She wasn't just a cat. Besides, what does that even mean? "Just a cat". What matter does it make what "it" is, if that thing sends you love, fills your bucket, what does it matter if it be human, animal, or inanimate object?
Jazmine was so much more than just a cat. She was my friend. We didn't talk about shared philosophies or go on long walks together, but we gamed together all the time (well, I gamed, and she watched/slept on my lap). We played together, a sort of cat-and-mouse type game where I hid from her (badly) and she would "find" me. She would always flop on her side and drag herself across the carpet when she won, and it would be one of her defining traits. She loved dragging her little body across the carpet. I bet that felt really good on the fur.
She was gentle. She nipped at me only when we played, never at anyone else. She was shy, but man, when you earned her trust, she loved you as if you were one of her own.
Life is full of twists and turns. Sometimes our path takes us up along lofty ridges where we can see everything around us, including the path ahead. Other times, our path descends into valleys, twisting between narrow canyons that box us in. In these times, we feel trapped, maybe even scared of the things we see around us. However, in both situations, whether we can look out at the path ahead or frightened of where it may go next, one thing is important to remember.
It's all in our heads. There is no control. Just because you can stand on a ridge and look out at the path ahead doesn't mean you'll see the rock crumbling away beneath you. Before you know it, the ridge falls away, and you go with it. Standing inside the tiny canyon, alone and wary, focusing on the path ahead prevents you from seeing the magic of what's around you. What new life grows within this tiny prison? What beautiful sights are you missing?
The point here is there is a subtle art to letting go of our desire to control our lives. So much of what we're taught growing up (at least here in America) demands us to know where we're going, to make the right decisions, to be happy, and most importantly, be successful. Most, if not all of these things, get us all into trouble regularly.
We should never know exactly where we're headed. Now, if you're driving out of state to a funeral or vacation, you should get some clear directions. In the overall grand scheme of our lives, however, knowing (or trying to know) where we're headed will only bring us trouble. This is looking ahead, and if we're focused on what's ahead, we're not paying attention to what's around us. The truth of the matter is no matter how hard we try, no matter how much information we gather, we can NEVER know where we're headed. We can have ideas, sure, and we can make plans, but doing these things will not change the fact that we will never truly know what's. Anything could happen to us at any time along our path, completely disrupting the path ahead, and in some cases, altering it to take off in another direction or ending it altogether.
Keep in mind, not knowing what's ahead is a little different than setting goals and objectives for ourselves. Goals keep us moving, and they're pleasant mile makers as we travel. The point here is to stay flexible, and keep your senses trained on what's around you. You may miss the most beautiful things in your life if you're fixated on what you think might be happening next.
We shouldn't try to always make the right decisions. "Make the right decision" is something we hear a lot growing up (I certainly use it on Jacobi often enough). But what is the right decision? Oftentimes we have no clue, even if we think we know. The problem with this thinking is that "right" is subjective. What's right to me, might not be right to you, or if it's right for everything else, it might not be right for me. Besides, if we always made the "right" decision, how would we learn? We'd simply be doing what everyone else does, copying rather than learner.
I'm not saying go out and do whatever you want. I'm saying that we get hung up a lot on the stress of making the "right decision" when in fact, there may be no right decision. Or, if there is a right decision, perhaps it's not the worst thing in the world if we get it wrong. Maybe a better way to state this is simply to learn from our mistakes.
We can't be happy all the time. If we were all happy all the time, what would happiness even be? I know one of my own most troubling searches on the path I walk is the search for happiness. I'm not alone. Most of us struggle daily with our quest for happiness, but have you ever stopped to look at what happiness is? If your happiness is marked by a single goal, like buying a new car, and you finally buy that car, what does your new happiness become? Your path, once clear to you in, is now riddled with twists and valleys you can't see beyond. As I parent, I often say to myself "I only want Jacobi to do something that makes him happy", but that's like saying I always want him to be happy, and while it's true I wish for him to be happy, I cannot rob him of the truths of life, and sometimes, life really sucks. When it becomes problematic for me as a parent, and me as an adult in my own life, is when you try to push away the "bad" emotions because someone once told you you're supposed to be happy.
