Ashley Wilda

Author

Category: Creative Nonfiction (page 2 of 6)

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.

happiness

I never realized how illusive it was

until I didn’t have you.

sure, I had felt dark skies before

but no thunder like this

no wind which forbids me

to remain on my feet.

it howls quieter now

if only because time numbs

but not heals.

and still, it howls.

I think, you might be happy

it’s hard to tell from the outside

but I think, just maybe, you might be.

there’s nothing to tell me

any different.

why does that hurt so much?

why does something break inside

every time I think

you might not need me?

I do want you to be happy,

I do, I do.

I know I do.

but I’m not happy.

I am so freaking far from happy.

and this distance makes me feel

like you don’t care

and you’ve gotten used to being

happy without me,

when every day I cry because

you’re so far away.

maybe that’s not fair to you,

but this is also not fair to me.

I would do anything for you,

anything you needed.

I know you care,

but the only thing  I need

is you.

but maybe the bottom line

is that when I see glimpses

of your smile, your laugh

something inside twists

and pangs

because it reminds me

of how absolutely wonderful

you are.

?

all I have are questions

haunting me tonight

did I do something wrong

did I just not

do something right enough

and where the heck

did all the hope go

why do I feel so alone

is it possible

that you just don’t

love me enough to look

for what you don’t think exists

maybe I just love you more

or could it be that for

some reason I’m just not

worth it

maybe you don’t talk to me

because you have nothing to say

or too much to say

or maybe I just don’t matter

like you matter to me

should I talk to you

or should I pretend you’re not there

are you happy

and if you are

why am I not happy

and why is your happiness

not enough for me

why can’t I let go of you

when sometimes it feels comparatively

you could let go of me

so darn easily

even though I know it isn’t true

if I remember you told me

how much you care

then why do I feel so abandoned

why does not seeing change

make me doubt

how much God loves me

when He loves me infinitely

will you read this

or never see it

and if you do

will it make any difference

and will I ever know

why does it feel like

I’ve lost you forever

and why does that thought

feel like a darkness

that will never break

why after all these days

do I just want something to hold onto

anything

anything at all

and why am I still waiting

for you to give it

and this is the way I feel

okay, you know what?

forget hiatuses.

because when you’re going crazy

splintering into a million fragments

disintegrating on the inside

sometimes a frantic shout into the void

is better than making no noise at all

if just because it makes the pressure

bearing down on my shoulders

lessen by a millimeter.

should I be ‘better’ by now?

probably.

am I idiotic and selfish and unrealistic?

also probably.

can I change the way I am? the way I feel?

heck no. not right now.

if the past few months have taught me

anything

it is that.

I can turn memories over and over

in my hands like pearls

or shove them in a box

and push that box into a dark corner of my mind

and nail the lid on tight

but the outcome is not much different–

I’ve tried both.

it’s still hard to breathe.

I still wake up and feel an empty wasteland

in my chest.

the lights still. won’t. come. back. on.

my dreams

both waking and sleeping

still lead me straight back

into your arms.

I wish I could tell you that I need you

that I’m not okay

wish I could say, please please please

oh please try

look, fight, pray

believe

for me

but I keep my mouth shut

and tell myself that maybe

you already know.

and how can I say

that even after all this time

the lights that went out the night I left you

simply have not come on again?

how can I say

that I pray every day

that you’d be the one to bring them back?

how can I find the words

or the moment

especially when you’re standing right there

when I’ve missed you for so long.

I’m even scared you won’t understand

the intensity of these feelings

that just won’t let me be

that you’ll think I’m weird or weak

especially when you’re so good

at controlling your own

when mine control me.

tonight it takes

everything, everything I have

not to get in the car

just as I am

and drive to you

and wait until you open the door

and just say, ‘hold me.’

this canyon between us

all that yawning air

crushes me

but I know I can’t bridge the gap

because only you

only a change inside you

can ever do that.

and yet sometimes, I am so angry

raging, not at you, no, how could I

ever be truly angry with you

but no, at me–

sometimes I hate myself

for my own inability to do anything.

for my own helplessness to see inside your head

and know for certain

if there’s any hope at all.

because if you ever make the choice

to try to reach for faith

there is hope.

if you’re ever trying

I want to know

even if you’re scared of hurting me.

maybe that’s selfish

but I do, I want to know.

but something happens that still

makes me smile–

even in my saddest, most desperate moments

I realize…

what I want most is your safety in Christ.

what I want most is for you to have a life full of joy.

what I want most is for you to be fully you

like you were meant to be.

even if that’s not now.

even if that never means me.

you are the most important thing to me.

and that is what I pray for every day

now a reflex learned of living days without you

and yes, I admit, worrying

but knowing there’s a God that cares about you

even more than I do.

and that God cares the same way about me

somehow, even with all this messy hurt inside me

He does.

when I don’t understand myself

when the hurricane of pain inside immobilizes me

He loves me still.

and sometimes, that’s all

that gets me up in the morning

but it is enough.

but even with His promise, His strength

my heart still wants yours

and aches with all the things I want to say

all the things I want to do

the dreams spun under sun and star

and every full moon that makes me think of you

every dandelion explosion

and every quiet music strain

that talks of love

for it is written

“love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

love never ends”

and this is the way

I feel

about you.

