As I begin writing this post, its currently 3:36am in Tanzania. Around this time we’d be starting our final push from Crater Camp and aiming for summit of Kilimanjaro at sunrise, roughly 3 hours from now.
In the past 40 days since I got the call that the trip was cancelled, I’ve been struggling. I don’t (and didn’t) know where to put this energy crescendo that had been building and building and building for 13+ months. You know how your body can get the shakes after an intense moment has passed but the adrenaline valve is still wide open? That’s been my mind – trying to understand how something I’d been training for so long has to (understandably) pass me by but no one reminded me to turn off my other valves and there’ve been ‘shakes.’
I’m eating like I’m still walking 5-6 hours every Sunday or impulsively ordering frivolous items on Go Puff (you guys, the Lady Gaga Oreos were so overhyped (I mean, they’re cookies, who can be mad, but not even good cookies)) and skipping several workouts, intentionally losing myself in video binges or Youtube spirals and it’s suddenly 11pm on a school night. But not all the time; I’m 70% fine, functional socially and at work and doing well cleaning the bathroom or dishes and 30% shakes. I don’t know what the ideal ratio is, but I’d say that’s where I’m at right now. And this week has at least been an upswing from last week.
It’s a song you’re listening to that just abandons the listener – each lyric had been perfectly aligned, every instrument coming together in harmony, and just as the singer took a deep breath to belt, to take us to the emotional climax – just
How can you not feel unsatisfied? It makes me want to grab the conductor and shake them, begging them to resolve the chord. It can’t just stop, songs don’t end like this, it can’t be. The whole orchestra feels it – the unease, giving each other side eye – the strings, my stomach, my foot blisters, the gear I’m hiding from myself, trying to keep out of my eye line so I don’t remember it’s not being used. It feels like the conductor is patting me on the shoulder, saying ‘see you in 7 months and we’ll resolve the song then’ and I am left alone, standing on the stage alone as the tech shuts off the spotlight. The cello hides behind my laundry hamper in the closet and the timpani squeezes under my bed behind the suitcases. Hiding and squishing down the song so it doesn’t have to be seen, because seeing is remembering and remembering the song as it should be is painful. The words and names – Jambo!, Diamox, Malarone, HAPE, Barranco, Uhuru, Kibo, Ngorongoro – tucking themselves into hyper sleep pods for 7 months. And now I’m just here, on this square with no path for now:
It’s fitting that I started my period today. While my mind has struggled with how to dump excess energy/information I clearly see my body’s way of dealing with a production line that has nowhere to go – it’s painstakingly prepared a warm little cocoon, lovingly lined with healthy goops and soft blankets probably made of biological micro modal fabrics – and throws the cocoon off the cliff into the ocean roughly every 42 days. And begins the same process again.
But the body is built to do that rise and fall, to build cocoons and throw them out. It isn’t an abrupt aberration of the song – at least in my perspective. Maybe a better description is it’s built to rise and either continue rising or fall. A/B. Built to usually fall (A) but sometimes actually continue rising (B). Prepared for either option, even if one is much (MUCH) more common. If anything, a bigger shock to the system would be a B, if there was an occupant to the cozy nest. I imagine my body’s shift foreman, “Hey everyone, Day 41, we’re calling it,” the worker bees sighing and doing the usual monthly rituals – boxing up the nutritious goops and embroidered blankets – and suddenly running into each other on the way out the door as a little egg knocks, whispering, ‘Hey y’all, is this the AirBNB I reserved for the next 9 months?’
That song seems designed to crescendo and diminuendo; I know it could be A or B. That makes sense to me. As someone who has devoured stories all her life – I get rises and falls – the hero’s journey, the mentor’s passing the torch, the darkest night. I know all the generally different paths (A-Z) it could take. All stories are a song that begins and ends, rises and falls and swoops and laterally changes keys and resolves the chord. Maybe all songs are also stories? Possibly just Taylor Swift’s discography. They don’t just stop . Usually. Unless that author got a 3-book deal and this is the end of book 2. Do the characters know they’re in only book 2 of 3 or do they just despair?
I guess what I’m saying is. I understand stories. And songs. And my period. I know there are rises and falls and resolutions and beginning again-s. There’s rarely a surprise, and never one like this. I hadn’t prepared myself that there would be a sudden book 2 cliffhanger and no ETA on when book 3 would come out, if it would come out. I didn’t realize living in the deep breath at the end of the bridge before the key change into the powerfully belted chorus would be a 7-month breath. It was an emotional blind spot and now I’m in a holding pattern for 7 months and not sure what to do with my emotional passengers as we do 4-leaf clovers above ORD.
Of course, it doesn’t help that this came in the coldest season in Chicago, with record-tying massive snow dumps, below 0F temps and in the middle of the still-happening pandemic amid a lost year we’re grieving. That I live alone and the only other life in here are the chlorophyll gang of plants I’m trying to keep alive (and whatever mold was growing on the inside of my shower window until yesterday’s bleach-a-thon). I had nothing on the calendar post-Kili until climbing Mt. Baker with my sister in July. And suddenly, from January 12 until late July/Baker – nothing. A calendar void. A desolate 6-month stretch of another March, April, May and June in isolation. Waiting for a song, any song, to play. I thought Baker would be Mountain #2 and here it is, suddenly the batter up to the plate and still wearing warm up sweats. The team manager jamming the batting helmet on the her head, handing her the bat and saying ‘yer up! Go do us proud.’ Poor kid barely out of t-ball and doesn’t even have her cleats on yet.