The hard truth is we simply cannot always be happy. We have all sorts of emotions in our human psyches, so why fixate on just one. That dream job that you always wanted will not always be a source of happiness for you, just like that dream partner won't always be a source or happiness. So instead of focusing on always being happy, let the other emotions in, too. Acknowledge them, even revel in them if you can do so in a constructive way. Happiness isn't everything. It just happens to make us feel good.
Defy success. Success, like happiness and right decisions, is again a subjective term. Success for me, might not be success for you. There is a huge push for success in American culture, that without it, we're less than nothing. This is why Walmart is so huge. Somewhere along the way, someone realized that having things constituted success, and so everyone rushed out to acquire those things. With Walmart, things are super inexpensive. Everyone can have things now, and things means you're a success.
Except really, it doesn't. Success is another one of those terms that has been beaten into all of us, and because it's such a subjective terms, it's difficult to know when you finally have it. So my advice is to defy success. When you get to that mile marker on your path that you've labeled as success, remind yourself that the path doesn't end. When I finally published my first book, I had to remind myself that I have other books to write, that this one "success" really meant only that I'd reached a mile marker, and I had to continue walking my path. A better way to look at this is simply to view success not a singular thing or event, but as a learning experience, one that will help as appreciate the things around us as we walk our paths, helping us set new goals and mile markers.
So what has this all been about? Learning. Always be learning. About yourself, about the world. Things like control, success, happiness, and right decisions are always going to be subjective and temporary. All of these things can teach us about ourselves and the world. Stay open and receptive to these things as you walk your path, and you'll be a better human as a result.
NOTE: I've been reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. Most of what I've written here was inspired by his writing and ideas. If you'd like to find out more about it, please check it out on AMAZON.
There was a time not so long ago when a snow day meant so much more to me than scraping off my car, fighting the roads on my way into work, and wondering if or when my boss would send us home early. It feels almost like yesterday, but really, IT WAS 25 F#$KING YEARS AGO!? Excuse me while I collect myself.
Time's passage notwithstanding, snow days used to mean so much more to me. That inkling of responsibility school gave me suddenly vanished. I had a day of freedom! But this was no ordinary day of freedom, for outside the world turned into a snowy, pristine canvas, ripe with so many possibilities. Snow men would rise from the icy womb of my backyard. The neighborhood kids would unite into factions, breaking out the great snowball war. Snow caves and forts would become our shelters from the cold, and when our shelters could no longer sustain us, hot chocolate awaited us inside.
Afterwards, we could watch out the window at the falling snow. If the snow was letting up, we'd pray to the snow gods that it would freeze enough to prevent the school superintendant from leaving his driveway, ensuring one more day of freedom. If the snow continued to fall, we wondered and we dreamed of what another new blanket of snow would bring. More wars to fight. More snow creatures to sculpt.
But more than anything, snow days showed me a very different look at the world, a look that sticks with me even today. My crazy little world turns cold and frozen. It gets really quiet and still. A calm settles over everything, bringing the city together inside a white shell. It might be a little cheesy to think this way, but hopefully, it keeps you a little warm. Memories are like that.
They're everywhere in our house. I have several in my car, as does my wife. Not just boxes though, containers of any type: old milk jugs, soap bottles, empty tubs of butter. Jacobi usually gets them from school, but he'll find them anywhere he can. Sometimes, I'll catch him going through the recycle bin outside looking for new boxes.
See, it wouldn't be that big of a deal collecting boxes and containers, if he didn't simply stuff them full of whatever he finds. One boxes is stuffed with pieces of torn up paper. Another has his collection of bottle caps. A butter tub is overflowing with rolled up construction paper. Usually, when we ask Jacobi what he's made, he has an answer. He makes robots, he makes carriers for his stuffed animals, but most of the time, he makes "holders" for the junk he collects.
It's a beautiful thing watching my son create. I love his imagination, and even though my heart sometimes drops when I see his school cubby overflowing with boxes, I would change nothing about my little boy. But...I mean...we have a house to keep clean! We can only have so many boxes stuffed with crap laying around!
So we purge. And there are tears. But everything stays clean for about half a day before more boxes and containers are found.
I bet you're wondering what lesson I've learned about myself from this?
