Last night, I killed a cockroach that was crawling out of the sink drain. Maybe it was an omen of what was to come.
Nights have been harder than I expected. My shoulders, neck, and jaw are constantly tense and I can’t get comfortable on the bed even though I brought my own fancy pillows. Regardless of what time I drift off to sleep, my eyes open at 6 sharp every morning. Exhausted mid day, I try to take a nap, but 10-15 minutes pass by before I roll onto my right side to try and loosen up my back muscles and shoulders, and I can’t so I get up and try to do something else. My mind has a grip on my body and it’s holding on tighter than I expected.
The lady I rent from left a binder of places to go and things to do. I decided on an early morning hike this morning 8 miles away from the cottage. The directions she left seemed simple enough and I copied them down. The hiking spot was along the French Broad River. After my breakfast and a cup of coffee, I got dressed and put on my hiking shoes. Lucy hopped in the car with me and off we went. “Edgy” is a good word to describe how I was feeling when I saw the first yellow sign indicating the road had multiple curves. My solar plexus and the area between my shoulder blades had an odd, fearful energy. Everything was tensing up, vibrating, and humming internally at the same time. I ignored the sensations and pushed on through. “All part of the mountain experience,” I reminded myself.
Curve. Fear. Second curve. Fear. Ascent. Fear. Descent. Fear. Curve. Curve. Curve. Fear. My butt muscles clenched. A ripple ran through my solar plexus down into my rib cage, seizing hold of my breath. I exhaled when I came to a small post office. I pulled into the parking lot and yelled at Lucy for her whimpering and pacing in the far back seat, out of reach for me to pet her or pinch her neck.
Once I got my bearings and was reassured by the young man behind the counter that I had the right directions, I got back onto the highway and found what I assumed was the hiking spot she wrote about (turns out her directions lack detail and description). I was at Alexander River Park and there were parking spaces and two gravel roads, one to the left and one to the right, leading down to the river. She recommended the left loop, so I took the left gravel road. There I was met with heavy underbrush and a small trail about 1 foot in width. Even though this is supposedly a populated dog walking area, no one was in sight. Wild thoughts rushed through my mind as the current rushed over the boulders. “Will I be raped or murdered?” “Will the story of my disappearance by on 48 Hours or some other crime scene investigation show?” Fear crept up my spine and cinched around my midsection. My dog was a hot mess too, turning in circles and getting tripped up in the underbrush and in her leash.
It took less than a minute to get down near the river. True, the scenic view was gorgeous: mist rising off the river and fog lifting off the gray-green mountains. The scene was less than peaceful to the ear, however. The river moved so quickly and ramped over boulders and folded over itself. The sound was amplified by chittering birds, chirping insects, rushing cars on the highway right above me. The overgrowth in some areas was as tall as me and it seemed like only a machete could clear it. And even though I could see my car through the weeds, they seemed to crowd in on me and cut short my breath.
Fear became replaced with anger as I walked towards the car. Beer cans, trash bags, and other random junk were scattered around. I watched Lucy try and negotiate through the jungle of weeds and my anger became directed at myself: “What if she gets ticks all over her and dies of Lyme disease?” “What if that small growth on her shoulder that I didn’t get checked out before we left is cancer and she dies before my time here is over?” Tears pooled up at the edges of my eyes. I stepped to a clearing and tried to breathe slow, deep, calming breaths and watch the current float by me. The current was faster than my breath and I tried to force the beautiful but fierce scene into a serene and healing one. It wasn’t working. Obviously.
So I cried instead. Too bad I didn’t take the opportunity to scream like a banshee or wail like a lost soul, but I was still holding on to my fears and feeling self-conscious that I would be discovered by locals who thought I was a crazy woman. Instead, I just let the tears stream down my face. I crossed my arms over my chest and said quietly and repeatedly, “I’m so scared. I’m so scared. I just want to go home, but I don’t even have a real home to go to.” As I cried more, Lucy sat there and looked up at me. I collected myself before I “lost it” (although, I think I would have felt better had I unleashed my fear and anger). We walked back to the car and I felt relief. A little lighter. A little more rational and sane. I texted my sister again and told her briefly of my “crappy” experience and then just sat for a moment.
The drive back to the cottage was uneventful. The twisty curves were more manageable and smoother. I was headed back to the cottage. My “home base” so to speak. I started thinking how people keep telling me I’m so brave for having set out on this adventure. If they could see me now they may question their statements. This rawness and vulnerability are strange and scary and to be truthful, I don’t really like this feeling or this experience all that much today.
Maybe being brave is about the recognition of fear within us as it’s happening? Maybe being brave is about letting fear live alongside us but not allowing it to rule us? Maybe being brave is about using fear as a tool to highlight the fragmented, shadow pieces of ourselves, giving us an opportunity to find that gap where the jagged piece goes in to the ever enlarging puzzle of ourselves? As I type this, I can honestly tell you I don’t know. I haven’t fully ridden out the wave of that fear that seized me this morning. It keeps morphing from fear, to anger, to sadness, to loneliness, to confusion, to whatever else is lying awake inside of me, ready to strike.
All I know is that I am here and I will keep following the trails inside and outside of me until the path clears again.