Welcome back, Dear Reader. I’m happy to see you’ve forgiven me for my “to be continued” at the end of Part 1 of this three-part blog series. If you’d like to catch up, you can find The Return, Part 1, right here.
We good? You caught up? Same rules apply as with the first part of this post: grab your favorite beverage, maybe a snack, and make a pit stop in your bathroom. Settle in, relax, and I hope you enjoy this…
“Why hello, delicious birthday cake!”
I couldn’t sleep the night before, partly due to the immense amount of my youngest sons’ birthday cake I had ingested, but partly due to the fact I was returning to New Mexico, the only state who’s symbol I have tattooed on my body. I was returning to New Mexico, and I was going to stay in Red River, a town that had gotten a hold of my heart twenty-four years before.
I managed about two hours of sleep before calling the attempt to get a full night’s rest a failure at 3:30 a.m. I got up, got my coffee going, did some last minute work. At 6:30 that morning, we were on the road. By 1:00 pm, we were at the Cadillac Ranch, enjoying some legally sanctioned graffiti. By 1:45, we were eating a late lunch at the MidPoint Cafe, one of my favorite restaurants on the planet.
Yoga at the Cadillac Ranch, after a little bit of legally approved graffiti….
Not long after, we crossed into New Mexico, and like every other time I’ve crossed the state line, I felt peace. More than that, I felt giddy joy.
It took another four hours to hit Red River, owing to wild fires, and a nine mile section of our route being unpaved. But that unpaved section of road was beautiful and the temperature was low enough to roll down the windows and let the air mess up my hair.
Arriving, I was once again taken by how amazing the town was. After checking in at the hotel and getting situated for the weekend, we took a walk down the main drag. What amazed me was how quiet it was. Bar patios were filled with people, yet their voices were quiet to my ears, as were the sounds of cars driving by on Highway 38, which serves as the main street to the small town. Compared to Dallas, and the constant noise, it was a balm to my soul to be in such quiet. Add in that my cell phone service only worked in certain areas of the town, and I was unplugged, away from the stress of day-to-day life.
Handstands in the Sangre de Cristos Mountains
The next morning, we had breakfast, then set off for the day. Initially, we had planned on hiking only until lunchtime; but coming up on a mile marker that gave the option for a shorter hike one mile away or a longer hike four miles away, we debated which to do. My friend pointed out they’d attempted the longer hike up to Lost Lake several times, and had never been able to complete it.
“Flip a coin,” I suggested. The truth is, I didn’t want to say yes or no to either. I figured if the universe had made it possible for me to be on that trailhead, the universe would know which was the better path. We’d chosen Lost Lake as heads, and when that’s how the coin landed, we began hiking up.
When four miles was marked off on my FitBit from the trailhead, and Lost Lake was no where in sight, I realized it had been correctly named. My legs were aching, my hamstrings in particular yelling at me that I was going to be feeling it the next day. But every time I paused for breath, and to rest my legs, I lost the breath I was gathering in the sheer beauty of the place. I took photos on my phone, but they in no way encompass the magnitude of how incredible the place was.
At places on the trail, there was barely enough space for one person to walk, let alone
Lost Lake. Bucket List item for my friend, worth the seven miles up, the achy muscles, and the chance to breathe and just be still.
two, with the mountain sheering off down below. I kept my eyes towards my right foot as I was walking; my phobia of heights was coming up, and I essentially had a “come to Jesus” talk with my anxiety: “You’re in a place you’ve never been before. You’re standing smack dab in the middle of a mountain, on top of a damn mountain, in a town you’ve dreamt of staying in for over twenty years. Cut the shit, take a deep breath, and keep going.” Still, having to hug the the incline next to me when someone would walk or bike by (as a mom, I was terrified watching people cycle by on the narrow path, but kept watching, to make sure they made it safely) would cause my fear of heights to kick off again.
My anxiety elected to shut the fuck up.
One mile past the four the trialhead sign claimed was the length of the upward journey, we came to the lake. I sat on a rock, and just looked out over the water, tears in my eyes. I thought of how at my age, my father had already had one of his hips replaced, how he already had to walk with a cane. I thought of a dear friend with a heart condition who never could have made that hike (my heart rate was hitting 140 bpm at several points). I thought of my oldest and dearest friend, Marcus, who had lost his battle to prostate cancer the week before my forty-first birthday this year, who would never see that view. In my early twenties, we had taken a spur-of-the-moment road trip to New Mexico, and he had been just as taken with Red River as I was.
I thought of how three years before, my doctors had told me my fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis were progressing enough that I had three years before daily pain management would be a necessity. I thought of how when I was fourteen, I could hardly walk due to Grave’s Disease causing my feet to swell up so large that they would crack open and bleed. I thought of surviving endometriosis only to gain one hundred pounds due to my metabolism dropping to nothing and the medications the doctors put me on. I thought of how six years before, a half a mile walk would have been too much for me. I cried for the teenager I had been who was not allowed to take physical education due to the heart complications related to Grave’s Disease, and I cried for the woman I had been been unable to move due to extreme pain from endometriosis. Maybe I had started the hike for myself, the Amber I was in that moment, and for my friend who I was traveling with, but I kept going when it hurt, when I was tired, when the fear of heights made me dizzy, and I kept going for my dad, for my friend with the heart condition, for my friend who had died, for anyone I know who has physical limitations, and most especially for those younger versions of myself who couldn’t have taken the hike. Because the me at age forty-one could. Because finally, for the first time in my life, at age forty-one, my body has healed and has become stronger, and because I am finally healthy.
