Ashley Wilda

Author

take a walk

sitting at home lends itself to introspection. however, this is something I have an abundance of. and when I wake up especially sad, I work myself deeper and deeper into it just by sitting still.

so lately, I’ll just up and decide to take a walk.

get out of my house. get out of my bed. get out of my head.

sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. but it’s never worse than doing nothing.

so today I hop in the car again and drive to the river, a place I’ve always been drawn to when my heart is hurting or frenzied. summer or winter, spring or fall, the river is… well, the river. it has a special magic to it. and so does the forest, the ivy and the trees and the woody vines. and hopefully sunshine, if I’m lucky.

it’s especially cold today. my toes are numb in my boots, hands huddled in down jacket pockets. but the more I move, the more I warm up. the river rushes by as always, blue, constant, unmovable, dynamic, beautiful. I push my headphones in, turning the shuffle on random.

music. gosh, am I thankful for music. when I listen, to almost anything, it feels like it takes over for me, for my brain, my body. it becomes my heart, the thing pumping blood and keeping me alive, and I don’t have to think so hard about existing. I can lose myself in it, or let it feel for me, breathe for me.

and it keeps my feet moving. the more I walk, the less numb I am, in all ways. I wish I could just walk forever. I need this constant, purposeless motion, movement for the sake of movement. I’ve wanted to achieve this through climbing, pulling off lap after lap… but you can only live on an autobelay for so long before your will to keep going just gives up and quits, along with your skin and your wild heartbeat and your limbs. there’s a limit, which frustrates me. I wish my body was stronger. I wish there could be this endless wall, easy and fluid, where I could just climb and climb forever. become movement. feel like I’m doing something other than walking in circles, or just wandering wherever I feel like it before turning around whenever I get tired.

but still… walking is good. running would be better, but my lungs hate me too much for that (thanks a lot, asthma. jeez.). but there is something about walking, about my legs propelling me through the world without much thought. there’s a rhythm to it, a mindlessness, but because I’m actually going somewhere, it doesn’t feel utterly pointless. and it’s physical. it forces me to look outside myself, and not drown in all the things going on inside, all the things I can’t fix, all the things I can’t control, all the worries I have about what I did and didn’t do or what will or won’t happen.

I suck at waiting. especially when I don’t know exactly what I’m waiting for. I just know that I hope something is coming, anything other than silence, and I can’t help but wait for it. but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do something. my brain and heart tell me I have to, this is too important not to, but there’s nothing more for me to do. and so I walk.

and today, it gets better. the air is freezing, but the sun lights up the path in golden, shining through ivy leaves. I begin to notice things about the world. things other than me and what’s inside. patchy snow on dirt and brush. slivers of ice in a puddle. vines as thick as my bicep twisting, hanging in a mass beside a tree. I remember climbing those vines. I remember sitting in hammocks and throwing gummies at friends. I remember playing the push game on a rock in the river, always losing but never minding. I remember polar plunging in February with a bunch of friends as crazy as I was. I felt so alive, pumped full of fizzy joy, electric. I miss being crazy. I miss feeling like I am home.

rocks and whushing water. dogs excited to see me. a thick pipe across a dry creek – I balance across. wooden bridges. paths branching off paths. crunch of gravel. quiet steps on dirt. smooth grey bark with white splotches – birch? ivy. lots and lots of it. a hollowed stump. a whole haven that exists with or without me. alone or with others. I snag a knitted hat with two braided tassels hanging from a tree peg. it was there yesterday too, so I don’t feel bad about taking it. I pick off the crunchy leaves… it’s warm and soft. my heart feels quieter. I take out the earphones, pray as I walk. like I’m talking to a friend, someone who cares about me. who understands me. I feel a closeness I haven’t felt in a while. I feel like I can trust Him, no matter what happens. He knows what my heart wants, and can do everything I hope and more, if that’s best. and He’s faithful. all the time. that’s all that matters.

I think about hope. about what I could compare it to. maybe it’s a sword, because it is so double-edged. sharp. maybe it is sunshine, or the comforting warmth that comes when I cup my hands around a mug of tea. something vital and beautiful and powerful. or maybe it is the cold that comes with a winter day, something you can’t avoid or let go of even as it hurts to hold on to. maybe it is both, the warm cup of tea and the cold gray day. maybe it’s a burr in the woods… you don’t notice you’ve picked it up, until it’s there sticking to your clothes. you can’t seem to get rid of it,  but its sharp prick on your skin reminds you of who you are and who you love. maybe hope is the smile of the person dearest to you. maybe it is memory. maybe it is dreams. maybe it’s your breath or my heartbeat.

