But it was a particularly warm afternoon in December while I was walking to work and standing on the corner of Seventeenth and Blake, staring at my feet and noticing an 'E' is missing in SEVENTEENTH that is imprinted with some sort of metal in the corner of the street sidewalk. Not all 'E's are relevant. You can leave one out of my name and it still makes sense.
As I stood there I felt a small, old and familiar feeling of wanting to leave. I wanted to leave that street corner, I wanted to leave my job, I wanted to leave Denver and I wanted to leave the life I had let myself slip into. I had only been back for six weeks. I felt a moment of panic at the recognition and immediately pleaded with myself to not do this. Not again.
I was listening to Stick Figure's "Fire on the Horizon" and I wanted to be back in California. I scolded myself and felt angry for leaving the coast in the first place. I came so close to turning around and walking back to a closet full of my things and packing it all again that I almost believed I was doing it, had traffic not brought me back to reality. Ridden with a heavy heart, on the corner of anxiety and Sevente_nth, I searched for any other kind of emotion I could dig up. I thought about returning to California and having eyes full of tears and what I would say to everyone. What exactly would that sound like? "I"m here. Again. I screwed up. Again. I'm out of place. Again."
I thought the last time I was that frustrated with myself was in Joshua Tree on a climb that I knew I could do (because I had just done it earlier that day) and was stuck. All of my weight was on my trembling right leg on the wall behind me, with my left foot out to balance, and I let out some sort of profanity - likely a "Fuck/What the fuck/Fuck this climb/God fucking dammit" as I looked up the crack and saw blood from someone who had climbed before me - myself, Giselle, Max or Ben. In a moment of defeat I sat deeper onto my right leg and let the rock scrape my back up.
"Kelsey, get mad! Get mad at it."
And I did. My skin lit on fire with not only scrapes, but fury. And I got up that crack.
Giselle has the best advice.
So after that memory recall, I got mad.
I felt a little better.
But it was a bad Sunday night.
And that was the start of me being sad. This is a terrible word, right, sad, because there are so many different kinds of sad, and one should be far more specific when describing a feeling. But I can't let you all in that much, but I can tell you that every time I go back to Michigan, I arrive a bit broken and leave a bit more settled. When my mom caught me off guard by running up to me in the train station in Kalamazoo and swooped me into a hug, I let a tear of relief fall.
I was able to be home for six days over Christmas. I attempted to leave my Denver feelings in Denver, but unfortunately you can't peel them out of you and leave them on a cold wooden floor.
I'm very close with my sister, and we talk often, but we hadn't seen each other since last Christmas, and our time apart has never been of that length. Still, like an old favorite song, it is lovely in any point in life.
I haven't been running a lot since I've been back in Denver, but I ran with my sister while I was home. We generally run together on the roads surrounding the lake, and it is mostly the same. I feel miserable because I am constantly trying to keep up with her and keep conversation at the same time, and when we return home our mom will ask "How was it?" and Sarah will say "Fine" and I will gasp "Awful".
And in the awfulness, there is greatness, because even if it is six miles, it is a reminder that running is powerful, and a very large part of who I am, even if I never talk about it.
Is that what a 'Runner's high' is?
For six days I got to hang out with my sister and my mom. I laughed insanely hard, I sat by the fireplace so much that the warmth on my back turned into an itch, I didn't read any of my book that I brought and I gave up asking why were we eating so much cheese? and ate it anyway. I wrapped myself in my sweater and sat on the couch and let myself sink into the feeling of being surrounded by people who were happy that I was just simply there. I drifted asleep one night thinking about how incredible that feeling is, and I think it is the definition of love. In the moment right before sleep it was compounded with the realization that feeling had not been around for me since the corner of Sevente_nth and Blake.
The next morning I woke up and had a text from Giselle that she had finished the video (It's right here, and incredible, please watch it). I couldn't press play fast enough, and I have no idea how many times I watched that video that day. I felt the urge to make everyone watch it and exclaim "Look! This is what I have been trying to tell you with my words for the past two months. This is what I'm talking about, this is what it's been all about."
That evening, in perhaps the sixth or seventh viewing of that video, I saw my own happiness and clenched my jaw to fight tears as I felt the absence of it. Giselle had captured everything of importance in those first 12 days. There's a clip where I'm running downhill towards her and flailing my arms in happiness to just be running in the mountains, and there's a part where I'm laughing while holding the climbing rope, and there's a part where we're sitting at our campsite in Moab and she tosses something in a moment of exhaustion, frustration and hilarity. I don't know what she threw, I can't remember, and I don't know why. But I remember the feeling, and it still makes me laugh when I watch it.
I watched Kalamazoo get smaller and smaller from my window seat on 28 December and thought about the idea of returning, or the idea of the impossibility of it. Every time I go back to California I learn about myself and what I want. When I returned to Denver from California I learned that you can't expect or hope for anything from one person. I remembered the risk in not having a guard. When I returned to Michigan I re-learned the importance of missing pieces - whether it be love or running or single track or callused fingers.
While my head was against the cold window on the airplane, I listened to The Lumineer's Cleopatra album - specifically "Sleep on the Floor". It is the first track, and I still think this is one of The Greatest Songs of All Time. I felt anxious about all the things I had to do when I got back to Denver. I had to make a training plan, I had to reach out to people I didn't know, I had to have a certain conversation and I had to start constantly reminding myself that the world is bigger than Denver, my life is bigger than being sad, and I had to make a decision of where to put my e(ffort)nergy.
So at the end of this piece, I encourage you to shove earbuds into your ears and listen to "Sleep on the Floor" as loud as you can, to each and every word. And I invite you to put your hand in mine and skip shuffle laugh learn summit cry and decide through 2017 with me.
Or not. But I don't just write for me. I write for you, too. Because I and we have something to say.
Photo by Giselle Fernandez