The Long Goodbye

“All of this is new to me,” my husband was telling my daughter. They were walking behind me on the trail. I watched the dirt and rocks as they passed beneath my feet. “This is a part of the world I’ve never seen before.”

My daughter said something I couldn’t hear, but it must have been about our uphill climb because my husband answered, “Well, sometimes when you want to see new places you need to work a little to get there.”

It was a fair amount of work climbing the trail.

It was more like a narrow gully, carved out of the side of the hill by snowmelt. A serpentine crack ran down the center of the trail followed the path of the springtime waters, although the path was dry and hard this morning. Our destination was a place called The Living Room, a group of rock formations that resemble couches and chairs and tables set at the top of a ridge and overlooking the valley. The view, we had been told, was incredible. That’s what interested my husband and I about the hike. But the furniture rocks were what got our daughter out of the house that morning.

The trail was uphill the entire way there. I felt a layer of sweat growing between my body and my son, who was tied to my back in a baby carrier.

We all wore our sun hats, although my son removed his and beat me with it then dropped it on the ground about every five minutes. When we took his hat away from him, he began pulling the elastic doodad that adjusts the size of my hat. He would pull it further, further, further, then release it so the plastic holder on it snapped me in the back of the head. I finally removed my hat, preferring sunburn to a headache.

“When we get to The Living Room, we’re trading jobs,” I told my husband. His back is large enough that the baby can’t reach his hat while riding on Daddy’s back.

We’d been walking for about a half-hour, with three water breaks along the way. The path up to now had led us through scrub oaks, but as we rounded a curve, the trees thinned out and revealed a wide view of the valley below and the mountains beyond. There were the Oquirrhs and the Wasatch ranges, both snow-covered. There was the Kennecott copper mine and the Great Salt Lake and all of Salt Lake City spread out below us. From this perspective, we could see the curvature of the earth.

I took a deep breath as I looked and realized two things:

that I was saying goodbye to Utah, and that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Utah.

But, I reminded myself, we’re not leaving yet. We don’t know when or even where we’re going. We just know we’re going to need to leave once a job finds us. I felt grateful that I could luxuriate in this long goodbye.

A portion of the view.

Around the curve, the path followed the top of the ridge upward. On one side was a declivity into the canyon broken only by scraggly, sparse shrubbery and wiry grasses. On the other, gravelly, sandy, gray soil and then a crumbly dirt-and-rock wall.

After a couple of minutes, we arrived at a spot where there was a gap in the bare shrubs on the left revealing an unencumbered view of the drop. The path wasn’t flat in this spot, but rather tilted towards the precipice. On the right was a hill of loose soil and gravel leading to a rocky outcropping.

As someone not exactly thrilled with heights, my inclination was to move as close to that rocky outcropping as possible. But when I stepped up towards it, the soil and gravel shifted under my feet. I knew I was safer closer to the edge, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk there.

“I don’t think I can go any further,” I told my husband.

We backtracked a short way and chose a rock to sit on, have a snack, and regroup. While we were there, a couple passed by from the direction of our destination.

“Did you guys go to The Living Room?” I asked.

They had.

“How much farther is it?”

“About ten minutes,” the man answered. “You’ll follow the ridge, go down into the canyon a little, then back up that other ridge,” he said, pointing across the canyon. I noticed that the other ridge had red soil and rocks. The one we were on had gray.

We thanked them, and they headed on.

After some discussion, we decided that we’d press on. I helped my husband put the baby on his front, and I held our daughter’s hand.

“I’m glad we’re going to The Living Room,” my daughter said as we started walking again. With my son off my back, the higher winds up on the ridge lifted my dampened shirt from my skin and gave me goosebumps.

“Well, even though I felt nervous, I knew it was safe,” I said. “And when I saw how enthusiastic you were about it, I knew we should give it another chance.”

“What does enthusiastic mean?” she asked. I defined the word for her, and we spent the next several steps chanting, “Gung-ho! Gung-ho!”

