Hey there! Sorry. I've been off-grid on walkabout.
But I'm back in the desert now, at least for a bit.
I've had a rough year.
This isn't what I've been saying, but it seems like everyone I've seen in the last couple weeks has reminded me of this, even my dentist, because during three out of four visits, I ended up crying in the dental chair for non-dental reasons. On the other visit, I accidentally sucked on the hygienist's fingers because I was in a super-manic-my-cat-just-died-and-I-can't-wait-to-fuck-an-ex phase.
I imagine there's an expiration date on this sort of behavior.
And I imagine that expiration date is fast approaching.
This past year has been filled with too much death, changes, and heartache for me to handle sometimes. In fact, as I finally spend some considerable time in my own home trying to catch up on all the things I've neglected, I realize, things have been rough for awhile now, for at least the last 2.5 years as I watched my mother die of cancer, then three months later, my cat die of cancer, and then my dad have surgery for cancer, ontop of dealing with the undercurrents of a very significant ex dying of a drug overdose, a person I tried desperately to love but had to abandon in his addiction in order to save myself.
To say the least, my mind has been very loud, full of regret, guilt, and what ifs. Add in a couple of really, REALLY shitty romantic heartbreaks, and by late summer, I was just spent.
When I got back to the states (oh yeah, I was also overseas by the way), I wasn't even sure who I was anymore, what I wanted, and most frighteningly, if I still had a sense of humor. I was sick of people, sick of comedy, sick of the internet. I needed solitude, seclusion, so I wandered alone up the Pacific Coast on my way up to Canada, trying to find solace in the ever-changing tides, in a world steeped in something less artificial than selfies, likes, and power struggles.
When I finally decided to head back toward the desert, taking a very quiet two-lane highway through the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, a massive tree chose to break and fall from its home on the mountain above and to the left of me, right in front of my car, its branches brushing my windshield on its descent. A second faster or slower, and I would not be here today. It was one of the craziest things I've ever experienced -- the idea that over the entire 175-mile stretch of highway where I hadn't passed another car in like 50 miles, such a thing would happen at the exact time and in the exact place I happened to be.
This summer seemed to present me with a million lessons I needed to learn, a million bad patterns I needed to break. I had finally found some peace on the coast, but as I started to head back toward my old life here in Arizona, my stress started to increase, compounded by an incoming message that happened to catch service in a place I hadn't had service in for weeks, a message from someone that caused me to spiral about all the trauma and stress back "home." I started to drive fast, angry. I turned up my music. I rage cried.
I approached a sharp curve on the highway, and right then, I heard a voice in my head say, "Learn your lessons, Ronnie," and I knew this feeling was not the feeling I wanted to have. I turned off my music. I rolled my windows down further. I slowed my pace. As I came around the curve, the sun was shining through the trees, and it was beyond beautiful. I breathed in deeply. I was in bliss with nature. And it was right then, when I heard the tree crack. It was undeniable, and I knew all I could do at that point was just keep moving forward, and to be honest, I wasn't scared, I just . . . was.
The tree that fell was twice the length of my car. I came to a standstill on the shoulder after being knocked off my trajectory from the crash. I got out of my car to survey the damage. The tree wasn't lodged horizontally across me as I had expected. Actually, when I looked underneath, it only seemed to be a small log. I was assessing the damage when just then a long string of cars turned the curve, another miraculous piece of timing, as had they been there before, there would have certainly been a head-on collision. No one stopped, just drove around the tree on the highway and kept on going. Then, a few moments later, two men and their daughter circled back to check on me, to make sure I was ok.
We jacked up the car, and much to all of our surprise, what was stuck underneath wasn't a small log like I thought, but a tree trunk that spanned the ENTIRE length of my car. After dislodging it, one of the men shoved it down the canyon to the river below. We checked for leaking fluids; there weren't any. My car, of course, gained some more battle scars -- broken lights, lost grill, bent all to hell up underneath, and the front bumper flap mostly unattached. There really wasn't anything left to do but repeatedly thank these men for their kindness and head back out on my way. I tucked up the bumper as much as I could to keep it from dragging, and being halfway between destinations, I decided to just push on.
As I drove slowly, now dealing with the fact that I had acquired a new issue most would certainly deem "irrational" -- fearing a tree falling on me in the forest -- I started to think it might be best to head back west and catch the 5. Of course, the 5 is never my preferred highway, but I figured it was a safer bet in case I ended up having any car trouble. I stopped periodically to check for leaking fluids and to readjust the bumper, and as I headed back out of the forest, I was able to see that the spot in which I had had my accident, was the only spot on this stretch of the highway that even had a shoulder; any other part, and I would've careened down the banks into the river below.
