Sorry for not posting here for so long. I had some things I needed to figure out and I shut down for a while. As so many of us do. This is the most personal piece I have ever shared. I’m grateful to the Urban Howl for publishing it and helping me spread awareness. If you choose to read, please know that it is deeply intense and very triggering. Many know that I have been trying to embrace my triggers rather than let them own or control me. Trying to Shine some light as to why certain things cause me to react so deeply. I truly believe that is the way to heal. It’s not easy. Far from it. But running from what triggers our deepest pain doesn’t help either. Thanks for reading. @theurbanhowl
When my daughter was in Kindergarten, she gave me the courage to climb my first mountain.
I grew up in the Berkshires but until 2013 I had never been mentally or physically fit enough to explore any of the natural beauty I was surrounded by.
As I lost more and more weight and my endurance built up my walking regimen was becoming stale. One of my closest friends suggested hiking. He was an avid hiker. It was one of his favorite activities. He told me I would love it. He said my kids would too. He insisted my whole family would love hiking. He talked incessantly about the health benefits and the beauty and the adventures and the clarity hiking brought into his life. He told me which trails to go on and what paths to explore and talked about hiking so much I began feeling like I was an expert based on his stories alone. One day I decided I was just going to go for it. I was taking my daughter with me and we were going for a hike.
Pine Cobble mountain.
I don’t know why really other than the fact it was the spot I had heard people talk about most often.Well, besides Mount Greylock and I figured the highest mountain in Massachusetts was a bit too ambitious for a novice hiker. Also I knew how to get to the Pine Cobble trail head.
It was early April, a beautiful, perfect day for adventure and I was pumped. So was my daughter.
We were off!
I began to plot my friends death 20 minutes into the hike.
I will spare the excruciating details. Just know I was wearing sneakers with no tread, had no bug spray, no extra water, have NEVER hiked before and I had a 5 year old with me.
As we got closer to what I was praying would be the top after what seemed hours of hiking, the terrain became more and more dangerous. Rocks were jutting out from every angle. There wasn’t even an actual dirt path anymore, just rocks and ice and snow. I could see blue sky and felt that the summit was near but it just wouldn’t materialize. My feet were soaked, I was exhausted, I was scooping up snow to quench my thirst and I was in a shitty mood. I was cursing myself for being so stupid and beginning to wonder about our safety.
I said we had to turn back.
I mean, obviously we had to. I’m not sure how we made it as far as we did. We were so close but impossibly far. It was glare ice. I had vastly underestimated my hiking capability on the semi flat muddy incline that started the trail, never mind this ridiculousness . I couldn’t take it anymore.
My daughter kept going. Like a crazed mountain goat.
She refused to stop.
She did what children that age do and went about the task I was requesting for her to stop doing at a faster pace, ignoring my pleas.
We reached the summit not much longer after my determination to quit.
Was the view worth it?
Of course it was.
It was one of the more memorable and breath taking moments of my life. We were both stunned quiet. We sat there together, appreciating everything. The sky, the wind, the clouds,the hike, the work, the struggle, the pay off.
That was three years ago. I have hiked many times since then, taking on my fair share of trails and mountains. Physically and metaphorically.
My daughter has as well.
Today for the first time since that day she made it back to the top of Pine Cobble mountain. I wasn’t able to be with her, as much as I wanted to be.
She told me she got very tired but her friend encouraged her to keep going. Together, they reached the top.
Today I am thankful for the continued strength to keep climbing the mountains in our lives. And for those that help us along the trail when we need them most.
Looking back now, it probably only took about 20 minutes round trip from our apartment building to Pops general store but when you are a kid it seemed like an odorous, hour long journey. That was part of the adventure. Our apartment building was massive. It was low income housing but at that time we were all too young and naïve to realize we were poor. The building resembled a stone castle and living in such a place seemed like a grand adventure. There wasn’t much of a backyard to play in, just a large square of dirt with lots of litter strewn about. The front steps led directly out to a busy roadway with constant traffic driving by. As a child, your options as to where to go when you were headed out to play were pretty limited. Pops was by far the most exciting.
