Thursday, February 28, 2013

we all have one love story

Here is the abridged story of how I met Will.

I was standing at Lee's Ferry, the put in for the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. It was February 2008, in the middle of a winter storm. Ice was lashing sideways out of the sky and the river was raging and loud.  I just stood there staring at it, thinking that I was absolutely going to die. It was my first river trip and I had no idea what I'd gotten myself into.

A boy walked up the beach and introduced himself. His head was bowed against the rain but I saw his eyes, which was all I needed to see. "Hi," he said, extending his hand. He spoke with a heavy Tennessee accent. "I'm Will."

I remember two things from this one moment. One, I was wearing a light blue cotton Patagonia hoody that was completely soaked. Two, as I shook his hand I thought, "Oh Will, it's on."
And it was. Will had these long eye lashes and he didn't say much. He saved a man's life on that  trip by pulling him out of the frigid Crystal rapids. Later that evening the man thanked him profusely as Will just nodded and looked at the ground. We were one mile deep in that canyon for an entire month. Huge rapids, flipped rafts, frostbite, hypothermia, sickness, drift wood fires every night, mind blowing stars, heart pounding hikes straight up and out, a million glimmers of moonlight on the river at night, the creak of ropes stretching against the tide where we'd lashed the rafts for the evening. Heart shaping, life wrenching stuff. As a writer I will never be able to do it justice. In all my adventures, this remains the biggest.

Will slept outside without a tent and after the second night, I thought I'd better sleep outside without  a tent. We spread out a tarp and slept on opposite ends of it. Each night we laid out our sleeping bags an inch or so closer than the night before. One particularly cold night I woke up covered in half an inch of frost feathers, his arm around, pulling me against him for warmth.
We didn't speak about it the next day. We didn't talk about any of it. Will is intensely shy. But it added up, the little gestures and long looks and walks we took, just him and me. Then one night around the fire he reached over and took my hand. It went better from there. I fell completely in love with him. He was on the fence, but I think he tended towards loving me, too. My friend Sarah died while I was on that trip. I cried and cried and he just pushed the hair out of my face and was quiet. He gave me his Nalgene of Whiskey for the night.

When I got terribly sick for a night he wrapped me in his sleeping bag and held me between his legs, his arms around me as I shivered uncontrollably. He washed my face for me, looked after me all night long.
When the trip was over we said goodbye in the middle of the desert with no talk of seeing each other again. In the covered back of a pick up truck, I stared at the stunted trees and swathes of frozen dessert flying by. It was polygamy county, truly the land of American outlaws. We drove to Vegas and Ammen threw up and I crawled into the hotel bed and tried to sleep.

Less than a year later I moved back to the East coast. I drove down to Boone North Carolina where Will was living. We took a trip to Kentucky to run the Russel Fork. It was late October. There was a party that night for all the boaters, with a huge bonfire and fireworks and real moonshine that tasted like maple syrup. Will hugged me and told me he was in awe of my creativity and that he loved me. I've never had a boy speak to me like that, before or since. We stared at eachother like two people with no idea what to do next.
The next morning he didn't remember a thing. There was a certain silence that crept over the rest of the trip like a frozen fog. I drove home to Vermont with a confusion that bordered on anger. We wrote letters back and forth. Real letters, and books, and photographs. He sent me crystals and rocks taped to paper with their scientific names written next to them.

About two months later, I took a job in Chile at the kayaking high school. I dated somebody else. Then one day I was sucked into an underwater cave and nearly drowned. I was very shaken up about the whole concept of kayaking and living and dying. I wrote Will about it the next day, fingers still shaking as they hovered over the keyboard, covered in bruises and abrasions.  From what I understand, he realized when he read that story that he really did like me a lot. But I had the job at the school, and even after a summer where I dreamt about Will three times a week, I went back back to Chile to teach for another semester.