Wind. Ocean. Me.

The wind whips in a grey sky, intensifying as we climb the steps to the beach, diminishing again as we descend. Somehow warm and cold at the same time. Salty, moist. Sand ricochets in pale streams across the shore, minuscule particles stinging my shins. The pain almost feels good in a weird, sadistic way, like scratching an itch too hard.

The sea is in a frenzy, lines of whitecaps charging the beach, waves steely soldiers. Foam accumulates in burgeoning, beckoning piles at the wash line, round pieces of fluff pinched off and whisked away across the sand like evaporating tumbleweeds or dust bunnies.

I am drawn to the water, the open wildness of the surf and horizon, like I always am.

I run down to the beach and into the water, which is all at once cold and surprisingly warm. Soft. Surging about my legs, white and clear beige and transparent gray swirling about tan skin. Rule-less. I belong here. I am understood. I am free. The hollow place inside me is known and acknowledged and respected. Unhidden, Given a stern nod of recognition. Felt. Real. Who I am and where I’ve been and what I feel and who I love, validated. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone here. Don’t have to pretend. I just am. Like the ocean.

My bare feet step deeper, farther than the others are willing to go. I spread my arms to the wind, embracing the sea. I stand. I exist. The wind cleans me, takes me out of myself, out of my own head. I smile.

And I can breathe again, breath I didn’t even fully know I couldn’t reach, or that I was deeply missing.

Verdict: Broken, and Beautiful

1.

Dolphins.

Grey broad backs rising clean and wet out of the water. Gentle. At home. Just themselves. Graceful.

Seeing them makes me want to cry. I almost do.

Verdict: Beautiful.

2.

The mangled thing inside my chest, like crooked pieces of machinery, the gears and rods that make my heart beat.

Crushed and left to hang, barely together, by a giant’s apathetic fist.

The hollow is silent, empty.

I don’t work anymore.

Verdict: Broken.

3.

The soft way the brisk seawater foams and fizzles around my legs.

Delicate white infrastructure, poofy, like sponge cake or dandelion thistles blown in the wind.

I love the sound it makes, evaporating. I love the friendly hissing of a wave’s end, contentedly resigned to having reached its limit and crashed into little things, small ripples where children’s feet play, pretending to be horses.

I remember.

The ocean doesn’t feel sad, or angry. It doesn’t know. It just is.

Verdict: Beautiful.

4.

Looking back at my footsteps in the sand, seeing them alone, just imprints, fast disappearing.

I remember a time when I could look back and see two sets of toe prints, wet on slate, one bigger, the other smaller, the one following the other, sometimes first, sometimes second. Or dirty footprints, coal black on quiet, echoing tile halls. Always together.

Lonely feet. It didn’t use to be this way.

I like to close my eyes and pretend it isn’t. But sometimes the comfort hurts too much.

Verdict: Broken.

5.

And lastly (and yet), the sunrise–magenta, whole, clear and glowing, round.

Rising as if steadily pulled by a transparent string on a strong arm from beneath the ocean and into the pale purple morning sky.

The ocean is calm in breathing, respectful greeting. All is right.

The clouds mirror the rising glory’s brilliance, like small, happy cotton balls pulled out, stretched, misted glass to grace the exchanging of the moon.

Verdict: Beautiful.

I watch, and I (Verdict:) am Broken. Somehow together, the sunrise and I, are broken and beautiful. The tired, hopeful, bleeding thing inside determinedly beats its wee, shattered wings in miniature flurries, trying to break free and reach the home, the countersoul it has lost, although its cage is itself, an impossible prison.

Yet that small hollow shines, with good and beautiful gone-by’s, preserved in full as long as the little bird’s wings keep beating, no matter how crushed. No matter how alone.

I have found that all beautiful things now make me want to cry. Sometimes I do.

I guess, can this mean, maybe I am beautiful, and broken, too.