We would often go to the store in pairs or as a group, a ragtag group of union street misfits. Most of our parents were single and many of them worked odd hours so the children in the neighborhood looked out for one another and did a lot of things together. One of the most infamous was the daily trip to Pops. You knew you only had to scrounge up less than a quarter to score yourself a lollipop or a Popsicle. Sometimes you might get lucky and a neighbor would give you a $5 food stamp bill and ask you to pick something out for yourself and bring them back the change. Then you knew you could go all out and buy yourself one of those awesome ice cream sandwiches with the vanilla, chocolate and strawberry smooshed between two delicious wafers and still bring back 4 bucks for the adult in question.
I still vividly remember running past the rusted fence that gated off the flood chute leading to local waterways. There were rumors that a crazy homeless, guy lived down there and that if you tried to get past the gate he would kidnap you and drag you down to the river. It was common knowledge that all of the children we never saw again after they left the neighborhood ended up there. We used to dare on another to squeeze beneath the gate and to my knowledge my little brother still holds the record of being the only one of us to almost reach the level where the water met the concrete. I remember my feelings being at odds with themselves as I was both terrified I would never see him again and incredibly jealous that I wasn’t brave enough to make it as far as he did. These early childhood rivalries led to a future of back and forth friendly and intense sibling battles that I treasure more than almost anything in my life.
Pops was a tiny place. The floorboards were uneven and created an orchestra of pops and squeaks as you walked in. It was perpetually dark, the majority of light filtering in through dirty windows and any sunlight that happened to find its way in when the door was pushed open. There were probably only 5 shelves in the entire store. One shelf had a variety of canned and dried goods with a thick layer of dust on them probably long past their expiration date. Another held an odd assortment of every day possible necessities. Matches, fishing tackle, batteries, toilet paper. The rest of the building was crammed full of coolers filled with a variety of beer and the long counter on which the cash register sat. The same man was always manning the register and I’m pretty sure his name wasn’t pop. He didn’t seem to care much for children and wasn’t much of a talker. He had a perfectly round scar on his throat and the rumor was that he was shot in a fight and spent time in prison. We made that rumor up ourselves of course. He probably overheard us telling stories about him, hence his disdain for local misfits scrounging up change for candy. Some of us theorized that he was actually the crazy man that lived in the flood chutes which of course always led to heated debates. Why wouldn’t he just sleep behind the counter in the store? Who would give him a job? Did he own the store and if so he obviously wasn’t homeless. Maybe he was just friends with the homeless guy or perhaps he was his partner in crime, equally zealous to kidnapping and torturing children? Theories and logistical probabilities were thrown about as we ripped into our lollipops, hoping to find a picture of an Indian shooting a star so we could save it and someday get a free lollipop. I’m not sure if any of us actually turned the collection of wrappers in or even if you actually received a free lollipop for doing so but I absolutely remember the excitement I felt if I happened to unwrap the pop with the coveted picture.
Pops was a liquor store more than a general store but of course none of us knew any different. The fact that you had to actually walk past three bars just to get there never seemed like a big deal. Local drunkards would wave or scowl as we scurried past, depending on their current state of inebriation. Some of them knew us from the neighborhood or knew our parents and would give us money to grab them a pack of cigarettes. Perfectly acceptable to do back then. It was especially helpful when the grown up in question would give you the change from the smokes as a reward, further enabling the overall mission of collecting cash for candy. I can recall buying candy cigarettes with the change left over from the actual ones, thinking it was cool to pretend to smoke after buying the real thing. This may or may not have led to a future pack a day habit of smoking Kools as a teenager.
The days I remember most clearly about our venture to Pops involve competition in some way, usually involving my siblings. We used to race there and back, seeing who could run the fastest. There was the time we rode our bikes and I cried because my bike had a flat tire. My sister offered to ride me on her handlebars which ultimately resulted in more tears and a little blood mixed in for good measure when she swerved suddenly and I toppled to the ground. To this day I swear she actually ran me over after I fell off the handlebars. Even worse? I was so hurt we didn’t get the chance to eat our popsicles. They melted as my wounds were tended to. My brother was very vocal about this being inconvenient for him and insisted I was fine. I probably was. Pride takes longer to heal than flesh.
