This Is What Rebuilding Feels Like

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It was Thanksgiving of 2014 when I looked at the man sitting in the arm chair of the living room.  Thanksgiving of 2014 when I looked at a shell of a human being, a shell that was simultaneously hollow and yet filled with all the things I still couldn’t sort out.

It was Thanksgiving of 2014 when I sat in my car, shell-shocked and exhausted, and muttered, “I think that was my father’s last Thanksgiving.”

It was three days after the Thanksgiving of 2014 when he was rushed to the ER, and five days after Thanksgiving when he was transferred to the ICU.  It was a week after Thanksgiving when words like “encephalopathy” were thrown around, among a slew of words that never need repeating.

December of 2014 was marked with confusion and stress, with phone calls and conversations so maddening that I felt like throwing my phone against the wall.  My father would be in and out of the hospital, fighting tooth and nail to stay at home and rounding up anyone who agreed.  I’d be in and out of reality, desperate for a breath away from what life was turning into.

He’s spend his last December in the hospital.  I’d spend his last December in a anxious haze that gave the world a soft, surreal glow.

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Thanksgiving of 2015 was the first one without him.  My husband and I hosted a humble Thanksgiving, bringing my mother and my little brother up to New Hampshire.

My mother’s talk and demeanor gave hint to the damage of my father’s decline.  It had been almost two months since he had passed and so much had been hollowed out in the wake of it.  Things echoed in ways that caused sideways glances and knowing looks and a profound feeling of soul weariness.

December of 2015 was a weary one.  It echoed the previous December.  It echoed all of 2015, which would turn out to be a year of extreme and brutal upheavals.  It was a month of going through the motions, of being leery of the Christmas cheer and absolutely desperate for it at the same time.  It was a December of exhaustion, of a hazy reality, of a frustrating and confusing ache that lay heavier than any snowfall.

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The world was a different place by the time Thanksgiving of 2016 rolled around.  By 2016’s Thanksgiving, our family tree had trimmed off yet a few more branches: my older siblings’ mother, my beloved brother-in-law, both gone within a month of each other.  One death happening weeks before my father’s one-year anniversary, the other a few weeks after.

I brought up my mother and my little brother up again for dinner.  I could hear one of my nephew’s comments echoing through my head:

It feels like all of family get-togethers as of late have been at funerals and wakes.”

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The world was a different place.  There was no other way around it.  November echoed the lessons learned in 2016.  The beautiful and heartbreaking revelations and realizations.  The devastating and unshackling truths.  The recognition of the rebirths that had happened (and had to happen) in the midst of such merciless change.

In the midst of this evolution, there was an unshakable understanding that I was not the person I was in 2014, and I was not the person I was in 2015.  I was barely the person I was in October.  A page had been turned and I had adapted accordingly.  True to my promise to myself, I had risen from the ashes like the Phoenix, reborn and stronger than ever.

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Unlike December of 2014, when I wished to dive into holiday cheer to escape — or December of 2015, when the holiday cheer served as a brutal mocking for how badly it had failed me the year before — this December is different.

The start of this December was subtle.  As subtle as listening to the Christmas music on the radio with an easy ear, of making Christmas plans without the weight of the world on my shoulders.

This December proved itself gentler.  It didn’t roll in with hypnotic and intoxicating nostalgia.  It didn’t envelop me in all things merry and bright.  It stepped in slightly, let itself be known, and waited for me to react.

And I reacted with decor.  I put up the garlands and the knick-knacks and the lights because it felt right.  As right as my morning cup of coffee, as right as turning the volume up when the right song comes on.  There was no fight, no struggle, no overwhelming sense of duty.  Just a subtle step forward and into the holiday cheer.

Just a toe into the festivities, as if it were the most natural thing to do.

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“Let’s go over the basics,” my husband says as we go to the tree farm. “We’ll keep the tree wrapped until it’s all the way inside, we’ll make sure to never, ever use a plastic stand again…”

He references the comedy of errors from previous Christmases, a little bit of light-hearted humor as we set aside time to wander the rows of trees and cut down our favorite one.

