She would have been 46 today. She took her last breath nine months ago. No more pain, no more rehabs, no more no more no more . . .
(from Part ONE “Maybe it was my frame of mind that compelled me to revisit that big, bad forest, the place I’d once said you couldn’t pay me to go back to. Weighted down by emotional darkness, ruminations run amok, I craved privacy, someplace where I could feel what I feel, where no one would question what they couldn’t understand. But why this place, especially when a sense of foreboding unsettled me so? Unable to change my own mind, and well aware that dramatizing worst-case scenarios is a symptom of living a fear-based life, I straightened my posture and feigned confidence as I threw items into a small day-pack…” (continue here)
Before I knew it, I was following the path they determined Annie had chosen to make her way to the cliffs. Water washed noisily over rocks in the stream running alongside the trail. Without warning, I felt myself drowning; my chest tightened, lungs barely allowing small, scant breaths. I don’t want to die. I walked faster. Keep moving, you’re okay; you’re not in the water. It was a river that took my stepbrother’s life when we were both 12. One foot in front of the other, my vision blurred as my eyes filled. What am I doing here? Why in the hell did I come? Glancing around uneasily, seeing that the trailhead was no longer in sight, I began to dilly-dally. No one said you had to do this! Annie was the crazy one. She had a no-holds-barred zest for living, and look where it got her. Sighing dejectedly, I pulled my coat tighter. My shoulders slumped, directionless. What will happen if I turn back now?
I continued on the path, Annie’s path, deeper into the woods.
The ground was uneven, pitted with rocks and roots, spongy with nature’s decomposition of leftover wildflowers and deciduous trees. The once majestic amassment of summer color now lay in thick layers of decaying leaves. I hadn’t noticed any wind before I ventured into the forest, but now, it rustled through the tree branches and carried the smells of pine needles, animal scat, rotting wood, and oh, the air, so fresh, crisp, clean.
Deeper into the woods is where it happened. Or should I say I happened? When an almost giddiness replaced my fear. My lungs filled with glorious air–how had I taken breathing so for granted? I let my head fall back and stared into the sun slicing its way through the lush canopy of evergreens. Ropey vines snaked their way from the underground, circling and encasing the towering trees, reaching for snatches of blue sky. I carefully stepped over rocks and downed trees covered in wild mushrooms as well as moss in shades of yellow, greens, and black that to the touch felt like patches of velvet. It hung from trees like an old man’s beard. The muted hum that had filled my ears got louder the further into the forest I went. Rounding a bend, the sound turned into a roar. And there it was, a powerful force of nature that from a distance sounded tranquil, but close up, deafening, a thunderous command to stop, listen. And stop, I did. The waterfalls were many houses high, cascading down the mountainside, crashing over boulders adding to the vaporous mist that hung over the plunge pool below until it wetted my hair and clothing like rain. I sat on a fallen tree, closed my eyes and allowed the sound of the falls to block out the pain I had held so close, rendering me unable to see the forest for the trees. Could the answer have been in my own backyard all this time?
You weren’t crazy, Annie. Your love of life, for nature, drew you to challenge yourself. I can only imagine, in the moments before your life ended, you had the biggest smile on your face, your heart ready to explode with happiness and gratitude for what nature provided you. You couldn’t wait to get home to share your photos and your experience that day with others. And now, here we are a couple of years later, and you have touched yet another stranger, taught her that it’s impossible to find the good things life has to offer if you don’t step out of your comfort zone. And that if nothing you’ve tried before works, try going back to where it all started: nature. Thank you, Annie. ~frankie
Maybe it was my frame of mind that compelled me to revisit that big, bad forest, the place I’d once said you couldn’t pay me to go back to. Weighted down by emotional darkness, ruminations run amok, I craved privacy, someplace where I could feel what I feel, where no one would question what they couldn’t understand. But why this place, especially when a sense of foreboding unsettled me so? Unable to change my own mind, and well aware that dramatizing worst-case scenarios is a symptom of living a fear-based life, I straightened my posture and feigned confidence as I threw items into a small day-pack.
* * *
If a young hiker hadn’t gone missing, if the television news hadn’t reported daily about groups of people searching for the girl they called Annie, I would never have known that the lush, green forest on the outskirts of town even existed. They called it a “sanctuary for city dwellers” and “a challenge for seasoned hikers” hidden from the Interstate that runs directly parallel to it. It was just a stone’s throw away from my home. The missing hiker soon became everyone’s daughter, sister, and friend. Our hearts sank when her body was discovered—all hopes for a good outcome dashed. Her recovered camera revealed breathtaking images of the views from the cliffs, the highest point of the forest, and from where she had fallen. Within days, a memorial appeared at the trailhead. My neighbor, Gracie, accompanied me; we placed a tall arrangement of flowers from our yards behind the rest, stabilizing the vase with river rock. We said our silent goodbyes, and I shuttered, thinking what a horrible, horrible place. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to return to the forest that I would surely always identify with tragic loss and grief. Until yesterday . . .
The memorial was still there: Flowers had dried up, blown away; the vase I had anchored with rocks was still intact, tall stems dried and naked. Note cards and scraps of paper, once filled with beautiful, heartfelt poems and condolences, were now a blurry mass of rain-soaked blues and blacks and reds. Only one thing remained the same: the girl’s photo, an impish smile, an expression of pure delight preserved by laminate, nailed to the trailhead sign. The traffic noise from the busy Interstate had disappeared and filled me with trepidation. The trailhead wasn’t officially open— many of the hiking paths would still be treacherous, the winter rains leaving the muddy trails slippery with wet, decomposing leaves, pinecones, and broken branches. I would be alone all right. I shivered and turned my car keys over and over in my pocket. Was the heaviness in my gut a warning? Maybe the trailhead is as far as I need to go . . .
To Be Continued … (Part Two)
I have just created Frankie’s Faves so I can document the more positive side of life–my life, anyway. Imagine growing a garden, making a decadent dessert, or teaching a puppy to walk on a leash and suddenly you become aware that the dark smothering clouds that typically confuse and distort your thinking are gone? I’ve blogged for so many years about mental illness, child abuse, suicide, homelessness, etc., that I sometimes lose sight of the things that make some days enjoyable. It’s easy to forget that life doesn’t always suck.