Love and Winter

I moved to Bend three winters ago. Things looked a lot different then than they do now – figuratively, at least. Literally the crisp blue skies, white blanketed mountains, and unplowed trenches in the roundabouts look remarkably similar as to when we first met.

That first January I had no idea how much the fresh powder and turning seasons would mean to me, to my new start, to making this new place my new home. The mountain range backdrop, snowcapped and full of mystery and fun, was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, and offered the most perfectly symbolic fresh start just when I needed it most. It’s pretty clear that because of that this season feels the homiest to me here.

Shortly into my stint as a winter loving Oregonian I found myself traveling alone. On the trails, covering fewer miles than ever before, sucking biting cold oxygenless air, embarrassed of my lack of fitness. Dinners at bars down the street in an attempt to be social (and use someone else’s wifi when mine acted up and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it). Late nights coming home from anywhere and everywhere. Two footprints in the snow. Sometimes the tracks filled in before I even got the chance to look back and see how far or where I’d come from.

There were others sometimes, of course. Good friends who are now of the best, acquaintances who’re no longer around, and many in between. Shared miles, pints, and fireside chats connected me to this place and its people, but it was those solo missions that brought me my footing and to my senses.

In those times I learned a lot about who I am, and even more about who I’m not. I found some hidden aspirations as well as some buried demons. I shared the deepest and darkest conversations I’ve ever had with myself, and sometimes felt despairing loneliness in it.

During one of those talks I realized that all the self-realization, as ugly as some of it was, was fruitless if I didn’t also learn how to accept and open up – at least slightly – about it. That was the next step. I had to get out of my own head and break down some walls. Those comforting, steely walls I spent almost three decades building to protect myself from… What? Others? Myself? I felt so openly threatened, but with no clue towards who or where from.

Vulnerability is the most terrifying of emotions. It feels unsafe and unnatural and weak. Like, “Here! Here’s all of my insecurities and flaws and ways you can hurt me, but for some blindly ignorant reason I’ll trust you won’t!”

For as extraordinarily difficult as it was to bridge the first topic, let the first few words flow, and open up honestly to others, an immediate relief was felt when I finally did. Even if just by simply letting the thoughts out of my brain and into the universe I felt lighter, freed from some of them. By expressing them I wasn’t just saying things for others to hear them, I needed to hear them out loud for myself. And you know, as crazy as it is that I hadn’t thought this far ahead, a lot of great things came in the conversations that followed letting them go.

I grew a lot that first year, along a path that varied from dangerously windy, snaking in and out of destructive and conducive behavior, to long and boring and drawn out, with roller coaster hills and valleys I thought I’d never climb out of. But somehow, I guess because we’re human and it’s our natural instinct, I found a way to keep trudging on.

And so last year, after all that freshman ground work had me feeling (mostly) stable on my own two feet, I sought something new to push me further out of my comfort zone. Liberated by my newfound strength I wanted to feel challenged, emblazoned, and most importantly part of the community here in Bend I’d grown to love so much over the previous year. That took me to the mountain, where I (fittingly or ironically) fell in love with a winter sport I’d never considered trying before moving here.

Which also hilariously knocked me off those newfound “stable” two feet so many fucking times the NFL would’ve put me in concussion protocol and just left me there the rest of the season. So. Many. Ringers.

ski mt bachelor

Skiing gave me so much last year – so much that I only realized how meaningful it’d been once it was taken away this summer. (Isn’t that how it always goes??) On a late day in June with skis haphazardly attached to a backpack, gasping for breath in shorts and ski boots at tower 18 looking up at the rest of the climb to the summit, I called it crazy. Stupid. Why would we lug a bunch of gear to the top of a mountain in the middle of summer, hiking for two hours, just to take a 90 second ride down? Not even all the way down. The snow was gone mid-mountain. Certainly we were insane. I didn’t love this sport enough for this.

But those turns, and the reflective sunburn that came with them, did nothing more than solidify my love for it. We got back into town and proceeded directly to enjoying lawn beers at a brew fest, and while trying to disguise the backsweat on my tank top I told anyone who’d listen about our summer ski mission with the dramatization of a Homer epic. My sunburn got even worse, and so did my snow-fluenza.

So in love with winter.