Pops is no longer standing unfortunately. It always gave the appearance that it was somehow sinking into the river, perched precariously on a corner lot of asphalt near a flood chute. As it turns out, it actually was slowly falling apart, the general direction being towards the river. The building was eventually razed to the ground, creating additional parking for the neighboring bar. I remember feeling a pang of loss when I read about it in the newspaper. I still live in the area and drive by where Pops used to stand, usually several times a day. About 5 years after it had been torn down I stopped at a local tag sale up the road from my house. Imagine my surprise when I discovered numerous Pops variety store t-shirts for sale at bargain price of $10 per shirt. I picked one up and held it in my hands, staring at the Pops logo in awe. Feeling like I had struck gold with finding this unbelievable relic from my past. Imagine my greater surprise when I handed my money to none other than the infamous, glowering, bullet hole ridden man of my childhood memories. Seeing a myth from your childhood out of context is slightly disconcerting, no matter how old you are. I wanted to ask him if he remembered the kids that used to come in to the store all the time so long ago. If he hated us as much as we always imagined he did. If the memory of Pops caused him to experience an aching sadness like it so often caused me when I remembered it. I looked excitedly at all of the other items scattered on blankets across the lawn, trying to obtain clues about the real life of the man from our childhood. I called my brother immediately. Not only to let him know who I just saw at a tag sale, but to ask him if he wanted me to pick him up a t-shirt.
I miss that store, if you can miss such a thing. More than that I miss those times. When hanging out with your siblings and friends was the best part of the day and looking for money to enjoy treats from the local variety store was the biggest problem any of us had.
This is my fourth published Elephant Journal article. I decided to do this experiment during the month of February when I was having a really shitty day and found myself projecting unnecessary negativity onto innocent bystanders. It was one of the more worthwhile things I have ever done.Worth trying if you are ever in the mood for some soul searching.
With some revisions and my own artwork (well, sip and paint. Lots of sipping.) this article was accepted for publication by elephant journal. It is a universal message I think but as many of us know so incredibly difficult to actually do.
Thank you for reading!
Shortly after I started a separate Facebook page dedicated to spreading awareness of trauma suffered from Childhood Sexual abuse I received what was possibly the best compliment I have ever been given.
One of my very first followers told me she wanted to “Paint my words.”
I will never forget that.
I had started writing only a few short months before and her way of expressing her relation not only to my story but to the way I was telling it helped me to not delete the page numerous times. We have had several private conversation since and she sent me updates as she created her artwork.
I was humbled and grateful that anyone would take the time to do such a thing and thankful for this new connection in my life. When she sent me the finished product I was overwhelmed by the intensity of it. She managed to somehow capture what my brain feels like on my worst days and put on canvas what terrifying isolation of our own making looks like.
Last night she sent me this amazing poem to accompany the painting. I used to fear connection more than anything. My very real anxiety has kept me in a world of isolation.. This page has showed me more than once that I can never go back to living that way again.
Thank you Lusus, for capturing what for so many of us is a distorted and complicated reality, for painting my words and for sharing yours.
What is this feeling that persists? Is it a void, does it exist? Is it a place or a state? This image, this idea, this fear I cannot resist… Is it a variable or a position before a placement? A personal trap or a natural encasement? A transitory period where one is lost…Will it take my mind, my spirit, what will be the cost? Is it eternal or infinite? Is it internal? …Sometimes singular, other times multiple and rude and informal.
My talent is now my worst enemy. Where did I develop this destructive creativity? Birthing fears in darkness in a state of uncertainty. Eventually forming on the solid ground of creation and entangling with time. All of it is mine and none of it is kind.
It’s alive. Breathing. Bleeding into me. Out of me. Sharing my nerves, my very same veins, Where my body reluctantly strains, Straining against what is to come.
Fear, do not force yourself upon me. When will I be set free, from this phantom standing before me? Can I just wish you away? Must I make you tangible to free myself of you? Do I have to remain the prey? Can you stay far and faded from my eyes?
(Do you not care about that girl that cries?)
Tingling and tugging at all my senses, Setting them all on fire. A cold flame, always rising higher. It surfaces from the void. That place. That eternal variable, unshakable. And when it all leaves…perhaps not too late. Perhaps I have not accumulated too much hate. I follow the strands of time. Away from it all, But it is all a web. How is this supposed to be shed?
It is entangled with me. I am doing my best to untie it from around my heart, from my guts, from my brain. Sometimes I think I have. For a while I feel sane. I feel lighter but I know I am not. I am filled with time and space And that cannot be fought. Its particles flowing and showing, New images growing…I ride the wave, the wave rides me. I want to be brave. I want to be brave…