I had Friday off. I did my 06:00 CrossFit workout, went home and made coffee, and goofed off on the computer a bit. I checked on projects, emails, calendars, and then made my way to WordPress. I have 20% of what I’ve journaled in my life on the computer. Prior to discovering Livejournal I filled up large binders with journaling, and then many paper journals. I have boxes of them. I’ve shifted everything from LiveJournal, after they were bought by a Russian company and the community spirit was essentially ruined, and now live on WordPress. I’ve transcribed some of the paper entries over to this format.
So here it was that I was going through some of the earlier posts on WordPress and adding tags and categories to some of the posts. Many, MANY of the posts could be embarrassing to me. But I keep it as a record. I’ve ripped the scabs off of my heart over and over and over, and looking back over time I see that my capacity to be loved and to love have grown tremendously. It is hard to believe that I was that person writing those entries twenty… ten years ago. So I keep this blog for three reasons. First, again, it is a way to gain perspective of how far I’ve come in development. I have no less a drive than to become what Maslow termed Self Actualization. I recall a Psychology professor telling the class that Maslow himself said this was exceedingly rare, that he might meet one person in each of his classes that fit the description. In other words, it was very hard.
This reminds me of several discussions that I’ve had with my family… why I am not married. Common to many is an idea that one purpose of life is to have a family and kids. Recall the television show The Beverly Hillbillies where Ellie-May is constantly being pushed toward eligible bachelors by Granny. It is a strong influence in the calculus of my Self and many relationships that I’ve had in the past there was this influence, along with the misguided notion that we have one soulmate out there for us, as though it were Fate or a divine plan that we meet up our other half (which seems to imply we are incomplete without that person).
The second reason I share this is that I’ve met others who experience the same as I do. It is strengthening to see that one is not alone. This is a primary reason why I share my close calls with committing suicide in the past (one and two), in the hopes that another person will see them and realize that they are not a different species of thing, but a human like the rest of us, mucking things up on the road of our lives.
The third reason is that perhaps someday, there might be someone who knew me, and after I am gone, would be interested to learn more about me. Though the window to start a family is nearly closed, that is another reason I do so.
So here it was, Friday morning, and I came upon this post… Remember Kim. What happened the next two days is still a mystery to me. But reading that post hit me hard. I lost all vigor. I wept my eyes out, repeatedly, for the next two days. I felt lead weight throughout my body. I couldn’t walk with much energy. I was a complete mess. I met Kim a few months before she died in an auto accident, July 14 2001.
I live in Salem, Oregon and when I knew Kim I lived in Eugene. While there I would often take trips into the Cascade Mountains to the East. So I decided to take a trip to the Cougar Reservoir and check out the Cougar Hot Springs and possibly the French Pete Wilderness, both of which I’d not visited for a decade. I drove my car down I-5 and picked 65 MPH to drive. I didn’t feel any sense of hurry at all. The normal push/pulls of traffic that can sometimes get me to jockey for position, passing slow cars and such, were not there. I simply drove. And while driving… sometimes a wave of emotion would hit me and I’d cry. Still, on I drove to get to the mountains, the constant source of solace that I’ve had since I moved to Oregon. Whenever things get their worst, that is where you’ll find me.
Driving on I-5 I was reflecting on my inner states, the chaos of emotions, the heavy sorrow that I felt, the guilt, loss, regret… it was as though a slow-moving whirlpool of mud within. I followed thoughts and emotions where they lead me. Though I was hurting, underneath it all is the belief that this is necessary to become truly a soul in life.
Of the realizations, it struck me how I had no taste for violence at this time. I thought of my role as an infantry instructor, how I prepare soldiers for combat, and that part of me, the creator of a certain type of fighter, one that is as I’ve described in my trainings as ultimately having a complete mindset of what psychologists call Hostile Attribution Bias. This mindset is utterly foundational in the full understanding of masculinity. It plays a huge role in the behaviors of veterans in crisis. I thought on this while driving, 65 mph, on the freeway. I didn’t have the stomach to perpetuate these mindsets onto people. I know full well the usefulness of one side of Ares, God of War, in combat. But the usefulness outside of a combat situation was rare. It is as though one is allowing a single paragraph to define the tone of an entire book. As I felt my way around these thoughts, I noted that I didn’t feel any more desire for the organizational structures of the military. I didn’t feel any motivation to go to drill. I didn’t feel anything at all. Only that something was missing in all of it, something that was vital. I thought to myself that I had two years left on my enlistment, and I was looking forward to its end.
