by Esperanza Elena Rodriguez

Searching for Self on I-5

This was all new to me: being alone, without a husband. I was 38 years old and what I thought would last forever did not. I found myself single and felt as though I had no identity of my very own. For the past twenty years, I had been a wife, a mother, a sister, a student, a co-worker, and much more. What I did not know how to be, and desperately needed to be, was myself. I was at a crossroads in my life and I did not know which way to turn, or in which direction I should take my first step. I knew I always wanted to travel and see new things.

My funds were low: I had the same expenses, but only one income now. I really needed to find a way to be alone, and to find adventure of my own. I remember when I was growing up my father would take my siblings and me on road trips to Mexico. I loved the memories I had during all those trips, the talks my father and I shared. The different foods we ate along the way, the roadside vendors selling their merchandise. The smells that you would only find in Mexico; smells that would make your mouth water or your eyes tear up. I was a dedicated student now and I did not have the time (or the money) to take a road trip to Mexico, so I did the next best thing: I drove to Los Angeles.

This was my first road trip on my own: it was important to me that I do this by myself. I had never been on any kind of trip alone before, so for me this was a major step. I started my trip around five o’clock in the morning. I hopped in my rental car and was on my way. I drove down the interstate; I took my time and wanted to see everything. I know a lot of people drive down I-5 and say they see nothing. What I saw was the beauty that you can only find in California. I saw a beautiful sunrise; I don’t remember ever seeing such a beautiful sunrise before. I had brought a collection of my favorite music. As the sun rose, I listened to Gloria Gaynor’s song “I Will Survive.” I pulled over and continued to watch the sunrise, and my eyes filled with tears. I felt as though it was the first sunrise I had ever seen. Maybe it was the first I had ever seen. I had been so busy being the mother, the sister, the wife that I never noticed a simple everyday occurrence like the sun rising. Something so simple, that happens every day, goes unnoticed by so many people. On this morning I did notice, and I knew that God had made this one sunrise for me, on my special day.

As I continued my way down I-5 I saw life happening. I saw field workers heading for work and truck drivers hauling their loads. It was harvest time in California so there were many tomato trucks and fruit stands along the road. I stopped for a rest and to gas up at Coalinga Junction. I saw a fruit stand and I had to stop. I bought peaches, pears, and plums; they were the best I had ever tasted—the fruit of the gods definitely grows here in California.

I was about five hours into my trip and I was approaching my final destination of Los Angeles, California, but I had to see the ocean first. I made my way to the beaches of Southern California; I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, passing so many beaches I didn’t know where to stop, they all looked so inviting. I passed Crystal Cove, Cresent, Newport, Huntington, and Seal beaches. I checked in to my hotel and went right back to the Pacific Highway, right back to the beaches. There I was, sitting next to the ocean on Huntington Beach by myself; what could be better? I sat for hours just looking at the ocean and listening to the waves. I thought about my life and the good and bad decisions I had made along the way. I lost track of time and before I knew it the sun started setting. I was mesmerized by its beauty, by the colors of the sunset unlike any I had ever seen before. I asked a surfer to take a picture of me with the sunset in the background; I knew it would capture the good memory.

After spending the day at the beach, I made my way to Los Angeles. There was so much to see, but I only drove around to find spots I would come back to see on future trips. My low-cost trip was a success. I discovered many things along the way to Los Angeles, but my most treasured discovery was myself. I finally started to get to know the woman I desperately needed to understand.

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