Twists and Turns

When the walk ended my life had completely changed. I found myself thinking unthinkable things – that I wished AB had died so I wouldn’t feel so abandoned and betrayed. I hated myself for such thoughts. On the outside I defended him. I should have been more aware, more sensitive. It seemed so improbable that I had not known something was wrong. I blamed myself.

Yet life moved on. Cindy gave birth to my first Grandson, Mathew, on February 3. I was in the delivery room with Cindy and Randy for much of her labor and it was an amazing experience. It was the same hospital in which I had given birth to her but the circumstances were so different. I was alone, unprepared and scared, given drugs and not even conscious when she was born. Now here she was giving birth, totally alert and lucid throughout her labor and somehow looking glowing and radiant. She chose natural childbirth with no drugs and her strength and courage astounded me. I was overcome with emotion and stepped out at the point of delivery to allow Cindy and Randy to share this moment of miracle and intimacy alone. Emotions overwhelmed me.

Some months after AB left the walk he was admitted to a Veteran’s hospital for post-traumatic stress relating back almost 20 years to his experiences in Vietnam. In retrospect I can see how our road experiences had opened up old wounds but I did not see that at the time. And I couldn’t reconcile his refusal to see or talk to me. My fears and guilt turned into monsters at night and followed me like shadows during the day.

AZ, as surprised as anyone by AB’s departure, was driving to California to spend Christmas with me. I had gotten a little apartment in Palo Alto, returned to school, and was earning money by helping elderly folks with shopping and chores and whatever was needed. It was satisfying. I enjoyed the company of those I worked with.

On his way to California AZ stopped in Arizona to check in on AB to see how he was doing. AB was not receptive. His apartment was filled with weapons. He was on his way to a breakdown and AZ was concerned about what he witnessed. He arrived at my home and his stay extended. In time our relationship turned romantic. We were best friends. He never left. I transferred my feelings for AB to AZ. I started calling him by his real name, Andy. That helped make the transition easier. In time we flew to the Hawaiian Island of Kauai and exchanged vows on a mountain top shrouded in fog. It was quite magical.

We bought an almond orchard in California and set out to create a retreat center. We lived in a little trailer on the property while we drew up plans for a small house. Then we set to work building it ourselves. It was a peaceful existence. The trailer was set back from the road and only a half dozen cars passed by in a day. At night behind a screen of trees we bathed in a plastic children’s swimming pool in water that had been heated by the sun. In a simple way it was idyllic.

Hard work, punctuated by laughter and tears, went into the building of our home. It was an incredible feeling to watch it rise up out of our own labor. I pondered who to get to wire the house for us but my father said, “Just buy a how-to book and do it yourself.” He said it in a way that made it sound possible so that’s what I did. I designed and installed the wires and connected all to the main box. I marveled at the mystery and awe of it when lights actually came on when I flipped a switch. When the inspector came he was impressed with the artistic way I had placed the varying colors in a flowing design at the main box. Yet despite how well things seemed to be going, part of me was disengaged.

Soon after I was contacted about a group that was being organized to walk across the country, called the Global Peace March for Nuclear Disarmament. Founders had envisioned raising $20,000,000 to send 5000 marchers from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. At this point hundreds of walkers were expected to gather in February. I could feel the pull on my broken heart. Perhaps I needed to go backwards in order to move forward. I carried so much guilt and loss that I had no words for.

I wanted Andy Z. to join me, hoped we could continue working together on projects that reflected our mutual inspirations when first meeting each other on a Peace Pilgrim retreat, and the explorations we shared. He said he would support me if I decided to go. He was not coming. He kept his word. He drove with me to Los Angeles in February and dropped me off at the muddy field where marchers were gathering. I collected my pink tent and walked alone through the mud to pick out a site as others around me were doing the same. We were assigned tent partners and toward the end of my second day in the mud field I was joined by a woman in her 30’s. There was a mess hall erected where we went for meals. Meatless meals were labeled and my tentmate didn’t hold back how put off she was by those of us who were treated special for being vegetarian.

On March 1 about 1200 of us started out from the steps of City Hall in Los Angeles, cheered on by 6,000 well-wishers. On March 3rd we arrived at a large park in Claremont, CA. The permit we had been granted was retracted and funds had not been adequately raised to support the group. A town meeting was called and townspeople showed up in the late afternoon to “adopt” peace walkers to take home and feed and give shelter for the night. I was standing in line with my tentmate and when we reached the front someone yelled “Two peace walkers over here.” As we began to walk in that direction my tentmate whispered sharply “You better not insult our host by objecting to what is provided.” I didn’t know what to expect.

Our host was a widow, a lovely older woman who had worked with her husband as a missionary. She was cheery and welcoming as she drove us to her home and invited us in. We could smell the aroma of dinner cooking in the oven. My tentmate gave me a menacing look. I followed our host into the kitchen as she opened the oven door to check on the dish inside. I caught my breath and then said, “That looks good. What is it?” Very cheerfully she said, “It’s a chicken casserole.” I glanced along the counter and saw a salad and some vegetables. “Oh,” I said, “I’m a vegetarian myself but I see you have some greens and vegetables there. That will be perfect.” She looked at me and I could feel my tentmates eyes burning holes in my back. “Do you eat eggs?” she asked. “Oh yes,” I quickly responded. “Oh good! I can make you an egg dish. It’s my specialty,” she said with excitement.