Even the tree we pick is subtle and gentle.  It’s not the behemoth from 2015.  It’s not the tree I desperately wished was the one, right tree, the perfect tree, like I did in 2014.  It simply called out from the ones around it.

“Pick me.  I’m exactly what this Christmas will be.”

One of the men working at the farm is from Paris.  In his thick French accent, he asks if I am from Germany.  Apparently my sing-songy, vaguely-Boston, pseudo-SoCal accent sounds Eastern European to a set of foreign ears.

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We set up the tree in our living room.  Our black cat patrols the area, jumping up onto furniture and giving his signature head butts.  The room already has the subtle scents of evergreen.

The lights are colorful and bright and bold.  The ornaments echo back to a blindly and beautifully simpler time.  Trans Siberian Orchestra plays throughout the house.  We decorate the tree, casually talking about gift ideas and joking about farts and strategically placing the good ornaments by the top & the cheap ornaments by the bottom.  There is no need to desperately reference the past, or escape from the present, or worry about the future.  Both cats watch us, ready to bat at the bottom ornaments.

“This is what rebuilding feels like,” I thought to myself, letting Christmas be what it needs to be, in its simple and light and ethereal glory.

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Detox

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“Sometimes you just need to detox the body.”

I’ve heard this countless times before, as if toxins stake territory and the only way to get them out is by drinking some terrible potion.  As if we don’t have working respiratory, circulatory, and endocrine systems.

The grapefruit juice cleanse.  The lemon water and cayenne pepper cleanse.  Liquid diets as a way of clearing the body.  It’s everywhere in the pseudo-New-Age world.

I’ve wanted to say, “If you want to detox, eat healthy and stay away from the things that are bad for you.  If the body can’t cleanse itself then, you’ll be needing far more than a jar of juice and spicy water.”

All sardonic commentary aside, at the end of the day, it really is as simple as that.  You don’t need any special concoction.  You don’t need to fast.

Stop doing the toxic thing, and the body will detox itself.

Eventually.

Sometimes the detox is unnoticeable.  Sometimes it’s as innocent as removing pasta from your diet and feeling like the world has started revolving carbohydrates.

And sometimes it’s a less-than-innocent reminder of how entrenched you were with what was toxic to you.

The caffeine headaches I got when I switched to decaf were otherworldly.  For two solid weeks, the pain behind my eyes and around my temples made me wonder if a migraine was approaching.  It made me wonder if scaling back on my caffeine consumption was even a smart move in the first place.  But I knew I was drinking far too much coffee, and needing more and more caffeine to get the same results.  I knew it was not helping my innate restlessness and unease and anxiousness.  I knew it wasn’t solving my general feeling of weariness.  I knew I wasn’t doing myself any favors in the long run, and I needed a change.

My body detoxed from those caffeine levels in loud and painful and disruptive ways.  In ways that made me wonder if this was the new normal.

And then the headaches dissipated.  The switch was complete.

Stop doing the toxic thing, and the body will detox itself.

Even though sometimes the detox will be loud and painful and disruptive.

But sometimes the detox — like the toxin itself — will be subtle and nuanced and intangible.  Sometimes it’s detoxing from an old way of thinking, an antiquated belief system, a trusted reactionary measure or coping device.

Sometimes it’s detox through distance.  Sometimes it’s detox from a toxic individual.   Sometimes it’s detox from a one-sided relationship, an imbalanced dynamic.  Detox from an unhealthy situation, a place that did you no favors.

The detox can come in the form of feeling like the work is too much and the sacrifice is too great and the change it too little.  It can come in the form of wanting to return to old habits, in the form of not really believing that the toxin was toxic in the first place.  It can come in the form of pointing out every time the toxic thing had done you right and made you feel good.  It can come in an ache in the head or the heart and in knowing nothing but time can remedy that.

But it’s still as simple as this: stop doing the toxic thing, and the body will detox itself.  In whatever ways it needs to.