A few days ago at work, we had a tool container that we were looking at getting rid of. The tool it came in had long vanished, and we needed to get it off the counter. I called dibs on that box so fast. It has a cool little self-fastening snap on the front to keep the lid shut, and a handle for carrying, plus it's pretty small so it could fit in tight areas.
FYI I have no plans for this box. I know I wanted it for myself, and I had a hundred different ideas for what I wanted to put into it. I saw a cool box, I snatched it up, and I carried it to my truck so I could put junk in it. Sound familiar?
In that moment, I was Jacobi. Or maybe Jacobi is me? Either way, I realized what a pack rat I can be. I have little junky boxes all over my desk, boxes that looked cool and couldn't throw away, and now they sit, burdened with old credit cards and Nerf darts and chapstick.
Jacobi is my son. He is a constant reminder of that fact.
Jacobi's fifth birthday isn't for a few more days, but I've been a dad for five years. Even before he was born, I felt the heavy responsibility of what being a dad would entail. It didn't knock me in the jaw until after he was born, but I could still feel it coming.
I've been retrospective lately. I've watched countless video of Jacobi when he was just a baby before he could hold his head up, or walk, or talk. I've been looking ahead, too, reminding myself that one day, Jacobi will be me. Not me exactly, but an adult living his life.
Sometimes, I can get a little too much in my head. Jen reminded me to live in the moment. I can't worry about the future because it's fluid. Even good things coming can be upset in the sea of change, just as a surprise disaster might have a cloud with a silver lining. Looking back is fun to do, but too much focus on what's behind you, leaves you blind to what's right in front of you. (Jen always has the best advice, even when I don't want to hear it.)
So, what do I have right in front of me?
A Stream of Imagination
Every day, I'm presented with a new show. It could take any number of forms. Sometimes it's Legos. Sometimes it's a drawing. Today, it was pillows in the living room. In the span of about fifteen minutes, Jacobi had turned a set of pillows on our couch into an accident scene where a garage had fallen onto three or four cars. On strips of paper, he drew stick figures... the people who were hurt in the accident. They had to go to the hospital.
I had to stop with breakfast in order to capture what I was seeing and hearing. It's not the first time Jacobi has done something like this, but perhaps it was the first time I was really listening. His little mind created something huge out of a few scraps of paper and some couch pillows. I was much the same way growing up, but as an adult, that kind of imagination comes only now and then. Seeing this type of creativity in my son is definitely an inspiration to me. It's also a reminder of how easy it can be to just dive into your world.
A Stream of Nonsense
It's so easy as an adult to get wrapped up in the world around me. There are wars raging all around us, a pile of plastic the size of a continent floating in the middle of the ocean, and poison in our food supply, all while global temperatures rise. Even locally, on the eve of the 2016 US presidential caucus, there's lots on my mind about Universal Healthcare and politics that serve the wealthy. That's a lot to take in. It's frustrating, and at times, it feels absolutely hopeless to me.
It's not hopeless though. I have Jacobi, and as a parent, I can't give in to hopelessness. The fact that I have a child comes with the premise that he will thrive in this world of beauty and chaos (and oftentimes both).
The world around me is just what it is, and like looking into the future at what might be and looking back at what was, can bring nothing fulfilling to my life. It's what's here and now that matters. Right now, I have a little boy who plays "pull my finger" and makes up songs about "butt cheeks". How can I carry the weight of the world when that's going on?
A Stream of Beauty
Speaking of beauty and chaos, Jacobi teaches me daily about this lesson. It's an important one to learn and embrace as a dad, but I feel it to be one of the most important lessons that anyone can learn. As human beings, I think it's instinctual to sort things out. Order is good, and chaos is bad. When things are organized, they can be controlled and directed where they need to go, but a chaotic system leads to destruction and failures. That's why it's so difficult to understand order and chaos go hand in hand, creating a system together that is pure beauty in its own right.
Jacobi teaches me this by creating a huge mess in the house (say by using couch pillows and scraps of paper). The living room was clean, but now it is a mess, and the order I fought for is now in the tiny hands of this little boy. But I saw the beauty in the chaos. I saw the imagination, the love, and the small reminder that it's just a mess. No sense in beating my head against a wall. My whole life as a dad has been the same way. Looking back on those videos of baby Jacobi made me remember all those times I marveled at the little things he did. Baths in the sink that spilled water all over our kitchen floors were chaotic and beautiful. Chasing Jacobi through the house is the same, as were our early games of hide and seek.