That January I quit my job and moved to North Carolina.  Two years after meeting in the ice storm we were finally together. At first it was heaven, which is the way these things go. We were essentially snowed in for the entire winter. Even the grocery stores would close for days at a time. We had a wood stove and played endless rounds of backgammon. We listened to radio shows. I got into cooking.  I lost a little of my identity, maybe a lot, but not in a terrible way. Just in a normal way.
The only time we could get outside was to take long walks on the blue ridge parkway which was shut down due to snow. For my birthday, he collected river glass in a mason jar and turned it into lantern. I thought this was the most clever and romantic thing to do.
Spring cames and the rivers ran, and Will disappeared with them. But by now all his friends were my friends, and we had a good time. The spring was really pretty dreamy. There were days of swimming, cliff jumping, paddling trips around the Southeast, a trip to Georgia. Evenings around the campfire in the front yards, Friday nights sleeping on flat rocks down in the gorge and necklaces he made me from pale green river glass. I wrote all day at a coffee shop which was also a book store, and I was very very happy. Besides boating, I got very little exercise. I had horrific migraines which knocked me out for days at a time. He wasn't sure what to do with me during those times. He kayaked more and more, but it didn't necessarily make him any happier. 
Then I ran the Watauga gorge, the peak of my paddling career, such as it was, and we started fighting. Just a little. I'd turn my face towards the window of the car and hope he'd guess what my silence meant. That didn't work.

I wanted more. He wanted less. He wanted to travel and kayak. I wanted just about everything but.

And so it was over and I left. I drove back to Vermont, and eventually to Seattle. We saw each other once in Idaho, where we went camping at a very blue and secluded lake on the other side of a mountain of unstable rock. In the middle of the night I heard rock falling and in his sleep he reached out and comforted me. Other than that, he was gone.

And he really was gone for another two years. I'm not sure we spoke at all. He kept his word and traveled all over the earth running enormously dangerous rivers. I moved on with my life, got a job, and passed my glass heart out to a couple of men who either ignored it or crushed or juggled it with a few others. That's not the complete story though. There were some boys who became very close, very important, the boy at the end of the rope, the boy kissing me in triumph at the top of a cliff. But those, too, ended eventually.

Certainly Will and I both moved on, probably a dozen times over. But I kept collecting sea glass. Then he shows up in Seattle, and we're just like those kids at the bonfire in Kentucky, just looking at each other, with no idea what to do.

48 comments:

Adriana Iris La Dulce Vida said...

Holy shit. This post has all my favorite things... love, nature, fire, the south, boys, southern boys ;)
Can't wait to see where life takes you.

Brianna said...

Holy shit, your life could not be any more epic!! love the kiss photo.

adventurekate said...

A love that gets started on the Grand Canyon is a pretty special one, especially if it can bloom during a February trip! I want to hear more. I can relate to loving someone that loves kayaking and travel- Its not easy...

Kirsten Gardner said...

Wow Melina, this is strong stuff. I check in with you about every other week and I think this is my favorite piece...very raw stuff. I love this line: I lost a little of my identity, maybe a lot, but not in a terrible way. Just in a normal way.

Moved to Breckenridge for my love and feeling a lot of that lately too. Thanks for putting it into words.

Anonymous said...

just...wow. I can relate to some of this feeling, but also ended up longing to be able to feel emotion that deeply. Very well expressed!

Kirsten Gardner said...

Wow Melina, this is strong stuff. I check in with you about every other week. This is definitely my favorite piece of late - such easy, raw storytelling.

Love this line: I lost a little of my identity, maybe a lot, but not in a terrible way. Just in a normal way.

Recently moved to Breckenridge for my love and have been feeling this. Thanks for relating.

Anonymous said...

Girl, when are you going to write us a book? Cute boy btw.

SmithShack71 said...

Do you still get the butterflies? I think I have butterflies for you. I haven't had butterflies in like... forever. Really great writing.

-Angie

Jessie said...

You two are going to end up together. Can I just be the first to call it? And, how have we not heard about this guy before??

Jess B said...

Beautiful writing. Will sounds very similar to my husband. Fun story: I took a job at a bakery 7 years ago. I met the shy, outdoorsy head baker and I knew that he was it for me. I told my grandmother, that very day, that I had met my husband despite he and I instantly fighting about the ethics of fishing...We didn't date for nearly a year but then we did and it was wonderful until it wasn't. I dumped him hard and ran across the country in a barely working Jeep and holed up in Zion for months. He came out after a while to take me home. On the way back we camped in Wyoming and I prayed all night that he'd be devoured by bears...I dumped him again, in Sioux City, but we road home together to Tennessee. We didn't speak for 9 months. 9 months after that we stood in a tiny log cabin and got married. That was 5 years ago : )

Melina said...

Jess B.

wow. that story is awesome. so awesome. my kind of story, my kind of gal! I love the name of your blog, but no posts? I'd read it!
xo
lina

Melina said...

Angie, I do get butterflies! Lots. For Will, and for comments like the one you left ;)

Melina said...