And sometimes the detox is the opposite of innocent or subtle.  Sometimes it’s bold and explicit.  Sometimes it’s unabashedly blunt.

Sometimes it’s lethal.

For all its ubiquity, alcohol is a menacing force.  Depending on your level of addiction, it will scorch the earth when you try to leave it.

Alcohol detox is one of the few fatal withdrawals.  Ironically, opioid withdrawal might make you wish you were dead, but alcohol will actually go through with the deed.  It’s something I learned all too well, when my father was rushed to the ER three days after Thanksgiving in 2014, for what initially appeared to be a stroke.  Forty-eight hours in a hospital bed and away from the liquor cabinet, and the seizures were so severe he was rushed to the ICU.  The doctors did not mince words when talking about why he was there and what exactly it was they were monitoring.

It was a lesson in knowing what happens when things go too far.  A lesson in understanding that it only gets tougher with time.  A cautionary tale in what happens if you let it go on for too long.  An understanding that, at some point, the hole gets dug too deep and you’ll need a rescue crew to get you out in one piece.

But it isn’t always a crew of EMTs and ER nurses and IVs.  Sometimes the rescue crew comes in the form of support groups.  Sometimes in the form of therapy.  Sometimes in the form of turning to your cherished friends and going, “I don’t know how I got here, how it got this bad.”

Sometimes it’s yourself who mans the helm of the rescue crew, searching for yourself and repeating the mantra over, and over, and over again:

Stop doing the toxic thing, and the body will detox itself.

Stop doing the toxic thing, and the soul will cleanse itself.

Remove the toxic, and you will detox.

And the cleanse will always feel elusive at first.  You won’t wake up one morning and pull back the curtains and suddenly feel like you’ve stepped into a new body.  A body free of the toxic dependency, whether it was chemical, biological, or psychological.  You won’t be reenacting any of those pharmaceutical commercials, the world suddenly coloring itself in with vibrant new shades simply because you decided to step out of the trenches.  It will be slow and frustrating and nonlinear and filled with doubt.

But the body will detox itself.  Eventually.  And you will be grateful you got out yourself of the hole when you did.

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Lights Out

The power went out in my town last night.

Even with the electricity flowing, this area gets wondrously dark at night. The town serves as a buffer between civilization and the mountainous boondocks of New Hampshire. My neighborhood rests literally on the border of this buffer. There are no street lights. You have to drive a few miles before you come across one.

But last night, we were reminded of how bright we are, even in the supposed small towns. The lights go out in my house, all my neighbors’ houses, as far as the eyes can see.

Pitch black.

As we get up from our spots in front of the TV — as we fumble for our phones and look for proper flashlights — my eyes eventually adjust. Outside, there’s a slick stream of light hitting the sides of wood panels and bouncing off the gravel pathway of our backyard. It’s so bright that I’m convinced someone is trudging through our backyard with a lamp.

At the risk of losing whatever remaining heat is still in the house, I throw on my jacket and step outside. Greeting me in the backyard is nothing more than the chill of November air, the muffled squawk of the chickens, and a bright, luminescent moon, blazing down on me as if to compete with its super moon predecessor.

Of in the distance, sirens echo. Some calamity has caused the town to go dark. A car accident. Maybe a fire. Multiple sirens let me know that this wasn’t a small incident. That it might be a while until power is restored.

But in that moment, there is stillness. There is a peace and a solace and a sense of wonderment. The stars are aggressively bright and the clouds are illuminated. The sky opposite the moon is the faintest shade of blue, giving its best impersonation of daylight. With my eyes increasingly adapting to the dark, the moon’s rays spill onto the driveway like a floodlight.

In this moment, there is beauty.

The electricity doesn’t come back, even as we settle for bed. We wrap our guinea pig’s cage in blankets and bring her upstairs with us. The tiny animal is sensitive to temperature and keeping her warm is the biggest priority. Phones are placed by the nightstand, replacing our traditional alarm clocks. A single flashlight is propped to face the ceiling and it gives the room a homey, cozy glow.

