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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

stop .

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.

Holding Pattern

I’m grown enough to know that bourbon and tacos aren’t a healthy coping strategy. But also, living alone during a pandemic and facing a large pile of disappointment? Yeah. It could be worse than bourbon and tacos.

Yesterday I texted my therapist, asking for a session to talk about the fact that in 30 days, I planned on leaving the US for my Kilimanjaro trip. I was struggling to reconcile being a good global citizen with pursuing this dream. We talked through the issues being 1) do I feel safe and more importantly 2) am I afraid of others’ perception of me traveling right now? And yes. Yes I was afraid of #2.

Today, I got a call that due to new US restrictions on international travelers entering the country, that my trip was cancelled, with the next dates available in June, 5 months away.

My guide company, who are phenomenal, awesome people – do not have access to guaranteed resources to get me COVID tested in Tanzania, 48 hour turn-around-time for results, take off to Amsterdam, layover 6 hours, then fly to the US within the 72-hour time frame. That’s 63+ hours if everything goes perfectly. And if you’ve ever traveled, you know that’s a big if. So they’ve made the difficult (and in my opinion, right) decision to cancel the trip rather than risk leaving me and my trip mates abandoned in airports flung across the globe.

It sucks, it sucks, it sucks it sucks it sucks. And yet I know there are a thousand things more important. The country is in the grips of civil unrest, there’s a damn pandemic still GAINING GROUND on us and here I am, sad no one will let me climb a big ole’ mountain. There are people without jobs, legitimately fearful of eviction, first responders beyond burned out and I’m soft drunk on my thrifted big red chair, crying that my trip is delayed (for the second time).

But if everyone’s Tad Hamilton to someone then by God, we all have got Kilimanjaro’s worth of disappointments from this past year. My Kilimanjaro is Kilimanjaro, but someone else has to cancel their wedding. Someone else’s new baby hasn’t met friends, coworkers or grandparents. People have lost their family members to COVID. Kids without classmates, triathlons delayed, reunions by the wayside, dream jobs abandoned, graduations deferred, one-in-a-lifetime experiences – gone.

I know I’m one of many. But it still hurts. And I feel, more than ever, so aware that I am alone in this apartment. That the only person who can soothe me is me. That the only way through it is through it.

Tomorrow can be for rallying. Tonight is for tacos, bourbon and sorrow.

Why I’m Climbing Kilimanjaro (Part 3)

411 days ago I was sitting on my couch, eating mashed potatoes out of the Kitchenaid mixing bowl on Thanksgiving 2019 with a spoon, alone. After almost 7 months training sales new hires non-stop solo, my body got 3 rest days without training (Monday-Wednesday) and promptly, rudely, retaliated with sniffles and a cold. I was supposed to bring mashed potatoes to a Friendsgiving, but figured I shouldn’t bring sickness over to someone else’s house. Plus I already had the potatoes and a new recipe. So I made them – did y’all know – if you add cream cheese to mashed potatoes it. is. TRANSCENDENT?! Finally found the best potatoes ever (Pioneer Woman’s recipe) and no one to share with.

As I lounged on my couch, scooping up lazy spoonfuls of starchy joy, I dallied through the internet and came upon an article about plus size women climbing Kilimanjaro with WHOA Travel. I scanned it, moved on. Then I went back and actually read it. Then I clicked through to WHOA’s website. And found myself 2 hours later 6 layers deep into a rabbit hole of reading yet another blog from someone on that trip.

Image courtesy WHOA Travel

I want to try and find the right words here – there is something…what’s the opposite of insidious? Like, it grabs ahold of you and won’t let go…but a good way? It was like a taking a cold drink of water when your body is super hot – you can just feel something bright and alive oozing through every single cell of your body – infusing the dry crevices and cracks. I felt, for probably the first time, that I could do this insane thing. That it was possible. That I was capable. And it was sneaking into my dry corners. Nooks that hadn’t seen something wild in a minute.

Not ‘someone.’ Me.

I could do something hard and physical and a little wild and SUCCEED. The power in realizing ‘people can climb Kilimanjaro’ vs. “I can climb Kilimanjaro.” Intoxicating. A little nuts.

