Monday, September 18, 2017

Pushing the falls

Well here I am and there you are and it's the beginning of the end of September which means it's been almost a year since I hit the road with the tale that I'd never be back until I ended up coming back to Denver and here we all are again, in my tiny space of the infinite internet. A few nights ago, after whiskey and wine and dinner, I laid in our bed and stared at the ceiling and said "Why do I always find a way to be broke in October?"
"Broketober" was Zac's response.

I've been running. I haven't really been sharing my running, partly because I have very little people to share it with and partly because if I share it then I might end up talking about what I've been training for and I might end up saying my expectations and then they're real. I've spent the summer on the city streets of Denver training for the Portland Marathon.

Recently, when I've told people I'm wrapping up my training for the ol' Portland 26.2, I get a response similar to "Oh, a marathon is nothing for you", based on the knowledge that I used to race ultramarathons and love it. But that love, and my body, broke. My hip healed, but my heart didn't. Not for the ultra distance. The thing about ultramarathons is you can feel like shit and bonk and dehydrate yourself and still come back for a win. If you screw up your race strategy, you can take two miles and walk. You can catch your breath, you can take time to eat, sometimes you can rinse your face in a mountain stream. If you screw up your race strategy in a marathon, you likely won't be coming back in that race. If you forget to eat, if you forget to drink, if you let your mind wander for too long, there isn't time to come back. If you get 14 miles in and you're bonking, the next 12 miles are going to be awful. You don't get 30 more miles to figure it out, you get two hours to hate yourself.

These reasons are why racing a marathon is terrifying to me, and I could ramble on about them for what will seem like forever for a reader. But I won't. Instead, I'll tell you what I did.

I went to the three strongest, fastest women I know.
First, my sister. She works with a coach and for awhile she was forwarding me her weekly workouts/training plans. I built my base with these and my knowledge of meeting easy runs with perfect form, and read over and over the importance of aerobic capacity and aerobic fitness, and kept my mileage around 30 miles/week. No matter what I start training for, I always accelerate my mileage way too fast and burn myself out. This was key for the first 6 weeks of my training.

Second, Kim Barnes. I know Kim from the horse world back in Michigan, and for the past few years she has been slaying road running. She readily forwarded me MONTHS of her training plans with her coach, and from these I took cross-training and mileage suggestions for my own training plan. Four weeks of body-weight exercises, four weeks of weight training, and three weeks of plyometrics.

Third, I reached out to Kate King. I ALWAYS reach out to Kate when it comes to running. Kate and her husband, Zach, live in Denver and have been here since I moved out to Flagstaff. They're both fast and fly humans. They ran in college, Zach has been crushing 100s for a few years now, and Kate ran a sub-24hr 100 mile debut in Leadville last summer, and then this spring ran a 3:05 marathon in Eugene. I told Kate ALL about my training plan. My track workouts, my times, mileage, etc. and she unleashed so much knowledge and mentorship. One thing I was dreading was long runs, because I don't have a training group in Denver, and that long, slow distance is a Saturday morning that made me feel sick on Friday nights. But Kate told me to use my long runs. Work hard on them. Figure out what my hydration will be like, if I need to eat during the marathon distance, and if so - what? Can I get away with just an electrolyte drink and water? Do I need to carry a gels? Shot blocks? At what mile do I start to falter? Figure it out.
I also needed her to tell me about mental game for a road marathon. We talked about a few things, but these are two that I am constantly thinking of:
1. Control. I will, I guarantee, like most runners, go out too hard in the beginning. It's a new place, it's a new course, it will be much cooler than my training temperatures, adrenaline and crowd support are going to naturally push my pace. But I have to control that until at least halfway. And if I feel good at mile 14, I can let go and see what my legs can do.
2. "Miles 18-22 will suck. They just will, they always do. Expect to be slower here. Be ready for it, and accept it." I think this is the best bit of information. I remember Matt Wittenberg, years ago, saying "The marathon starts at mile 18." It's true.

