Or rather, “The vacation I took to to celebrate being about a year out from the car accident and concussion that pretty much reset my life.”
A core lesson from the accident: I needed to carry decent health insurance, and “decent” tended to fall outside of “what I can afford as a freelancer.” Truly, at the scene of the accident, I should have been taken to the hospital right away. I feared the cost more than I feared the health consequences of my brain rattling around in my skull, and I didn’t want to head into my 50s with that same fear of, say, heart palpitations or weird lumps or menopause symptoms or… You get the idea.
That lesson led to a fulltime job. Darlings, I do indeed love my job, but going from a freelancer and martial arts instructor to an employee working always on someone else’s preset schedule has been an adjustment. Especially since the job requires this not-a-morning-person to be onsite at about 6:30 in the morn. But heck, I’m helping to make whiskey, so I can’t complain! And the job comes with paid vacation time—something I haven’t had since I was my son’s age—and that led to the celebration.
Last year’s concussion caused lingering problems, from sleep difficulties to sporadic balance issues to minor aphasia to blank-outs. (Not blackout. Blankout—the sensation of suddenly not knowing a thing that you know you should know, and not being able to articulate anything more than, “Um… Hold on… Um…”) I certainly didn’t trust myself to camp on my own. NO WAY. What if I forgot to pack up my food at the end of the night, and attracted a bear? What if I stumbled into the campfire? What if I couldn’t remember which direction I was supposed to go on the trail?
For the first time, I was afraid—truly and deeply afraid—to head out on my own.
So I decided to use a bunch of vacation days, packed up my Tucson, and took off for six days in Wyoming. Yellowstone and Grand Tetons. I hiked extensively my first couple days up there, and stayed in an extremely Wyoming hotel for the first two nights.
Why the hotel? Because I was scared to death I wouldn’t be able to figure out a campground. I’m glad I let myself transition that way, but I needn’t have worried. I ended up in Grand Tetons (which I preferred to Yellowstone because it had far fewer people and far more solitude) the following evening.
Yes, I had bear spray. And thankfully lost my fear of accidentally spraying myself in the face with it.
Then I drove mostly two-lane highways through the Wyoming countryside down to Laramie, Medicine Bow, and Vendauwoo. I climbed boulders. I walked through the pines. I watched the Milky Way come into being. I played with chipmunks. I read two novels. I watched cows wander through my campsite.
I ran kata, and bo and nunchaku, and practiced some knife work. I’m rusty on all of them, but I least I could remember all my empty-hand katas, hit myself in the jaw only a couple times with the nunchaku, and gave myself only one nasty cut with the kukri. I remembered where the first aid kit was and how to use it.
I stared out the horizon. I let my mind wander. I planned what I would do when I returned home, what I would do when I turned 50, and where I’d like to be when I turn 60.
I proved to myself I was okay, and okay was pretty damned wonderful.
And since I was okay, I spent the first morning after my return rappelling down thirty-eight stories in downtown Denver to raise funds for the Cancer League of Colorado, in memory of my late husband (liver cancer), my best friend who was also my son’s godmother (breast cancer), and in honor of my martial arts instructor who beat throat cancer last year. (Donations are still being accepted at the link, if you’re so inclined to give to a group that donates every penny to cancer research and patient support services.)
The highest I’d ever rappelled before was about, maybe, forty feet or so. When the moment came to step onto the ledge and lean back over the edge, I will tell you honestly I almost backed out. Then the voice in my head, “Bitch, sit your ass down in that harness and get it done.” And so I did.
I will not lie. It was terrifying. I screamed at least once. I wanted to quit halfway down. When I reached the bottom, people had to hold me up for a minute because my legs wouldn’t work. My son hugged me while I was still shaking, as did my friends Katy, Don and Rob. (Rob had gone over the edge before me.)
I never wanted to do it again. Now I kinda do.
So really, what I did on my summer vacation was prove to myself that, even if I’m fragile, I’m fixable. That I can step off the sidewalk (or the ledge) and still be all right. That even though I’ve different limitations than I had ten years ago, five years ago, or even one year ago, the way to deal with those limits is not to dial back my ambitions but to rethink my tactics and strategy.
I’m back, my Darlings–ass in the harness, whiskey in hand, stepping over the edge. Let’s do this.