A couple weekends ago, six friends met in Vail to celebrate the upcoming birth of M’s baby. We used to live near one another in Carbondale, a small mountain town on Colorado’s Western Slope, but jobs and relationships and other plans carried three of us elsewhere. When we all lived in Carbondale, one of us was married and, initially, no one had kids. Now there are two kids (one of them in utero), four marriages, different jobs, new homes. There have been deaths and births and fights and reconciliation. There have been phases (short, dark hair) and trends (skinny jeans) and altered perspectives. There has been - as there will be - lots of change.
I didn’t realize, until this weekend, how much I’ve forgotten about Carbondale. It was a lonely place for me; I felt terribly awkward most of the time. Sitting in that condo in Vail, listening to the gossip and stories about the people and places in that town caused blocked-out memories to flood at a staggering rate. As my friends, one by one, washed their faces and brushed their teeth and went to bed, I grew increasingly uneasy, agitated. All of a sudden it was 3 am and I was astonishingly awake, entrenched in memories I’d worked hard to bury.
Looking back, I see that I made it harder than it really was. I isolated myself; I assumed people wouldn’t accept me so I didn’t give them a chance. I still do that, but now that I live in a bigger town, it’s not so out loud and obvious. Hiding in Salt Lake doesn’t mean cowering in my room, hoping that no one will drive by and see the light on and knock on the door. It means spending time in a different part of town, going to a different café for my americanos, being alone but in the middle of things. It’s still fucked up, but it’s easier to pretend otherwise.
One of my friends mentioned maybe being ready to leave Carbondale. She’s been in that town for years and the whole community would suffer her loss. When asked where she’d go, she named a tiny town in an even more remote location. Just the thought of moving to a town that small had me hyperventilating. It was then that I realized that I love living in a city (technically, I guess, I live in the suburbs, but it’s really, really close to downtown, despite what my husband will tell you). I love that I can choose to see people or not, that I can go for days being totally unknown and anonymous. It makes for better people watching and observing, which I need like I need water and air.
But at what cost? Because all that observing is actually starting to hurt me, I think. A few nights ago, sitting with Brad at the base of a climb I’m working on, I started crying because I felt like everyone I knew would have just climbed the route and moved on, while I was freaking out about it. I was comparing myself to these imagined others whom I’d built up to be larger than life, infallible, far more capable than I. And the truth is, I don’t know that for sure. It’s just something I’ve trained myself to believe, even though I know, somewhere in me, that it’s not true.
After climbing, Brad and I played Boggle with his parents. I stared at the letters as the white Hasbro sand fell through the plastic hourglass, feeling certain that I’d identified every word in the grid.
“Canoe,” announced my mother-in-law, pointing at each letter.
What? Canoe? I’d listed can, cane and one, but I hadn’t seen canoe.
“Batter,” she went on, and though I’d seen bat, tab, brat and bra, I’d missed batter.
The night went on in that vein. The sand ran out and I’d drop my pen, confident that, this time, I’d identified every word. And then Brad and his folks would list word after word that I’d completely overlooked.
Even though I’m wildly competitive when it comes to word games, the night didn’t frustrate me; I just thought it was interesting. How could four people, looking at the exact same letters, see such different words?
And then it hit me like a canoe to the head:
We see what we can.
When I lived in Carbondale, I saw myself as an excluded, awkward oaf, because that’s what I thought I needed to do to protect myself from potential shunning. My friends don't get that, though, and still ask me when I'm going to move back. To them it's Caledonia. To me it's a nightmare. At the base of the climb the other night, I thought about the people I know who say, "Oh, yeah, that's a great route," because they see it as it is, rather than what I've built it up to be.
I’ll never go back to Carbondale – it was just too hard a time for me. I’ll climb that route, though. As soon as I realize that other people have to work at things, too. As soon as I can see that I’m not the only one who struggles from time to time.
I think my Caledonia is a place where I am able to accept my shortcomings so entirely that it won’t knock me over me if other people point them out. Because, as my mom always said, I am pretty hard on myself, and most people – most people – never notice the faults I spend so much time trying to hide.