Remember Me

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Marcy Airfield, Keene, NY.

“There are so many people we could become, and we leave such a trail of bodies through our teens and twenties that it’s hard to tell which one is us. How many versions do we abandon over the years?”
― Dan Chaon, Among the Missing

You exist in the minds of others. You exist in twisted and bronzed and sun-bleached forms. Because memory’s a sieve, leaking feelings and details until only pebbles large enough to run between thumb and forefinger remain.

I remember you.

This happens often now that you’re wintering in your hometown. People will do double-takes as they look at you from ten feet away, eyes squinted, head turned just enough that they could spin away in an instant.

I remember you. You went to Brighton, right?

They are not always confident when they tack on that last part. They are teachers and parents and students. You wonder what they think about you. I’m not here for good! you want to shout across the t-shirts racks, as if it is somehow shameful to end up in the same place you were raised. As if the only way you could claim dignity was by leaving.

I remember you. You went to Brighton, right? What are you doing these days?

You never have a good answer to that. Because you both know what you are doing–you are restocking the Techwick t-shirts that are suitable for most outdoor sports, but will they wrinkle shoved in a suitcase for a three-week trip to South Africa? No fucking clue. You don’t say that, though. You tell them about Lake George. You use the term “outdoor education,” which sounds palatable in suburban America because it includes the word “education.” You make it clear that you are not in this town forever, and that someone else will eventually be arranging the Techwick.

I remember you. You went to Brighton, right? What are you doing these days? God, I’m so sorry, but your name is totally slipping my mind.

You wear a nametag but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that names are really unimportant, that they encapsulate blood and sinew, feelings and thoughts, and that’s what really matters. What really matters is that you are a bunch of indescribable moments and buzzing atoms and that people will remember you the same way they remember that one particular rainbow over that one particular Walmart parking lot.

I remember you. You went to Brighton, right? What are you doing these days? God, I’m so sorry, but your name is totally slipping my mind. You broke eight minutes for your 2k time, though. I remember that.

You talk with the former boys crew coach, and some distant, buried part of you swells when he mentions your 2k time. Because you were the best. The best by far. You remember lining up in the small asphalt lot by the bank of the Genesee–girls and boys teams–in order of fastest to slowest. Boys were on either side of you and that moment remains treasured in memory because gender didn’t matter; you were still one of the motherfucking fastest.

Sometimes you forget that you were an athlete. That you won medals. That you raced with the University of Rochester team in the summer because you could hold your own. That you would come home with skin dangling from your palms and Spandex plastered to your shivering body from the rain.

That was a different you, and the strangest thing about living in this city is confronting shadow versions of yourself, the you that’s only alive in memory.

What no one ever tells you is that it’s OK to leave people behind. That not everyone deserves a place in your ripening future. That it’s OK to be the nameless rainbow above the Walmart parking lot, a singular moment captured without depth, without acknowledging that two minutes later the light had shifted and the rainbow was gone.

I remember you.

 

Self-Portrait at Twenty-Five

 

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You are 25. A quarter of a century. You feel 25. You’re still young but somehow, without noticing, you’ve slipped into adulthood. You like being 25.

You sport a $16.95 haircut, and thrift-store sweaters, and purple Vans you bought in California back in high school. You still own your Death Cab for Cutie hoodie from eighth grade.

You sneak glimpses of your body in mirrors as you walk through your poorly insulated house, dashing from bedroom to bathroom through the chill of the living room. You are thinner than you once were. Stronger. You lift boats and hike mountains and belay children for a job. Your body feels capable and thriving.

People ask if you have matches on you, if they can borrow your pocket knife. These facts make you feel strong and capable, too.

You think about aloneness a lot. You remember your eighth grade English teacher pulling you aside and telling you things got better—English teachers always knew you best—and now you’ve come to realize that you misunderstood him. You thought that things would change. They don’t. But aloneness is something different now. Something comforting and desirable like your red down jacket with the duct tape patch on the cuff. You’re not sure how to live any differently, and you don’t think there will ever be a time when you don’t feel this way.

Friends from once-upon-a-time invite you to hang out, and their invitations make you pause. You have come so far since then. Since whenever. You are further and further away from who you once were, and you find it increasingly difficult to reconnect with people from your past. You don’t know how to explain your wildness. Someday you hope it won’t need an explanation.

You have a list of inspirational women that you thumb through in your head like rosary beads—Hanya Yanagihara, Rebecca Solnit, Arundhati Roy, Lindy West. All of them are strong and motivated, and you often worry that you’re not doing enough, that these women work harder, fight more fiercely, and you’ll never be one of them. You compare yourself with others in terms of accomplishments because you’re scared one day you’ll wake up and regret things undone. You worry about time. About wasting it. About not having enough.

Your world is a lot bigger than it used to be. You daydream about dusk in Yosemite, and backpacking in Nepal, and the David Wojnarowicz exhibition at the Whitney that you didn’t get to see (Hanya Yanagihara saw it). Your goal for this winter is to practice cello and learn how to bake bread.