This reminds me of something that I’ve read. Thursday I picked up the book Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life and flipped through parts that I had read before. This page seemed pertinent to my current state…
The author postulates the spreading of Jen. If this is so, what is it that we spread when we are fully wrapped up in the learning/training/experiences of the military/combat/masculinity? What is the opposite of Jen?
The above was on a chapter on touch. I recalled a fond memory with Kim. It was a sunny morning, we both woke up, lazily, and laid in bed with nowhere to go. Her eyes were, as always, bright fires, utter singularities of existence in the vastness of space, and she looked at me and smiled. I remember her warmth, her touch… and her endearing knobby feet as she slid them against mine. That is one of my cherished memories. Years ago I watched a charming movie called After Life where in the movie “after death, people have just one week to choose only a memory to keep for eternity.” I highly recommend this movie. Given the past three days, this one memory would be my choice.
I stopped at my favorite gas station SeQuential BioFuels at their location near I-5. I love this gas station. I stopped for some actual coffee and some healthy snacks. As I was leaving, holding my purchases, a lady stopped and opened the door for me. It was a nice gesture, one that occurs around us often, and wasn’t unique. What I did notice, however, was that I was… this is hard to define here… open. You see, when much of the politeness that I have, though it may be fueled by genuine friendliness or the like, is still within the bounds of some sort of guide. Not the behavior… the behavior is the same… ‘thank you… you’re welcome’. When the lady opened the door for me I merely leaned my head slightly forward, smiled a genuine, heart-felt smile at her kindness, and said ‘thank you, how very kind of you‘. The reason this struck me as different isn’t the behavior, but the emotion behind it. I… had no inhibition to my gratitude and happiness toward others… if that makes sense. It is hard to pin it down.
Allow me to use an analogy that I give in some of my trainings about veterans and post deployment. Imagine that I am standing five feet before you. Now, imagine that I hold up my arm and stretch a rubber-band back and it is pointed at you. I’ve done this in trainings and people will sometimes, ever so slightly, tighten up their body, preparing for the small sting of the rubber band. Now, when I take away the rubber band, the tension in the body goes away. It is easy to feel the difference because you are aware of the transition from one state to another state. When you are in the tension state you can also pinpoint its source… the impending rubber band. Now imagine living with this tension, but every waking minute, every day, for years… for life. You cannot imagine what it feels like to not be tension-less, you cannot point to any particular source of the tension (so many things we can blame) and where does one begin? At an unconscious level, one is always awaiting the next rubber band to snap. Among other things this fosters a sense of guardedness. And it is easy to hide guardedness behind social convention and rules. So when I, as normal, said thank you to the lady opening the door for me, I noticed that I wasn’t guarded. The inner part of me moved forward to meet the inner part of her, with no other agenda than expression of gratitude. It was, to me, quite stark.
When I lived in Eugene I made the trip out to Cougar often. So it was strange that I continued past my turn on and continued to Oakridge. Past Oakridge, looking for the road that leads to Cougar Reservoir, it hit me that I had driven too far south. Strange that I would make such a mistake. I knew this area well. So I drove back through Oakridge and hit the Old Willamette Highway. With the temperature now over 60 degrees, I put the top down on my Mustang and tried to make up time. What was a two-hour trip was now taking me over three hours. I took the turns aggressively, but felt no joy. Normally I cannot help but give out loud ‘woo hoos’, but this time I merely drove, trying to get to where I was going.
At Cougar Hot Springs the parking lot was packed. I had only been at the springs three or four times before, and each time it was deserted when I did so. Though that was usually after sunrise. Now it was almost 3 pm. I had hoped to soak in the hot springs, but really what I wanted was a walk among trees, without the sound of traffic or people. I contemplated going to French Pete Wilderness, just down the road. But I decided to pay my $6 and check it out anyway. At the 1 of the 3 pools is shut down due to a cave-in, and the other two were full. I didn’t mind the nudity, and changing would’ve been easy for me (wearing a kilt and all). But now I didn’t really want such close proximity to other people. Earlier I had been open to the lady at the door, now I was closed to people. Plus, as is usual wherever there is any clothing-optional areas, there was a male creeper vibe from a couple of the soakers. What I really wanted was a hike, so I left.