I think it’s all of these things.

I think everything is more complicated than we think. and more simple.

I think that love makes all of these things worth it. even the things that feel impossible.

I think a lot of things.

but thinking them here, breathing fresh, cold air, as my feet move me through the forest and as music pumps blood through my body for me, is much better than doing it almost anywhere else.

regret nothing, or you’ll never fly

As this new year comes around, as Christmas peeks its faerie lights around the corner, as the whisper of snowflakes to be begin to kiss the air… I find myself thinking of beginnings. and endings. and what I hope for and what I fear. and what I’m going to do with those answers I find.

I’m afraid. I can say that much. I will admit I’ve been scared out of my mind for most of the last year. I can admit now that I’ve been sad for most of the last year, and anxious. I can also say that I don’t want to be that way any more. I can also say I don’t want to let go.

There’s other things I can say about this year. Amazing things. Things so unexpected and warm and incredible that now that they’re gone they hurt to think about even as they make me smile. The absence of those things is what makes me sad. It’s one thing, and more than one thing. It’s one big thing and many things around it. I don’t want to leave those things behind in this year. I want to take them with me, but I’m scared that if I take them with me in the same way, they’ll keep on making life too heavy.

My mind keeps circling around to one night. When I let someone really dear to me hold me close for the last time. He said, “we’re going to be okay.” I wanted to believe that. Really badly. But when months rolled around and there wasn’t a ‘we’ anymore, not the way I wanted it to be, it wasn’t true. I wasn’t okay. And I’m still not okay.

For a long time I didn’t know if I could be okay. Someone would say, you’re going to be okay, and I kind of hated them for it. How could they say that when I didn’t even know? But now, looking into this next year, for the first time I can say it to myself and believe it. I’m still not okay. But I know that somehow, someday, I’m going to be. I don’t know when, exactly. But someday. And I want to be moving toward that, even though I know that some days won’t feel like moving at all.

But that said… I know that I can’t leave any regrets behind in this year. I need to say everything that’s in my heart, or at least make it available to be heard. I need to do everything I feel like I need to do. It’s better to regret doing something than regret not doing something. (at least, in most cases) If I walk into next year and find myself still alone, I need to know that I did everything I could do. I need to know it’s not my fault. I need to know that if there was even a sliver of a chance, that I took it. I can’t be confident in myself any other way. I can’t leave it to God and try to find my dreams again without that.

Does this scare me? Heck yes. Heck. Yes.

But in the end, my fear doesn’t matter. What I do, does.

Do I want to walk into this next year alone? Um, heck no. Do I want to find connection again? Do I want to hold tight to this big hope and not let go? It’s all I’ve been able to think about for the last year. And whether or not anything changes before the year’s end, I’m still going to carry that hope with me into the next year, along with my memories. No matter what happens. That hope, those memories, are part of who I am. I’ll just walk into January with the resolve that this year, I won’t let them crush me. No matter if seeds turn into saplings, or if the ground stays hard and cold. I won’t die with them, even as I carry the prayer of growth along with me. I’m done feeling dead.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t wish that I could return to that moment, and hear those words change… ‘we are okay.’

I’m scared to open my heart and reveal everything that’s inside. That’s scary no matter the situation. But, in a bittersweet way, I don’t have anything to lose anymore. I’m jumping off the edge. Either someone will catch me, or I’ll fly solo. But either way, this barren cliff won’t be my home anymore.

My Mom once told me, “God won’t let you lose true home.” That rings true. No matter where I want true home to be, no matter where I think it is, no matter who I think it is, God won’t let me lose it. And as I step into the unknown, that is something I can count on.

snapshot from a Monday afternoon

I’m driving from the museum and there’s this guy standing on the median. young, with a beard and floppy longish brown hair. and a sign. he’s holding a piece of cardboard that says something like, $1 for a burger. there’s nothing unusual about this; I see a lot of people like him driving  to and from work in the city. but he’s probably not much older than me. and he could be anybody. he could be somebody I know. or could have known. and he’s probably got something to be sad about too.

