looking for me? xo, PG
the moment the text popped up on my screen, i knew. i knew.
it was a wednesday & i was having lunch with a girlfriend, which means my phone is usually upside down on the table, set to vibrate. oddly enough it was face up & from my left i saw the message & i knew.
the text was short.
i had yet to order lunch, my stomach turned & i hurt for my friend. i knew what the text meant. a single sentence on my phone screen asked, “do you want to go hiking this weekend?” i knew the underlying subtext…“i am getting a divorce. again.”
my response was basically “looking for me?” upon telephoning him as soon as i could get free. agreeing to this latest last-minute adventure (with an ex-boyfriend) that same afternoon without thinking, we made plans to depart 48 hours later.
i considered the current state of affairs. we had stayed fairly close over the years post breakup & stayed respectfully in touch through his second marriage. i knew him well enough he did not need to be alone. i considered my current emotional status & thought i could use some grieving as well over my own personal baggage, so no harm. i knew this trip was a gift.
one should note i agreed to the weekend because 1) i am a bit of a ‘what the hell?” kind of gal; 2) i love a great adventure (even if it means camping) & 3) it was ominously close to the second anniversary of my graduation if you will, from trauma treatment. i went to milestones at onsite to conquer my depression in 2015 & i like to remind myself yearly there is always something more out there.
fast forward to the weekend. i agreed to trek 20 miles over the course of three days…in the wilderness. if you know me at all, up until the last few years, being in the woods was at most hiking for a couple of hours. i also defined camping as staying in a “side of the road” motel, last minute. the only time i spent a night in a tent, i was approximately 8 years old, with my parents chaperoning the youth group, & it rained…a lot. never again i would often tell myself when the memory arose.
so off i go. i meet my friend & we drive over an hour away. i seriously re-think my clothing choices when i must repack in the provided backpack (cotton is not your friend on the trail i later learn). after strapping on said backpack, we stop for one last visit in a fairly modernized bathroom. a bonus was recognizing one of the other gentlemen entering the woods as the husband of an old high school friend. after an elated exchange, we wished one another safe travels & noted we would meet them at the camp site.
in backpacking, there are these magical sticks called hiking poles. do NOT ever go without them, as they are invaluable tools. they steady you when your step is uncertain, remove ridiculous large spider webs on the path & in this novice hiker’s opinion add considerable speed to one’s gait. evidently in their early release, seasoned hikers shunned them, however this is no longer the case after several discussions on the trail. i can assure you this fledgling’s scientific data of her quick trail pace was indicative of hiking pole usage.
the weather. oh, better weather could not have been ordered. perfect skies, low temperatures & no humidity greeted us. i continually mused, “god is seriously showing off to ensure i do not loathe every second of this.” it was a couple of miles to the first camp site, as we departed late afternoon. the slight incline of the path was invigorating. i was overjoyed to be painted into god’s natural canvas.
we made it to the campsite around 6:30 with the sun setting ever so softly. camp was set up, water & firewood dutifully collected, & then noticed our neighbors were indeed my east tennessee pals. we invited them to join us fireside at their leisure where dinner, drinking & storytelling lasted way into the night. you tend to lose all sense of time when you are in the middle of the great outdoors, one of the most excellent of details.
we headed to bed around 1am safely & relaxed. by safe i mean my co-hiker was carrying a firearm for protection. this left-leaning girl questioned the need for a pistol, thus it was explained it’s not for wildlife per se rather for a random rabid human — re: should an emotionally unstable person attack us. obviously by my writing this missive, we made it out without incident. whew.
the next two days were filled with laid back mornings, rather uncomfortable bathroom situations, gorgeous vistas, wildflowers, copious spider webs, snack breaks with plenty of water, one long stretch of mosquitoes, fireside movies via ipad & endless conversation. also the gift which kept on giving for weeks later was the invisible sting of sand fleas. if only I knew, but now i do therefore this is one part of the outdoors to which i say “um…no.”