So that's what's been going on with my running. I'm now in this weird spot where I have only three weeks until the race. I'm fighting something that feels like it could turn into a serious calf injury, and I'm trying to not let it make me crazy. And I feel constantly scared and worried.

I'm also starting a new job soon. The skinny on it is it's a fantastic new, beautiful restaurant opening in Denver and Zac and I get to work together again (not in secrecy) with other people that I miss and love. Back to what I love, with people I love. But it's new, and it feels like a gamble, and it's cultivating at the exact same time as this race I've put all of my energy into training for.

So this morning I paced around our apartment with my hands on my head trying to split up my anxiety and dismantle the hold it has on my lungs and my stomach and my legs and my brain and my heart. So I thought about what I felt a year ago.

And that answer is something like what I feel now, right? Restless, anxious, excited, naive and scared. Terrified. I am terrified.

But last fall I learned that you have to be terrified sometimes. Partly because I get myself into these terrifying situations and there really isn't anything to do but roll with it, and try to figure it out, because you can't go back.

I do wonder what it is about this time of year. Maybe it's because I'm not an academic anymore. Fall signifies a new period of learning, twelve weeks to stretch your mind in new directions and learn about the world around you, and in turn, learn about yourself. Maybe, because I'm not a student anymore, I force myself to do this in other ways (I wish they were more fiscally responsible ways, but you can't have it all). In the fall, I take what I love and push it into a new direction. Take it and fold it and knead it and roll it out, and see what it becomes. It makes my stomach turn, and it presses my brain into certain irrationalities, and it is so close to impossible to remember the good of what came from it last time. But it's there, even if you can't find it all of the time. And you have to kind of find solace in those moments and hang on to it. Hold it close, and make a mantra to help you remember it in times when you need it.

The weather in Denver has seemingly turned to fall, with day temperatures in the mid-70s. I have to spend some time in the aspens while they're turning, to not only take in their beauty, but calm my heart(rate) and my soul. I think you should do the same, yeah?

The race is October 8th. My next post will be spurred by the tears I have crossing the finish line - whether they be from physical pain (guaranteed), disappointment, or an explosion of victory. I know what you're thinking - "It will be all three!" No, it won't. It can't. That's just not how this race will work.

Lastly, I leave you with the song that I've been blasting in my ears for nearly this entire post. Stranger, by Covey. It's on Spotify (probably iTunes Radio, too) so go listen to it.
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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

a call to arms


(I started this blog post almost as soon as I got home from my run. The only thing I did before starting it was apply to be a Girls on the Run coach.)

My relationship with running is deep and intimate. I started running after the final breakup of an incredibly awful relationship with an exboyfriend who I still consider to be a horrible person. Over the last five and a half years I have built a healthy relationship with myself and learned to love my body for being strong and capable - something that I've learned to bridge into other parts of my life and wellbeing. It's odd to write about this because I haven't really done so before. Running has brought me some of the most important people in my life, and in a large way, running has brought me my life. My sister has been a runner for far longer than I have, and I've looked to her often for advice in both life and running - though after so many years and so many miles, it's hard to separate the two.

I've battled with self-esteem issues, as I know most women have/do. I never thought I was pretty enough or skinny enough, and in 2012 that hit an all-time low. I started to run, just a mile, or two, or three at a time and fell fully in love with the empowerment it gave me. I started to see myself gain muscle in my legs and arms, and I felt a strength that I had always craved, something I had looked for in all the wrong places (liquor bottles, lines of cocaine, etc.). I started to think I was capable of running longer, and harder, and I started to think I was capable in other parts of my life, too. I actually just started to think I was capable.

 With all sense of rapid success comes a plateau. I remember texting my sister, Sarah, about it very soon after I had started to actually 'train' with running. I was frustrated and very down on myself - more specifically my body. She advised me to look in the mirror and tell myself, out loud, that I love myself and that I matter. I was 23 at the time, and I still to this day have to practice that sometimes. Though it's embarrassing to write, I know that there should not be shame in it, and it's important that I share that in this piece, or the later message will be lost.

