“I’m better now, son. But I’ll never be as I was.”
I’ve been cleaning out a bookshelf, and came across an old university notebook, where on the back of a divider page, behind some class notes, I had copied this quote from Seamus Deane’s novel, Reading in the Dark.
I don’t know why that little passage captured me at the time. I wasn’t better. Also in that notebook was a stack of notes from the counselling sessions I had been attending around the same time. A handy chart of thoughts and feelings and precipitating events that I had to record and bring to my sessions. Thoughts like: I will always be alone; I’m feeling happy today but it won’t last long; I can’t even do counselling right; if this doesn’t work, there will be nothing left.
Counselling didn’t work – at least not at the time. But medication did. And Australian sunshine, coastal mountains, letting go of a lot of things I thought I’d always hold onto, focusing on the small, precious portions of happiness allotted to me. Putting one foot in front of the other and shedding the dead weight – people, feelings or beliefs that made things too hard. It was a painful, drudging kind of transformation, and I had little faith that what would emerge would be much better. Scrappier, maybe. The distance between endurance and transcendence is exactly the distance of a rainbow from wherever you are standing. The only miracle is in the beauty of the mirage, or that you can still see beauty at all – no small thing.
I got better, but I’ll never be as I was.
On Wednesday, I turned 35 and I went for my first hike. That is, the first hike since my body became foreign to me, and then reemerged as something not quite the same.
Because this whole project is about women, I decided that the first trail I completed should be with two women I love dearly: my sister in law, and my niece, who is nearly two — a mini woman. My mom was going to join us, but was called up for jury duty. Apparently criminal trials don’t wait for birthday hikes. WHAT KIND OF JUSTICE IS THAT?
Since the rest of my family lives in Maple Ridge, we chose a toddler-friendly hike in nearby Golden Ears Provincial Park; the Lower Falls trail is a gravel path the width of at least four people that meanders gently, and with zero elevation, along Gold Creek to a little waterfall a few kilometers in.
It was pouring rain, but we went anyway. Since I have been feeling better, I have been going to yoga, and have even completed a few “runs” (the kind where you mostly walk), but the last hike I had done was in October, and set off several months’ worth of illness and fatigue. I’m still pretty worried that whatever-it-was is will strike again, and my out-of-shape recovery body makes enough complaints these days to keep my worry on its toes.
As we walk along the path, my niece sometimes in her carrier, sometimes walking between us holding both our hands, my hip cramps angrily, my legs begin to ache and a headache threatens to progress from mild to medium.
Rain seeps in through my no longer waterproof zippers and soaks my tights. “Are you sure P isn’t too cold?” I ask my sister in law as my niece points at the river, laughing. “We can turn around anytime you want.”
My niece responds, “Wow! Big tree!” and we walk over to touch the bark. She gets excited about the wooden foot bridges, crouching at the gap between every plank to watch the water flow beneath. She points out every. single. puddle. She plays hide and seek with the river, asking “Where it go?” with a shrug of her little shoulders at every glimpse. She is in awe of big rocks and stares at everything in wonder, taking it all in. It’s hard not to appreciate nature with a hiking partner like that.
It turns out, P was fine. This little girl whom I knew I would love forever from the moment I met her, with her mop of curly hair, and impish smile, and her mother’s love of adventure. I can’t wait to take her on more hikes.
I was fine too. No energy crash, no sudden flu. So far, so good.