something inside me constricts, and before I know it a crinkled piece of green moves from my hand to his through the window. his hair is a little greasy and his nails a tad bit too long and his thank-you sounds sincere. I want to ask his name, feel a need to know it, but don’t or can’t, I’m not sure which, the desire gets stuck halfway up before it has the chance to turn into words. and the light changes and the car moves and all of a sudden I’m crying and I don’t know why. that in itself is not unusual for me. but often it has nothing to do with other people. usually it’s about the pain I keep bottled up inside and buried where it’s the hardest for me to see it until my body says that’s it. and this moment is about that. and it isn’t.

usually, pain isolates. at least, that’s what it does to me. it wraps me in an atmosphere of alone and helplessness and misunderstanding and I can’t–or won’t–reach through and no one else can, or I won’t let them. but I’m either a nonfunctioning rain puddle on a gray day or a vibrating mess of scribbles on a forgotten sticky note or a hard, hard shell of armor that’s as brittle and unfeeling as a bone found in the woods in last year’s leaves. but no matter what it feels like, my pain isolates. because it’s somehow too much to deal with and so my heart kicks into emergency protocol–stop feeling for other people. better yet, don’t feel at all.

that’s just how it is.

usually.

but I’m becoming aware that perhaps there exists these other moments. ones where, instead of drawing me inward, folding me into myself, pain suddenly flips my insides out, throwing off my plodding mental equilibrium, and all of a sudden it is the opposite–

I’m feeling for the whole world.

the whole beautiful, terrible world.

and it’s saying, everything hurts.

but then after a blinding second everything collapses down again and I am just left with myself, my own world, my own missing, my own hole that I can’t seem to fill, and I wonder, maybe I just imagined it. maybe I just wanted to feel connected to something other than myself again. because in the end, myself is simply not enough.

the moon says to me

longing for you

tries to split my body open

parting down the middle like a string bean

struggling out of my skin

like an animal scrabbling with blunted claws

what is it, what is it

my heart heaves, it cries

tell me what it is

this terrible thing burning me away from the inside

love, comes the answer from far away

white,  bright, full

looking down from high window

hush, my darling, hush

it is love

and there is nothing you can do

but endure

and my tears prick me

like a dagger to the chest

some nights, always.

some nights, sadness dribbles down on me like rain on a roof.

some nights, it is a hot, wet blanket, heavy and suffocating.

some nights, it is nothingness. but as real as the air I breathe.

but always… there is missing you.

always, I wish I could lie next to you. look at the stars. try to match your breathing.

always, I wish I could hear you. talk about anything. everything. I’ll just sit and listen.

always, I wish I could reach out and touch you again. feel like we’re going to be okay.

I would be happy if I could have you some nights, for always.

and so on these nights, I am somehow, always, missing you.

clarity…?

a few days in the mountains brings clarity.

two hundred feet up with the wind trying to pull you off the sandstone as dusk descends… yeah, that will wake you up.

rappelling into the black, hiker headlamps bobbing in the woods, heading toward the not-even-a-town that’s sprung up at the base of Seneca’s spire, just overhang and air beneath your feet… that will remind you you’re alive.

the brother you’ve missed for too long, hard cider bottles with broken tops, baring souls by the fire, sitting in the hot tub until the water is lukewarm and fingers are prunes, spontaneous hugs and back rubs in the morning… these things tell you that life is worth it.

laughing like I used to, feeling my brain stop its crazy spinning, quietness in my center, something deep inside me trying to wake up for the first time in what feels like years… I remembered that happiness isn’t utterly unattainable, worth straining for.

driving back into the city in the dark, hiding tears at goodbyes, the lonesome radio chattering in my car, solo–the sadness and claustrophobia and missing descends on me again. it feels like it’s crushing me.

a broken, lovesick heart. trapped in an anxious, depressed body. living in a house my childhood memories don’t recognize. stuck in a city full of people I used to know. holding once-upon-a-time dreams I barely recognize as my own.

what the heck am I doing here.

I’ve tried everything to run from my sadness. I’ve traveled. I’ve climbed. I’ve read. I’ve lost myself in Netflix. I’ve listened to music. and made music. I’ve written. and written. and written. and slept. and slept. and slept. I’ve sat in church and sneaked out of church. I’ve talked to people and refused to talk at all. I’ve cried and felt numb. I’ve let myself remember and forbid myself from remembering anything. I’ve literally run, tennis shoes on asphalt, my breath shaking my world.

the sadness isn’t going anywhere. I guess that happens when you lose your whole world, its center and everything orbiting it. everything goes dark, because everything that was shining just isn’t there anymore.