It became an excited little whisper in my ear, saying ‘Bodies who look like you are doing this. You could do this.’ In my mind, the whisper looked a bit like Joy from Inside Out:

That whisper was relentless. It had me thinking about boots and backpacks and whenever I tried to sit on the idea it would squirm out and say ‘I mean, you could also use a GORE-TEX rain coat for like, normal life too.’ Relentless, sensible things! My little hope siren was on a manic pixie dream high, ahhhoooooogahhhing loudly.

WHOA had another trip specifically for their plus-size adventurers going again in February 2020. I sent an info request even though it would have been less than 3 months away. I ordered boots the same day. On Monday, one of the WHOA consultants called me and told me it was doable in less than 3 months, but I’d have to commit and be serious about training. I took a beat.

“Do I really want to do this? If yes, do I want to give myself the best shot at succeeding?” I did. So while WHOA+ had been such a formative and inspirational part of me taking a step toward climbing Kilimanjaro, I knew I needed more. Time to get fit, time to research routes and gear, to find a guide company, to work up to hiking 6-8 hours a day. I went home for the holidays, and at my birthday dinner told my family: “I am going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in October of 2020.” And this thing really began.

Wait, so what’s the point of this one? Why is this part of why you’re climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro?

Because someone said I could. I don’t know how else to say it. It was like someone sat next to me, kindly took my hand, with direct eye contact and said, ‘I believe in you. You could do this, if you want to. You don’t need to wildly change to do it. You’re capable.’ And that was enough for me. A paradigm shift in how I viewed what my body was capable of.

That bodies like mine aren’t for hiding. That they’re powerful and strong. This body is made for a mountain. The outdoors doesn’t belong exclusively to ‘straight sizes’ or society norms of mountain bodies. While I’ve definitely gotten stronger in training over the last 13 months I haven’t dropped an insane amount of weight. My bones are still the same. I’m still a size 12/14, having started this at 16/18. I’m still over 200lbs.

And I’m going to climb a mountain with that body. A big body for a big mountain. My body is my ally in this, not something I need to shove into a certain size.

It’s wildly freeing to realize that. It feels silly to type it – knowing – of course outdoors is made for all of us. Of course I could climb a mountain. But when I think back to that moment; reading the article and why I actually clicked through for the information request – what made me do it?

Someone said I could do it. And this time, I believed them. I looked my dream in the eye and whispered back, “OK.” Here we are.

So if you’re sitting there, reading this, thinking about doing something a little wild, a little crazy, an idea squirming to be free, a dream image you’ve carried for years, whispering in your ear that you’re nervous about, scoot over. Just a little skoootch. I’m going to take a seat next to you. Give me your hand. You choose which one. I know eye contact is sometimes uncomfortable, but we’re going to do it. Hi. You know that thing? The one you haven’t told anyone about? Or you told someone but then said ‘it’s a joke’ and laughed off? Yeah. That one. You could do it, if you want to. You don’t need to wildly change to do it. You’re capable. And if you need support, I can help a bit and give pointers. But you’re not alone. And you can do the thing.

Yes. You.

And it’s ok if now isn’t the season for it. But when you’re ready, I’ll have your back.

*squeezes hand softly*

Just think about it.

Why I’m Climbing Kilimanjaro (Part 1)

Why I’m Climbing Kilimanjaro (Part 2)

Why I’m Climbing Kilimanjaro (Part 2)

Today I got the unbelievable wonderful magical news that my Kilimanjaro trip is a go. It’s truly happening and it’s happening in February 2021, folks! 75 DAYS. With that glorious Monday info – here’s Part 2 (of 3) on why I’m doing this dang adventure. Check out Part 1 here!

There have been a few movies I’ve seen as an adult that so wholly resonate with me that they make me break down. Not the 3 Scariest Kids Movies Ever, which is a different list, but the emotions. The FEELS.

As the credits for “Ladybird” started to roll I stood, tight-voiced said ‘Ijustneedtopeesobad,” power walked like someone with food poisoning into the beautifully tiled bathrooms at The Davis Theater, put my whole pre-COVID unclean jacket sleeve in my mouth and flushed the toilet to cover a hard, 10-second sob that wracked my body. I peed zero times and flushed the toilet 8 times.