@Kristen

I remember you from the hot springs, and i remember your handsome love! Proud of you for moving, following the old heart....it's always worth it. I don't think it's bad to lose a little identity...I see it more as 'melding' with somebody elses, and that's just another term for connection. always good.
xo
lina

Melina said...

Adriana.

"love, nature, fire, the south, boys, southern boys"

I could have just written that! that pretty much sums it up! you're good with words.
xo

Melina said...

Adventure Kate, do you love a kayaker, too? They're just such....explorers! sometimes, anyway. Sounds like you've run the canyon before! summer?

xo

Melina said...

Brianna

thanks. i love that picture, too. very much.

xo
lina

Bonjour! said...

,,,feel better soon and when you do will you please finish the story i'm dying to hear it all. like a mountain climber i'm hanging on the cliff with anticipation of how the story plays out. and by the way sweet Will is handsome!,,,

Melina said...

hey bonjour, I'm right there on the cliff with you! but I will post about his visit. He is handsome, aint' he ;)

Anonymous said...

um....can you guys just get together already so we can see what your babies would look like? your babies would be big eyes big smiling beauties!!!

Catherine said...

Oh, Melina! This is so exciting! We want to know where this is going to take you! I wish the time has come for you and Will. Please tell me if you still suffer from migraine and if you found a way to lessen the pain or have less of them...

Melina said...

Catherine, I think i'll do a whole post on that this week, or very soon. my life used to be ruled my migraines. Not anymore. i have a lot to say....a lot of things that worked, and didn't work. stay tuned. I'm sorry that you have them...

much love
lina

a million little loves said...

I raise my strongbow to you.
Beautifully told...

a million little loves said...

I raise my strongbow to you...
Beautifully told.

cestlavietlb said...

I met my now-husband at University. We didn't have an epic kayak trip or anything magical like that that brought us together. In fact, I thought he was a bit of a dick before I met him. I met him the day another woman broke him. I reached out and asked if he wanted someone to talk to and that was that. He poured out his heart, I fell in love. We got drunk and slept together. I thought it was meant to be. He did not. He had too much anger and hurt and he went away for a while. I didn't stop loving him even though there were others in between for us both. Then he came back and we never looked back.

Some paths are not straight. The back roads of love and happiness are more magical for their twists and turns. And while we may look on the straight simple highway, there is no magic there. Take the back roads.

Baby By The Sea said...

raw & beautiful, travels & love. swoon. i love your stories and everywhere they take me.

cindy said...

i moved to a little town in north florida and turned myself into a diver. and we floated down rivers with inner tubes and beer. and i dove caverns and he dove caves. and we went speer fishing and lobster hunting on the coast and it was great. until i realized i was gone. i don't think he understood. then or now. yeah. it's normal. thanks for saying it's normal. just what happens when the heart gets involved i guess. not a terrible thing.

Niki Lesniak said...

Really great post Lina, I loved it.

Tonya said...

WoW! Will is dreamy.....I don't know what else to say except I really enjoyed that story.

Also, one of the first things I read on your blog was the story of Sarah, I still think about her.

Amy said...

Omg! I feel like I am reading a chapter from my past... Prior to kids, and marriage, and life. (It was my second favorite chapter!) You go girl.. My heart is pounding a little faster for you right now. Live in the now and keep sharing what you are comfortable with. Love this post so much

Amy said...

Omg! I feel like I am reading a chapter from my past... Prior to kids, and marriage, and life. (It was my second favorite chapter!) You go girl.. My heart is pounding a little faster for you right now. Live in the now and keep sharing what you are comfortable with. Love this post so much

Lynn said...

Loved this post...and for you and all the others out there with Kayakers, or ramblin' men....I love these lyrics from Gentle on My Mind:
It's knowing that your door is always open
And your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleeping bag
Rolled up and stashed behind your couch
And it's knowing I'm not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some line
That keeps you in the backroads
By the rivers of my mem'ry
That keeps you ever gentle on my mind."

That's why they like women like you and me....no shackles!

Keep up the great writing!

Amy said...

Holy shit. Why the shit am I tearing up about this?
you make it sound so easy and so raw and emotional and so hard all at the same time.
Your identity should just include him, not lose you.

adventurekate said...

Yes, I just ran the GC in January! It was incredibly freezing but fantastic. Just from reading your blog, I feel like you would have melded well with our crazy crew- sixteen twenty-somethings, middle of winter, daily chipping of ice from the dry suits, lots of whisky and music and way too much fun. My friend Camrin did an excellent job documenting: http://camrindengel.com/blog/?p=1921

Thanks for commenting back!

