Pamela looked to be thirty-something with shoulder-length blond hair and dark, doll-like eyes like Stevie Nicks. She shook our hands and smiled brightly. “I wanted to meet you guys – are you really traveling with your children?”
“Yes.” Donna beamed, giving her the usual run down.
“Wow!” she looked at me. “Are you in a career that allows you to travel?
“No.” It was a brief answer because it was difficult for me to concentrate. As I studied her face even more. I realized she looked like Angie Dickenson – during her early years, when she stole the screen in the original Ocean’s Eleven.
“He quit his job – sort of.” Donna offered.
“Leave of absence – sort of.” I added.
Donna interjected and explained more details of my “work” situation. I felt my ego deflating as it typically does when somebody else – anybody else – offers the details of my day job as the basis for their first impression of me. I was about to salvage the situation by explaining to Pamela that I was a hot-shot television cooking show host, but I passed. Donna had taken the reigns on this one.
“I stay home with the kids and help Jeff with his work.”
Pamela was very interested in hearing about this, even more than hearing about our travels. She wanted to know all the details of our life back home. Donna obliged – throwing out a nutshell version, yet Pamela insisted on hearing more. At first I thought she was being polite yet I found her hanging on to every word, as if Donna was serenading her with Desperado. She focused on the nature of my appraisal work and how it gets us out to see new places and how the flexibility of my work allows me to spend time with the kids.
A few moments into this dissertation, Donna changed the subject and asked Pamela how long she’d been traveling, which surprisingly changed her demeanor. Pamela looked down at her coffee cup and seemed almost embarrassed. “Three weeks.” She said. “I’m not quite sure what I am supposed to do.” She admitted. “I too quit my job.”
“What?” We pulled our seats closer to the table.
She sighed and told us that she had a successful career selling medical insurance programs to huge companies. Every year she felt more and more pressure to hit higher numbers. “Twenty years later, all I had to show for my efforts was a high-rise condo, a nice car, and a closet full of designer clothing.”
It was hard for me to imagine a woman as put together as Pamela to be suffering at all. She had such a presence about her. I had no doubt she excelled in the sales world.
“One day I looked around at everything I had and felt that something was missing. I felt empty and lost, like I had missed the boat.”
Donna grabbed the coffee pot and topped off Pamela’s cup.
“So, I sold my condo, packed up everything, and moved back to my mother’s house in Boise.”
“What brought you here to France?”
“I realized the answers weren’t in Boise.” She laughed. “Besides, my mother needed a break from me.”
Madeline returned with a small basket of rolls. She saw that Donna and Pamela were in a deep conversation and smiled.
“Actually, I’m not sure why I’m here.” she said, her eyes tearing up. “Look at the lifestyle here. Everyone seems so fulfilled,” She nodded toward the kitchen. “Take Madeleine, she moved here and found Eric. She seems so happy running this place and raising two little boys.”
“And you guys. Traveling through Europe with your kids – who does that?”
Donna moved closer toward her. “Do you want a new lifestyle?”
“Maybe.” She said, eyes looking down.
The room became very quiet, the only sound was Pamela’s fingernails lightly tapping her cup. “You know.” She finally said. “I’ve always wanted to visit India.”
Donna raised her hands. “So visit India!”
Pamela sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. “No. I need to go home. I’ve been spending too much money and time traveling around. I should go back and find work.”
I chimed in. “What do you mean should?
More silence followed.
“Pamela, are you ready to go back?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Have you found the answers you’ve been searching for?”
She shook her head.
“Then maybe your journey isn’t over yet.”