Vantablack

Something happened to me when we moved to Tennessee, something unplanned. My expectations were not met and everything felt like it was falling to shit. Now I know, I know, I’m not the first person to completely turn their life upside down and start something new.  I know, I’m not the first person to have dreams that they think are just dreams actually turn in to reality. And I know, I’m not the first one to realize that happiness isn’t necessarily what happens when that reality sets in.

I learned quickly that dreams require work, lots of work. And dreams can turn to nightmares quicker than a snake can slither across your path. I learned that life can be scary, and life can be gruesome, and people can be terrible and hearts can turn black.

Vantablack.

My heart turned into something I didn’t recognize. Something that was so dark, it lost dimension. Something that could absorb but not reflect. Vantablack, the closest you will ever come to seeing a black hole.

For six months, we have received nothing but positive feedback on our new lives. The family that has visited, the guests that have stayed here, the new friends that we have made, have all said the same thing, “You have something really special.”

I was able to hear it and absorb it, but whenever anyone asked me how I liked it here or how I felt about this new life, I was only able to reflect, “Eh.”

I have floated down the most beautiful river five times now, soaking up the sunshine, being rejuvenated by the crisp cool water, hoping that I would feel anew once we were back on dry land. I have walked for miles and miles in the nature loving every moment. The spectacular sounds of rushing water beside me drowning out the voices of doubt. Breathing in the crisp fresh air into my lungs, seeing the birds and the turtles and the flowers all flourishing with life. I could take it all in, but it’s not what would come out. I didn’t like it, it wasn’t me, but I was slowly starting to make a new home in my black hole of a heart.

Now I have never been all sunshine and flowers. I’ve always been a bit dark (maybe more than a bit), I tell it like it is, my mouth has no filter. Sometimes I’m funny, but mostly I’m just mean and people think I’m kidding (I got that from a meme, but it’s true so….). I’m not a pessimist but I am a realist. I have never been able to handle the kind of people who can’t see good, I want to shake them and slap them into reality. Life is hard, get over it, life is good too and you’re missing it.

But I have been missing it. I was absorbing but I couldn’t reflect, and I was lost.

We were completely slammed this past weekend due to the eclipse. We were in the path of totality and people traveled far and wide to come stay with us. Canada, Ohio, Texas, Florida and even some friends from Georgia made their way up here too.

All of our guests were thrilled to arrive. We gave them their eclipse glasses and made sure that they were comfortable, we told them some of the best places to go for the viewing and then we let them go on their merry way and enjoy their time here. Everything went down without a hitch, basically for the first time ever.

I spent Sunday hiking a waterfall with my friend and our younger children. She was barefoot, I was in flip-flops (again). The kids hopped from rock to rock and jumped in the different pools of water. It was perfect.

I, the local, would never have found this beautiful little piece of paradise, if my adventurous friend, the tourist, hadn’t made me join her.  Our families spent the evening together, cooking dinner over the fire pit, drinking wine and something else that rhymes with wine, listening to music and talking about everything under the sun.

Monday morning I spent singing to the Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack, in honor of the total eclipse of the sun, and turning over a cabin for an incoming guest. We decided to give into the hype and not just watch the eclipse from our deck, but to go down to the river and be surrounded by other humans and actually experience the experience.

We packed up chairs and blankets and lunch and eclipse glasses and humans and drove for less than five minutes down our forest road to the beautiful water. Once we were unloaded and had set up camp, we realized it was unbearably hot, so most of the kids jumped in the river. My mother rescued the sweaty grown-ups by purchasing every different type of adult beverage she could get her hands on. We turned on some hippie music while we waited for the big event and lifted our eyes to the heavens every so often to check out what the sun and moon were up to. As they got closer and closer the energy around us changed completely. The air was cooling down considerably, the crickets started chirping and glow sticks were being passed around for the two and a half minutes of darkness that we were about to experience.

In the final moments before totality, everyone put their glasses on and watched as the moon second by second covered more of the sun. When the last sliver of light was kissed by the shadow of the moon, cheers erupted all around us. We screamed, we just couldn’t help it. I thought for sure, that it was the most amazing thing I would ever see.

Until I took off my glasses.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I was looking at, I have chills even as I write this now. It was a picture that I have no words to describe for you. And I don’t want to, it was mine. I looked all around me during those far too few minutes and realized there was no where on the entire Earth that I would rather be. People traveled far and wide, thousands of miles, to see something so spectacular. And it was happening in my backyard.

During that two-minute hippie fest of totality, there was not just a total eclipse of the sun, but also, wait for it….

A total eclipse of the heart.

As the sun began to peak through again and we saw a diamond in the sky, the light began to peak through my heart. It was so full of love and hope and awe that for the first time in six months, I felt like I could breathe. I felt like I could love this life. I could love this place. I could love these people.

But, my eclipse is slow. Most of my heart is still in shadows. It will take more phenomenons, and more beauty and more people to make it brighter. But day by day the light will break through, and someday, gone will be the vantablack.

 

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My very own Wild

About a month ago, I decided to start reading again. I had gone through a stage for a few years where I would literally do nothing that wasn’t required of me, and read. All. Day. Long.

About a year ago, I basically fell out of love with reading. I was in a reading slump. The only books that would get any of my time were by my two favorite authors. I knew that they would grab my attention immediately and wouldn’t disappoint. Other than that, my time belonged to Netflix. I Netflixed so hard.

I’m still in mourning over Netflix. You see, way up here in the mountains of east Tennessee, things like cell service and streaming just don’t exist. Our family of five has 15 giga-somethings of data for the whole month. I don’t speak tech at all so to explain it you in terms that I understand, it means, no Netflix ever again. Like ever.