Then we reached the narrow spot again.

“Honey, could you hold my hand?” I asked my husband. I held his hand with my left hand and my daughter’s hand with my right, and we proceeded on. I got past that first rough spot by staring at the trail and not letting my eyes stray to the drop. Safely past, we continued on around the bend.

As the path began to dip into the canyon as our fellow traveler had described, the trail became narrower and brought us closer to that drop-off again. This time the swath of firm soil was even narrower. I dug my feet into the sandy soil, my back to the drop, and found I couldn’t bring myself to move.

“I can’t go any further,” I told my husband.

“It’s OK, honey,” he said. “Just keep walking. You’re safe.”

“No, really,” I said. “I can’t move. Oh, honey, I can’t move, I can’t move!” I was nearly crying and quickly becoming hysterical.

“OK,” he said. “We’ll go back.”

He instructed our daughter, still holding my hand, to turn around and start back the way we’d come.

“I can’t turn around,” I said. “If I move my foot, I’ll fall.” I could feel the drop looming behind me. I felt certain it would come after me even if I didn’t move towards it.

I was still holding onto my daughter’s hand, but I realized I was no longer doing it for her safety. If I held onto her, I feared I’d either pull her into the canyon with me or keep her stuck with me, paralyzed by fear. The only answer was to let her go.

I let go of my daughter’s hand.

Freed, she turned carefully and took a few steps back down the trail.

“Slowly!” I called after her, even though she was going slowly. She stopped and looked back at us.

My husband instructed me to get down on my hands and knees. He let go of my left hand, walked around me, and took my right hand, which he held as we, together, crawled past the spot that had me so frightened. I looked over and saw my son hanging nearly upside-down from the carrier on my husband’s chest, smiling at me. I stood up, apologized, declared myself stupid for getting so scared.

“Don’t worry about it,” my husband said. “It’s a really steep drop.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but there was no danger. People are walking back and forth along the trail all the time. Dogs are running, people are mountain biking. People walk it at night. I don’t know why I can’t get past it.”

Our daughter chimed in. “Mommy was scared, but I wasn’t, even when I wasn’t holding her hand.”

When she realized we were headed back to the car, she started to cry.

“I wanted to go to The Living Room,” she cried.

“You guys go,” I told my husband. “You take the kids and go to The Living Room.”

“But what will you do?” he asked.

“I’ll wait on that rock we sat on before,” I said.

“But how will you get past that one spot?”

“I’ll get past it, even if I have to crawl. I’ll be fine. You need to take her up there. She wants to go. I know it’s safe. I don’t want my fear to hold her back.”

So, they left, and I headed back to the rock.

As I sat there, tracking their progress across the canyon to the other ridge, I realized that this was the purpose of my parenting: to stay out of my children’s way. They are unhindered by my fears and shortcomings.

I need to stand aside so they can go places I can’t bring myself to go.

My family are that blue dot left of center.

“How did you like The Living Room?” I asked my daughter when they returned.

“It was great! There was a chair with a long bottom and a rock that looked like a table.”

“Cool!” I said, as we all started down the trail again.

“Mom, do you remember when you broke down?” my daughter asked.

I smiled.

“Yes, I remember when I broke down.”

“I didn’t break down,” she said. “I was braver than you. I wasn’t scared at all.”

I realized that Utah wasn’t the only thing I was giving a long goodbye.

“I know you weren’t, honey. You were much braver than Mommy.”

2 Replies to “The Long Goodbye”

  1. Wow! I was frightened just reading about your hike. I can imagine how you must have felt, the terror pulsing through your veins. You did the right thing, though, by letting your family go on without you. I wish I was a child again, unhindered by my fears. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever let go of them and free myself in order to enjoy some adventure in my life.

    Like

    1. I’m pretty much reconciled to my fears. The biggest thing I want is not to pass them along to my kids. And I’m adventurous in my own way (a way that doesn’t involve gravity).

      Like

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