it was decided i would take lead on our hikes for safety reasons. it would ensure i did not accidentally fall without being noticed. the unforeseen benefit also made it easier to hear as he spoke endlessly of his grief. i heard the pain, the relief, the pining for the early days of his marriage & their younger years from childhood. but mostly i heard the disappointment of another failed marriage. he needed to vent; to get it all out which was allowed.
often during his articulation i would interject with memories he shared of his first marriage, from our previous round of dating. we would compare & contrast, feeling as if we were making some emotional progress on his side. upon being queried as to why i was his first call post move out & why his choice for the weekend partner in crime, he quipped, “because you are a really good person, who listens well.” i take this statement to heart, as i did a great deal of listening. my profession has me overwhelmingly prepared. i digress.
the most significant moment for me was on sunday, our final day. after listening ad infinitum, i finally asked if we could discuss my love-less love life. i updated him on the latest dating dead ends & even delved into my deeper wounds. i began pontificating regarding my theory of how self-described “good guys” are actually far from it.
you know the ones who beat their chest whilst lambasting, “you only like the bad guys.” “you need to make up your mind, capucine.” “i am one of the good ones. you should choose me.” i go in depth explaining how i am constantly reminded by these “non-bad” guys of their amazingness. what a lucky girl am i, because ultimately there comes a point where they too walk out of the picture, even if i have chosen them. he shares his discomfort with expressions in the form of “yeah.” or “i see your point.” we march on.
“am i…am i one of the good guys?”
after mulling this conversation for a mile or so, my friend inquired, “am i…am i one of the good guys?” with a bit of shock, my answer that particular day was historically based on our relationship, so i instantly replied with much zest as i am wont to do, “of course you are. you are a great father & provider. i not sure why your wives have not appreciated it in the past. plus you have been an excellent friend to me. you are definitely one of the good guys.”
we arrive at the end of our journey to sunlight, open spaces, tired muscles & elated sense of accomplishment. the time passed so quick & luckily with any significant incident (minus the flea bites we would recognize in the days to come). with a quick stop at the local sonic, we were on our way back to reality.
yes i have bragged about my adventure in the woods for months. each time the subject seems to present itself i eagerly share the small lessons learned on the trail. don’t wear cotton clothes; cover all of your skin in clothing & bug spray; fill your water supply at every opportunity presented; always look up for spider webs; pack light; use as little tp as possible because you must carry your stuff out; bring tequila; use hiking poles & always says yes to the adventure.
as for the guy, the one with whom i spent three days in the woods listening because he needed me. yeah, he is no longer in my life. i am not sure he even realizes it because i haven’t heard from him in weeks. i made this choice, because it was the only power i had left. like many before, he didn’t choose me the original round when i stood before him with all the adoration, care & love in the world. we parted ways then with our integrity & friendship in tact. we have not parted with our relationship in tact this round. i am not the one who could save us.
it is my experience that my intrinsic value becomes clear to the men who leave, at a much later date. at my age i have seen it repeatedly & can now identify it like a white hot meteor. i have fallen prey too many times, but never again.
but wait there’s more!!
in a perfect twist of irony, whilst writing this essay i received at text from him apologizing for “disappearing” since our last date in december. honestly, i no longer care. he told me once, as he was well versed in my struggle for survival against my depression, “i am here for you during the tough times, not just the fun.” that underlying subtext was, when it suits his timing & emotional status. in the end, he was not one of the good guys. i no longer believe there are any out there. i wish him well. truly i do, but this is now about me.
similar to the hiking poles, we need other humans to steady us when we misstep & to ground us. yet in the end we must find surety in ourselves to move forward, minus the proverbial poles. we must be able to look ourselves in the mirror & say “i did this. i did this all on my own.”
i backpacked 20 miles in one weekend, without any preparation or real consideration. i had no idea what the physical requirements would be, but what i did not expect was the emotional fitness it would provide. i showed up for ME more over the course of those three days & probably still today, months later.
so to all of those still looking for themselves…
take a chance.
step outside of your comfort zone.
literally step outside.
you will never know the feeling of when you say yes to backpacking 20 miles without thinking & without training, you may find something other than the great outdoors. you may find a deeper part of your “self” where you can confidently tell the story at a later date…
…i was just “looking for me.”