Back at the parking lot the attendant said there was a good non-trail that went past the hot springs and up the creek to a waterfall. It wasn’t a trail, but one could follow it if they looked. There had been some trees cut down, and some others that fell down in a recent storm, so he was unsure of the status of the trail. But most people didn’t go back there and it was quiet. So I turned and went back. I found something little bigger than a game trail that lead off the path. I followed it up and over the creek and soon came to an area filled with very large trees knocked down. They were huge. I had to climb over and under them. I lost the trail a few times, and in taking any avenue that could move me upstream, would find a portion of it again. It was very much like the elf trail in Mirkwood. From three feet away, given the wrong perspective, the trail would utterly disappear. I scaled up the sides of the draw, down and over more logs, and so on. Many times I would say to myself that I was thankful for the added mobility that CrossFit has given me. It was much easier going through this terrain than I anticipated. Thank you box jumps, overhead presses, cleans, burpees and pull-ups. And while pushing/pulling up/down obstacles and cliffs to go upstream, my muscles and blood working in conduction, I felt small moments of life within me. They were fragile, like sparks yet to take hold in a campfire on a windy night. And just like that, they were gone.
I finally got to the end where the waterfall was. I didn’t know if it had a name. Likely it does on some map somewhere. But I dubbed it ‘Kim Falls’. Though I doubt she ever saw it, I carried her memory there on this day.
I sat there in the bowl of the waterfall and I struggled to feel any joy. All I felt was loss. I talked to Kim, telling her how sorry I was that I wasn’t with her the night it happened, how I’m sorry for the fight we had prior, how part of me wishes that we had run off together, and a million other thoughts. I felt the sting of the loss and the loneliness and wondered if what I truly wanted was a cessation of the pain. The selfishness of this, that my pain was more important than the loss of Kim’s life, stabbed me like a dagger. I beat myself up over this, that I should wish for an ease of the hurt while in the universe there was a system that allowed for someone like Kim to die. I hated how small and petty I was. I hated how I squandered the time I had with her. I hated me. In the parking lot I had seen a bumper sticker that read something to the effect of “we’re judged by the good that we do not do”. This single sticker was inline with the theme that had been running through my mind all day long. It was hard not to take its appearance as some sort of providence.
I sat there, struggling to find something. Before I left home I had looked upon all of my books for something that would give me comfort. I ended up with The Essential Marcus Aurelius, and I opened it up.
I remembered The Logos… or for me since my first close-call with suicide… beauty. For me there is no separation between the two.
This was it. I didn’t read this and was suddenly filled with joy. But I read it and recognized it. I looked up again at the waterfall, the logs around me, the various stages of rot, growth, erosion, and more. I saw the carbon cycle, the watershed, the niches of micro habitats and microclimates. I saw my life and I looked wider and wider. I was a small moment of pain in a vast… vast web of connection, of influences and results, the wyrd of mythology. I will honor this pain, this loss, and I hope, in so doing, I will learn greater patience, greater compassion, greater perspective. I wish to continue to learn to be that light at the tip of the candle… I am not there yet.
I drove home, sluggishly, with the top up on the car. Sunny, and 65 degrees, and I didn’t care. I drove home and that night I watched a movie, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which was itself quite charming. It was a good end for a long, weary day. My eyes hurt from crying all day. My body ached. I wanted to close my eyes and sleep.
There were no dreams that night, but when I awoke I laid in bed, consciousness dawning on me slowly. I breathed deeply… in… out… in… out… and I was aware of my breath. I was here. I was alive. Kim was not, I still felt loss, but I was here. Though the power of the emotion would still hit me through the day, I started to turn a corner. That night I went to a hockey game, driving an hour to Portland, top down on the Mustang, playing music and singing and dancing like a mad man. I’m sure more than one person on the freeway thought I was a odd duck. But I did not care. What if I could have 1/10th of the love of life, that singularity of existence that I saw in Kim’s eyes… I would care less about meaningless inhibitions.
I am a better person to have known Kim Beers. Often, over the years, I’ve thought of her. I am not sure why the loss has hit me so hard 14 years after her death, but it has and, even so… I am thankful for the short time that I had with her. And, if there are parallel universes, where all the infinities of our choices play out, I imagine that Kim and I did indeed run away together and are on the open road, living as beatniks, as free and as fully as human beings could do so. In this life, however, I am without her and though I am still half asleep as a soul, not yet sprouting into the light, her memory helps me. Some of that fire in her eyes has caught spark, after all this time, on the tinder of my heart. Now it is up to me to nurture the flame.