I don't know what the future will bring for me, and certainly, I have no idea what it will bring for Jacobi. I have hopes and dreams, and a few expectations. Holding myself and him to whatever I imagine might happen is impossible though, and I hope I can continue to remember the lessons I've learned today. So, I'm just going to draw a happy face, and maybe grab some lunch :)
Sometimes a thing passes from your life without you noticing. Even after you notice it’s gone, you shrug and give barely a backwards glance. Sometimes a thing passes and it hits you head on, staggering you and forcing you so far down you don’t know how you’ll ever recover.
Sometimes a thing passes away in a predictable way. It fades into the background of your life, a faint beacon in the back of your brain, and when it finally leaves you, it leaves a hole. This is what New Lumber and Hardware has done to me.
New Lumber didn’t do it intentionally, of course. It hung in there until the end. A family business, started over fifty years ago by Philip Eichholtz, sat off Pacific Highway in Federal Way, WA. Catering to homeowners and contractors alike, New Lumber was one of the few locally owned and operated businesses left in Federal Way, and I had the distinct pleasure to work there.
Jim Eichholtz, Phillip’s son, hired me on when I was 16. I can’t say a lumber yard was my first choice for employment, though I was definitely interested. I loved building things, so it seemed like a natural fit. Since all the video game testing jobs seemed to be taken or non-existent, I accepted Jim’s offer and went to work at his lumber yard.
It was a difficult run at first. This was my first job, and well, I was a spoiled kid. I worked as hard as I thought I should. Jim and his yard foreman, Dan, quickly whipped me into shape. They taught me how to work and how to stay busy. Just doing the bare minimum, the way I’d always done things as a kid, wasn’t nearly as rewarding as getting a job done and figuring out the next.
Work was only part of my experience at New Lumber. I made friends there, a family even. Fred Eichholtz, Jim’s son, started work at the yard a year or so after I did, and we quickly became friends. I made good friends with a lot of the staff, and for the five years that I worked at New Lumber, the business became like a second home for me. Even after I left Federal Way and moved to Bellingham, I held onto a lot of the friendships I’d made at New Lumber. Time, of course, erodes all things, and phone calls grew farther and farther apart, but every time I stepped through the front doors of the store, it was like coming home again.
It’s sad I won’t be able to do that again. When I finally heard this year that the store was closing, I wasn’t surprised. I’d heard grumblings of the sort from my old co-workers over the years. The building of several box stores within the city was a start. When the city built a median down the center of the highway in front of the store, business slowed further. The store hung in there for years after, but eventually, Jim and his brother, Bill, had to close it down.
I recently attended Jim’s retirement party, and it was a great time seeing all sorts of familiar faces from my past. It was a strange event though. On one hand, I was happy for Jim and his wife for finally reaching that point in their lives where they could retire and enjoy their lives without the need for work. On the other hand, it was the end of their business, the end of New Lumber. I was so happy for my old boss, and at the same time, I was sad. His store, this place that’d been so influential for me, was gone.
As I drove home after the party, I stopped off the highway in front of the hollowed out store. I couldn’t stand to be there for more than a minute. I’d much rather remember the yard for what it was. The people who worked there are mostly still around, and I’ll have to work harder whenever I want to visit them again. Some may simply fade away into my past. That’s how life is though. Things are there, and then they aren’t, but life continues to flow in and around it.
Thank you, New Lumber, for being a home for me during my early years. Thank you to all the friends I made there. Thank you, Jim, for teaching me about work and family. I’ll miss what New Lumber was, but I won’t forget the memories I have there and the lessons I learned.
NOTE: Writing is one of the most important things to me. My most poignant memory from New Lumber was the loft where we kept the insulation. There was a little table up there and it looked out over the yard. I’d often take my breaks or lunches up there and write. Some of the early drafts of The Chosen of the Light were penned up in that loft. I love that memory.
I’ve always loved the fall. Colorful leaves, the return of the cold and rain, the smell in the air...the emotions and memories are potent. I also love candy and playing tricks on people, so naturally, I love Halloween. My wife and I share fondness for this time of year, and we’ve shared this with Jacobi as well. Past Halloweens have been lackluster though. He was too little for Year One and Two, and he just didn’t understand the concept in Year Three (“One piece of candy? Awesome! Let’s go home and eat it!”)