It took four hours to make it to the top of that mountain to view that beautiful lake. It took about half that heading down since we were on a decline. Due to the fact my friend has at least a foot of height on me (and probably double the leg length), the journey down the trail was primarily done alone. Occasionally, they’d pause, look back and check to make sure I was still on the trail, and not, you know, crumpled in a heap at the bottom of the mountain.
Most of the hike down was spent in quiet reflection. I thought over my life this past year. I thought of the people who were no longer a part of it, and those who had come into it. I thought of where I had been, and where I wanted to go. And my mind kept returning to a conversation I had with a stranger I had met in a bar in August of 2016 when he asked me what I wanted. When I told him “For my children to be healthy and happy,” he looked me right in my eyes and said, “That’s a bullshit answer, Amber. Everyone wants that. What do you want for you?” Back then I thought I’d had an answer to that question, but in reflection, I didn’t have an honest answer. Because I was terrified to admit to my thirty-nine year old self what I wanted.
Walking down that mountain trail that day, it occurred to me that something has been leaving me unsettled for quite some time. Maybe it’s how so rarely do you see people focused on one another at dinner; their eyes locked on their cell phone screens. Maybe it’s how communication with others is rarely more than a text message
“Colorful”, my kind of place.
or a private message on various social media sites. There’s a lack of communication, a break down in sharing that is lending to a feeling of sadness and loss in my life. Sure, we all like one another’s photos on Facebook and Instagram, but how often do we weigh in with a comment that’s not an acronym? How often do we really sit down, and invest a couple of hours in talking with those we love in person? How often do we meet for dinner, shut our cell phones off, and go without checking in to wherever we are, taking photos of the places we’re visiting and the food we’re eating? How often do we neglect to take half a second to hit “o” before “k” when we respond to text messages? I’m no better than anyone else; it’s become a knee jerk reaction to open up Facebook and Instagram on my phone to record what I’m doing, who I’m doing it with, and where we’re at.
Seventy-five percent of my trip to New Mexico and Colorado left me without cell phone service.
Another ballpark visited, and quality time spent with one of the great loves of my life.
There was the understandable eyebrow raising thought that what if something happened to my kids, or what if when I was hiking I did fall (or my friend) and was unable to call for emergency help? But aside from that, being without service for most of the long weekend was refreshing. On Saturday night, while watching a baseball game on the television, I saw something that reminded me of a dear friend. I unlocked my phone to text her, then called her instead to share that I had thought of her, and we both laughed over the shared inside joke from a baseball game we were at together last summer. When we ended the call, she said it was wonderful to have heard my voice, and I echoed the sentiment. Because it was.
The drive from Dallas to Red River was around thirteen hours. In which my friend and I talked about anything and everything and nothing in particular. The conversation flowed easily, and what we actually discussed wasn’t the important thing: the important thing, the healing thing, the thing I had been needing in my life without knowing I needed it was a real conversation. No real interruptions of focusing on our phones, no long length time spent on social media. Just two people, being honest, being real, and actually being fully present in the time we were together.
I had a longer wait at the airport (my friend had offered to hang out in Denver with me before my flight, but I told them to go ahead on with their road trip, that I’d be fine.), and parking my rear end aspect on a bar stool to do some work, I’d converse with strangers
Amazing artwork at the Denver Airport
who were also waiting, either for their flights or their loved ones. I made three new friends that day, and again, our conversations were real. The only times our phones got attention was when we friended one another on Facebook.
Technology is wonderful. The way we’re able to be in touch with, get to know, connect with people in far flung parts of our world is nothing short of miraculous. But it’s a double edged sword. There’s a decline in face to face time, there’s a decline in actually being fully present with others.
About six months after my father passed away, the nail salon I frequent offered me a free trial of eyelash extensions. I figured why not? If I hated them, I could remove them and never do them again. And it wasn’t that I really enjoyed them; I was rather indifferent to having them on, and could achieve the same look with false eyelashes in three minutes at home. I kept having them done because for one hour every two weeks, I was forced to keep my eyes closed. I was forced to unplug, forced to put my damn phone down, forced to actually be alone in my thoughts, rather than locked in on some social media site or app on my phone. Eventually I stopped having the eyelash extensions done, and revisited meditation. Not long after I entered instructor certification, the studio I was taking my certification course from began a weekly sound bath meditation. On weeks where my mind won’t slow down, shut down, when my heart is heavy, and my shoulders are bowing under the weight of life, it’s been a blessing.
For so long in my life, I shut down and shut out people out of fear. Back then, I thought I was being brave and strong by putting up walls. Wasn’t I just so amazing and independent, alone in my tower, surveying those who were dumb enough to let people in? I thought that if I kept my emotions in check, if I didn’t let people see me, see my flaws, my hurt, my scars, I was saving myself from hurt and loneliness. I was risking nothing, so I wasn’t going to hurt. If I kept up a shield of keeping people at a distance, if my only interactions were superficial, if I kept my conversations less than real, if I didn’t allow people close enough to touch me, I would be okay. I’d be without pain, without hurt.
….To be continued….
Yeah, yeah, yeah…. you want to know the rest of the story…. I promise, it’s worth the wait.
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