Archive for August, 2012

This is not where I’m supposed to be

August 21, 2012

I should be in Northern France, in Stella, at David’s moms house. I had train tickets. I have all sorts of tickets and plans coming up. Israel, Amsterdam, my friend coming in September, mysteriously elusive kitchen cupboards to sign for and install, dates to go home for Thanksgiving. All sorts of plans, all sorts of things I was supposed to do. I have the documentation to prove it. Lots of bits and pieces of paper explaining the next few months of my life.

Why am I back in California?

Two years is tough to swallow. Two years is not enough time. And when two years shrinks to months to weeks, well how do you swallow that? I can’t live in Paris, I can’t live in California. I can’t live anywhere in the world if my mom isn’t here with me.

I powered through the 24 hours I had to pack. I can do that. I’ve packed a million times. Plus when you go home, you don’t really need to bring anything. I focused on charging stuff and collecting wires and iPods and passports and american dollars. Logistics to and from the airports. I held it together and didn’t read anymore emails until I got into my sisters car in San Francisco.

And now my jet lag buffer is fading and reality is knocking at my door. I don’t know how long I’ll stay. I’m starting to think, hope, it may be for a while. But the child in me is hoping that I can go home, use some of those tickets, go back to my even keeled life and return in November. And my mom will come bursting out of the door and bear hug me for minutes on the front porch, and then bustle around in the kitchen bombarding me with drinks and food and candy.

But reality pounds and bangs until I pay attention, and tells me, I’m going to be here longer than I thought. And come November, everything will be different.

We’ve already gone through losing our dad suddenly. (Oh yes, now it’s we, not me. Now my sisters and I can get along. Now we can love each other. Now we can put aside our differences). I always thought if I had a chance to say good bye, one last hug, it would have been easier. Now that I’m an adult, I understand that it’s not easier, it’s just different.  I have the opportunity to say…. say what? The last hug will still be the last hug, even if I know it’s the last.

I’m so pissed and angry and I don’t understand. I just don’t understand how it could get this bad so fast. I don’t understand how someone so important, so kind, so generous could exist one day but not the next. But I do understand, I’ve been here before, I know just what’s ahead of me.

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Ardeche

August 20, 2012

We launched boats

and jumped of cliffs 

and clipped carabiners onto a wire that took us through a obstacle course in the treetops. There was no turning back once we started. There was no way to unclip and say, “Ok. That’s it. I’ve had enough fear for the day” and get down. We had to keep going until we reached the end of the wire,  no matter what crazy nonsense we were facing. But nothing could have prepared me for the cave trip on our last day.

We arrived at 9 a.m. and we were outfitted in a jumpsuit, big clunky rubber boots, gloves and a helmet with a light. How cute, I thought. Just like real cave explorers.

As our guide explained to the eight of us what our adventure entailed, he said something about it lasting three hours. David, Regis and I looked at each other and shrugged.

“Welcome in France” is what David says every time something like this happens. I was secretly happy. Like most things I’ve done that turned out horribly “character building” I hadn’t really thought this through, and 8 hours hundreds of feet underground wasn’t sounding as fun as it had a year ago when we heard about the off trail tour. Last year we went to the cave on a rainy day, not expecting anything special. It was insane. Like a Harry Potter movie. We marched down steep steps for an hour and it kept getting better and better. The first room alone is a hundred feet high and 300 feet wide.

Our group clumped down into the cave and stepped over the rail, off the cement trail for the normal guided tours and onto the actual rocks. Fancy pants.

Ten feet into it was a metal ladder, not as wide as a normal ladder which was propped up on some boulders. We had to turn around in our clunky boots and step on to it backwards to climb down, and once at the bottom  we had to step and turn and jump in a specific way to get off the boulders. It was wet and muddy and dark and slippery and I wanted to die. As I waited impatiently for my turn so I could get it over with I cursed myself over and over again for getting myself into this mess, because I had no one to blame but me. This was all MY idea.

I made it down alive and we started at a brisk pace hiking, crouching, crawling and sliding down stagalites. A few feet away was a drop off of about thirty feet. After a few steps I thanked my lucky stars that it was only going to be three hours long because I was absolutely terrified. Imagine a craggy iceberg, with a thin layer of mud, which you are trying to get climb down in pitch black darkness with rain boots on and a small head lamp to guide you. I felt like any moment I would step wrong and slip over the edge.

After a few hours of hiking up and mostly down we reached a small metal grate. I assumed it was an air vent and looked around frantically trying to spot the door that would release me from this hellish experience. Then our tour guide popped it open and instructed us to crawl though it. After that, it just kept getting worse. The tunnels got smaller and smaller, until I found myself on my stomach, following a pair of boots kicking in front of my face, with my chin scraping the rocks below me and my helmet scraping the rocks above me, only able to raise up enough to pull myself though using my fingers and forearms. I tried to forget that I was in a tiny crevasse with tons of rocks going up 300 feet above me and prayed and prayed that today was not the day there was a cave in.

We finally stopped for lunch and our guide laid down two white paper tablecloths (so French). At first the eight of us sat in silence with our sandwiches and water. It’s really silent underground. I know David, Regis and I were a little shellshocked. This was seriously dangerous, difficult and scary and we had been going very fast with only one short break for water. After a while the group started chatting while I surreptitiously looked around for the door. Surely it had been three hours by now?!? All I could see in the measly beam of my headlamp was another drop off five feet from us. This one was about 70 feet down, and we had walked along it on a tiny muddy ledge about two feet wide.

Then I overheard something that made my blood run cold. We were going to be down here until 4 or 4:30, and it was only 12 o’clock. My stupid ass had once again bit off more than I could chew and gotten myself into a place I didn’t like being. I was crawling out of my skin. And there was no one else who could help me. There were no emergency exits. No shortcuts. My little feet had carried me down into this cavernous cave, and my little feet were the only thing that could get me out.

In the impregnable darkness, in the belly of the beast, I kept telling myself, “You can do this.” And I had to believe it because that was the only way I was going to get through it.

The sad thing is that even though I was in one the largest, most beautiful caves in the world, crawling over 15,000 year old staglamites, using the knobby small ones for hauling myself up or as a foot hold for sliding down, I was so worried about surviving I couldn’t relax and enjoy the environment, which is pretty much what it’s like to live in France. Sometimes I get so caught up struggling to find my footing, I forget to admire the view.

We emerged 4 hours later, covered in mud and bruises with shaky legs. I felt like I had accomplished something huge. I would have never done it if I had known what it entailed, but I was proud that I had survived. I will never, ever do it again, but I will certainly go back and admire the beauty from the safety of the cement sidewalk.