We were ushered into the living room where our host turned smiling to address me as she pointed out the bathroom and told me to go take a nice shower and wash my hair or anything else, assuring me there were ample supplies for whatever I needed. “You have plenty of time.” Then she nodded to my tentmate, saying she could be next.

At the dinner table our host fussed over me, while also polite to my tentmate, for which I was grateful. But she seemed to be taking special care of me because of my special diet. “I have some wonderful herbal tea if you’d like some!” My tentmate’s face was tense. It was an awkward situation as I did not want to upset my tentmate or have her feel bad. As I look back, I wonder if the lesson here was meant for her.

There was uncertainty in the walk from the start. We were back on the march the next day, amidst rumors of bankruptcy and being left stranded in Barstow. The march had gone bust by the time we walked into Barstow two weeks later. We were stranded on the edge of the Mohave Desert with supplies dwindling and numbers of walkers leaving daily. I arranged for Andy to pick me up, along with a fellow marcher, Jolene, who was determined to come back to the march when things were sorted out. About 500 walkers regrouped two weeks later after scrounging for money and supplies. Andy drove us to Barstow and I hugged my new friend goodbye, assuring her I would show up in Washington D.C. when they reached their destination. I had given my best effort to the Prayer For Peace Pilgrimage. I did not feel called to this more chaotic and heavily media-covered journey. I watched as they headed out across the Mohave Desert for Las Vegas, feeling a sense of melancholy. I kept in touch with Jolene as she persevered, along with about 400 others who made it the whole way. Newcomers began joining after the march survived the first half of the walk and their ranks swelled to almost 1,000 by the time they reached Washington on November 15, a journey of 3,700 miles and nine months. I was there to greet my brave and worn friend, a friendship that lasted for life.

Now that I was back home I turned my attention to moving forward in my life. I flew to the Bahamas to take a hatha yoga teacher’s training course. I went back to school to finish my degree in psychology. Andy and I traveled and did presentations together. We organized and led retreats. For five years we struggled to make it work. In the end tension built easily between us and in his frustration he lashed out at me in ways that made me feel more and more alone. When I left the house to go out for a walk one day I was startled by an apparition of Peace Pilgrim in front of me. “You have to leave,” she said. I answered silently, “I know.” But I couldn’t. My parents had bought the adjacent almond orchard and we shared a well. They had built their beautiful dream home, that dad designed out of balsa wood before building. I had wired their home for electricity myself. How I could I leave?

The communication between Andy and I had so deteriorated that I sometimes felt like a jackhammer was pounding me into the ground. I periodically felt sharp pains in my abdomen when the tension became intense. Stress was taking its toll. I was becoming more and more tired. One day I was driving home alone when I woke up going 70 miles an hour into a field next to the highway. I knew there was something wrong. There were plenty of warning signs. At a time when the tension between us was explosive I said, “This has to stop. It’s killing me.” I meant it as a metaphor, not knowing cancer had taken hold.

I went to a doctor to find out what was wrong. An exam uncovered a tumor in my cervix and another my breast. A biopsy proved the tumor in my cervix to be cancer. A needle aspiration in my breast revealed the lump to be benign. I had no strength left. In exhaustion and defeat I packed and left the home we had built together. Everything that had been familiar and certain was in the process of disintegration. I was like a caterpillar that had wrapped itself in a tight cocoon, unable to see beyond the protective layers I had built around myself. I had no vision for the future and the present was blanketed in darkness.

As I recall these events decades later the insights I gained from my journal and the events that followed the walk, I can see that in the bigger picture of things all of our lives unfolded as they needed to. I only discovered my journal notes of the cross country walk in 2021, going through a trunk of things left to me by my parents. I had sent the notes to my parents throughout the walk to keep for me but had not remembered. In the clarity that is sometimes revealed in retrospect I know that it took a lot of courage for Andy B. to let me go so that each of us could find the path on our separate journeys of growth and healing. It was a gift. I embrace Andy B. as a dearly loved connection of many lifetimes. He is one of the few individuals that I recognized, without knowing why, at first sight.

Andy Z. is another soul connection that I recognized at first sight, the morning we gathered at the Seattle airport to meet Peace and travel to Alaska for an inspirational and educational retreat. He was talking to my father at the other end of a waiting room and I saw him wearing priest’s clothing. Once we boarded the plane I saw him again only now he was in regular clothes. We laughed about it later when Peace told the two Andy’s and I that she could see he had been a priest or monk in some previous incarnation. I had told him earlier that day that I had seen him as a priest when I saw him in the airport waiting room. Our connection has never been in doubt. I will always treasure the experiences we had together. They are precious and I hold him as a dearly loved friend and companion, though we are not in communication. His generosity and love enabled me to reach many milestones in my journey and I have no doubt that our connection is forever. In this relationship I was the one who had to find the courage to move on and it was the gift of cancer that gave me the freedom to navigate the journey ahead on my own terms.

I am forever grateful for all of my experiences, even when they do not seem like gifts when they first appear. I can say about life what Kenny Brief said about walking across the country: It hasn’t been what I expected or what I wanted. But in retrospect, I can say it has been what I needed.


Cheryl Canfield, CCHT, 2023