were exquisitely beautiful, sparkling in the sun and getting pounded by the waves. I pretended that the ice was like love people had for each other through life. Breaking off of these huge rivers of ice after 1000 years of waiting, they would slowly drift out in the harbor where they would slowly melt as seals sunned themselves on them. Finally when they were small enough they would work their way to the ocean and drift up on the beach with the tide. The waves of time would pound the amazing chunks of ice until they were completely dissolved and returned back to the ocean. We are so lucky to live on this perfect planet.
I want so much to not let that spark of excitement for life die.
When Orion was sick he read through the 4 books I had brought in about 3 days. I downloaded a bunch of books online onto the computer of the Ender Wiggin series from Orson Scott Card. It is probably my favorite series of all time. He really enjoyed just being able to read 8 or 9 hours a day and seems to need little else to make him happy. This trip is all about him, it’s all about me showing him how much I love him, so I want him to be able to have what he wants on this trip, within reason. At the height of his sickness he had a wonderful dream of cake. A whole wall of cake, but as he got closer and closer, it turned into an apple. I think 4 days of eating next to nothing sent him into a food fantasizing frenzy.
The next several days things really started looking up. We visited a lot of places, went to a bunch of hotsprings and heated pools. Orion loved the pools with the heated waterslides. It would be so cold out that it felt like my hair was freezing while running up the stairs to the slide, but it was SO MUCH FUN. There were days that were so cold and windy that no waterpark in the US would ever be open, but Icelandic people are all like hairless polarbears. They just seem to love getting wet whenever it is cold.
There was a bunch of cliffs with hundreds of mating puffins and more cliffs we found with thousands of nesting shore birds. It was amazing to sit for hours and just watch the birds caring for their young. It really made me appreciate how powerful that instinct really is to care for our partners and our young. These baby birds were perched hundreds of feet up and if they left the nest too early they would die. The parents worked tirelessly to care for their young, in a way it is the most powerful instinct we have.
There were tons of abandoned farms everywhere that Orion and I explored. After a while we kind of gave up, there were so many. People in Iceland are far less territorial than in the states. If we wanted to we could set up a tent and camp pretty much anywhere and no one ever harassed us. After a while I got tired of dealing with the tents so we just ended up sleeping in the car for the last 5 days. We were pretty much living like homeless people in a foreign country with a $200 a day SUV with leather seats and a sunroof. I banged up the rental car pretty good offroading and punched a 2 inch hole in the front bumper and put tons of scratches on it so I spent a lot of my spare time trying to get the rental car decent looking enough to return using nothing but a tube of bondo and a $15 can of silver spraypaint. How in the world I am not blacklisted from all rental car companies is beyond me.
At a very large national park Orion and I spent several hours wildcrafting with plants and feathers and making tiny sailboats that we would then set off out onto the lake to get blown away. It was a tender father and son moment that I thoroughly enjoyed it. After the week of sickness, then 3 days of rain and being trapped in the car like a rat in a cage it felt so good to be outside in the sun with him having fun.
The last 5 days of our trip became a long series of pizza shops and geothermal swimming pools. The routine was to find a restaurant that served pizza right around dinnertime and to sit for 2 hours at the table playing Eclipse the boardgame. During the day we’d find a public heated pool with a waterslide and spend the day swimming and splashing in the water. Orion never ceased to amaze me with his loving spirit and joyous heart. The hardest part of the trip was that Orion continually thought that his sickness was the source of my sadness where in reality nothing could be further from the truth. I recognized that when I would think about Jocelyn’s suicide 6 years ago I was doing the exact same thing and acting like a child. I was thinking that somehow it was my fault, that I was responsible, when in reality nothing could be farther from the truth.
Marlo had told me that if Orion threw up again that I had to come home early. After 4 days of seeming mostly healthy he woke up in the middle of the night and was dryheaving out the door of the car. At this point we had given up on setting up the tent because of the pervasive rain storms keeping everything wet. We just slept in the rental car with our seats reclined. After Orion threw up at 3:00 AM I spraypainted the bumper one final time and then drove for 6 hours straight till I got to the airport. We waited for 4 hours to try to get a seat on the flight but it was overbooked by 19 people so there were no free seats. We ended up spending the day at the Blue Lagoon and Orion had a fabulous time bathing in the pale blue geothermal pools there. We ended up going out for Pizza again then camping out and the next day we went back to the airport to get another flight. This is when things really started to go awry.
Instead of going to the airport I left Orion at the airport and went to the rental car place to talk to them about Orion being sick and possibly having to return the car early. As I was leaving the rental car lot I backed into another parked rental car. The worst part of the whole affair was what happened after that. The little voice inside my head said “You didn’t get accident insurance, get the heck outta here, now”. Under normal circumstances I would have stopped and dealt with my mistakes, but I chose to drive off. The rental car company tracked me down at the airport and told me to come back because I had smashed up their car and I had to fill out an accident report. It was intensely embarrassing and stressful to say the least. The biggest problem I had been facing for the last several weeks is that the little voice inside my head that never led me astray had suddenly started to tell me to do exactly what I shouldn’t be doing. From the moment I called Elise on my return from Canada to that point everything my heart had led me to do was self-destructive and hurtful to myself and others. Orion was very good-natured about the whole thing and all he said was ‘don’t worry Papa everything happens for a reason.” I spent hours pouring over what the reason could possibly be for running into a rental car and I decided that I had to come clean about fixing the front bumper of the rental car. Although the repair was good enough that the probably wouldn’t have noticed I still felt strongly like I was being dishonest by trying to hide it. The question really became “What kind of lessons am I teaching my son?”
At the airport the woman at the Delta counter was incredibly unhelpful and insisted that if we wanted to go back 2 days early it would cost $1800. At this point between Elise’s $800 unused plane ticket, the overpriced rental car and gas I was out at least $5000 for this trip for 2 weeks in a car with a sick child. Another $1800 just to go home 2 days early felt like more insanity. We opted to wait and deal with the backlash from Marlo when it came. The next 2 days were filled with Pizza, museums and heated swimmming pools with 3 story tall water slides. Orion insisted that the trip was rated a 7.5 out of 10 but I would have given it a 1.5 rating out of 10. For me the combination of having a sick kid, being intensely depressed about my separation and the stress around the rental car was just too much. By the time I reached my home after flying to JFK and driving home I felt like I was at an all-time low for my life. When I went to bed I did it with the full belief that the following morning I was going to have to commit myself to a mental hospital. The next morning I woke up and went biking in Shindagin and felt a tiny bit better. Then I called my therapist and went to go see him 2 hours later. Every day since then I’ve felt the tiniest bit better than the day before. I am slowly remembering what a happy wonderful person I am and how much light and love and inspiration I have to offer others. I don’t know how I forgot all these things in the wake of a single rejection. Love is like that.
So much of the time I felt like I would do anything to feel better. The thought of drinking or using drugs or having meaningless sex kept running through my head. Somehow I’ve learned to ignore that little voice and I will continue to ignore it until that voice starts saying things that really improve my life and happiness instead of telling me things to do that in the end will end up hurting me more.
I consider myself unusually lucky to have so many people who love me and my son so intensely. There is nothing more important to me than my physical and mental health. So I spend my days focused on spending time with friends and family and creating my art and I know in time the wounds of separation will heal and I will be myself once again. Instead of focusing on my failures in romantic relationships I have committed myself to being a better father, a more gracious friend and a more loving person to everyone.
As a very wise friend of mine from Sweden said “It’s not how you feel, it’s how you deal.” Life has thrown me a serious curveball and I know I can either let it bring me down or make me a better person. I have to work to make sure it is the latter.