On a hot, lethargic July weekend day in 2019, I sat in front of my wheezy window AC unit, scrolling aimlessly through several video apps and saw ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ on Amazon Prime Video. I rolled the idea around in my mind: ‘ugh a feel good movie isn’t there a die hard sequel somewhere instead’ countering ‘ Well, I do love Jillian Bell,’ and after watching the trailer, decided ‘I’ll start it and of course, run back to Season 3 of Orphan Black if I don’t like it.’

But I did like it. And I kept watching.

‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ is based on a true story – there is a Brittany who did indeed run a marathon – and that true story does indeed range from her first faltering steps outside to triumphantly completing the New York City Marathon. But a story without life breathed into it is just a grocery list of facts, so here’s why the movie made me lose a full pint of tears.

Here’s the description from Wikipedia (with some of my thoughts):

“Brittany Forgler is a 28-year-old living in New York City with her roommate Gretchen, a teacher’s assistant dreaming of social media fame. Visiting a new doctor to score a prescription, she receives unwelcome news; she must get healthy and lose weight. Every doctor’s visit. My entire life. Even when I was a Krav Maga instructor at my lowest weight. Even dentist visits in Korea. I have always been told I was overweight. That losing weight would help the issue du jour – be it mental or physical or emotional.

She visits a nearby gym only to find even the cheapest fee is out of her reach. I cannot tell you how many gyms, how many personal trainers, how many smoothies and supplements and diets. How many times I’ve tried to learn ‘fit lingo,’ bought the clothes, the gear – and how many times I felt like a failure at this goal of fitness. A fraud, waiting to be found out, throwing dollars at my belly.

Despite her fear, she tries running for the first time, successfully running one block. She is invited to run in a group with her neighbor Catherine, whom Brittany detests for her seemingly perfect life. OK well running is the devil’s exercise and no one can convince me otherwise. And real talk: I fully admit struggling with other women based on my idea of their ‘perfect’ bodies, with must of course = perfect life, right? That’s social math (I have a comm arts major so the math is LITERALLY wrong on that).

Brittany gets within five pounds of her goal of losing 45 pounds. Brittany’s pride, and continued reluctance to let Catherine into her life, force her to turn down an offer of support, and she withdraws. She regains weight, forcing her to run even harder, until one of her shins becomes too painful to walk on. Five weeks from the marathon, her doctor informs her she has a stress fracture and will be unable to run for six to eight weeks. In May 2019 I got a new job, I started trying Crossfit, I quit teaching at the Krav gym. In September, I quit the CrossFit due to wallet bleed (WOW that sparse box is pricey), rejoined the LSAC gym, got a trainer, started training. In October I tried Keto for 30 days, in November I added weightlifting classes and by Thanksgiving last year I was in so much pain I didn’t even want to workout. Getting (and staying) fit has a monetary, physical, emotional and mental cost. Not everyone will have your back (or know how to support you) past the ‘YEW GO GURL’ vibes.

She ignores calls and texts from Catherine, Seth, and Jern, saddened to see Seth and Catherine with their marathon medals. That same day, she disrupts her brother-in-law’s birthday party by making cruel comments about an overweight female guest. It’s hard to celebrate with (and for) your friends when jealous little sandworms burrow inside your heart. Your soft heart tightens into glass and you know it’s breakable, so you swing your spiky sandworm tail at anyone close to disrupting your glass heart and seeing through it to your shame of failure (Yes, I recently watched Beetlejuice for the first time and I love sandworms now).

One year later, Brittany runs in the marathon. At this point I’m openly weeping wedged into some half-baked moldy croissant body shape on a red chair that I bought used for $50 when I moved to Arkansas. The iPad is bouncing on my knees as I drag and push air hand-over-hand in and out of my compressed diaphragm. Somewhere inside of me I know it’s a movie, I know it’s a story, but they cut the audio/music bed so you only hear her breathing and I’m right there. I’m with her. The cottony rasp of her tying her shoe laces. Pulling on her good sports bra, you know, the one for bounce. Not the WFH $5 Gap bralette. Clothing herself in the armor she knows is dependable on the battlefield – to challenge the chafing, the high school knee injury, the sturdy Scunci hair tie that will hold 26.2 miles of ponytail bounce. The quality headphones you spent too much on but that hold your sanity playlist, pumping energy through the right and left tracks.