In early February I was on a run that was a little over 10 miles. I know that because I remember the route I was running, and if I leave from our apartment and run to Washington Park, complete the 2 mile trail there and run back, it's 10 and some change - 10.3 miles, exactly, I believe. It's not uncommon for Denver to be sunny and 50 or 60 degrees in February, and it was one of those days - shorts and a tee on a run in winter. I stood on the corner of two streets waiting for the light to change so I could cross, taking in the sunlight and feeling thankful that I had running in my life, and grateful to be out and enjoying such weather. On this particular run I had thought about my relationship with running and how it had impacted my life, and really how it had directed my life. As I waited patiently for the 'walk' sign, someone yelled "Hey!" and I looked over in the direction it had come from. I locked eyes with a man in a white truck who had his windows down. His eyes were piercingly blue, his skin was white and he had no hair, and was roughly mid-40's. Not breaking eye contact, he yelled "I want to fuck you."

And I didn't say anything. I clenched my jaw and stared straight ahead, and when I finally got the 'walk' sign, I walked across the intersection. I continued to walk for awhile, maybe a city block. I then started to run again, and after a few steps could feel the tears welling up behind my eyes. I wanted so desperately not to cry, because crying while running is just the worst. You start to not be able to breathe and then feel as though you're going to throw up. And sometimes you do. So I slowed to a walk and started to let the tears fall. I've been cat-called while running countless times, but I've never felt as violated as I had in that moment where that man shouted at me that he wanted to fuck me. I wiped my tears and realized that I was so upset because if that man wanted to fuck me, he could. If he was comfortable shouting this at me, with eye contact, in BROAD DAYLIGHT in the middle of the fucking city, what if he saw me during the night? What if he felt like fucking me at 11pm in an alley? Or the back seat of his truck? The reality is that he could, because he is bigger than me and stronger than me. And if he feels entitled enough to express his feelings verbally without the anonymity of darkness, I have no doubt that he would feel entitled enough to grab my pussy if he felt like it. I mean, if the President of the United States can speak openly about grabbing someone's pussy just because he feels like it, then certainly the citizens can (and will, and do) follow suit.

I didn't tell anyone about this man for a couple of days because I thought I knew what people would say. They would say "Walking away and ignoring it is the best thing to do." and "You did the right thing by not feeding into it" and "He was just trying to get a reaction out of you, you did the right thing". But that is not the right thing to do, and I think everyone knows that. I know that, too. But I was paralyzed by it. And I knew people would say "You can't let it get to you," which, I think, is the most fucked up response out of all of them. Because it did get to me. In that moment, that man took all of the power that running has given me over the years - the self-love, self-care, appreciation for nature and mountains and trees and my lifestyle, the drive to better myself, the world around me and to help others - and ripped it away. In that moment, and after that moment, I felt like that 22 year old girl who had constant hate for myself and my body and never felt comfortable being in my own skin. I was diminished to a sex object.

I've told this story to a few different groups of people, and their reactions correlate strongly with who they are. When I told Abby and Alice just a few days after, while we were at dinner, they both shook their head and had offered similar stories and feelings. This is generally the reaction from females. But white males? Forget it. I got every single response that I listed in the above paragraph from white males, with the exception of Zac. When I told Zac, he hugged me and told me he was sorry I had to go through that, and we talked about possible solutions and situations and outcomes.
But white male co-workers?
"Just ignore it."
"Those people don't ever change."
My personal favorite: "Were you wearing really short shorts?"
Right, because it's my fault. Silly me. Why on earth should I wear running apparel? Why wasn't I wearing baggy sweatpants instead?!
I don't even own sweatpants.

Which brings me to my next scenario, which happened, today, just before I started this post. In fact, I am still sitting here in my running clothes, sweat soaked into Zac's computer chair (sorry love).