Year Four, this was his magic number, the number where he gained enough awareness to realize how much fun this time of year could be. Jen and I have typically picked a costume for him in past years, but this year we asked him what he wanted to be. His answer was he wanted to be a kitty. He freaking loves kitties!
Jacobi’s choice of costume turned out to be harder to find than I imagined. I began looking online for cat costumes, but I found virtually nothing for a toddler, at least, not for a boy. Every costume I found came adorned with pink bows and flourishes or fringed in lacey black. The few boy costumes I came across looked dopey, and the kids wearing them looked disheveled and unhappy. What kind of message is this broadcasting?
In defeat, I took Jacobi to the Halloween Store. Hopefully, I’d have better luck there, and if not, at least there’s fun Halloween stuff to look at. We spent almost an hour at the store looking at all the tricks and costumes they had to offer, but again, no luck at all with a cat costume that wasn’t girl-centric. Towards the end of our visit, I pointed out a Spider-Man costume to Jacobi, and he blurted out, “I could be Spider-Man.” Ecstatic, I asked again to make sure he really wanted to go as one of my favorite comic characters, and Jacobi nodded. Perfect!
It didn’t work out. After getting home and trying on the costume, Jacobi wailed over and over that he really wanted to be a kitty. Jen took the costume back to the store, and I returned to scratching my head. A costume began to form in my mind. He had black sweat pants and a black fleece. I found a set of cat ears at the store (a pair that didn’t have a bow in it). Jen made a collar with a bell on it, a tail, and she sewed a white belly on his coat. On Halloween, I’d use an eyeliner pencil and some old make-up to draw whiskers and a pink nose.
I thought for sure it was going to be a disaster. We’ve all seen the crappy, thrown-together costumes, and it looked like this was how it was going to work this year. Once Jacobi was dressed and put together, he looked awesome (of course, maybe my Parent Goggles were on). Even better, Jacobi was super excited. He resisted the make-up at first, but once he saw himself in the mirror, he jumped around, flinging his tail and meowing.
I loaded him in the car and took my little Halloween kitty to Jen’s work where he could Trick-Or-Treat through the office before hitting the streets at dusk. He had a blast. He ran from house to house, calling after Jen and I to catch up. He was fearless in front of some of the spookier houses, and he probably would’ve kept going after covering an entire neighborhood, though bedtime approached.
I ignored the few remarks I heard about him being a boy and dressing up like a kitty. They weren’t anything malicious, but I still found them sad. Jacobi likes kitties, and barely understanding what it meant to dress up for Halloween, he knew he wanted to be a kitty. It doesn’t matter if he’s a boy or a girl, or a man or a woman for that matter. It’s Halloween. It’s a time to dress up, pretend, and have fun. I’m glad he had the chance to do just that.
Jen went away this last weekend for a couple of days of relaxation. A rough session of school brought on a need for some R&R for her, but it gave me the gift of a couple days with my son to do whatever we wanted. Here's some things we shared:
Sunday morning I got the crazy idea to go on a bike ride around Lake Padden with Jacobi. No breakfast, no coffee, I just loaded up the car and went. I had a less than enjoyable time as I had absolutely no energy. Jacobi may have had an even worse time. "Daddy, the cart (the bike trailer he rode in) hurts my head. This is not like the jogger."
So we went home and I made us a breakfast of pancakes and scrambled eggs. As we sat and ate, we talked about things we both liked. Peanut butter and blackberry syrup. Goofy, from the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. We also talked about how he wasn't going to ride around Lake Padden in the bike trailer again.
Jacobi's favorite thing to do. It's getting late in the blackberry season, but we were able to find some. We walked along the trail behind our house, searching out blackberries and saving what we found in a bag. That bag was empty by the time we got home.
Towards the end of his nap, Jacobi asked me if he could get up. I was laying in bed (I'd just woken up from a nap), and I told him I was going to read for a little bit. So we sat in bed, in the quiet of the afternoon while I read on my tablet and he played a little game on my phone. The silence is what I'll remember the best. It's one of those little moments where we were on exactly the same page.