Your Turn

When you can’t follow your heart

‘Cause it’ll just screw you over

When you can’t follow your head

‘Cause it will trap you in a box

What will be your guiding star?

This ache in my chest

Drives me straight to you

The caution in my mind

Tells me to wait for your move.

What are the rules to the game now?

How can I find out, when I don’t even know

What game we are playing?

My heart doesn’t want to take turns.

My mind says I should avoid

Taking any risks with my love.

My compromise is to kick the ball

Into your half of the court

And when I get tired of waiting

For you to return it to me

I give it an extra shove for good measure.

If my heart reigned there would be

No separation between us

No recognition of any halfway line.

So I guess it’s good there are two of us.

But still I wonder

What’s going on over there,

On the half of the field I can’t see?

I wish I could just walk over and ask

But my head keeps me

To my half of the green.

I wish I could ask what you think

About the way things are now.

I wish I could stop pretending.

I wish for just five minutes

We could live on a field without lines

And just be us

Even if we have to go back

To being players after.

But that’s not my play to make.

And so I will have to be content

With sitting here

Looking at that ball

And waiting for whenever you decide

To kick it back to me

If I can only resist

Taking it back

And throwing it over to you again

In hopes of an answer.

Snapshots from a California Day

  1. A slow wake-up in a bed that’s entirely too big for me. Reading, lying there, a full blown meltdown. Had to happen sometime. Emerging into glorious coastal sun, palm trees lining asphalt. The Donut, tiny shop run by a small Asian woman with an accent, cash only, $1 a piece. “I’ll take four, and a small coffee.”
  2. Thinking about being alone and feeling alone, two different but not mutually exclusive things. Because I’ve felt alone, actually being alone carries a weird kind of relief–I don’t have to reason with myself about why I feel alone. It makes sense–I’m actually alone. I know that’s not the real reason, but hey, it’s nice to feel normal for a while. You take what you can get. Yet being alone makes feeling alone even bigger.
  3. A table with an umbrella, a good book, a journal, watching the people go by. A sweet old dog graying about the muzzle. Musing on the many virtues of dogs, the first and foremost being the unstoppable urge to help you when you’re sad–“oh no, oh my gosh, you’re sad?! oh boy, this will not do. lots of kisses and tail wags…”–and an unquenchably happy outlook on life–“the world is a good place and i love you.” A sum of the entire philosophy of a dog. Healthy. Maybe I should adopt it… or better yet, adopt a dog. I wish. I wish a lot of things.
  4. Walking back to my Airbnb, blister on my right foot annoying under Chaco straps. Sitting under a big, beautiful tree–Eucalyptus?– with my luggage on the curb. Smooth silver bark, branching twisting limbs, a vital burst of rich green leaves. Cross-legged, singing along to Needtobreathe. “We are the outsiders…” “I know that I’m in reach, ’cause I am down on my knees, I’m waiting for something beautiful…” The mailman. Cars passing on the quiet street.
  5. A car slows, white, curly haired girl with sunglasses in the driver’s seat. Reunion hug, two not-quite strangers taking a risk on sister-souls we had only just begun to discover on an island far, far away over coffee, chocolate fish, and an unmade bed raft floating in a messy room. No pretenses. Tears allowed. Lots of sourceless laughter. The potential for the best kind of friendship, only a handful of hours old. So here we are, ready to begin again. A Starbucks stop–more coffee. The talking starts as the car wheels roll and won’t stop until way late in the day. Playing catch up, topics bouncing like hot potatoes, the connections somehow making sense to only us, having no idea five minutes later how we got to where we are, warming up and relaxing by the minute, obnoxiously punctuated by Siri’s not-quite-helpful driving directions. The 101, traffic, the coast and mountain-hills, the vast ocean, deep bright beautiful blue, freedom crashing foamy white on coast, layered haze of horizon, surfer colonies in the water. Our conversation deepens as the drive stretches longer, stop and go traffic, Spanish architecture, cute houses with wavy rich-red terracotta roofs. Both of us, having just experienced the hardest months of our lives. Both of us, understanding heartbreak. Both of us, trying to find our footing in a familiar yet unfamiliar world. Both of us, trying to find someone and somewhere to belong. Both of us, pasts stretching into a dreamed and uncertain future. Both of us, just two college girls who have hearts that feel big and fall hard. Do any other differences matter? It is nice, this luxury, to have someone so far away from each other’s everyday lives to talk to. Someone to trust. We reach Ventura, the car slows, the chatter does not.