The world is so quiet that I can hear the planes taking off and landing in the nearby airport. I can hear the guinea pig digging through her bedding. I lay in bed, my legs burning from being outside in a flimsy set of leggings. The next day will be one of my busiest, but for now I round out my day with a book. Eventually one of the cats joins us in bed, kneading at the throw blanket I have on my side, his purrs loud and pure and joyful. The other circles the insulated guinea pig cage, wondering what to make of this new addition to the room.

In this moment, there is quiet. There is stillness. There is beauty and wonderment and solace and peace. And all it took was a calamity to create it.

The Colors and the Super Moon

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The super moon makes its appearance above the tree tops, giving the illusion of magnitude and proximity, making it feel close enough to actually touch.  The world around us is defined by the hazy pink sunset and the authoritative glow from the moon.  We’re on a drive back home, snaking through the busy highways around Boston, deep in conversation.

“…it’s like trying to describe a color, if you think about it,” my husband concludes, and I agree.

After a few moments of silence, my eyes drooping with delirious exhaustion, the tunnel lights of the O’Neill painting the world orange and yellow, my husband adds:

“Do you feel like playing a game?”

“Sure,” I say. “What’s the game.”

“Let’s try actually describing colors.”

I’m in.  These little brain teasers — these chances to play around with words and vocabulary and syntax — are what I live for.  It’s a chance to go abstract and get away from the context of the world.

“Pick a color, and I’ll try to describe it,” he says.

“Okay, then.  Red.”

He pauses.

“Red is intensity.  Red is passion,” he says. “Red is that first moment after realizing you’ve been betrayed.”

He continues on, discussing red in experiences and sensations.  There are no similes.  Nothing is discussed in relation to things that can be painted that color.  It’s poetry and an observation on the human condition.

“I like that,” I say after he finishes.

“Let me give you an easy one: Blue.”

Now it’s my turn to pause.

“Blue is cold,” I reply. “Blue is chilled.  Blue is loneliness and solitude — but not malicious or aggressive loneliness.  Simply the natural disconnect and quiet that is inherent in human existence.  Blue is the calmness that comes from being alone.”

The rest of the car ride is spent describing colors based on how they make us feel, or what story they convey.  Lavender is the soothing feeling after the storm has past.  Mint green is coy, and would rather be speculated on as a secret than ever be revealed for what it really is, lest it be seen as average.  Gray is the monotonous drudgery, the minimal dirty work it takes to survive.

Yellow is the warmth that is never warm enough.  Purple is our darkest desires wrapped in velvet and indulged upon.  Chartreuse is nausea and malicious noise.  Pink is false innocence; pink is everything red is, but packaged in a cute and palatable box.  Maroon is what it feels like to exact revenge and have it be as satisfying as you hoped it would be.

My inner ear spins as if I’ve had too much to drink.  I’m drunk on my exhaustion and wariness.  I’m drunk on the esoteric conversation.  I’m drunk on the Boston skyline and the hypnotic rocking of the car.  I’m drunk on the poetry of it all.  Even in the dark, with nothing but highway lamps and headlights to illuminate, everything is prismatic.

This oddly perfect little moment.  Floating down the highway, imagining colors and just letting the words come out.  It’s a moment I gladly dive into, a moment that makes me wish I’d never have to come up for air.  I want to stay in these moments, the ones that exist outside of context, that exist without overthinking or analyzing, that echo nothing but the present moment.  I’ve gone abstract and I have no interest in going concrete again.

Green is freedom.  Green is stepping outside to a breath of fresh air after being stuck indoors.  Green is the feeling of being unshackled.

It’s a moment I want to take with me as the drive home eventually ends, as we get into our driveway, as we leave the car and abandon our colors and eventually call it a night. By now, the moon is high, away from any buildings or treetops that can make it look gargantuan.  And we leave our colors — the ones with newfound stories and nuanced personas — for the light of the full moon, left behind in the abstract and the poetic, a time outside of context.