It’s snowing yet again right now in Chicago. We’re another hour closer to summit. Probably above 5,500m/19,000ft. Moving pretty ‘pole, pole,’ at that altitude. A porter softly singing somewhere ahead or behind me.
I took last Friday (2/12) off work as a personal day. It’s when I would have flown out. I thought it would be a tough day so I filled it full of warm ‘me’ items to recharge. And it was truly a great day. A great weekend.
- Croissants and Cafe Au Lait from La Boulangerie – tastes like this little place in New Orleans off Royal St.
- Dash through Ravenswood Used Books – a place I once described as a place I’d want my brain to live to a therapist 5 years ago
- Haircut – nothing fancy, keeping it cute and healthy
- Nails in a fun, silly design – I said “I want to look happy when I see them” – and I do
- Slept in – woke up only 15 mins after the usual alarm
- Made a hearty, delicious breakfast – aka pancakes
- Hung up my hammock as a type of…swing? Something different in this small lil place – it was fun
And yet somehow, I didn’t really think about how hard today might be. Or rather, tonight. Which would have been summit morning (Tanzania is +9 on Chicago) of the trip. I hadn’t prepared myself to feel emotional today or put words to the last 40 days of lethargy, of the grief of the trip not happening. It feels a little like how I was very mentally intentional about taking care of myself on Election Day but then hadn’t realized we’d kind of need to ration out that serenity for a week until the election was decided/fully over and that Wednesday-Saturday would feel absolutely trash until then.
As someone who likes stories (and songs) I’m kind of realizing this post doesn’t have a true ending either. I’m looking for an out, a button, but I haven’t done improv in so long that I’m out of practice. Maybe a fade out? Just a slow pull until you realize you’re the one humming but the track has ended.
I don’t think there is a button on grief. For this lost year, for the lost moments. The hugs that haven’t happened, the Kilis that haven’t been climbed. The delayed weddings, the skipped holidays, the milestones set to the side (or missed entirely). Kili will come – the mountain has stood a long, long time without me – and she’ll be there after September too.
So many of you have celebrated wins with me – cheered me on, said you feel inspired by me attacking this health and mental and physical challenge – and many of you have held space for my disappointment in the last month. I’m grateful for that. Me continuing to struggle does not and should not diminish your words of support, which are still so valued. They feel like a crackling cold Diet Coke to my aspartame-starved brain on a Monday at 2:47pm.
But also, I want to be honest about the struggle too. If you’re struggling, whatever it is, and you think you’re alone – you are not. It doesn’t have to be BIG Trauma (whatever that means to you) to be considered worthy of pain. You don’t have to excuse or explain it away. We know as grown ups that more than one thing can be true.
I remember talking to a therapist about 5 years ago and we were discussing something emotionally painful from my college years and she said, “that sounds like trauma.”
“Oh, no…” I sputtered, “it’s like, people have gone through so, so much worse, so…”
“Yes, but,” she calmly said. “this is also trauma. You can view it as ‘small t’ trauma rather than ‘Big T’ trauma if that helps, but it was traumatic. It is a wound you’ve been carrying that hasn’t healed.”
Trauma is not apples to apples, or apples to oranges. It is apples to plywood pallets to size 6 sandals to mummified teeth to glass jars of pickles. There isn’t a common measurement and there’s not clean 3×4 inch box to dealing with it. It defies boxing. Pain is pain is pain, my friends. This one feels like a dull ache over the past 40 days. Maybe yours is a sharp twist. But we’re almost all hurting in some way and we don’t need to rush out of it or hide it under the bed with the timpani.
It’s 6:33am in Tanzania. The sun officially rises in 8 minutes.
I spent the better part of today watching Kilimanjaro YouTube videos – soaring drone shots of Lava Tower and happy, chattering, brightly-puffer-clad influencers chirp about their experiences – I don’t know if that was more mourning or emotionally pornographic to watch as my heart siren wheezed like a sad old bike horn, watching the dream clouds roll in over the lower valley from Arrow Glacier Camp. I’m not a parent (see: cocoon throwing off cliffs every 42 days, above), but I’ve heard that a vital part of raising tiny humans is letting them cry themselves out and self soothe. As a 33-year old full grown adult – I might need to do both tonight.
It’s 6:41am in Tanzania. The sun is breaking over Uhuru Peak.
I’m staring at this tapestry of Kili on my wall that I bought to inspire me and I’m angry and sad and frustrated and alone and mostly so, so mad there is no one to blame. No one to rage at. Nothing to point my finger at but a virus. There are no plates to break (I like all of mine, they’re thrifted) or place to run (the sidewalks are icy) and there is no conductor to shake at the song that has just stopped. I understand why the trip was cancelled and I know my guide company made the right call in protecting me, the porters, the support staff and the people we could have come in contact with.
It is 210 days until September 19th, 2021.
209 sunrises to go.
209 beats of rest in whatever time signature this song is in.
209 blank pages until book 3.