This started as an online journal in early 2006. At the time, it was a carefree spot for silly diatribes and the occasional photo. Since then, I got pregnant with mono.amniotic mono.chorionic twins, learned one of our daughters had a heart defect, spent 11 weeks in a hospital room and 29 more days with Eva in the NICU and PICU before losing her. We have two children who are alive and thriving and one who didn't make it. For me, this has become that place in between.
I checked my phone this morning and found that I had two new voicemails. The first was from a ranger at the park of perdition. His message was, "I understand you need some directions. Call us back if you still do."
I have been neglecting writing for a variety of reasons, but this experience begged to be recorded. I wrote it to share with some friends IRL, but I wanted to share it here also. Here's what I've been up to.
We have undertaken a remodeling project. We gutted our kitchen, as well as a small laundry room and butler’s pantry. My FIL built our cabinets and we did most of the work ourselves, with his help. To answer the FAQs on the project up front:
A.Yes, we are still married B.Yes, we have a functional kitchen and laundry room C.No, we’re nowhere near done.
.Despite the enormous pile of 30+ year old kitchen detritus sitting at our curb, we did not tear down any walls. We just replaced what was there, though we did take down the old soffits and replace our pantry closet with a cabinet. (You know, our neighbors have been a little nosier than we expected.)
We started demolishing the existing kitchen a few weeks (a month maybe?) ago. D flew to his parents' 2 Fridays ago and drove a U-Haul full of tools and cabinetry up with his dad, while dragging his dad’s van on a trailer behind, which was also full of tools and assorted buildy stuff. Despite some tense moments, things went relatively smoothly. After all, they finished the demo and got us back to a working kitchen with only 6 days of work. On day 2, we used a service to find someone to help carry some of the heavier cabinetry into the house. The person who showed up was about 5 feet tall and weighed 105 lbs. He was working the extra job to make money to buy back the Glock (?!?!?) his ex-girlfriend made him sell for some reason that I couldn’t begin to imagine!
In addition to the short timeframe, we had certain scheduled appointments/deliveries that required us to meet a couple of tight deadlines. We had an appointment Wednesday morning to have final measurements taken for our countertops. That meant the base cabinets had to be in on Day 1 (which should have been work Day 2, but D’s dad was behind schedule: see "tense moments" above). We also had to have our laundry room floor put in on Wednesday in order to get the room ready for the washer/dryer delivery. The counters and floors were what we were relying on contractors to do, and you all know how that goes. After using my “mom voice” with the flooring people, we were able to get the floor in the day they had committed to in the first place. Interestingly, the floor for the laundry room was a remnant from a large commercial job they had done and despite asking about 27 times, it was only on the day of the installation that I got a confirmation on the exact color of the floor. It’s name: Blue.
But none of that is the real point of my story. With all the work going on, I tried to keep the kids busy. Our routine was all hosed and we’re all about routine. I tried to cast our predicament in the light of ADVENTURE! We tried a bunch of new things and some not so new things including, swimming, bowling, mini golf, parks, etc. On Monday, the kids and I had breakfast at IHOP (which N, the elder, called IHOOP) and then drove out to Shenandoah National Park. We went to Skyline Caverns and for $16 all three of us got a 1 hour tour of the caves. We then paid $10 to go into a “dragon maze” that took us about 3 minutes to figure out. Then we went to the park, drove up Skyline Drive, stopped a couple of times before deciding to go on a hike. I thought we would walk for 30-60 minutes and then stop for a late lunch before heading home. I figured the kids might even nap in the car for a bit. We had audio books and the weather was beautiful. As we were heading southbound on Skyline Drive, we passed by hikers and each time we did, N would remind me that we were supposed to be hiking. So I pulled off the next time I saw I parking space. It was a completely random choice.
There were two directions we could go from where we parked. We opted to climb uphill so we could climb down on the way back in case I had to carry n, the younger. We climbed well. n, the younger, had no trouble. We came upon some rocks and decided to go for it. We climbed up the rocks and got a great view of the valley below. I took a couple of pictures and thought that it would be wonderful to share them with D. I was so proud of us!
But, it was too hard to climb down the way we came, so we tried to work our way back a different way.We walked for a while and I started to worry that the trail no longer seemed familiar, but eventually, we started a descent and I felt better. The only problem is that we descended for a loooong time. Too long. Well, it turns out that we jumped trails and we got ourselves lost. We had seen one couple on the way up, before our rock climb and 1 man after our rock climb. That was it, but when we saw him, I still felt reasonably certain we’d find our way. After some time (and my sense of time is completely screwy throughout this whole ADVENTURE), I started to worry. Wait, make that panic. I started to panic. We stopped walking. I started barking at the kids. I stopped barking at the kids long enough to call 911 and while I could hear the dispatcher clearly, she could not hear me well. And of course, I couldn’t tell her exactly where we were. She told me to stay put and we did. For hours. At one point, we started to walk further down the path we’d been heading, but we didn’t see anything familiar or civilized, so we headed back to what we possessively started to call “our rock.” Later still, we back-tracked a bit, saw nothing and returned again to “our rock” – the object of our own personal Stockholm Syndrome.Around dinnertime, eager to bring normalcy to our day, I gave each of the kids exactly 4 Skittles, an artifact of a more successful adventure more than a week earlier (ehem, to an outlet mall, which I am obviously more qualified to explore than the actual woods). After the Skittles, which I was carefully rationing (obviously!), n asked me what I was serving for dessert.