Yes, I mourn the loss of texting, and YouTube, but my heart is dressed in black and wearing a string of pearls for all eternity over the loss of Netflix.

I was in desperate need of inspiration for this new life of mine. I needed a strong female character that I could relate to. Someone that would make me feel like I could handle this, someone who would make me want to fall in love with nature and the wilderness. I couldn’t Netflix, sigh, but I could read.

I quickly grabbed my Kindle and downloaded Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. Yes, I saw the movie, and to be honest, I wasn’t impressed. But the book is always so much better than the movie,  so I decided I’d give it a go.

I wasn’t in love with Cheryl Strayed, but I was in love with her journey. She basically decided she hated the person that she had become and decided to punish herself , err find herself, by being isolated in nature on the Pacific Crest Trail.  She spent months alone, in pain, hungry, and wondering if she would survive. She was presented many opportunities to quit, she ran out of money, she ran out of water, she ran out of shoes, but she pressed on.

I envied her. I wondered if I could do the same. I would lie awake at night after I finished Wild and think about how one day I would take my own journey and what that might look like. Could I do it on my own? How long would I last? Would I even survive?

The short answer is no. I would definitely, definitely die.

One bright and blisteringly hot Monday, I awoke with the desire for productivity. We had every single cabin to turn over and I knew it was a great opportunity for the kids and I to work as a team. We all jumped on our little four-wheeler together and headed to Cabin 1. We worked well together and I quickly found that many hands does indeed make light work. We were finished before we even knew it, so we headed directly to Cabin 2 and repeated our quick and satisfying job.  I was overwhelmed with positivity when we were finished and decided to drop the girls off at Cabin 3 to turn it over for my mother so that she wouldn’t even have to think about it, while my son and I went on to Cabin 5. We drove all the way down to the bottom of the “hill” where cabin 5 sits and made quick work with that as well. Before we knew it, we were loaded back in the 4 wheeler and heading to pick back up the girls.

Except we weren’t. We made it maybe 1/4 of the way up the “hill” and the bulldog, our 4 wheeler, ran out of gas. Still, trying to maintain a good attitude and relieved that I cracked open the can of beer that was left behind by one of our guests, I decided that we should just go ahead and hoof it up to our house. My husband normally keeps some gas near the tractor, so I knew it was just one steep hike up and a relaxing walk back down, and we could be right back on track.

Except it wasn’t. The “hill” that we live on is actually a mountain. A little mountain, but still. We made it about half way to the house before I was looking for a shady tree to live under for the rest of my days. My son decided he would take one for the team and go fetch the gas by himself, while mommy enjoyed a nice beverage and a siesta.

Except he couldn’t. There were multiple gas cans filled with multiple different fuels, of course. After we spent about five minutes yelling back and forth at the top of our lungs, I realized it was time to suck it up buttercup, and do it myself.

Gasping for air, I made it to my house, called my husband, and found the right gas can. Once I could breathe, I headed back down the MOUNTAIN, alone.  The descent was relatively easy, except I was wearing flip-flops and I slid a few times. However, I made it back to the hungry bulldog, unharmed. I filled it with gas and started the engine, only to find that it still wouldn’t start. I cranked it over and over with the same result, it simply didn’t have the strength to carry on.

Confident in my reversing skills, I decided to put it in neutral and back down the mountain so that the driveway was clear. My husband had informed me that he was only about 20 minutes away when I spoke to him, so I figured I would just wait for him at the bottom and he could drive me home.

It took about a minute before I lost control and ended up in the ditch. I was defeated. Bulldog-1, Bethany-0. I carefully walked all the way down to the main road, where I could wait in the shade for him to come rescue me.

Except he didn’t. Twenty minutes doesn’t really mean twenty minutes out here. It means, “I’m technically twenty minutes away if I don’t get sidetracked, distracted or detoured.” I waited and waited and waited. Of course I could have hiked back to my house, I am an able-bodied human. But it was hot, and I was wearing flip-flops, and I didn’t have any form of beverage, and honestly I had just run out of positivity for the day.  I grabbed the mail out of the mailbox and quickly realized it made a lovely fan. I decided to just start walking in the direction my husband would be coming from and familiarize myself with the area a bit.

I made it maybe 1/8 of a mile before I realized I hadn’t put on real clothes for the day and my pants were pretty see through and I wasnt really wearing a bra. If someone besides my husband were to come rambling down this country road it could lead to anything from mild embarrassment, to a horror flick. I err on the side of drama so I concluded that if I did run into a stranger, I would end up in their trunk, so I quickly turned my ass around and went back to the shady spot at the bottom of my driveway to wait.

I spread out my mail on the ground to make a proper seat for myself and to protect my rear end from the nature It took no time at all for me to realize that I was not within shouting distance to anything, I had no form of self-defense and that there were many a monster out there that could spring out from anywhere.  My back was to the woods, my side was to the woods, my front was to the woods and I just knew that somewhere out there, there was a mountain lion stalking me and waiting to pounce on me and rip my throat out.

My husband showed up just before the crazy train reached maximum speed. He drove me home and quickly sent me to my room with a beer to “recover”.

It was then that I realized that I would probably never visit the Pacific Crest Trail. I needed hiking boots, water and a weapon just to walk to the mail box. I didn’t need to be Cheryl Strayed to find my wild.  If I want to look for my wild, I wont look any further than my own back yard and if it isn’t there, surely its on a beach somewhere with a margarita.

Maybe I’ll look there first.