Since my mother died, I’ve been wandering the hills. Like a modern-day Elizabeth Bennett, I’ve been roaming the heath, though I doubt that she was listening to “This American Life” on her IPhone.
I’ve always loved to hike though I’ve never really done it alone. I’ve always been a runner but, until now, only on the road. I have this great irrational fear of snakes, you see. So much so that when Ben and I are hiking he’s forbidden from making sudden moves or utterances lest I think he’s spotted one. He can’t even say the word “snake”. He must refer to them as “strings” as in “This tall grass too stringy for you, honey?” This I got from “The Poisonwood Bible” – apparently there’s an African tradition that if you say the word “snake” you’ll conjure it.
But my mother died in November and the urge to be outside has outweighed my fear of the (hopefully) hibernating serpents. And so I have been walking or running up on the trails. Alone. I want to be alone not so I can think about my mom but so I cannot think about her. I’m not ready to think about her.
It’s familiar, this phenomenon. When my father died, I spent the first six months busily turning my romantic life upside-down, the perfect twenty-three-year-old solution to avoiding one’s feelings. This time around it’s IKEA shelving units, an age-appropriate substitution. We turned our office into a bedroom for Mae, which has called for a house-wide reorganization. There is an element of, ironically, a snake shedding its skin in the reinvention of my environment. I’m changing my exterior space to echo the changes in my interior space. Today I’ll go to IKEA for the fifth time in two weeks. I even managed to buy the same wrong-sized wardrobe drawers twice. I waited twenty minutes to return them, then promptly made a bee-line to Aisle 12, Bin 24 to buy them again. It wasn’t until I had them home and built that I realized my mistake. It’s easier at this point to think about storage baskets and throw pillows then it is to face the world without my mother in it. Six months after my dad died I went and found a therapist. I imagine that in another couple months I’ll be ready for the grief counseling that hospice so kindly offered.
Along with IKEA, better than IKEA, I have the ridge above our house. I walk the kids to school and then hike up the hill behind it, where I can walk or run for hours on end. Out on the ridge, with the world spread below me, I can get some perspective. There’s more than just me, more than just my mama.
Being in my body feels right because my mind is on vacation, it’s on a grief sabbatical. All I have to do is climb the hill in front of me. Which is an apt metaphor for grief. You put one day in front of the next, allow time to work the rough edges. I put one foot in front of the other and in doing so step away from my mother, which is the only thing I can do. I can’t go backwards, I must go on ahead. She’s gone and so I have to walk away.
Or maybe these wide, open spaces, this big sky, is the only place I have any hope of finding her. Maybe I’m actually walking towards her, trying to locate her amid the hawks and the falcons.
Every night at the dinner table, we each reveal our high points and low points. Mihiretu confuses high and low so he often says something like, “My high poin’ is Teacha Kawi mad at me”. When we ask his low point he says, “Teacha Kawi mad at me.” Ben reliably says his high point is that present moment at the table, reunited with us at the end of the day. If Mae’s friend, Zoe, was absent from school, that’s always her low point. Lana’s reports vary but they’re always long and detailed. I realized today as I was gazing at Mount Tam from the top of Loma Alta, that my high point is literally my high point. Climb high enough and you’ll feel better. Or at very least you’ll feel.