The Only One

I don’t really believe in the idea of regret. I think that the choices we make, good or bad, have consequences, good or bad, that we either learn from or don’t. Most of the time, I’d like to say I have learned enough from the choices I have made to know what to do in the future.

It’s been ten months since we took this boy into our home and just shy of seven since a global pandemic has more or less shut down the world, but in particular, the school we all attend. The combination of these two events has culminated into nothing less than utter exhaustion on my part.

I’m exhausted being the translator for and from a language I’ve never perfected myself. Being the only one in the house who can communicate with him the good and the bad. Why haven’t you done your chores? Thank you for the note. Why did you miss tutoring again? Thank you for being strong enough to lift this. Why do you not care one iota about your education? Thank you for feeding the cats when the girls again ignored them.

I’m exhausted being the only person who gets to hear his positive or negative reactions to everything. With trying to make him feel at home when he doesn’t seem to want to be here. With trying to show him the world when all he wants to do is play a video game on his phone, not look at the Grand Canyon, not get out of the car to see the ruins of an ancient church, not wake up early enough to hike to an alpine lake, not paddle the board in the heat of the day on a pristine and still reservoir, not take a walk further than five blocks. With trying to show him the things I love only to be disappointed that none of them matter to him.

I’m exhausted with his lack of interest in almost everything. Speaking English. Doing schoolwork. Setting his alarm. Fulfilling commitments. Reading a book. Watching a goddamn movie in English, for crying out loud. Listening to a single song in English.

I’m exhausted that we’re not at school, that he doesn’t have a place in our home, that his only place in this country is with his people, fellow Spanish-speakers, and that most of his friends from last year have dropped out or disappeared, and his two cousins and their families who lived in Denver have moved to Nebraska, and why am I still driving him to 76th and Pecos to get a haircut every three weeks when they no longer live there?

I’m exhausted that my kids could care less about his presence in our home, never including him unless asked, never just thinking that he’s here, that he could come too, that he might want a Starbucks drink or a Wendy’s hamburger, or to visit the mall or the ice cream shop. Never sitting with him to help him read or sharing their favorite Anime tales with him.

I’m exhausted with my husband telling me to stop thinking about him as a part of our family and instead as just what he is: a tenant waiting for the courts to determine if he’ll get deported or get a work permit, which is a three-or-more-year, interminable wait. An interminable weight.

I’m exhausted with him taking his $100 in cash every month and blowing it immediately on chocolate bars and soda or scammy credit cards to buy more upgrades for his phone game, then getting mad at me in the store for not buying him a bag of Halloween candy.

I’m exhausted from just being the only one. Is this what it feels like to be a single parent? The only one to communicate everything, the only one to bear the burdens he carries, his cousin dying, his stepmother dying, his family’s extreme poverty, his father’s endless work for almost no pay, his brother unable to find a wife… The only one who can listen to him, the only one who can try to understand, the only one who will never understand.

And I keep thinking about that Monday morning, ten months back, where I sat in that meeting with the caseworkers and social workers and the interpreter and the head of the department of human services, and they asked him if he’d rather go to Leadville with a Spanish-speaking family or with me, the only kind-of Spanish-speaker in my home, and he chose me because of his friends at school and his cousins nearby, and now he has none of those things, no English, and still no real connection to what he knows and loves best.

And wouldn’t it have been better in Leadville? Wouldn’t he be happier there in a small town, speaking Spanish, learning English, probably never traveling or hiking or camping or all the things he hates? A place where he could see the stars and maybe have a chance at truly understanding the ladders he must climb to make a life here?

Would we all be better? A little less tired. A little less lonely. A little less depressed about the decisions we make in this life that seem to benefit no one, really.

I will never know. I only know what I have now, and it is just. Utter. Exhaustion.

Ancient Wings

I once trained for a half marathon. It was only because we’d bought a treadmill, and I found that thirty minutes a day could grant me three miles and burn 300 calories, so I figured, why not?

I soon learned a huge mistake that many beginning runners make: running on a treadmill cannot properly prepare you for running 13.1 miles on city streets. The only way to train for running on roads is to run on roads.

Once I began running on roads, I immediately hated it (your muscles have to work much harder), and I almost immediately injured a tendon at the top of my foot.

After a visit to the doctor and an analysis of my gait and purchase of new running shoes, the experts advised that my training could ensue on my bike, and I should accept that I’d be walking the half marathon.

I was thrilled. When you run, if you haven’t been lately, it’s a heavy-breathed torture every time. I was literally running in circles in my neighborhood, going nowhere … slowly.

When you click into your pedals, you can feel distance build between you and an actual destination. You can push yourself up a steep hill and discover utter joy while gliding down the other side rather than sketchily searching for a safe place to land your foot.

Alas, by the time the half marathon day arrived, my foot had healed, and I did run it. It felt… like a denouement of minimal satisfaction, and ten years later, I’ve never really run again.

I spend a quarter of every day on my feet, though, putting in as many miles as time will allow. All because of my Pomapoo who forces me out of bed, whom I’ve trained to only poop on walks, who smiles back at me everywhere we go.

My Pomapoo who has an unparalleled love for hiking, scrambling up rocks, dashing ahead, whimpering to go as soon as he sees the backpack appear in the living room.

Since I have an endlessly jubilant companion and we both love hiking, I always have trail running shoes on hand because I despise hiking boots but I need good traction.

All of these things—the dog, the shoes, the stolen bike—came together during the past two days in this little city called Prescott.

It may be known for the university we came to visit where my daughter hopes to study aerospace engineering or for this gorgeous lake or for Whiskey Row which once had fifty saloons for blocks and blocks, but it holds another appeal to me: trails.