It's hot in Denver. I learned last summer that Denver gets much hotter than Flagstaff, and I had forgotten that kind of heat. I love running without a shirt on. I think it's liberating and comfortable. I had a rough start to my run today. I didn't necessarily feel strong, and with every step I felt like all I could notice was the fat on my hips and underarms jiggling away. Whenever this happens to me I always remember sage advice from my sister: To remember that my body is strong, and to thank it for being able to perform what it does, and that it's healthy, and that is most important. Mile times and distance is secondary to gratitude. So it almost becomes an annoying internal battle of "Ugh I feel so fat and slow" to "I'm so thankful that living a healthy life matters to me, and my body is strong."

So as I turned the corner at Downing and Colfax and heard the man I passed whistle at me, I stopped dead in my tracks and turned around. This is the conversation that happened:
"Did you just whistle at me?"
"Don't worry about it."
"Why do you think that is an acceptable thing to do?"
"Ain't my fault you're running around without a shirt on."
"Whistling at women is not a compliment. It's demeaning and can often feel threatening."
"I was whistling at that bird."
"No, you weren't. You have no right to treat women like they are objects that are here for you to enjoy."
"You aren't even that pretty."
At this point I turned and started walking away.
"Did you hear me? You're ugly. You're fat. Keep walking, you fucking cunt."

And I cried. And I thought about how now I can't run in the city alone, not even at 1 in the afternoon. I don't think I'm fat. Or ugly. But that's because I have spent years telling myself that I'm not, and building a healthy lifestyle and relationship with myself. And those comments rip it apart, all because a man got defensive when I confronted him about objectifying my body.

My third and last scenario that I'd like to publicly address is one that happened to me at work. I now work at a bar, and last week I had a guest follow me out to my car after the bar closed and I was trying to go home. This man had also, earlier in the night, made me particularly uncomfortable by following me into a designated 'employee area' just because he "wanted to talk" and "hang out". I followed the rules about leaving - no one is supposed to leave work alone. I walked out with the bartender around 2:20am, but we were on opposite sides of the parking lot so eventually parted ways. This guest, who is a regular, was still sitting in his car (we had kicked him out at 2am) and thought it was okay to come up to my car and harass me at my window and then stand in front of my car as I tried to leave. Did I think he was going to reach in, open my car door and rape me? I don't know.
I.
Don't.
Know.
But I can tell you the thought was definitely in my mind. It's a fear that every woman has walking in a public space when it's dark out. And now I think about that experience every time I walk to my car, no matter how close it is.
Every.
Single.
Fucking.
Time.

And I think about that man telling me he wanted to fuck me on every single run. Every run that I have gone on since that day in February, it has crossed my mind.
Every.
Single.
Time.

And being told that I'm fat and ugly and a fucking cunt? I'll let you know how that effects my next run. I bet tomorrow, when I go out to exercise and do what I love most in the blistering heat, I'll head back in to grab a shirt.

Several times while I was writing this post I almost abandoned it, wondering what the point of it was. It's not healing to me. It won't make it stop crossing my mind daily. And I don't need people to tell me to "focus on the positives" of my day-to-day life, or "think of all the good times you've had running" - because, yes, people (read: white males who have heard the encounters) actually say this shit to me. As if I'm totally oblivious to the positives that running has brought into my life. Telling me, and other women, to ignore these instances and words and actions is silencing it and saying that it's okay. It's excusing it and it's also putting the blame on the women by acting like it's "not a big deal" or we're "thinking about it too much" or "being dramatic". And that man that followed me out to my car? It's fine, because "he's a regular" and "he was just drunk" or "kind of fucked up" or "lonely".

It is not okay. None of this is okay, and it is so hard to battle and stand up against. I try to every day, and I will continue to try to, and I give a huge shout-out and high-five to all of the women that do the same.
To the women that ignore it: Please stop ignoring it. We have to stand up and stand together.
To the white men: Help us. Please. Your voice matters. Say something.
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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cellar Door



 (I am no Drew Barrymore, though.)
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On my last night working a closing dinner shift at The Kitchen, I waited for Zac to finish his closing managing duties. He was giving me a ride home, because we live together, because we are dating, and we have been living together since I've been back in Denver. My usual waiting spot is on the stairs leading down to the main dining room, because I like to watch the people on 16th Street and the music is still loud in that part of the restaurant at this time of night. On this night I chose to wait in the wine room. My gaze drifted to the door of the wine cellar, and I thought about the moment I had just a few hours before.

