Banks-vernonia

The air is cold but the sun is warm. I’m bundled up from head to toe, determined to break my distance record. Despite every anxiety that previously kept me within biking distance of my home, I managed to struggle and swear my bicycle rack onto the trunk of my car, mount my bike, and drive it safely to a paved, remote trail I’ve been dreaming about riding since I took up bicycling a year ago.

As I double check my gear at the trailhead, grief and anger tinges my excitement. I had hoped to experience this with a friend months ago when the weather was warmer, because it was important to me, and I was uncomfortable striking off miles into the woods alone. But I’ve since learned that the journey of the last year was always mine to make alone, that it’s natural to lose relationships on the road to healing, even though it’s been painful. I finally decided the first taste of this trail would me mine, at my pace, on my terms.

Invisibility has been the strategy of my life. A helpful ghost. Supportive, convenient, and never asking for reciprocation.

I mastered it, as it turns out, and the outcome was bitter. People I loved ignored the parts of me they didn’t understand or didn’t approve of. Which, these days, is most of me.

Pushing beyond the way things have always been is bewildering and exhausting. The territory is all new.

Bicycling appeals to me, because the prevailing question it asks, drummed into my soul with every turn of the pedals, is: “Will you keep going?”

I break down and lose heart and want to write off the whole world, but I keep going.

On this chilly December morning, I come across other hikers and bicyclists on the path. If I were truly alone, I would be the only one here, but there are many of us. Driven, intense, and expansive, our hearts made of the same substance. We exchange a greeting or a smile as we pass each other.

Among the forest spirits, the old growth, muddy trails, and sylvan quiet, we exist.

I exist, too.

I make it to the ten-mile marker. Sunlight beams on the top of the hill. I am suddenly removed from everything, the steady, grinding darkness that threatens many of my days burned off by the sun. I have claimed something I don’t fully understand.

After a short rest, I turn around and head back for home. As I fly down the hill I painstakingly climbed, the mossy trees and mulch whipping past, those two simple words well up from my spirit and fill every inch of me, as if they have never once occurred to me before. I find myself repeating them, mist on my breath, the cold stinging my face.

I exist.

I am not an anomaly, a disappointment, a defective convenience or idea. My spirit is a river, my body fire. It doesn’t matter at all if people can’t hold space for me. I remain tangible, undeniable.

I exist.

I exist.

I exist.

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A/N: A piece I wrote back in December, but had originally deemed a little too self-pitying to post. The current phase of life I’m in and the things I’ve been processing have made it difficult to decide which thoughts are worth sending out into the world, and what should stay in my private journal. My relationship with my art is changing again, and I’m trying to figure out where it fits.

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