I take a deep breath and direct myself onto highway 40 going West. I carefully manage the space cushion around me the whole drive, except for once when a big Jeep speeds up too close behind me. I begin to hyperventilate, my heart racing, and as it pulls into the next lane I see spots.
When I arrive I set up camp quickly and meticulously. I cover the table and string out a clothes line. I line the floor of my tent with a plushy picnic blanket and heave a pair of gymnastic rings over a tree limb for pull-ups. Then I consult a map of the park. The trail that cuts through the campground is marked “strenuous”. Game on, I think.
I cinch the quick laces on my Vivos, queue up a run on my Garmin and plunge into the unfamiliar wood. Before long I reach tall stone steps and I eagerly start climbing, then there’s a moderate descent and I squeal with glee jumping over roots and branches, sure-footed as ever. The air is crisp and cool, and as I navigate the unfamiliar path I remember races I’ve run. I am in my element, and at the moment very little matters to me apart from the forward motion of my body and the whirl of green leaves and red clay at my sides. God, I love running.
As I circle back toward camp there are couples and families grilling, children rolling by merrily on bicycles. I tell myself a story about how I am enough without company in the woods, though my heart aches. When I get back I do twenty pull-ups in sets with core work in between. As I end each set I lower myself slow and deliberate through a flexed arm hang, laughing as I swing from the trees.
It is July 5, the day my abuser proposed 5 years ago. I light a campfire rapidly and then go to the trunk of my car. While reorganizing my things in storage recently, I found a stack of cards he gave me in the chest where I keep personally sacred relics. I seized them from atop my high school letter jacket, incensed. Now here I am before my fire, seething. Bryan rarely wrote handwritten messages in cards, which would have been the personal touch I’d cherish. Instead he’d sometimes pick two cards and simply sign his name. Which bugged the shit out of me. He did usually select a shimmery, sparkly card, which I appreciated. I dutifully kept all of them. Now I re-read them one more time and the few he elected to write in are the ones that really piss me off because those are the cards with his lying promises.
When I start burning cards I am angry and quick about it, but as I continue the hurt of broken promises and my broken life cuts me down. The park ranger drives past. I cry as quietly as I can, occasionally pausing to wipe tears away as I continue my catharsis, watching the flames lick the lying words and bright colors until they turn to ash. When the offending cards are incinerated, I spin on my sandaled heel and walk away.
I enjoy the simple pleasure of a truly hot camp shower, my hair trailing rivulets of soapy water over my bug-bitten shoulders and back. I pause a long time, savoring the wet warmth of the tiled floor beneath my bare feet and the steam floating around me. From the screened, slatted windows a cool breeze occasionally drifts in. I wash away the citronella spray and the sweat, the smoke and the dust. I stand tall and bite my lip, wishing I could wash away my memories and watch them retreat down the drain. Finally, I dry myself and don a sundress, wrapping the towel around my wet hair. I walk back up the steep incline to my campsite where the coals of my fire glow red.
I cook myself an elaborate meal over the fire. I quell the ache of having nobody to talk to by making whipped cream in a steel camping cup. As I whip and beat and twirl the whisk between my hands, I don’t know how long it will take to make magic from cold cream. I’ve never timed it with a stand mixer and I’ve rarely whipped cream without one. Still, I know that it is possible and will happen eventually. So I sit with the boredom and the irritation, the sometimes tired arm–and the curiosity. I wonder how long it will take, but I don’t doubt that it will happen. After about 15 minutes of my insistence I feel the cream thicken and puff into soft ridges, and I laugh to myself at this small triumph. Wishing I had the same degree of faith in my recovery effort, I taste the cream. It is sweet, rich and thick on my tongue. It is simple. I savor my small victory.