"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.