A Link, A Plan, A President

*cue the, “typically I don’t do this”*

But, for real: typically I don’t do this.

Most already know I write for various websites — although the frequency has been steadily dwindling, due to a slew of factors (some sites went in a different direction than the things I write about, some sites went out of business, I started writing my most recent novel and had less bandwidth to come up with article ideas, I started writing for clients and had less time to pitch for websites — and some sites, well, don’t pay, and I got sick of writing for free).

Regardless as to how often I write for them, I usually never link anything direction onto the blog (although you can always find these in my publishing creds section.  Hint hint, nudge nudge).

Today, though, I invite you to read something I wrote for Huffington Post, titled “Yoga & Namaste in the Time of Trump“.

As an avid (and still fervent) Bernie supporter, I don’t think I have to really dive deeply into my feelings on the presidential election.  It has pointed a lot of things out — for both sides of the aisle — and only time will tell what the future brings.

But I will say this: if those running on a platform of hate were to go through with exploiting anger to gain power, they would fail if we actually band together.  Their platform of hate will fall on deaf ears if we’re too busy listening to everyone else’s story and background.

And for those who are burned out and don’t want to look at yet another stupid post: “Namaste” literally translates into “I bow to you”, but has transformed to mean, simply put, recognition.  I recognize the light in you.  The good within me recognizes the good with in you.  But it can also be used in times of suffering.  The hurt within me recognizes the hurt within you.  The frustrated, angry, dark aspects of me acknowledge the frustrated, angry, dark aspects of you.

(And — guess what honeys — we all have that.)

I’m nervous about those who were told, “Your hatred is valid.”  But I’m hopeful for those who heard that message and went, “I’ll fight twice as hard to protect those who are marginalized.”

And — again — only time will tell.  I’m cautiously optimistic.

Saturn’s Return

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I first heard of a Saturn return through No Doubt.

When I was 14, they released “Return of Saturn”.  In one of the tracks, Gwen Stefani references the album title, singing:

The return of Saturn / assessing my life / second guessing

But I was an adolescent and -– like a lot of the more subtle poetry in lyrics -– it was lost on me.  I wouldn’t hear it again until I read an article on Kesha’s current situation –- the sexual assault by the hands of her producer, the court battle to get out of her contract, the proof we still don’t get it as a society -– before I really understood what it was about.

It’s an astrological concept.  And I’m zaney enough to believe in it.  Whether it’s truly cosmic, mystical energy, or it’s psychological phenomena, or there’s some other, potentially scientific, parallel –- or it’s just a case of someone being in need of guidance, who lost the conventional faith nearly a decade ago and is a little too willing to look at the stars.

Whatever it is, there’s a part of me that cozies up next to it.

It’s supposed to happen when Saturn essentially completes a full orbit around the sun, returning back to the spot it was when you were born.  Something that happens every 29 or so years.

Our first Saturn return starts around the age of 27, and really doesn’t stop until we are 31.  It’s supposed to be 3+ years that bring light to the way we were doing things for the last 27 — and, particularly, the way we should be doing things going forward.  It’s a line in the sand between your younger, naïve, downright ignorant past and a more mature future self.

And it’s supposed to suck.  It’s supposed to suck hard.

“It’s when shit gets real,” Kesha had said in her interview.

It makes sense, even from a psychological perspective.  We are simply old enough to start knowing better.  The cells in our bodies have completely changed four times over by now, making us, on a cellular level, completely separate from the person we were as a kid.

It would also make sense that I’d adhere so quickly to the concept.  I was 27 when everything started changing.  When where I thought I was, who I thought I was, and what I I thought would be doing shifted.  When the positive and the negative gently started shaking the world around me, forcing certain things to rise up in the sand.

And I’d be 28 when the shaking would stop being so gentle.

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I look to the events themselves – practical, empirical, objective events – and go, “I’m not making this up in my head.  I’m not arbitrarily assigning mystical value to the regular evolution of things.”

