On December 8, 2010, a group of friends came to the house to see me off and wish me well. Rose Rodríguez Rabin, María Fránquiz, Cinthia Salinas, and of course my sister Elsa Ruiz along with Barbara Daboll and Elvia Niebla were there, too.
I had been at work all day and it was late by the time I had finished emptying my office and putting everything in the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa cubicle for safekeeping until my return. Patrick Collins and others students had helped me move the books and heavy boxes, and finally it was all stored, and my old office was clean and ready for my colleague, Jeanne Reesman, the new Graduate Advisor, to move in. I placed an out-of-office message on my phone, on my e-mail account, and wished everyone that I ran into —students, colleagues, staff—a happy holiday. I only mentioned the Camino if asked if I had any special plans for the holidays. Most people had no clue as to what it meant and had little notion of what it entailed even after they found out it was a 500 mile pilgrimage in northern Spain.
I was thrilled to find all these dear friends waiting for me. I showed them my backpack, my boots, the gloves, and even the grey warm-ups I had found at WalMart and that I was taking to wear in the albergues in the evenings. I donned my now full backpack. It seemed heavier than before.
The night before I had met with other friends to say good bye–our neighbors Viviana and Clark–a year later, they are living in Guadalajara and pretty much gone from our lives–Roberto y Naida, our Puerto Rican neighbors, had also come by to say good-bye. Roberto kept teasing me: “When the backpack gets really heavy, remember that I will be there helping you with it!” I could feel his honest desire to help me, and indeed when I was going up some steep hill, it helped to think of him.
Elsa and Elvia surprised me with a couple of wonderful gifts: a super slim Canon Sure-Shot, a flashlight that attached to the head with a band, kind of the like a miner’s lamp but much smaller, a tiny Swiss Army Knife that even has a toothpick and a tiny pair of scissors, and the extra-large black duffel bag where I would place my backpack for safe passage. Becky’s backpack had been damaged and her walking stick had disappeared on the return trip so she had suggested the duffel bag. I had visions of arriving in Madrid with a busted backpack and not being able to get it fixed! So I charged Elvia with the task of finding one and she did, at WalMart and for only $14.95. In my idealistic romantic notions of the experience, I had decided that I would not document the experience save with my own body and my own memories. But the gift was too tempting, and as we took pictures to document the eve of my departure with the new camera, I decided that yes, I would indeed take a camera and use it during the Camino. I am so glad I did!
That night, as the others were chatting and laughing in the living room, Rose took me aside to the bedroom to give me some messages and advice. I listened and appreciated her concern, but many of the things she said didn’t really make sense. She said that I would experience severe chest pains, but that I was to remain calm and that I would be fine.
Barbara with her good wishes (and the tiny iPod gift), Rose with her messages, Cinthia with her joking, and María with her good energy! How could anything go wrong? Elsa gave me a hug and wished me well as she too left crossed the street to her own home late that night. We finally went to bed. I was too excited to sleep and kept waking up every couple of hours with thoughts of what if’s and I should’ve’s—all the anxiety came crashing as I contemplated the possibility of getting a toothache while walking, although I had gone to the dentist a few weeks before and informed him of what I would be doing and specifically asked if he foresaw any problems. No, he answered, as did my medical doctor who upon my insistence had ordered a stress test; when I the lab work and the stress test all came back normal, she declared that I was fit for the walk. Still, I was nervous, but not a worried-nervous, just an anticipation-nervous that seemed to belie the calm I felt. Yes, I was calm and ready in my body and in my soul. When we got up and they drove me to the airport, I was ready! It would be almost 24 hours before I slept again