I Will Never Be the Same and I’m Glad
It’s been almost exactly four months since I stood on top of that Katahdin sign on a crisp, sunny, Maine morning. It’s taken me that long to process my emotions, although I still have a long, long way to go. I have wondered since then how I’ll ever put that experience into words. My mom laughed at me when I came home and people asked, “So how was the trail?” and I would respond, “It was good,” nodding; and say nothing more. How could I explain seven months of heartbreak, love, sadness, pain, and most of all pure and utter joy, to someone who had never experienced anything like it? So I continued to tell them it was “good” and change the subject to easier questions like what I wore, what I ate, etc.
Coming down from Katahdin that day, I felt relieved and accomplished. There was, of course, some sadness, but at the same time I was tired… I was really fucking tired. I felt like I had taken my time, and I wouldn’t do one thing differently if I could ever start the trail over again. I thought to myself, You knew it was going to end, and here it is. The end.
The night I got home from Maine, I walked into my house feeling like a stranger. I don’t think I even sat down. I immediately started ripping things from my closet, from under my bed, from my dresser drawers. I got out huge black trash bags and started filling them, making piles to take to Goodwill. My belongings felt like they were suffocating me. Why in the fuck do I have all of these things? I was ruthless, pulling clothes from hangers and out of my drawers. All of my jeans were too small for my new monster quads so all 12 pairs went in the trash bag as well. I don’t think I finished until around 4 or 5 a.m.
One afternoon about a week later, I hopped in my Jeep to drive to the grocery store. I automatically put on my favorite playlist, my trail playlist. One minute, 30 seconds later, I was pulled over on the side of the road, sobbing. You Never Even Called Me By My Name by David Allan Coe was playing. The same song that I had practically skipped through the Virginia hills to, scream singing and twirling my trekking poles like batons. It was the song I had played over and over, crossing through cow pastures, yo-yoing back and forth with my entire trail family as we hiked through the green tunnel. I ripped the aux cord from my phone and drove the rest of the way in silence.
Cobra and I had hiked together with the rest of our trail family since the first week of the trail, after Blue Mountain Shelter in Georgia. Eventually, up north, we split off on our own and somewhere around Lincoln, NH, we made it official. We had made it 1,819 miles without getting sick of each other; that was something, right? We summited Katahdin together, and after that I cried and cried as I dropped him off at the Bangor airport in my rental car so he could fly home to Fort Lauderdale. This man had become my best friend, someone I had shared so many moments, both amazing and terrible, on this trail.
Fast forward a month and he had moved up to PA with me. It turns out being apart was much harder than anything we’d done on that damn trail (including the climb out of the NOC). I never really thought about it until I sat down to reflect on this journey. But having someone here that I can shake awake in the middle of the night, just to whisper, “Hey, do you remember when we got super drunk in Kent, CT, and stealth camped by the railroad tracks?” or “Do you remember when your tent flooded in New York and we woke up to our headlamps floating at our heads and waves washing over our Therm-a-Rests?” turns out to help my broken heart more than anything. He will smile and nod, no matter how many times I do it, and say something like, “Yeah that train whistle in the morning almost made me piss myself” or “Yeah, and you just filled up your Smartwater bottle without even getting up as we laughed and laughed.”
When I played that song in my Jeep that first week, I wanted to forget everything. I didn’t know how I would live like this, with constant, random, vivid memories stopping me in my tracks and reminding me that I’m back in real life. But it turns out that remembering is what is healing me in the first place. I was finally able to start writing again, I was able to go back through these memories and put my feelings into words. Yes, I might cry or laugh or feel like my heart is being ripped from my fucking chest when I do, but guess what, Mountain Cat, it happened. So, so much happened and the last thing you want to do is forget. No, no you will never be the same. But would you really want to be?
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