Aside from the actual learning to ski, my time on the mountain has taught me so much. Like year one taught me about myself, year two taught me about the world around me. I learned that investments aren’t just the gear you buy or the hours you spend, it’s what you do with them, the intangibles you take away. I learned that runs are fun with friends who push you faster, further, and into new territory (and who like sharing beers in the parking lot after,) but that sometimes a solo mission is exactly what you need, just like those two-footprint trails I was leaving the winter before.

And most importantly, I learned that you can point your tips straight down the mountain at your destination, risking a catastrophic high-speed implosion at the expense of a wildly fun ride, but you can also take a massive tumble (maybe more embarrassingly) by coming to an unnecessary and abrupt stop when the momentum starts feeling too scary.

In a full-circle kind of way, I wrote most of this post in my head while running alone on Christmas Eve. The pavement was slick and the trails snow-packed, and the holiday time alone felt both invigorating and terribly depressing. I thought about my time here, which resulted in what you’ve read so far, and then what I want from my upcoming years. With winter being my newfound favorite season and Januaries having been notoriously momentous as of late, should probably keep the momentum going.

So this year I’m challenging myself to take my growth/healing process a little further. Being open, vulnerable, and sharing are still struggles of mine, and I think, a key part of this process. And just in life, probably, but that seems too big. Let’s keep these steps manageable.

I want to write more, and share more, on different topics and in different ways, and just get more things out of my head and into writing, into the universe. I haven’t figured out quite yet how to do that yet – whether it’s daily journaling or a new online outlet, but I’m committing to making more time for it. It probably won’t be here, but I’ll (probably) tell you when and where I decide.

But regardless of the details, here’s to the future in writing.

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On What Could Have Been

It’s hard not to romanticize what could have been in the wake of something you loved.

Sometimes they come out of nowhere – walking down the street and seeing something or someone that reminds you of them. Sometimes it’s a masochistic stroll down memory lane you just can’t steer out of. Sometimes you just want to feel the hurt to remember that it was real.

Whenever that familiar sad longing strikes I, almost angrily, force myself to remember a good time. Drum up just one pleasant memory, even if looking back on a good time is painful at the time. A laugh. A smile. A moment when you thought the world was in your hands and everything was going so, so right. Eventually the “could’ve been” wave washes back away from shore.

It’ll come back – it always does – but over time with less frequency. Eventually the moments will be so sparse you’ll welcome them as a friendly reminder of a past life, simple memories from once upon a time.

Of course it’s hard when things don’t work out how you hoped they would. They hurt even more when the final blow comes following a big high, and especially so when you have to watch someone else enjoy the happiness you were planning for. “That could’ve been us” is painful enough to think about, let alone watch in real time right in front of your eyes.

Game Seven, the World Series, and this entire season will be frequently visited in my mind as a wonderful ride that fell just a bit short of that happily ever after. But the future is bright, and believing that there are even better things on the horizon is helping to get through it.

Indians Game O H I O sarahoual

My Best Friend is Having a Baby, and it’s Freaking Me Out

A little over a month ago I turned 30. Undoubtedly exacerbated by everyone and their brother’s inquisitions about if I felt older or wiser or if I’d signed up for AARP yet, it felt like a big deal. A new decade! New era! The last time my age had a 0 in it I couldn’t legally drink!

When I was 25 I was excited to be approaching 30. So adult-like, making a cush life with two dogs, a good job, and a husband in a swoon-worthy beach town. Kid-free because we just weren’t quite ready yet, not because they weren’t an option or part of the plan.

When Brian and I split, it was easy to think of everything as a loss or setback. Losing a partner, a second family, someone to share every big and meaningless moment with. Regressing on the “ideal” adult timeline after getting so close to binkies and daycare phase.

After a while though, those “losses” started looking like opportunities. Freedoms. More time for me, and the things that were important to me. I didn’t have to share my time or my thoughts, I had the freedom to do with myself whatever I damn well felt like. Take off for the weekend on a whim? Buy an expensive pair of jeans I couldn’t really afford? Spend a meaningless night with someone meaningless?

The independence was intoxicating and addictive, and before I knew it I was regressing down other adult paths at the sake of dignity, finances, and probably personal safety. (I did get a handful of really great stories from it all at least.)

