It’s my 40th birthday. This morning I woke up in a hospital bed in a hotel in California’s wine country. The hospital bed was crucial to the trip, so that Rob and I could get some sleep. But of course there is something extremely messed up about spending your 40th birthday in a hotel with your husband in separate beds. Especially when your bed has rails.
I asked Rob to bring me to Calistoga for my birthday because the wine country might be the longest love affair I have ever had. The first time I came here was November 4, 2000. My 22nd birthday. I knew nothing about wine, except that I greatly enjoyed it, and so my boyfriend at the time and I went to all the places we had heard of (meaning all of the places that sold cheap wine in Madison, Wisconsin.) We had an amazing time. This is my happy place.
The first time Rob and I traveled here together was in 2005, and the wine education I received on that trip blew my previous experiences away. My husband turned me into a knowledgeable wino, a snob who will no longer drink Chardonnay. I think even he was surprised by how quickly I transitioned. Keep in mind, I was 26 years old and very impressionable. “I’ve created a monster,” Rob told me more than once.
It is hard to travel, although we have figured out ways to work through the greatest difficulties. Riding in the car is incredibly uncomfortable for me now that my neck is too weak to hold itself up on winding roads and even in the city with all of the stops and starts. We’ve rectified this situation by bringing the BiPAP in the car so that I can lean all the way back and breathe at the same time. How times have changed. I was always the one on road trips who was belting out the lyrics to every song we listened to, the one making inane conversation. Now I am silent behind my mask, an oddity for other drivers who glance over and then double take. I can only imagine that in my wheelchair and mask I look like a very very sick person.
We arrived on Friday and, for me, the trip has been perfect. The weather is amazing, the food delicious, and a random woman kissed me on the forehead, which is somehow a thing that happens to me, although it never happened before the wheelchair.
But this sort of trip is challenging for Rob, because he is the sole caregiver and bends over backward to make sure I have everything I need. I don’t weigh much, but it’s still heavy lifting. Every sip of water, every foot adjustment, every bathroom trip. I don’t know what ALS kills faster: motor neurons or romance. Sitting by the pool, I look across at all the women in their bikinis, legs stretched out in front of them and shoulders that don’t look like they belong on a starving alien. I can’t help remembering when I looked like that, and I have to push down the slightly nauseating feeling that Rob should be with someone else entirely.
On the other hand, I have made it to 40. So that seems worth celebrating. This afternoon we will drive home, and my family will be waiting with a pasta dinner and more wine. The kids will dance, and I will feel lucky that I actually have two happy places. One, the beautiful valley that keeps my glass half full, and two, the family and home that keep my heart (and my glass) completely full.