The door into the wine cellar at The Kitchen is ridden with mirrors. In the moments after pre-service and before dinner service began at TKD, I stood inches away from these mirrors and pulled my hair back with a hair tie that was stretched to its max. I reached into my pocket for my chapstick, and as I applied it I had a flood of memories of the past five months.

The cellar door has been my threshold between two lives I've had since November. It has been the barrier between the truth and my lies. At the start of almost every shift, I have wondered how much of my ritual of watching myself apply chapstick was habitual and how much was necessary. I scanned the mirrors and wondered if the door was one big mirror, or actually broken up into 8 individual mirrors. Underneath it, I’m almost sure, is one piece of glass, crafted to appear as if it’s several. My life had been like this mirror. I definitely had 8 little lies - at times it felt like 800, part of one master lie. At the time of my breaking point, three weeks earlier, I couldn’t keep track of them. I won’t know if that glass is one piece or eight unless I throw something at one of them and cause a shatter.We would either get one panel to shatter, or the cracks would spread across much of the door, and then we would finally know. I would finally know if ruining it would ruin just one part of the door, or if it would hurt the entire piece. I never did that to the mirror, but I did it to my life at The Kitchen. And it ended up shaking me harder than I thought it would. It ended up hurting my entire piece.

A few posts ago I wrote about the moment I told Giselle I was going to write a book. The sun had just set behind the mountains of Ouray and the breeze was unseasonably warm, and quite welcomed after our frigid nights in Crested Butte. The start of my relationship with Zac Sanders started moments after that. Truth lies in details, and though I’m not going to write about all details of the start of that relationship, I will share that he's the only person I kept in constant contact with when I was away, and he asked me to dinner the first night I was back in Denver. Four days later was my first day back at The Kitchen, but I had filled those four days with almost constant time with Zac, and an important coffee date with Alice, whom I had spilled my details to on a patio over a cup of coffee that got cold before I drank it, because there were so many "I know!" and "I'm so happy!" and "This is crazy!" and "...My wildest dream!" and "Oh my god." and "I knew it." Alice and I had always had an easy, close friendship from the very beginning, but that afternoon she became a pillar that I would lean on, cry to, and talk with me when I was sure I was going to burst at the seams, or when I was full of tears and wanting to go back to California.

I had a plan for moving back to Denver. I was going to build my car out and live out of it. I was going to be one of those not-so-dirty-dirtbag-climbers. I was going to focus on writing, I was going to get my climbing strength back and I was not going to forget any of the important things I had learned. But there I was, pushing the chapstick into my already moisturized lips and wondering why, in the past five months, I hadn’t written anything down.

Alice covered for me, and with me, for months. My coworkers thought Alice and I were roommates – that I’d stay with her when the nights got cold, and not in my car. There were stories that we made Christmas cookies on our days off and had TV marathons together because truth lies in the details. I don’t think I would have cared so much if I didn’t consider the people at The Kitchen my family. Sometimes it didn’t bother me, but most days I felt my throat crushing because I couldn’t talk about what I had done on my days off. I had to lie when people asked me what I did for Thanksgiving, and I had to listen with a heavy heart to Zac describe his holiday without mentioning me, even though that was my holiday experience, too. When I wrote that blog post about going back to Moab I had to take him out of my words, and I couldn't tell people about how we got a Christmas tree together. Several times I couldn’t stop it from building up to an eruption because to keep everything inside is not who I am. I couldn’t write about it directly, so I tried to write about it secretly. I tried to share experiences through my writing by just giving details and not the other parts of the truth. I wanted to write what I was really thinking and feeling standing on the corner of Seventeenth street with it's missing gold 'E'. But I couldn't give you the truth in those details. I wasn't allowed to. I wanted to write about how I didn't know if I was being a strong person or a weak person.