At the 22-mile mark, she develops a cramp and has to pause. She rejects medical assistance, but accepts an assistant’s offer to help her up. While considering quitting, she finds Seth, his husband and sons, and Catherine in the crowd cheering her on. She also encounters Jern, who says he loves her. She then keeps going, finishing the marathon. I’ve paused the movie, scraping my hand over my eyes to hide the shame of whole body sobs from who? the iPad? Jillian Bell? One of the other technological masterpieces in my single-person apartment that probably has an always-on microphone translating my sobs into therapy $s? I regain control of my body and press the space bar to finish the last few happy, joyous moments of the film. I squeeze my shaky, dopamine smile muscles up as the credits roll, showing the real Brittany and photos from her real marathon run.

And I immediately wanted to find…something. Something bonkers – not running – that would be *shudder* horrifying. But an outlandish goal. Something I really wasn’t sure I could do but maybe, maybe I could.

And I’m not sure what led me to this. But it’s the same date. I messaged the only person I personally knew who had climbed Kili (and had also very recently summited the Everest). I don’t know where my brass lil stones came from – but I sent it – and the dream siren did a double take, whispering “soon?” and I whispered back “…maybe.”

…to be continued…

Why I’m Climbing Kilimanjaro

It began with a massive crush on Justin Gingham, which is not his name, but I’m not here to somehow accidentally link a 10-year-old crush to someone’s professional life on LinkedIn via the technological witchcraft known as Google SEO. I am always down to clown on my life and tomfoolery but when it starts to involve others I AM A SOFT BOILED EGG. Also doesn’t Justin Gingham sound like a kind soul in a folksy parable? It fits.

Let’s talk about one of the factors that has contributed to me committing to climbing the truly bonkers number of 19,341 feet (5,985 meters for the rest of the sane, measuring world) in (probably) February 2021.

It begins with a crush–which birthed a mental image I’ve carried for over 10 years–which was naturally followed by a massive lie but we don’t have time to go into the lie and it’s unrelated. Y’all, I said we do not have time to go into the lie this is not the point of the story. OK sidebar for the lie since I can feel some of you salivating and I know you will not move onto the actual reason for this post; here’s the short(?) context for the lie: October 2009ish, senior year at ORU there is NO SHORT CONTEXT FOR THIS STORY I feel like this:

(Inhales deep breath) Justin Gingham was the…whatever the like, regional coordinator (that cannot be the right title) was for ORU Missions Trips, overseeing the trip I was going on to Morocco as an Assistant Team Leader. Oh, and he was my church small group leader and I had a massive crush on him. Those 3 things could not continue all being true. He asked me once directly about it? did he? someone important did. Maybe it was my team leader at the time? WHOEVER IT WAS someone with sway directly asked if I had a crush on him.*

I knew in my bones that:

1. The shame of telling the truth would be Great-Wave-off-Kanagawa levels of destruction in so many influential areas of my life: this mission trip, this church that was getting me through a very tough life season, my close-knit friend group and even my intramural job since we had a mutual boss. Our lives had so many similar/overlapping threads and it would truly be devastating to lose any of them.

2. ORU Missions had (has?) a no-fraternizing in the leadership hierarchy (Assistant Team Leader, Team Leader, Assistant to the Regional Manager, Houston Mission Control, This Mission Should You Choose To Accept It etc) policy. They would reassign me or him or both. Something public and difficult and it would be VERY AWKWARD because everyone would be like ‘oh why is Bailey and/or Justin Gingham reassigned’ and it would be irresistible ORU gossip catnip for @twapel

3. YOOHOO, HELLO, SHAME, AGAIN, THIS TIME JUST PERSONAL CRUSHING SHAME OF ‘WHAT IF HE DOESN’T LIKE ME BACK,’ DON’T FORGET!