  6. A quaint one story house, stucco arch, double red doors. Quiet and perfect. Excited, bouncing dog with eager brown eyes–part German Shepherd, part dingo?–with the leaping energy of a million puppies and a trusting spirit, requesting a belly rub within the first five minutes of knowing me (the name is Lady). A bedroom vacated just for me, bright stripedy sheets. Children’s books on the shelf, rows of treasure worlds and whimsical imagination. We finish the donuts, talk launched into the realm of fiction–characters and writing and reality and fantasy and feeling and in the end, all that makes us human. Sitting outside, in the sun, reminiscing old adventures and faces–so far away, yet also like yesterday. Equally and simultaneously. The outdoors and wetsuits and gallivanting around with Kiwis and internationals, strangers made family in a weekend, guys and girls, more equal and less sexist and stronger and braver and funnier than we’d ever seen it. Friends for me, more than friends for her. Ex-somethings.
  7. The topic circles around back to that infinite topic, almost universal experience–heartbreak. ‘How do you move on?’ I ask, implying the rhetorical. She shakes her head. No clue. Me too, girl. Me too. Maybe the problem is that we don’t want to. (It’s definitely mine. You can’t move on if you refuse to let go. And I’ve dug my heels in. Sigh. I’m so stubborn.) In a world that wasn’t broken, I think people would only choose once. We’re not meant to choose, I mean really choose, more than one. We’re not meant to lose people. She agrees with me. We both admit we’re not over it. Him. Hims. And we don’t know if we ever truly will be. Especially if there’s a chance, however slim. A chance of things being different. But the problem–and the miracle–is that there’s always a chance. We can’t help playing the ‘what if’ game. Irresistible, all-encompassing.
  8. Out for a drive, the harbor, toothpick masts bristling and tangled and white. Italian food. Fettuccine with white sauce and clams–too much but delicious. Refusal to let me pay. Sun sinking, drive up a tall, brushy hill. Looming wooden cross at the top, old (200 years? 100? 72?), trying to tell us something. A story. Randoms gathered on the hill. I try to guess their stories. Father and son duo, they ask for a picture. Father, well-groomed, shock of white hair. Son, stands wide and solidly, chain around his neck tucked under his shirt–dog tags? Quiet thanks, man’s hand on son’s shoulder, fatherly, lingering. The son doesn’t mind, a connection between the two. I wonder where he’s going, if this is a goodbye. Families, kids, collegers with bright Patagonia fleeces and Navajo blankets perched atop a column, watching the sun sink. Couples. Holding hands, fingers entwined. Him, a hand softly scratching across her back. Her, beanied head with short green-streaked blond hair peeking out, nestled in the crook of his neck. He holds her close. There’s space in my heart, space at my side. I find myself wishing a particular someone is with me. It feels like he should be. But then again, it always does. Shades of blue mountains, rolling and peaking at obtuse angles above the city-town nested satisfyingly below, the avenue cutting through, wide and straight. The ocean, the great expanse, both wild and inviting yet comforting, its big blue now soft and deep, sleepy yet forever alive and awake. Huge islands in the distance. Santa Cruz–my friend’s Turangawaewae. Her place to stand. There’s a rock with a hole you can’t quite make out, but on clear days she swears you can see right through it. The swooping, dipping, bay-lined coast. Bushes of waving yellow wild flowers, big and bright, others white with yellow layers in the center, drawing me in–petals so soft and cheery, I want to get lost in them. Fingers brushing reverently, in tune with something good and greater. A tree, low and twisting, I decide it’s best not to climb–down is harder than up, and she says she’s no good at catching people. Bare feet on cool grass. The drive down, her favorite road–Foothill–as the sun goes. Dusk. A skunk family–babies! six of them?–emerging from a storm drain, all fluffy and almost certainly smelly and adorable–I just want to snuggle them but we hide in the car instead. The mother chases her curious children, scoldingly, back to the safety of their hole.
  9. House, home. A hug from another mother. Smiles and laugh lines, tea in a duck mug, funny stories and pictures, stalking hot Kiwi guys on Facebook, never serious. Spirit soundtrack, stories of toddler personality from childhood. Me–rebel running off with freshly folded laundry, doing exactly what I’m told not to precisely because I was told, sticking my tongue out to test the air temperature, horse crazy days. Her–reported first word ‘outfit,’ a pink velvet skort in a black truck full of tattooed saviors, a five-year-old ancestor with a smart mouth and a taste for beer. “That’s where I get it from,” she says with a smirk. We’re so tired, laughing at anything and everything. I’m actually happy. This is what it feels like again. But I still miss him, even in the happiness.
  10. We hug goodnight, now actually feeling like sisters. “I’m glad you came,” she says. I am too, very much. I close myself in my room for the night, feeling weirdly at home. I hug my stuffed animal puppy close, closing my eyes, remembering. So much I miss. So much I just want back. So much I just want to experience over again. But I am glad to be here. I pray about it–all I can do for my ‘what-if-ing.’ Hope is a strange thing, a freedom and a trap. But I am glad for it, and now am addicted to it, like the rest of humanity. Who isn’t? Turn off the light–the darkness is thick and complete and a little scary. Crawl under the reassuringly heavy blankets, hug my snuggle-buddy very very close, as close as memory, and quickly lose myself to sleep’s constant embrace.