You think about your past selves. You picture them all together like nervous actors before auditions crowded in a waiting room. Childhood Channing is reading Harry Potter in a matching neon green outfit, sprawled unapologetically in a chair. Teenage Channing has discovered eyeliner and nihilism. College Channing holds a can of PBR in one hand and a PBJ sandwich in the other.

It almost scares you how much you’ve changed because you’re only 25. Who will you be in five years? Ten? Twenty? So much is unknowable and sometimes you wish you had a master plan, a well-lit path to follow. But mystery is too inviting. So you push onward in the darkness, hands out in front of you, hoping not to stumble. You’ve learned that it takes the human eye about twenty minutes to readjust to darkness, which is something you tell kids when you lead them on night hikes, challenging them to abandon their flashlights and trust their primal selves. This is how you travel now. No lights. Just courage.

 

 

/arrival/

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There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. –C.S. Lewis

There are things that bring you comfort. The familiar weight of your backpack hanging from your shoulders. The peppermint scent of Dr. Bronner’s soap. Curled pages of poetry that have kept you company around the globe. These are the things that you haul from place to place. These are the things that help you feel like you when the snow globe world has shaken once more and the particles have settled.

Here’s how it goes: You pack your bags thoughtlessly, and then you drive. Roads unspool like ribbon. Music holds you tight. In Montana you listened to Harry Styles on repeat as you drove into plumes of smoke, your hand outstretched beyond the window bobbing up&down up&down in the hazy air. The wildfires were calling you home, and you listened. You burned.

You wear the same three rings, the same five necklaces, the same four pairs of wool socks. You feel like a liar when you fill in your parents’ address on your I-9 form. You are doing your best to call this body home.

After your parents dropped you off as a freshman in college, you threw on a sundress, filled your backpack with notebooks and pens, and ran outside into the arms of the city. I think I’m lost, you texted your then-boyfriend as a nature trail ended at a row of dilapidated houses, beer cans and cigarette butts posing as lawn ornaments. You ignored your boyfriend’s concern and continued onward.

There is so much world to see.

Your nose was pressed against the car window as you wound through the foothills of the Himalaya for the first time, eager smudges on the glass. Bodies swung like pendulums around the curves, colliding in the backseat. You drove higher. Your body thrummed. The mountains felt endless, and your heart burst with sunshine and everything inside of you felt lighter and more radiant than it had a heartbeat ago.

There’s a restlessness that inhabits your bones, that invites you onward, pushes you to new places, into the arms of new people. You don’t fight it. Not anymore.

But that wasn’t always true. There was a time when all you wanted was to stay, when forever felt like something to strive toward. But those days are over, those memories  stitched up and haphazardly healed, and stability is no longer something you dream of.

You wander.
You burn.
You are too much for a single person to hold.

You are in Ohio now. You drink chamomile tea, and listen to conspiracy theories, and you wonder if anyone is thinking of you in that very second, if you’re more alive, more cherished in memory. You sit in a coffee shop in New Philadelphia and remember sitting in a similar one in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where the barista complimented your necklace and then fled to the bathroom to vomit. You loved that place.

Someone mentions the phrase “twin flame,” and you realize how much you’ve left behind, and how you don’t regret any of it.

There is so much world to see.

Memories Are Stronger Than Bone

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I met a guy in Moab, and I can’t remember his name. He told me about how he was airlifted off Mount Whitney  along with the body of a dead girl, a girl who went hiking with her fiancé and came down with AMS, but instead of following her down, her fiancé chased the summit and she wandered back alone. They found her in a frozen waterfall, crashed through the ice.

I can’t remember his name. The guy who told me that. I can’t remember his name.

He had a dog, and a Subaru, and worked at a bike shop on the main strip in Moab. He’d moved from Vegas two weeks earlier, leaving behind a wife and a pile of debt. Her pile of debt. I didn’t know about her loans, he told me as we sat in the desert, his voice whisky strong. I didn’t know.

I can’t remember his name.

I can’t remember the name of the guy from Québec I met at the Grand Canyon whom I talked with for two hours in the parking lot. He showed me his renovated van, and we discussed Trump, and California gas prices, and where the hell the closest showers were.

I also can’t remember the name of the woman I met at Lake Tahoe. It was the only time on that trip that I got lost while hiking, and we stumbled our way back to the correct trail together. She was mid-50s with a sparkly blue nose ring and a daughter about my age. How do I become like you, I thought as she talked about rowing on Lake Tahoe in the early, sun-bitten mornings. Her nose ring caught all the light. How do I become like you?

Maybe it’s OK that I can’t remember. After all, names only mean so much. Words too have shortcomings. Because when I say, I loved every minute of it, what I mean is, I’m a different person. And when I say, I’d do it all again, what I’m actually telling you is, None of that’s behind me. 

I think about that guy from Moab often. Is he back with his wife yet? Is he still sleeping in his car? How hung over was he after his night of confessions? I think about him, and everyone I met, and how even the bad days were amazing, and how my skin and muscles felt like home.

This is just the beginning. The adventure continues. I’m chasechasechasing the life I want, and I hope you are, too.