Most of this time we were okay, though N was very worried and told me he wanted to cry and that it was the worst day of his life. He started apportioning blame. He graciously accepted some, acknowledging that he had come up with the hike idea in the first place, but he also pointed out that as the adult, I should have known better than to get us lost. Conversely, n was completely nonplussed. Every so often we yelled for help, which merely served to annoy n, and we did a lot of singing and told stories to keep our spirits up. The kids were WAY better at this than I was.Our recent work in 80’s arena rock served us well in this regard, as did such classics as The Hokey Pokey. Suffice it to say that our voices carried, but not far enough. Eventually, it started to get dark and I had to face the prospect of sleeping under a glorious velvet carpet of stars and I hated every last one. I rued the day.
Nevertheless, I positioned us right under a small break in the canopy so we could see the stars, but mostly in the completely insane hope that there were helicopters out looking for us. I regretted every time I’ve ever judged anyone for anything, but especially real adventurers who’d gotten into trouble and had to be rescued using what I had always assumed were vast amounts of taxpayer dollars. Now I fantasized about a helicopter rescue, logistics and deficit spending be damned. I also thought a lot about Into the Wild. That poor schmuck was now me and I'd brought my kids to ruin along with me for my completely naive and gratuitous desire to "experience life!" We settled in. I was stretched out across the Appalachian Trail, such as it is in that forsaken place. My daughter was sleeping on top of me and my son was in the crook of my left arm.They slept, snoring softly. I figured that sleeping gave them some relief from worry and would help them pass the time more quickly. Me, I worried about the “predators” N had earlier described.
The mosquitoes were biting and the last light was fading when I saw the bluish lights of LEDs approaching from the direction in which we’d been walking. Accustomed as my eyes had grown to the darkness, they were like beacons! What a sight for my sore eyes! I bolted upright and blurted something. I don’t know exactly what, but it was intended to convey the idea that we were lost and needed their help and possibly some comfort. I might have levitated, I was so relieved. The hikers were brothers from Ohio on their annual camping trip. They’d gotten a late start that morning after being dropped off by their parents. It was their first day and they were trying to make up some time. I jostled the kids in my eagerness not to sleep on the ground in the woods with the predators. n was disoriented and promptly threw up all down my right side. Doesn't that scream, "YAY! We're saved!"? The brothers opened their packs to us. Wipes for me, a little food and bug spray for the kids, a jacket for N to wear. They also let us use their phone, which strangely had reception in spots. My phone was on very little battery and had no reception. It was love on our end. We didn’t care where they were going. We were going with them. They had head lamps and that’s all I needed to know. I think the kids agreed because neither one would shut up for a single second. N, who wasn't holding anyone's hand, kept falling and popping back up like the most cheerful weeble. n was holding my hand whether she wanted to or not and all the while told one of the brothers literally every story she knows – not linearly, mind you. After walking with them for about 45 minutes (I’m guessing) – with both kids chattering and stumbling the entire time – we finally made it back to our car. But, the kids were not done telling their stories, so after offering profuse thanks (I had to resist the urge to hug them given my eau de bile and Skittles, though they didn’t really smell much better and it was only their first day!), taking a couple of pictures and getting our rescuers’ address, I dragged the kids away to start our journey home. We called D to let him know we were alive, if not entirely well. I turned the audio book back on (Judy Blume is not appropriate for young kids, by the way. Too much name-calling.), got some heartburn hot dogs from 7-11 and drove home.
The next morning, I called the park’s emergency line to let them know we got out alive (no thanks to them! How are my taxpayer dollars being spent anyway?!? hrrrumph). The person on the phone indicated that there were rangers in the area looking out for cars “and whatnot” but his tone suggested that no helicopter rescue was forthcoming.
Now that some time has passed, I have been thinking that maybe we need to go camping this fall. I think it is important that we not let this past experience define us. Back in the saddle, I say! And by saddle, I mean of course, a well-appointed cabin in a well-lit, accessible spot that happens to have trees in view, but no rocks. Definitely no rocks.
On edit: D tells me the story is not complete without the inclusion of one additional fact .... about er, the measures one sometimes must take when one is "functioning" under duress and yet is lacking facilities for conventionally handling those needs. Ehem. I think you get my drift. Good thing I almost always carry a crumpled napkin or tissue in my pocket. It was stressful, people!