Haven

Feet pushing me out in front, leading the three behind me, legs finding my forest rhythm through the rhododendron grove. I suck in the cool, moist air, smell the rich dirt, feel the gray rock towering above me, up and out, overshadowing and protecting. A rushing creek, one-two-hop across, a waterfall, a smooth wooden ladder with worn dips in the rungs from years of climber hands and feet. Fingers trailing along cold, pleasantly rough sandstone, boots tramping up and over and beside root networks and bouncing from rock to rock by a bright blue lake glistening in the sun. The newly adorned trees whisper with their happy green leaves, welcoming. I name the walls and routes as we go by, stories flooding inside, filling with bright histories and remembered laughter. I announce when we go by, a proud tour guide come home again. D.C. Memorial Boulder (a gray hunk of cubed stone), Gun Wall (concentrated string of 5.10s), Chewy (the fun 5.10 with the bouldery start), Under the Milky Way (5.11, popular, slopey, and difficult), Satisfaction Guaranteed (sought-after 5.11a with the pinkie blood spot under the roof and the rhododendron chair beneath). The lake laps fully, contented, on the shore, previously protruding triangle boulders now humbly submerged, silver points poking out quietly, subdued by the happily returned waters, sparkling and rejoicing in the sun. I feel my spirits lift higher and higher as my feet find themselves closer and closer to the center of things, to the geographical pivot of my world, emerging from the smooth-barked saplings and wide-leaved rhododendron bush to a small, tan beach of hard-packed earth, perfect hammock trees, stretching tan-orange rock with iron bands and Hippie Dreams routes basking luxuriously in the sun–

And I am home.

I strip off my outer clothes before I can think, hot from the excited hike, and wade into the cool blue-green water, plunging beneath, spinning around like a silly mermaid, feeling the softness against my skin. What freedom there is here! What aliveness. My body waking up to vibrancy of things. My friends and I stretch out in the sun and let our skin soak in the rays, warmth radiating. Monarch butterflies float through this stretch of solitude, our corner of the world, somewhere to hold us and hide us and heal us.

I read and think and climb and laugh. Yet still the core quiet deep blue sadness remains like a permanent dusk inside. It is so weird to realize that happiness and sadness are not mutually exclusive–in fact, right now, it is impossible to be happy without the sad being there too. Here, in the place I love best, I can be happy-sad… and that itself is a gift. I am glad to be here. I am glad to be me. Here, I can rest. The missing and hurt doesn’t stop, but here I can live. It is odd, too, realizing that for the first time, being here doesn’t fix everything, fix me, even though it  does make living a million times easier. It makes me realize that yes, home is a place, but even more so, home is a person. And that’s okay. I am just so grateful I get to be in my place-home, if not with my person-home–everywhere is home when I’m with him, and I think for me, that is how it should be.

The afternoon slides by with a plethora of silliness–goldfish on a sleeping friend’s eyes and getting lost on simple paths and dizzy upside-down lake shenanigans sixty feet up in the air, hands reaching to the sky and the ground all at once, and mountains of photos, clicking away swinging on slings and hoping they hold, and traversing over lichen far from my anchors with my heartbeat pumping, and doing things that scare me just a little. What a thing it is to feel confident and comfortable in a wild place like this, accepted and wanted by it, belonging, even as my heart aches as it does. I am thankful to have a haven that doesn’t move or radically change, at least in any way that matters to me. It will always welcome me back, no matter what state of Ashley I’m in. I don’t have to worry about how it ‘sees’ me or will ‘handle’ me–there is only understanding and peace here. It doesn’t know how to be anything else. It doesn’t know how well it is a haven to so many people who feel like they have none.

We hike out with the promise of hot dogs and a campfire. The low sun is beautiful and golden, lighting up the meadow and rocky path with the majestic light of adventure, bathing everyone equally and liberally, regardless of ability or identity–just the effort put forth to exist here earning it. I am exhausted, inside and out. Sad-happy–what a strange thing. But today was one of the first in a while that felt worth living at the end. I am glad that today I was me, here, and that, by God’s grace, it was mine to live.

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