Once back in civilization, I stopped at an Auto Zone to grab some things to secure the dangling pieces of my vehicle for the duration of my drive back. I got some zip ties and sat out in the parking lot with one of the men who worked there, zip-tying my car back together and talking about life. He told me about how he tried to kill himself a few weeks back, and, personally understanding this struggle, we talked about existence, depression, and how to still find hope. Part of my meditation on the coast was looking for a place that felt like home, so when he began to speak about searching for "home" himself, it was even more meaningful. Desperate to find a new life in which he actually wanted to live, he was torn between striking out on his own or staying back in place he didn't want to be, guilty to abandon his identical twin brother. He asked me, "Do you know how hard it is to leave half of yourself behind?"
And somehow, I did.
After we'd tied my car back into functionality, we hugged goodbye and told each other to keep the faith, and I continued west to the 5 on my mission to get back to Arizona.
I decided to stop in Eugene for the night to give myself and my car a rest. Eat, sleep, start again. The whole experience shook me to my core. I didn't know exactly what it meant, but I knew it meant something. The next morning, I checked my car's vitals again -- beat-up and broken, but still hanging on -- and I headed south on the 5. I was pleasantly surprised by the scenery on this stretch and the time I was making when a sign informed me that the 5 was closed 143 miles to the south because of the wildfire. Luckily, this sign came just before Grant's Pass, so I could easily grab the 199 and head back west to the coast. I felt this was the less stressful option as I wasn't familiar with how far east the fire was, and I didn't want to end up stuck with a broken car, somewhere amongst the flames.
Of course, the 199 is also a two-lane through the forest, but the Redwood Forest -- EVEN BIGGER TREES. I told myself, you've got this, Ronnie, even if now, there's a fire added into the mix. The smoke filled the forest, often bringing visibility down to a level less than comfortable, but eventually I came out on the other side, welcomed by the sun glistening on the Mother Pacific. I stopped in Crescent City for a walk and some time in the ocean, and as she always does, her constant ebb and flow balanced me again. It was time to get back in my car and continue my journey.
Unfortunately, the next stretch of the drive on the 101 through more Redwoods stressed me out. Driving has never stressed me out; on the contrary, it's always been my solace. I had to pull over and chill again, so I decided to take a little hike to relax. As I soon found out, however, forest hiking no longer relaxed me, as my body tensed and jumped at every noise a towering tree made above me. I told myself to snap out of it, breathed deeply, and accepted the fact that if I am to die from a tree falling on me randomly, I am to die from a tree falling on me randomly. Once I came to terms with this, I was able to bask in the beauty of the setting sun seeping through the ancient landscape.
Eventually, I found myself back in the desert, though it seemed like things were conspiring very severely to keep me on the coast.
I'm still processing what this all means, the denouement of my already insane summer vacation, and I cannot say I have fully grasped it.
The moment the tree fell was full of metaphors, surely, connected with my life, the person who messaged me, my summer; however, I think the thing that stands out to me most, is the distinct contrast between the two states of being I experienced in the moments right before the tree fell, their duality highlighted by what felt like a near-death experience, and, if I'm being honest, not the only one I had this summer. It also started with one as well. I realize that I could have died in one of those two states: anger or bliss. Had I not calmed my anger, I wouldn't have missed the tree as I did. I wouldn't have heard it crack. I would have been reactive rather than immersed and present in the moment, and as we all know -- and I certainly learned earlier this summer -- reacting from anything other than a state of calm, only begets more of the same -- anger, confusion, sadness, blame.
I was truly happy in the moment I heard the tree fall. I was blissed out on the beauty of nature. I felt one with everything around me. I felt at peace with my life. If I had to die in a moment, I'd prefer to die like that, at ease. But even more importantly, I'd prefer to LIVE like that -- consistently -- though, of course, this can sometimes feel like an impossible task.
Additionally, not to be overly dramatic, but I feel there was another message here too, combined with everything I've been through during my time here so far -- my own lifelong struggles with depression, addiction, and suicide. I'm realizing that, perhaps, I'm actually supposed to be here, that there's still something important I must do with my life.
Today, as I look at my little, beat-up car -- THE LOVE OF MY FUCKING LIFE -- I see all the damage on it, all caused by something other than me or itself: the hail dents from the historic storm in 2010, just months after I finally paid it off, the hit-and-run on one year's birthday, the dent from my now-deceased ex crashing into it because he was too high to even navigate our driveway, and I think of something one of my former best girlfriends once said, over a decade ago, one of those not-really friends who constantly beats you down and ends up sleeping with your boyfriend. She'd been looking to buy a new car herself, and I suggested she get one like mine, a Scion XA. She scoffed at the mere idea and told me, "That car's good for you; it fits your personality, but I need a hot car."
And you know what, she couldn't have been more spot-on.
My car does fit my personality perfectly; it's a testament to my will to keep on going -- despite the damage, despite the scars -- and I'll take that over being "hot" any day.
In Case You Were Wondering . . .
Sometimes Ronnie D writes funny stuff. Sometimes she writes desperate teenage prose. Most times she just slams her feeble, little woman-hand onto the keyboard in an attempt to feel something, anything.