But I found secrecy and solace by slipping into the wine cellar.
 It's a greeting of cool air, the dim light and idea of being surrounded by bottles of knowledge that I know I will never fully grasp. My situation felt as impossible to understand as every aspect of every bottle, and it was a comfortable place to let go and give up.

 For a long time I would be leaning against the door, arms crossed and telling Scroggins that I “just can’t do it anymore” and “it’s too hard” and “no one understands” and “I’m so fucking sick of lying to everyone” and “I feel like people would be happy, though?” and “I can’t feel like this anymore” and “what am I doing here?” and “Scroggins I’m so sad” and “what am I going to do when you leave?” because Scroggins and I knew each others’ secrets long before anyone else.
On New Year’s Eve, Kirsten dragged me by the arm into the wine cellar and we talked about her breakup and she urged me to kiss my boyfriend at midnight. We giggled and almost set him up for it, until I panicked and remembered that Zac didn’t really know that Kirsten knew we were dating, so I scratched the whole plan. Instead, I'd stand with a glass of champagne at midnight and feel more alone than I had in a long time - on my favorite holiday, nonetheless. Stepping out of the wine cellar I took a deep breath and checked myself back into the role of just-another-server. Every time I did that I felt my Self being chipped away, and a wild range of emotions. 

Some time in February Kirsten and I were given an order of burrata that was extra, and we hurried it into the wine cellar and managed to eat it in roughly 30 seconds, with a riveting conversation of:
How are you?
(shrug) You?
Same.
Because those are the kinds of conversations servers have to have. And with the concealment of the wine cellar, Kirsten knew what my shrug meant. And I knew what her "Same." meant.

A few weeks later it’d be one of my last shifts with Scroggins, and I’d be eating part of his sandwich in the wine cellar and Caitlin would come in, and with a startled look, say “What, are you guys just eating in here?” and Scroggins and I would look at each other, shrug, and say a synchronized “…yeah.”

I once had the wine cellar to myself and was, for lack of a better term, losing it. Through the window I saw Zach Byers striding toward the wine cellar, most definitely on the hunt for a certain bottle. I slipped through the second door in the wine cellar to hang out with the white wine and cross my fingers that he was going for a red. I have to assume he had, because he was in and out in a flash. I exhaled relief, and shortly followed his exit. Some people are easy to lie to, but Byers wasn’t, not for me. It ripped me apart every time I did it, and a part of me still hates myself for it. That night I took two bottles of white wine and held them to my eyes, the chill settling down the puffiness from tears, because I couldn't be on the other side of that door and be who I was.

Sometime before that I’d be standing at the computer in the Chef’s room with Scroggins and my hands would be on my hips, and I’d be staring at a light fixture and he would ask “How many people know?” And I would tip my head back slightly, rub my moisturized lips together, hold my tears in my eyes and say “I don’t know.” And we’d lock eyes and without words he would say “…Fuck.” And I would say “I know.”

Like its exterior that is broken up with the dark blue wooden trim, the life of a lie that I was trying to present had to be broken up with bursts of truth that came out on the other side of its door. The door to the wine cellar is actually striking. Though it’s broken up into several panels, the image it reflects registers in the mind as one beautiful whole. And that’s what we all want, right? For people to see our lives as one whole piece, put together and reflecting us in a positive way, despite the rigid interruptions. There's the argument that life is beautiful with those rigid interruptions - perhaps it needs them to be beautiful. I doubt that door would be as striking if it was one piece of uninterrupted glass. But that's an idea that doesn't come to fruition until your rigid interruptions are smoothed out and consecutive. The difficult part is that you don't know when that will be. In fact, the absolute time it happens is generally undetectable. 

And I’m here – I’ve always been here, in this small corner of the internet – to remind people that you can know what goes on, what went on, behind that closed cellar door.  

As I sat there, staring at the mirrored door, I felt alone. Zac came around the corner with "Ready, baby?" I smiled very small and nodded, even though on several levels I was not ready to go. "What are you doing in here?" A valid question, as I was just sitting by myself in silence and dark. I responded with "Nothing", and as he did a final lap to check all doors were locked, I wondered if the door to the wine cellar was ever locked. It must be, some of the time. You can't always flutter between two lives.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Measuring Motion

The measurement of a year is funny. Increments are generally calendaric, from a new year to a New Year, or by age, from the day you were born and 365 after that. I've found myself using different measurements as of late.