Anonymous said...

Melina, I don't even know where to start with this post. For starters, I'm a lurker and first time commenter. Connected to you from Dig's blog, and have just been sucked into your writing. You truly have such a way with words.

Back to the post. I, too, have a Will in my life. We talk, and then don't talk, but the connection is there. It's something I have never felt before, but the timing is never right.

I think this gives me hope. That maybe one day we might be able to get it right. Or just get to the point where we can finally be honest with one another.

Thanks for this xo

Natasha

erica said...

I started reading your blog after nici from DTC linked to you. I live in boone right off the parkway. So cool that you were here. I enjoy your writing style very much. Hope your feeling better.

Sara, Plain and Tall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara, Plain and Tall said...

i love that your heart is healing. it's the most we can muster hope for when our hearts-are-breaking knocks us on our humble asses. sometimes i think we go looking, searching, hunting down love, and it's been right in front of us all along. xo.

Melina said...

@tonya, thanks for mentioning sarah.:)

Melina said...

Sarah, that is exactly how i feel right now, exaclty. right on the money, girl.

Abby said...

What a gorgeous piece of writing. Beautifully, beautifully done.

I hate to be THAT person, but sometimes I've wished someone said this to me... women have the tendency to say what we want to hear... I think he's kind of Just Not That Into You. That is, he loves you, but he doesn't want what you want. My bet is he's trying to want what you want, because he does love you, but not enough to want the life that you want and deserve to have. You each deserve the life you dream of having!

That said... your most recent post brought me here, via Kelle Hampton, of wanting motherhood. I am a single mother by choice. Just putting it out there... that you can choose to separate your search for motherhood from your search for love. I'm unspeakably happy with my choice.

I wish you joy and luck. You are obviously a woman of great strength and well as many talents. Will's inability to commit to a life with you doesn't mean ANYTHING about you.

And hey, if I'm wrong, and I hope I am, then great! But like I said, I wished that someone had been honest with me. Check out the stupid book by the same title, at least. Would've helped me a ton, as mean spirited as it sounds.

I hope you will take this in the spirit it was intended. You are too great to waste time on something that doesn't make you feel great about yourself.

Melina said...

Abby....

So, yes, I own that book. I cherish that book....got it from my sister, have lent it to every friend who has needed it. It's literally bath-splashed, underlined and dog eared. I've seen the original sex and the city episode (and every episode) and even seen the movie (not as good as the episode.) Love it. LITERALLY changed my life. People throw that term around but I really mean it. I've been THAT person to some of my best friends.

So will's a shy guy and wouldn't be thrilled for me to dig into the subtle nuances of him/our story (as I'm inclined to do) (obviously) but I will say...I've realized there's a bit more wiggle room than that book would suggest. I'm hoping....hoping and curious...that we fall in that category.

But truth is, you never really know. well. until you do? I digress. Fingers crossed. So glad you're reading.

xo
Melina

PradaPrincipal said...

I heart this story. And I've been there. Here's to taking chances, or the 'back roads', as one commenter put it. Bisous, xoxo

Tanya Lee said...

I am in love with this post. It touches me somewhere deep inside and while I've always kind of taken the "easy" road, this is the kind of thing that makes the hard road one worth taking...your story...I think (the never failing romantic in me) has a happy ending...

jess said...

I just discovered your blog and I have to say, you are a beautiful writer. Thank you for sharing your words :) I look forward to finding more from you!

Mark, Wendy, Dale and Rose said...

Your storytelling is just beautiful. I could feel your words. I am totally going to read your blog, sister. I can't wait to see where life takes you next!

hannah said...

I loved this.

We're in the Seattle area too, and I'm glad I found your blog via Kelle Hampton.

It'll happen. I just know it.



Jess said...

I don't think yalls story is over...

CarrieSnaps said...

I think it is a rite of passage to fall hard for a man that maybe isn't on the same page as we are. It hurts so badly. But someday, when you find the one who is ready for something deep and lasting, all the sadness and longings for these lovely but wild (or unstable, if you prefer) men will fade away. You will find the right one, you just have to get back on the horse (as my mother told me after getting my heartbroken.) And maybe try guys that aren't obsessed with living on the edge? Just sayin'.... Step out of your comfort zone and you might be surprised! You are a beautiful writer, by the way! xx