Looking back, this sudden swing to erratic behavior was clearly some part of the coping process. I was bingeing on all of the things I felt I’d been deprived of during my relationship, and sitting on the cusp of a new decade, it hit me clear as day like my optometrist smashing a pile of bricks against my forehead and suddenly knocking me into 20/20 vision. I’d been playing so hard in the “I can do whatever the hell I want!” sandbox that the novelty of freedom had lost its luster. One-night stands and impulsive purchases began feeling mainstay, the period of shame or regret afterwards shrinking with every instance.

A week before my birthday I’d been back in Ohio doing my usual visit home things; running with Mom, drinking beer with dad, talking about mom and dad with my sister, soaking up time with both sets of grandparents (who I realize more and more how lucky I am to still have around,) and dinner dating with my two best girlfriends.

This visit was different though, as our usual scandalous stories and alcohol-fueled laughing fits were replaced with ultrasound pics and ultra-sobering accounts about human anatomy that my almost-30 self still just wasn’t ready to accept as reality.

Seven months prior I’d been back for another visit, and again Lauren, Shea, my sister and I were out for our ritual dinner date. We evenly poured a pitcher of margaritas between the four of us, and Lauren raised her glass offering a toast. “To Sarah being home, and me being pregnant!” I didn’t know how to react (other than calling dibs on the glass she’d just pushed to the center of the table.) There were hugs and cheers and maybe squeals, and I just sat there with my jaw dropped, firmly gripping two margaritas.

Lauren and I have been friends since we were two. Without sounding too cliche, we’ve been through a lot together – deaths, divorces, graduations, promotions, illness and extreme joyfulness – she’s first-handedly been part of more tallies in my life win-loss column than anyone, a lot of them from across the country, none of which would’ve been the same without her.

T-ball Lauren with the good bangs and me with the big head

T-ball Lauren with the good bangs and me with the big head

I knew Lauren as a kindergartner, a lush college sorority girl, a braces-faced teenager playing softball with one of those silly ribbon scrunchies in her hair. I knew her as all these things because I was there next to her being them, too. (Minus the braces and sorority.) But Lauren the mom? I wasn’t ready to follow her there, and that struck me in a more selfishly vulnerable place than I really want to admit.

For the first time in 27 years, our paths weren’t moving in perfectly parallel paths, and unintentionally, I distanced myself. I changed the topic or avoided it altogether in group texts, didn’t ask about appointments or names or nursery themes. I loved hearing what fruit the baby was comparable in size to, because thinking of the Chiquita banana lady living inside her stomach made it less real and scary than an actual fetus. I made bad jokes when I was uncomfortable, and bad faces when she’d tell one of those “omg that really happens?!” anatomy stories. I was a shitty friend, and continued acting out in that regressive post-divorce behavior to distract myself from the fact that my best friend was moving on to a stage of life without me.

I realize how fucking childish that is writing it out.

The last time I’d seen her the pee had barely dried on the at-home pregnancy test, and there I was this time trying to hug her over the full blown 8-month baby belly she’d grown since my last visit. I’d lived in the delusional state of baby cantaloupes as long as I could, but seeing her that day pulled me down to earth like the optometrist’s bricks tied to my feet and paid gravity to work double-time on me. No denying it anymore, my best friend was definitely about to birth a human, not a cantaloupe.

Definitely a baby in there. (Lauren ditched the bangs but I kept the big head)

Definitely a baby in there. (Lauren ditched the bangs but I kept the big head)

There are the types of people who you just know are meant to be parents, and Lauren’s definitely one of them. She’s a great human with a great big heart and a selflessness I just can’t comprehend, as made apparent by the fact I’ve been too preoccupied thinking about my lagging behind to see how exciting it is that she’s starting the family she’s always wanted.

This realization finally came a few days after she said she’d been put on the delivery schedule, and a few hours after that I had a plane ticket home. She doesn’t know I’m here, and won’t until I walk through her hospital room door, wine in hand (that’s allowed, right?) and tears in eyes. She also won’t realize how much more this trip is for me than it is for her. (Again with the selfishness thing.)

Reflecting on all of this gave me a peace with turning 30 I didn’t expect to find. I realized growing up doesn’t mean growing old, and it’s certainly not about losing freedoms or giving up on dreams. It’s not a number or a timeline or where you’re “supposed” to be. It’s about finding things that add to your life, that give you more than you could give yourself, and squeezing as much out of them as you can.

I’m really glad I’m in a place where I can chase those things down, and that I get to be here when Lauren *literally* squeezes one of those things out today. (Sorry couldn’t help it, this was feeling way too feelings’y.)