And SO I lied and said, “NO, I DO NOT HAVE A CRUSH ON JUSTIN GINGHAM *scoffs*”

I remember immediately going to the always abandoned stairwell on the 7th floor of Claudius dorm (no one went there, we were all elevator folk THE SEVENTH FLOOR AND THE BASKETBALL TEAM WERE NOT STAIR PEASANTS) and wept. Genuinely wept. Heaving sobs. Sticky, wet shuddering heaves for a very-long-feeling but what probably amounted to 4ish minutes. Because I knew I’d have to sit in that lie for a long, uncomfortable time. And it sucked.

*Editor’s Note: We ran this blog draft past DB, who stated that actually, Justin Gingham asked him, to his face, ‘Does Bailey have a crush on me?’ and this absolutely platonic prince of my heart is the one who stone cold Steve Austin lied to JG’s face, saying “No, she does not.” DB and I are two sides to one coin (I’m heads and he’s CLEARLY tails, regardless of which currency we’re talking about) and so I somehow have internalized this story in my head canon to be me lying. As soon as DB told me this story though I remembered – he had called me on the phone as soon as it happened. I ran into the stairwell, panicked, my heart thumping some 5/4 trap rhythm. The most visceral memory of the story is that I cannot forget how searingly cold the stairwell landing was on the side of my face, which was hot and swollen from sobbing. Memories can be weird, pals.

Also, I don’t feel bad/weird/strange saying 1. I had a crush and 2. Lied about it because it’s 10+ years later. I’ve cycled through many a crush since then and since he’s been happily married for 7 years per some light Facebook creepage IT ALL WORKED OUT FINE FOR BOTH OF US *cackles, sips gin alone in Chicago apartment in a pandemic*

Flashback to Fall 2009 and JG the Crush (honestly, put that on a shirt) went to Clemson, SC to see a friend (Fun Fact for long-time listeners: that friend ended up being my actual replacement team leader on the Morocco trip in June 2010, an even longer story that has even less to do with Kilimanjaro) and they climbed some kind of mountain at sunrise.

Sidebar 2.0? 6.5?: I know the Appalachian Mountains exist because I watched “Last of the Mohicans” BUT I’m not going to expend the energy to google what mountain it was near Clemson because as we said, there is a pandemic, time is precious and democracy is at risk. Move on.

2009. Such a simple time when we used to upload whole albums of photos to Facebook. And if your crush is uploading an album – be honest – you’re going to look at all.the.photos. So here’s a few I went and screenshot (YES I DID GO BACK 11 YEARS AND FOUND THEM THEY ARE NECESSARY TO THIS MOMENT):

Breathe those in. Take a minute, pause here in on the internet. Scroll back up a scooch. You can taste that clean, crisp air. It makes the insides of your lungs feel like a Listerine strip. Sit and lazily watch the clouds roll past, forming puffy shapes and disintegrating into ethereal wisps. You’re in no rush. Watch the sun rise, showing off colors that are flamingo and fawn and plum. You probably hear a song faintly in the back of your mind; I hear Enya’s “May it Be” and I don’t feel bad about it.

And so, sitting in Tulsa, Oklahoma clicking deeper and deeper into a crush on my 2006 Dell Inspiron laptop, this little worm of an idea crawled its way between my ribs and took up shop in a nook of my heart: I want to stand on a mountain and look down at the clouds.

This wee dream started living rent-free in prime heart real estate, twiddling it’s thumbs, waiting for the moment. A brief look at Sagada in 2015 has the mental tornado sirens go off as I research day trips in the Philippines, but alas, it’s rainy season and no safe guide will go.

So I tuck the dream back into the garden apartment of my heart, mollifying it with ‘soons’ and ‘somedays’ as it grumbles and shakes its tiny wispy fist.

And there it hibernated for 4 more years.

And I started to dream about the clouds.

The dream began to rub the sharp lil sleep crusts out of its eyes and the siren let out a few shaky coughs. My browser search history started seeing ‘tanzania’ and ‘Kilimanjaro’ and ‘fitness level climb kili’ with regularity.

This image I fell in love with from a crush that I lied about, wept about, carried to North Africa and back and and tucked safely into the pockets of my soul started to align with something I was scared to even say out loud to another person: I was going to climb Kilimanjaro. I’m going to look down at the clouds. I can. I’m capable. It’s happening.

…to be continued…