"National Puppy Day" this year was shared with the First Annual Anniversary of the Death of Cohen. When I think about my life and the heartbreak it's had so far, March 24 takes the cake. I haven't lived a day with such horror since, and the wound is still there and oozing. I got a new phone in February and it started up with the settings from my last iCloud backup, which was somehow from May of 2016, and my 'lock screen' picture is Cohen and me holding a can of Diet Coke with the phrase "Share a Diet Coke With Your BFF" on it. It took me a long time to change this picture the first time, and it's taking a long time the second time around, too. I can't bring myself to do it, and every time I click my phone on my heart cannot ignore the fact that my Great Dane is (still) dead. I keep waiting for the day to come where I'll think about him or look at pictures of him and not be sad, but it hasn't arrived yet. This year, on March 24, I got drunk. I didn't bring up the First Annual Anniversary of the Death of Cohen to anyone, even Zac, until I was a few beers deep and watching a group of dogs play on the patio at our neighborhood brewery. I said it nonchalantly, but with purpose. And I was a little disappointed with myself, because I thought he deserved better than for me to mention it nonchalantly. The memories of Cohen and Kelsey deserve more than that.

I first realized that the death of Cohen was a measurement in my life when I was walking on the sidewalks of downtown Ventura with Giselle. There was a Great Dane across the street from us and I turned to her and opened my mouth to say "I used to have a Great Dane" but caught myself. Of course Giselle knew this, because she knew Cohen. She had lived with Cohen. At that point in my life, Giselle was my only remaining, prominent friend that knew Cohen. I had conditioned myself to say those words to so many people, because I had developed a new life and a new family since he had died (more realistically, because he had died). And in that moment, with my head turned toward Giselle and my hand on her arm and my mouth half-open, I realized my life was very much a timeline around that Wednesday night during the end of March 2016.

At the end of 2015 I had a very debilitating hip injury that crushed the end of my ultrarunning racing and training. In light of this, I started rock climbing. I had wanted to learn to climb for a long time, and I had an incredible mentor and another incredible climbing partner to launch me into the sport. Climbing is different for every person, and much like ultrarunning, I think it's hard to answer the question of "Why do you do that?" But for me, it was empowering. I learned to rock climb only outside, and my first time out was just Giselle and me. I learned to tie in, lead belay and clean a route in an afternoon without even fully understanding the importance of the 'locking' function of the carabiner. To non-climbers, this sounds like a bunch of jargon that may likely be ignored. And that's fine. But after teaching others to climb, I now realize what a huge risk this was for Giselle. We (she) didn't have the comfort of a gym mat below us (her). There was no one else around to ask if I had a question about what to do when she was up on the wall. I once brought it up to her, in awe that she trusted me that much, and she responded with a  smile, a shrug, and "I just saw it in you."

I climbed hard and I climbed often, but it wasn't until I moved to Denver when I took my first lead fall. I moved to Denver on a whim with absolutely no plan and next to no money. I had a car full of my clothes and climbing gear, a heart that was shattered from holding my dog as his life ended, and a backseat still full of his black and white hair. Giselle and I have a beautiful story of friendship, hardship, heartache and not only finding each other, but finding ourselves. While I moved to Denver, she moved back to California, but she flew from LA to visit me for 10 days and we climbed all over a portion of the front range, and I still feel lucky that she was on the other end of my rope when I took that whipper. Taking such a big lead fall scared me, and it ripped away the confidence I had built up. We were out with a small group of people, two of the other climbers being brand new to the sport. I immediately lowered back down after the fall and have a vivid memory of my hands shaking so badly that Giselle had to untie my knot. We chatted for a few minutes, and I said I was fine, "They're just flesh wounds", but as I walked down from the belay ledge down to where our stuff was, I lost it. I burst into tears, and as I tried to choke out "I'm fine, that was just so fucking scary" she rubbed my back and said "I know, I know, and you never have to lead again." And while those words were comforting, we both knew it wasn't true.

