When my oldest child came to visit last month, instead of clothing, they filled their suitcase with old journals, rescued from our former home. These journals of mine dated back to 1981, when I was a young teenager. I took some time to arrange them in order by date, and slowly began to read them.
Going from 1981 to 2011, the journals were sporadic, some of them only a few pages long. I tended to only keep a journal until something bad happened, and rather than write about it, I would stop journalling altogether. You could pinpoint the dates of the trauma in my life.
I learned a lot from reading the words of my former self, watched myself change and grow. It wasn’t an easy read.
My memories of life before my second husband had been polished by time. I thought I was happy then, but the words I’d written belied that notion. It was sad and disturbing. My self-esteem was painfully low. I was an easy target for what came next. Reading through that era of my life was unsettling at best. I could feel myself experiencing those emotions all over again. I used men, many men, to determine my self-worth. I get a sour taste in my mouth just thinking about it.
I needed a minute to come back to myself. Taking camera and car, I escaped into the mountains and forest. I didn’t have much of a plan, just a need to make things right.
Bear Lake Main was hot and dusty, bone-rattling washboard, wildflowers choked with dust. But there on the side of the road I encountered what my friend Jaki refers to as “feral fruit.” There was an apple tree with small, red apples. Larger than crab apples, but smaller than apples from curated orchards. I stopped and picked just a few. It never hurts to have a snack on hand in case you run into trouble. I rubbed one of them clean and took a bite. It was tart, almost sour tasting, and took me back to a time, years before, when money was tight. There was a house in Inglewood with an apple tree just like this. I would go down the alley at night and pick the apples hanging over the fence – fruit for my children’s lunches.
Shaking my head as though I could shake off the past, I moved on.
I turned off Bear Lake Main to the Aspen Trail. From there, I simply chose one of the many side roads and turned upward.
As I wound up through the hills, I inevitably began to feel better. Driving slowly over deeply rutted roads, I was able to look out over forest and meadow, drink in the freshest of air, and feel calm settling over me like a fuzzy blanket.
It’s hard to stay sad when surrounded by such beauty. Even the dried grasses and flowers looked as though they’d been arranged by an artist.
Siberian Aster grew along the roadside, pre-formed bouquets of purple.
Deeper purple in the Canada Thistle that hadn’t yet gone to seed.
Fields of dried Mullein, some still sprouting yellow blossoms at their tips, looking more like they belong in a desert than a mountain meadow.
And of course, Fireweed, already turning to strands of tangled silk.
Bright spots of colour in a world slowly turning to browns and yellows.
The ruts turned to rocks and still I climbed until the road began to narrow and I could go no further. Turning around, I headed back down.
The day was still young. I could have chosen another road and continued, but the road had already given me what I needed. Instead, I headed into the Aspen Trail Recreation Site, found an open campsite, and parked. For some reason, I had thrown a book of poetry into my bag. Taking it out now, I sat at the picnic table and read, letting the words take me. The only sounds were a cricket and my own heartbeat.
I thought back to the journals and the words written there. In many ways, things haven’t changed much. I still want to lose weight, save money, and spend more time writing. But a lot has changed. I don’t need to be loved by a man to love myself. I’m slowly learning that how I look is only a tiny fraction of who I am. I may not be happy with my body or my smile, but who I am is more than that. Finally, I am loving the person I am becoming.
Sure, being alone has its downside, but until I was alone, I never had the chance to discover who I really was. I should have done it a long time ago.