Miles and miles of completely empty hiking trails right within the city. Two trailheads are within walking distance of our Airbnb!

The first had a nice view of Thumb Butte, but less than a mile of trails.

The second I discovered while looking for a park. Prescott’s version of a park is a trail through rocks and trees surrounded by the houses that encroach upon everything that is perfect in our world.

Still. A silent, empty trail where my dog can run leash-free for what ended up being four miles? What are these people in these mansions doing at dawn rather than running this trail with me? It’s way too hot mid-day to even consider.

And I thought the flippant Google Review I saw where the guy said he couldn’t find the easy-to-spot, well-marked trailhead was just “off” by throwing in, without description, a picture of a giant boulder with what looked like petroglyphs on it. But when I got to the trailhead myself in the pre-dawn dark, my leash light lit up the map that led straight to Petroglyph Point. A goldmine of luck!

Haitz and I raced up the trail, me thinking it’d be less than a mile like the other. Dawn came and went and, running out of time before my class started, I had to run back.

Boy was I scared. So many rocks, gravel, sore muscles, fear of falling, no experience.

And, despite searching along the sketchy boulders at the peak, I never could find any petroglyphs, and I was beginning to think it was all a scam.

I made it back just in time to shower and pop open my computer for another fun day of remote learning, determined to return the next morning.

Rising at 5:00 today, I was under the dark sky for fully the first half of our adventure. Haitz stayed right at my heels, too nervous to take the lead without light.

Once the sun came up, he bolted ahead in his usual jubilant fashion, always searching for something that might be just around the bend. It will never cease to amaze me—the love and loyalty of a dog.

We jogged up, me slowing and speeding up depending on the size of the rocks, and made it to the peak once again. I scrambled to the top, flashlight ready in the early-morning light, searching every boulder for a sign of an ancient artist. It seemed like a fitting place, with the sun rising over the distant peaks, for someone to carve their message to catch the morning light.

But I still couldn’t find it. I scrambled back down, ready to give up, and circled back beneath the peak when, looking up, on a rock that seemed precariously placed and impossible to reach for human hands, I saw the carving.

Perhaps they wanted to catch the light of the sunset instead. Perhaps they wanted to send a message to their descendants about the animals they lived amongst during their time. Perhaps they were simply trying to relieve the stresses of the world with art as so many artists do.

There, in the aurora of September’s last day, before the sun beat down, before most people would crawl out of their slumber, I could feel the ancient hand of indigenous people who had painstakingly taken the time to create this everlasting masterpiece.

And even though I didn’t need to, I ran all the way home. I felt the need to run in a way I’d never felt—not when I pushed myself to run 9-minute miles on the treadmill, not when I wanted to run instead of walk my half marathon—just the pure joy of a carving on my soul, energy in my veins, and the wings of our ancestors bringing my feet to each perfect landing.

I’m Sorry

Dear Bike Thieves,

I hope that you love this bike as much as I do. I hope that when you text your husband at 12:20 a.m. from the Middle of Nowhere, Arizona, and he doesn’t respond till ten hours later, reading your pathetic apology for being so stupid, his words will have an equal measure of love.

I’m sorry you lost your bike. That does suck since you’ve had that one for so long and rode so far on it. Sorry babe. 😓

He will never say, “I told you so” or, “Why didn’t you…”

He will be right there with you at 12:20 a.m. when your dog barks and you hear voices and you step out of the hotel room into the Dark Sky Universe and all that your blurry-without-glasses eyes can see is… the absence of tires.

Because he was there when you got that bike, nine years ago. When you went to the spring extravaganza under-the-tent bike sale with $1000 in your pocket from that year’s tax return–the only expendable money we had for a year–placed upon its pedals, teacher’s salary, three kids at home, him not working, “Can I buy it?”

“Of course.”

Of course you can set your alarm for 4:16 a.m. and pedal uphill in your new click-in shoes, before the sun rises, before you can even afford a light, before the world is awake, to put that bike along that endless road for thousands upon thousands of miles.

Of course you can register, pay for, and race a train up and down a mountain with this bike, this bike, these tires, this set of wings.

Of course you can buy a bike box and bring this bike to Spain, wrapped in bubble paper and soul tissue, and ride it to school, to twenty tutoring jobs a week, to the end of the road where the mountains meet the Mar.

Of course you can drive down I-25 on a 90-degree Sunday, new tent in the trunk, and watch your bike fly off its flawed bike rack into six lanes of Denver traffic, and watch your husband, afraid of nothing when it comes to his love for you, stand on the shoulder and wait for the right car to allow him to dash into the middle of an INTERSTATE and save that Baby Number Four.

Of course you will never feel the FEEL of the Sun Road in Glacier National Park without this bike vibrating under your palms.

But it is dark. I have driven 500 miles in a day only to be told by my boy, “I told you so” and “I don’t need to waste a photo on a pile of rocks” when looking at the GRAND CANYON, and…

Thieves. Boys. Oppressed.

You have my bike.

I hope you fix the red handlebar tape that was flapping for 500 miles to Arizona.

I hope you ride it to the edge of the reservation and demand that our government give you running water and a better chance at a decent life.

I hope that you sell it and feed your family for a month.

I hope that you love it as much as I have loved it. That you feel the wind in your hair, the beauty in 600 million years of piled-up rocks, and the words of my husband.

“I’m sorry.”

It’s so fucking simple. And so goddamn hard to say.

Remote Learning Perks

September travel?

we can learn geology

and visit arches

we can buy peaches

from the orchards where they’re grown

relishing their juice

yet COVID follows

with at-capacity parks,

a shut-down ghost town

my motto follows:

be prepared. pack sushi, fruit.

drive towards the sunset.

find the world’s curves

where the sky clears away smoke

and we can just. breathe.