The Long and Winding Road

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, COLORADO: Summer, 2014

Leah: What a summer. I know it’s been ages since we posted anything, but I’m in a place where I want to write and I feel the need to expound on what it’s been like the last few months. As always, truth is paramount and I won’t be sugar coating anything, so bring on the updates- and hopefully in some sort of sequential narrative at that. I’m also solely speaking for myself, not Steve.

Speaking of my husband, he returned to CA shortly after our April/May road trip so that he could hike the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail for a few days. It was such a personal and transcendent experience for him that he chose to keep his stories to himself and neither blog about them, nor even fully fill me in on the details, which I completely respect. Just know that it was well worth it, even if he eventually lost a toenail as a result (it literally died and could be plucked off- yum!) After his return he jumped into work with the same landscape estimating firm he worked with in San Diego, but at their CO branch. It’s been an adjustment, as we knew it inevitably would be, but it once again felt like he was contributing to a bigger picture and the paycheck didn’t hurt matters either.

As for me, I’ve been nannying since April for the absolutely most perfect of children, a 6 month old named John Mark who has indisputably stolen my heart and also made me realize just how forward I’m looking to loving on my own squishable little when the time comes. I’ve looked after too many kids to count in my 20 years as a nanny/babysitter and I can say without reserve that John Mark is the cutest, most even-tempered and delightful child I’ve ever laid hands or eyes on. In fact, it’s going to take what little reserve I have not to be overly creepy about just how much I love him (Steve also reminds me on daily basis that it’s illegal to both steal or clone someone else’s kid). From discovering caterpillars in the park, to tasting homemade babyfood carrots, reading Dr. Suess and taking naps together, he has been a light- and my 100% natural Prozac- in a dark place. There’s nothing in my world that hasn’t been at least temporarily rectified by holding him close, softly singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider and watching his tiny eyelids succumb to sleep. Which of course begs the question as to what exactly has been going on that I need baby therapy in such massive doses?

In short, the post-trip, reverse culture shock crash I hoped I had staved off finally reared its ugly head and we’ve been waging war most of the summer, with me losing the majority of the battles. Whereas I think Steve had a harder time initially and I held steady, those roles seem to have reversed over time and I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly why.

I had my family around me once again, a few friends who are still in CO, my adorably furry Finnish foxy lady and a comfortable rent-free existence with a roof over my head and food in my belly. For the first time in many years I had a job, albeit temporary, that I literally leapt out of bed for each day. I took up boxing at a local club with my sister and discovered that hitting and punching the holy crap out of a 100 pound bag multiple times a week helped work out some seriously latent aggression issues. I went to church, volunteered as a mentor for older girls with the local Girl Scout Council, ate healthy and wrote in a daily gratitude journal. I was doing everything right, so why did I dissolve in tears at the merest provocation, lash out at the people I loved the most and constantly feel like it took every scrap of energy to stay afloat and fight the demons in my head and heart?

I was drowning in misery, aching to feel like I fit in back at home and mourning the loss of the trip- this “entity” that I had willed and worked into existence over quite a bit of time, experienced for another few years and was now suddenly living without, completely cold turkey. It felt like a devastating death all over again, but how do I explain grieving for the incorporeal, especially when it was on time delay and I seemed initially okay, only to yield months later to the effects? Then I’d get irate with myself for my “First World” problems when I have a loving family, friends, life partner, food, shelter, income and health. What the hell kind of perversely spoiled brat was I to bemoan my life when I had so much that so many will never have? Besides, I had a phalanx of people who love me unconditionally and to whom I could reach out at any time, yet I wanted to be alone, avoid everyone and wallow in my misery.

It was a vicious cycle and in the rare moments when I felt a beacon of hope pierce my cloudy doom, I was reminded of the lyrics from Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time: “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight." I just wanted to feel normal again and even considered therapy, but while on Medicaid waiting for Steve’s insurance to kick in, that was an indulgence I couldn’t abide (despite knowing that depression and mental illness runs rampant in my family).

So I trundled on and did what I could to keep my head above water, including summiting my very first 14er with Steve, my sister and a few friends. For all those none the wiser to the Rocky Mountain region, there are over 53 peaks in Colorado surpassing 14,000 feet, lovingly referred to as “14ers” which range across the board in terms of difficultly, height, distance from the Denver metro area, etc. Despite living here on and off for almost 20 years, I had never actually climbed one. Therefore, when my intrepid friend Sarah announced that she would be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in support of an African initiative to support girls’ rights to education and needed some serious practice in the next few months, a few of us gamely joined her and took on Mt. Bierstadt (check out her story and consider throwing a few bucks her way so she can reach her fundraising goal if you feel so inclined- she's so close!).

I also headed back to San Diego by myself for a weekend trip at the end of July and was able to squeeze in a whole lot of love and friends in a brief visit, but even that threw me off. I remember texting Steve right when I touched down and told him that I cried during the landing and felt panicky and anxious about being back there without him. Of course those feelings subsided the moment I saw my people, but it was bizarre to flit through a city where I simultaneously felt like a local and a tourist, yet it also didn’t feel like home either.

However, an absolute highlight was meeting up with some of the girls, nay, young women, who used to be in my HIV/AIDS peer advocacy program from work, one of whom I hadn’t seen in four years and had recently graduated from college. Every one of those ladies felt like younger sisters and they were my professional life blood when my actual job turned toxic. They never failed to amaze me and I still swell with pride when I talk about their accomplishments and zest for tackling the uncomfortable. Re-connecting with these ladies, hearing about their latest collegiate and high school triumphs and knowing without a doubt that they will change their own corner of the universe for the better, I felt like the proudest parent on the planet- or at least what I imagine that sensation to be. I can die happy filled with joy honestly knowing that I’ve shared in their successes and that’s a feeling no synthetic drug can ever fully recreate.

So here we are in the present day, less than a week after I’ve accepted a position I’m ecstatic about as a volunteer coordinator with a local hospital and trauma center! I remained highly selective in regards to the places I deployed my resumes and whether it was luck, talent, God or some combination of the three, I was pursued by multiple organizations and eventually found my perfect fit. And now that Steve and I will officially be a two income household once again, we were able to sit down recently and work on one of my pleasures in life, a budget. Seriously. If you’ve learned nothing in reading our blog, I hope you’ve picked up on the fact that devising ways to save money gives me goose bumps and sends me into a deliriously happy stupor. Cheap thrills people! Besides, as I constantly remind Steve, it could be a lot worse since I get off on color-coded, multi-tabbed Excel sheets instead of an expensive shopping habit.

Now that we have jobs, a save-for-a-house-plan, and even a vacation in the works (Alaska in January anyone? Anyone? No?), daily life feels better. Not where I’d ultimately like it to be, but better. I know at my core that just as with every other death, it’s simply going to take time to process, heal and feel like the world isn’t upside down anymore. John Mark’s parents have promised me that they’ll use me on the weekends so I can continue to be a part of his life and now that we’re about to have actual insurance, I’m not too proud to employ professional help in the form of therapy if I think it will help. We prepped extensively to take the trip, were gone for two years and have only been home for about five months; I have to remind myself that it’s not rational to expect that I’ll instantly feel like I belong anywhere. Readjustment will be a long and winding road, but that too is part of this journey and will inevitably bleed into our next great adventure, whatever that may be.


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