The gloriously positive events that got me in the direction I’m going.  The equal and opposite negative events that created the same outcome.  All things that spiked in intensity and frequency, to the point that the only thing that could keep my head above it all was the constant, insufferable mantra: “This will make for a great memoir someday…”

Saturn returned, and it broke down the door without knocking first.

And now I’m 30 — and, upon learning about the Saturn return, cried out to myself, “You mean I have another year of this?!”

Because it’s exhausting.  All of it is.  The return of Saturn.  Assessing my life.  Second guessing.  Watching so many safe, predictable truths fall out and fall by the wayside.  Seeing my entire family and the dynamics within it shift in irretrievable and irrevocable ways.  Seeing what I thought I had mapped out for the future get crumpled and burned up, the ashes still floating around me to this day.

Witnessing my old way of practically sleepwalking through the world and getting outright furious with the mess I had made for myself, if only because I wish I had woken up sooner — and because I wish it hadn’t taken this much noise to wake me up in the first place.

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But the kicker of a Saturn return -– and this has more than enough roots in the psychological & pragmatic -– is that letting it happen will produce the best results.  Go with the changes and the pain and the fact that shit got real (real, real, really fucking real).  Don’t try to cling to how things used to be, or what might have been, had things not been shaken up.

In fact, don’t even cling to the self-loathing over the fact that you used to go about life a certain way.  It’s just as bad as clinging to the old ways in the first place.

In short, let the return of Saturn destroy what it needs to, because if you go about it intelligently enough, it will all be replaced with what you should’ve had in the first place.

The other kicker?  If you fight this period of upheaval in your late 20s/early 30s — if you refuse to address what needs to be addressed and change what needs to be changed — the next time Saturn returns (this time, in your late 50s), the doors will only get kicked down with more force.

You don’t need crystals and horoscopes and transcendental meditations to know that resistance to change only creates suffering, that there’s strife when the gap between what you had in your mind and what is actually happening is kept alive.

You don’t need to read a single astrological forecast to know how bad it is in the long term to force yourself to stay with what used to be, to cling to what you had previously built, to be so afraid of change you’d rather waste your youth, your health, your life — until you’re nearly 60 and the panic only intensifies and the feeling of being stuck is only worse.

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I’ve likened the last 3 years as a bit of a slow burn – and only recently have I been able to accept that everything had to have been a slow burn.  These types of changes can only happen gradually.

Let them combust in a glorious mushroom cloud, and you’ll only mal-adapt.

And –- likewise, with that slow burn -– the smoke is still rising, and the embers are still hot.  And reaching into the fire to grab the things you want or wish you had will only sear the skin.

And I’d much rather rise like the Phoenix than be covered in scar tissue.

The Expressions We Make

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“Well, someone is looking chipper.”

She’s sitting on one of the larger rocks off to the side.  A fellow hiker, one of the countless people you meet and effortlessly talk to and then equally as effortlessly part ways with while on the trails.  I’m probably a quarter mile in to what is about a solid half mile of pure uphill rock climbing.  I’m far enough away that she can’t hear my huffing and puffing (I’m assuming).

“Look at that smile.  You look like you could go another 10 miles of this,” she adds on.  Her pack is off and she is in the middle of eating.  A break from the trail.

“Don’t let the demeanor fool you,” I reply. “My legs are absolutely pissed I’m putting them through this.”

And they are.  My calf muscles are screaming and my quad muscles have fatigued out.  I’m already having trouble lifting my feet high enough up and I keep tripping over roots.  I’ve been periodically pushing myself up the mountain by clamping down on my bent leg’s thigh and pushing off it, as if to simultaneously keep the knee down while propelling the rest of me up.

It’s fitting that I’m having this conversation.  Perhaps a mile or so back on the trail, back when the terrain was relatively level, I had just realized that, when I’m knee-deep in the trail and too physically exhausted for the chitter-chatter of my mind to sustain itself, the corners of my mouth naturally turn up.