I didn't want Jen to come home to a mess, so I spent the hour after nap cleaning things up. Jacobi played quietly with his Legos while I did dishes and took out the trash. Then out of nowhere, Jacobi was pushing the dust mop around the kitchen. "What are you doing, bug?" I asked. He continued to dust mop and replied, "I'm helping." The fact that he realized what I was doing was pretty awesome, but the fact the he gave up on his Legos and jumped right in, picking a job he wasn't asked to do (or even one I was doing) was amazing.
For dinner, we had to go to the store to pick something up, so Jacobi and I walked there. It was a fairly ordinary walk, with a few exceptions:
1. We ran halfway there, at Jacobi's insistence.
2. At the park across from the store, I was told I had to walk in the grass because "the monster" would get me on the sidewalk.
3. Jacobi stopped me to point out flowers in someone's garden, flowers I'd seen before but somehow never noticed.
A Bro Weekend wouldn't be complete if we didn't play some video games. Before bedtime, we hunkered down in our tent and played an hour of Kingdom Hearts. Really, I played and Jacobi watched because the gameplay is a little over his head. It's funny, he's never really seen the game, but he knows all the characters because we decorate his room with them.
"What's happening to Sora?" Jacobi asks during the opening scene, the Dive into the Heart.
"He's going inside his heart," I told him.
"His heart?" Jacobi asked. "Why?"
I laughed. "Because he has to fight the darkness."
"He's darkness in his heart?"
"No, not darkness," I explained. "Light. No matter how dark things might seem, there's always light in your heart."
"There's light in my heart," Jacobi said, and this time, it seemed like he wasn't asking a question.
It was a cheeseball moment, but it was a cute moment. The kid might have a future as a Kingdom Hearts geek like his dad.
Last night, Jacobi slept in my bed. It was a comfort to have him there, a comfort I haven't felt since he was an infant. Also, he told me this morning that I snored all night long. Thanks, kid.
For Father's Day this year, Jen surprised with something I never expressed any interest in doing. But like the great friend (and wife) that she is, she knew it was something I'd be interested in doing. What she surprised me with was a trip down the Sauk River in a raft. At first, I didn't know what to say. I love water and swimming, and I love the outdoors. Actually, I think I was more surprised that SHE wanted to do this with me. High adrenaline outdoorsy stuff isn't really her bag. Regardless, the gift was a good one, and I was looking forward to going.
It took a couple months to get the scheduling right because I work Saturdays and there was another couple we were going with. Yesterday, July 20th, was the day we finally decided on. We piled into Lindsay and Sean's minivan, put on a movie, and went on the two hour drive to the Sauk River boat launch where we'd meet the river tour company.
I wasn't apprehensive. I wasn't excited. I just was. I didn't have expectations (except that I'd be getting wet). I was determined to have fun, but I was also determined to stay safe. I'd watched the video sent out by the tour company, and it was clear to me that this wasn't a leisurely float down the river. Danger was present, but the video showed a river that didn't look all that intimidating.
About one minute into our adventure I realized how wrong I was.
After gearing up with life jackets and helmets, we went through the safety drill, quickly learning about signals and commands that our guides would issue. Afterwards, we loaded into our raft, and eager to just have fun, I took the right-front position. The rest of my group lined up behind me, and it was a little weird that I couldn't see Jen.
When we started off into the Sauk River, the feeling was a strange one. I'd been on rafts and row boats before, so I knew how to paddle, but never had I been on a river before. Our guide called out commands, I listened and responded as best I could, matching strokes of the paddle with my left-front partner, John.
In moments, we hit to the first series of chunky rocks and water. Our guide called out commands fiercely. The raft hit a rock, the boat shuddered, and the next thing I knew, Lindsay's husband Shawn was in the water. And not just Shawn, our guide was in the water, too, scrambling to get back on board. He climbed on for only a moment before another rock sent him flying out into the water again. It was truly a WTF moment for me. Our guide was gone. I saw Sean probably twenty feet behind us, tossed among the rocks as his flip-flops skidded past us.
