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?
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.


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)