At that point, I was about two or so miles in to a solo hike, getting what might’ve been my last hike of 2016 before training and travel and work would fill up my weekends from now until the holidays.  I was already breathing heavily, my mouth slightly agape (and…smiling).  It was an expression I would keep as the terrain got rockier, as the incline got more extreme, and as I found myself essentially on my tiptoes as I scaled the mountainside.

“You couldn’t tell with that smile,” another hiker interjects, responding to what I had just said about pissed off legs, hoisting himself up the rock with hiking sticks that I start wishing I had brought along as well.

My natural smile as I hike.  Perhaps even part of why I hike in the first place.  But it’s not the expression I tend to get in other forms of exercise.

When I run, there’s almost a scowl on my face.  Brows naturally furrowing, as if focusing in on a complex question — or determined to push through an arduous project.  If my race pictures are of any indication, I can even look angry at times.  It’s as if running is a slow burn to whatever it is I’m dealing with.  Like I’m unearthing every demon, forcing them to the surface so they can be dealt with accordingly.  It’s really no wonder, then, that nearly every running playlist has Eminem’s “Not Afraid” on it.

But it’s time to exercise these demons / These motherfuckers are doing jumping jacks now

Surprisingly, none of that anger shows up behind the heavy bag.  The look I get when boxing or kickboxing is more laser-focused.  Instead of a slow burn, I feel like Artemis, goddess of the hunt, zeroing in with the kind of clarity a mountain lion must feel before striking at its prey.  It’s a similar look I get when practicing yoga.  Stoic grace.  Zeroed in.  A heavy calm.

And, when I hike, apparently I smile.

I spend a good portion of my remaining hiking contemplating this.  The faces I make as I get too exhausted for anything else but the activity at hand.  When the chitter-chatter of my brain is mercifully turned down and pretenses fall by the wayside and all that matters is that I keep going.

It’s beautiful, in a way.  The way they’re all so different.  The smile, the scowl, the focus.  Each activity bringing out something that — I hope, at least — rests at my core.  The furious, determined side of me.  The precise and focused side of me.

And – most importantly – the content side.  The side that is at peace.  The side that smiles effortlessly.  The side that, despite the brain’s chitter-chatter and the fatigue of it all, makes people go, “You couldn’t tell with that smile.”

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I finish the trail in half of the time I had allotted myself.  I use up the other hours meandering back, avoiding the highway and opting instead for the deliriously gorgeous backroads.  I end up at an intersection in Meredith, NH — one that is about 15 minutes from the highway, with a McDonald’s and a few traffic lights and nothing else.

I’ve come to this intersection by accident once before.  Thirteen months back, when I was driving up to Freedom NH to find my childhood campground in a fevered haze, just days before my father would pass away.  When I realized what I had found back last September, I burst into tears.

It’s one of those memories that make no sense as to why they stick the way that they did.  The way a child’s mind will latch on to a passing sign, or a casual comment by an adult, and remember it for the rest of their lives.

But that intersection meant something.

I have a snapshot-like memory of it, coming up to it in my father’s pick-up truck, knowing that it meant we were almost there.  Almost to the campground.  Almost to vacation.  After an exhausting 4-hour drive through Boston and into New Hampshire, we were barely 30 minutes out from that beloved childhood campground — a campground that has long since gone out of business and replaced by a more upscale RV-and-cabin company.

This time around, I calmly pull into the McDonald’s — something we never did as a family, no matter how many times we passed it — and order myself a post-hike treat.  I gravitate towards the things that feel like poetry, and I try to piece together exactly why this gesture feels as so.

It’s been an intensely retrospective year, and an intensely introspective past few years.  All of it marked by runs and hikes and time behind the heavy bag.  Time on the yoga mat and time teaching alongside it (fittingly enough, when I teach yoga, I naturally smile, and the chitter-chatter of the mind mercifully slides away).  All of it marked by things that remind me of what I am of.  The strength.  The anger.  The determination.  The focus.

And the natural smile.  What rises to the surface when everything else is too tired to take up space.  A reminder of what I am at my core.