I largely stopped climbing after that. I got out a few times but I didn't lead a route. I had a scar that ran from my right elbow down to my wrist, but it has now faded into a mere three inches in length that really is only prominent when my skin is tanned. The next time I lead a route was six months later, when Giselle and I were on our road trip and in Flagstaff.

So here we are, almost one year later. This coming Friday, 7 April will mark me being in Denver for one year (sans the month I left and ended up in California). I tried to make running as important to me as it was for the years I was a mountain ultrarunner, but my heart isn't there - at least not right now. I have fallen back in love with climbing, and the stoke is high. I'm back to appreciating the gym for strength and technique, but constantly planning outside time with people upwards of three times a week. And I'm going back to send that stupid 5.10a that crushed me before I let that one year increment pass.

I will forever be heartbroken about having to put Cohen down. Nothing will change that. And let me hold a hand up to stop the people that say "Time heals all wounds" because that is a crutch, and some wounds never heal. And let me toast to the people that understand that kind of loss, and pour one out for my homie, Cohen.

The celebratory increments of life that are so socially recognized can be (and I believe often are) faked. I think birthdays are awesome, and it annoys me when people don't like to celebrate them. Being another year older is fucking cool, no matter the age. You're alive, and though that should be celebrated every day, the one day when your age changes a digit (or two) (or three!) should be a day filled with bubbles and dancing. When a year of marriage ends and another starts, you should admire yourself and your partner and the love you have built, have repaired, and continue to share for each other. When your semester ends and you have exhausted yourself, your mind, both your combined academic and personal ability onto virtual sheets of paper and finally uploadsendsubmit all the work, you should celebrate however you see fit.

Milestones like that are cliché, but they are that way for a reason. You should, and are allowed to, revel in them with glory. But it's the milestones we cross from the moments in our lives that aren't so prominent in the public eye that shouldn't be ignored. They aren't always positive, and they do not need to be changed into positivity. Contrary to what everyone is constantly trying to spread, you do not always need to find a silver lining. You are allowed to forever think something will be sad, because life is simply not a series of happy memories. "Growing" as a person doesn't feel good. It fucking hurts. That's why we grasp at positive spins to put on it. I don't believe "everything happens for a reason". I think that is a crutch people use when something doesn't go the way they (secretly?) wished it would've gone. Life happens because of choices. I don't believe that the "fate" of putting Cohen down led me to moving to Denver and that I'm "supposed to be here". Putting Cohen down was a choice, and while I do not think it was the wrong choice, the option of not putting him down crosses my mind almost every day. The other half of my brain steps in and stops myself from asking that question ("What if it was too soon?") because to actually fathom that possibility is one hundred percent too painful. Moving to Denver wasn't written in the stars for me. I moved here because I had the option and my heart was too broken to stay in the life I was living in Flagstaff.

I woke up on the 6th of September with a sigh of relief that I was 28, because 27 fucking sucked. A lot of awful events happened at that age, and the tick forward of that second digit made me feel like it was over. Of course it wasn't, because the measurements of my life aren't "Was I 26? 27? 28?" They are, instead, "Was I dog owner then? Was Cohen alive? Did I lead that day? Was that before I almost moved back to Flagstaff? Was I back in Denver at that point?" And if some of those anniversaries cannot be celebrated, they are at least remembered for everything that they were. They aren't remembered for the silver linings, they're remembered for the aches and pains. They're remembered for feeling the last beats of Cohen's heart, or the sting of my tears hitting my bloody forearms, or for not being sure if I wanted to belong in Flagstaff or Denver or Washington.

I probably won't remember my 29th birthday. But I'll remember the day I clip those anchors at the top of that 5.10a. They both call for a glass of bubbles.


(You climb for the views, right? The picture below is taken from the summit of a multipitch in Eldorado Canyon that I can't remember the name of, with Dan Susman)

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