but I’ve got to try to make it better. I can’t change my circumstances. I can’t make choices for other people. I can’t wait on someone who may never fight for me. my stubborn heart might keep waiting, but the rest of me has to try to find a way to live, even as it hurts. I’ve got to tell myself, it will work out if it’s meant to. no matter where I am. no matter what I’m doing. no matter if I’m happy or not.

maybe that means quitting school temporarily. maybe that means leaving the city, turning my car into a home, hitting the road. getting a dog. maybe it means finding a job that gets me outside and close to the wild places. maybe it means finding people who don’t know me. maybe it means chasing down the people that do, in Brooklyn and Boston and Germany. maybe. maybe. maybe.

maybe this will turn out to just be another form of running. maybe it won’t. but I won’t know until I do. and wherever I go… I’ll take the memory of you.

thanks, even in the dark

this day emerges, glowing, from a string of dark moments, demanding–look, look–see the light even in this forbidding forest.

and yes, my heart does give thanks, reminders that God does still give good gifts.

I am thankful for friends who won’t budge, even as I try to push them away.

I am thankful for sleepytime tea and blankets with velvet tassels. I am thankful for cobalt and orange and new green. I am thankful for the smooth brown bird that rests beside my bed.

I am thankful for poetry. I am thankful for stories with happy endings. I am thankful for scenes acted out on screens that wend their way around my heart and give me moments of rest in the chaos of myself.

I am thankful for the ability to seek help. I am thankful for the bravery (I don’t know where it came from) to walk into unfamiliar offices and trust the heart of a stranger with my pain.

I am thankful for walls that don’t move, a vertical movement to steady my spinning. I am thankful for strong arms and fingers, for rubber shoes with hard edges, for the friction of chalk on polyurethane. For adrenaline, for falling, for the thrill of height and victory. For the ability to give something my all.

I am thankful for tears. For the ability to release emotion. For the comfort found in the fierce embrace of a brother, one found and not by blood.

I am grateful for psalms, for hymns. For communion. For the expanse of the night, the fresh breath of wind, cool concrete under my bare feet. Dandelions.

I am grateful that He hears my prayers, and treasures every one. I am grateful that the Spirit intercedes for me when I don’t know what to say, or am too tired to say it again, “with groanings too deep for words.” That He gathers all my tears in a bottle, not one are lost in the ground.

I am thankful that the Son died for me, took all my sins, just because He loves me. Just because. I am grateful that love is so powerful. If it can do that, what else is possible?

I am thankful for the familiarity of a few old friends. Thankful for laughter and nachos and trust in the hands that hold the other end of my rope. Thankful for the relief in not having to hide, not having to pretend. In the fact that tears and giggles are both perfectly acceptable.

I am thankful for honesty. I am thankful for the ability to reach out in a text and know the distance will be breached, if just for a moment. I am thankful for the ability to choose.

I am thankful for memories, even the bittersweet. I am thankful for the moment your hand slipped into mine. I am thankful for every moment with you, before and after. I am thankful that you exist in this world, and that I got to exist with you. That our stars crossed paths for even a little while. I am thankful for the hope that it could happen again, that where there is life, there is hope of new beginnings springing from feared endings. I am thankful for the strength of beautiful things.

and where there is thankfulness, there is joy, and where there is joy, there is hope. hope that cannot be drowned, even in the rivers of sadness that plunge through my bones. and where there is hope, there is a promise–that today, and tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, will be worth it.

I need you.

Do you know,

(You must know)

And does it matter?

If you don’t need me,

Then it doesn’t.

things to remember

when you can’t remember who you are

remember that you once were sure

and liked what you saw

and what others saw in you.

when every day is just different shades of sad

remember that you once were happier

than you ever thought possible.

when you feel forgotten and unimportant

remember that you once

were fully known and fully loved

by people that were family.

when living doesn’t even feel like existing

remember you once had moments

when every breath lit joy in your bones.

when you wonder if someone still loves you

hold on to the fact

that once upon a time

the word “us” was a reality you could hold.

when you doubt God’s care

remember that once, a Man died for you

and won’t give you up so easily.

when your broken heart is too much to carry

remember that somehow once formed

every prayer and every tear

is treasured, no matter how dark

your world may appear.

these things you must at once

and always

remember.

I am

the invisible girl

waiting to be seen

wanting to reach out

but knowing that’s not wanted

aching to act

but knowing it’s not her place

wondering why

she doesn’t matter

and wishing

after a certain point

it would stop hurting

that you don’t see me

but it doesn’t.

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