Eventually, we rescued our guide and pulled him back aboard before sliding to the side of the river. He apologized, telling us he'd gotten a little cocky, but that didn't make me feel much better. Behind us, Sean had gained the rocky bank, and he had to climb towards us barefoot. When he finally reach us and climbed back on board the raft, I felt victory. We'd overcome the first obstacle. It was difficult to imagine things getting worse, but I had a sick feeling in my stomach nonetheless. It was the same feeling I had during my first mountain biking trip. Looking down that rocky trail felt much the same as the river ahead us us. Uncertainty. Fear. A feeling of wanting to give up rammed up hard against a feeling of determination.
We continued on for about another mile or two. Rowing became easier, and the commands issued by our guide became clearer. I kept trying to focus on the adventure even though my mind kept screaming that this wasn't fun. You don't know what you're doing! You could fall out! But I kept going. I wanted to have fun.
Then we hit the rapids called Jaws. We'd been warned about this rapids. It was the rapids our guide told us they always worried about. I listened to the commands shouted by our guide as we started in. The water crashed around us. I rowed. I listened. Rowed. Leaned in. Rowed.
Then I saw the rock. We were headed straight for it. Our guided was shouting commands, but there was no time to hear or respond. We hit the rock, and the raft went vertical. I tried to hang on to anything, but there wasn't anything I could do but go into the water.
I went under. White water thrashed in my face and ears. I needed to breath but I didn't know which way to find air. My lifejacket knew the way, and I surfaced underneath our overturned raft. I was alone. I started to panic, but I tried to remember what I needed to do. I grabbed reached blindly for the outside of the raft, grabbed onto the outer line, and pulled myself out from underneath the raft.
Where was Jen?
Our guide appeared atop our raft and shouted to let go of the lines so he could right it. I let go. The water carried me away, pummeling me, tossing me every which way. Our guides told us to keep our feet up, and I tried to do that, but I couldn't catch a breath. Several times I kicked my feet up, water rushed into my face, I bolted upright to try to breath, then repeated the sequence.
I'm in deep shit.
I managed to look behind me. I thought I saw Sean and a couple others from our raft clinging to rocks along the bank. I saw Jen up on one of the rafts, face down, not moving, but I knew it was her. At least she was with people who could help her, I thought. Not like me. Floating down the river. Away from the others. Gasping for air.
The waters slowed slightly. It rushed past but not as violently. I saw the lead raft up ahead, banked among some rocks. I kicked and struggled, fighting to reach them. I shouted for help, and they reached out and pulled me up. I laid on the raft then, shaking and gasping. Am I really here? Or am I out there in the water, drowning?
Anything I was thinking quickly evaporated as another survivor floated down the river, screaming for help. It was Lindsay, I realized, and whatever I was thinking faded to black. We pulled her up, and I helped calm her down. She asked me over and over about Sean and Jen, and I told her they were okay, but I really couldn't be sure. We waited.
Several minutes passed, and eventually the lead guide announced that everyone was rescued, just separated. Eventually, we all reconnected. Jen was safely aboard the smaller raft, and she was determined to stay there, but the joy I felt at seeing her overwhelmed me.
If there'd been an easy way to bail out on the rest of the trip, I think I would've. It wasn't just my fear of the rapids. It was my fear that I would somehow panic moving ahead, or seize up with fear and somehow hurt or even kill everyone else on the raft. But our guides told us we'd be okay. That was the worst of it they said, but there were still more rapids ahead. If we really wanted to bail out, they'd have to evac us. Sean, Lindsay, and I all agreed there was nowhere to go but onward.
The rest of the trip wasn't anywhere near as dramatic. We hit some rough waters, and we got hung up on a rock again, making me think we'd be going over again, but everyone on our raft had done that once before, and we were determined to not do it again. The further we went, the more comfortable I got with the river. Very slowly, I began to have a little fun.
When the trip was over and I was able to reunite with Jen at least, the feeling was pretty surreal. It turned out Jen had an asthma attack after we tipped, and John, my left-front partner on our raft, and thrown her up to safety. I don't think she'll ever be going on a trip like this again.
Me? Well, I can't say I'll rule out never going again. Most of my fear came from uncertainty. Now that I know a little more of what to expect, and how to react, I think I could probably handle another rafting adventure. But maybe next time, I'll try a level 2 river instead of a level 3.
Also...I lost my sunglasses.