“Am I only dreaming? Or is this burning an Eternal Flame?” ~The Bangles

It’s already been a week since I returned home from my belated birthday hiking trip around Mt. Ranier and while the photos remind me of the inspiration of the Cascades, my words fail me. But if I don’t write about it now, I wont write about it at all, as I failed to write about last year’s bday hiking trip through Banff in Canada.

For weeks and days leading up to the rescheduled trip, I watched the weather reports and the hikers notes on All Trails. Sixties and seventies, they all reported. So I packed for 60’s and 70’s. Day one, it was 60’s and 70’s. Days two and three, it was in the 30’s and I had nothing but a windbreaker. No gloves, no hat. No thermals. But I came to hike so frostbite be damned. I managed to keep my digits and most of my dignity intact. The last two days of trudging were a bit like my military experiences: glorious and miserable. Learn to love the suck and feel pride that you endured when others would have said “hell, no.”

I had plenty of company on these hikes too for a change. I usually hike alone to avoid the pressure of keeping pace with someone else or the obligation of any schedule other than my own. But this time, I had friends and acquaintances coming out to meet me readily. My close Army friend, S, who’s sofa I crashed on, my long-time Marine friend “M”, both of who I’ve mentioned here previously. And an old radio acquaintance and true mountaineer who drove in from Yakima to accompany me on that final, snowy third day.

The first day was by far perfect in weather and scenery even if I was distracted by self-conscious feelings of inadequacy from the moment “M”, a stoic John Wayne type, stepped out of the car looking just as much a Marine as ever despite the face scruff and shaggy hair. “You look like a goddamned hippie” I said as I embraced him for the first time in a decade. We both had changed but time had softened and broken me whereas it further chiseled and hardened him. “S” in full wingman mode paved a baited path that went untouched and while I was touched by his matchmaking efforts, it made me hyper-aware of percieved rejection. Like a full plate of hot, salty fries neglected on the table. Who wastes it?

Many reasons why the opportunity may have gone ignored but of course I got hung up on the one: he’s not interested. Ten years ago, both in uniform, the timing was not in our favor when M admitted feelings for me. Now that the path is seemingly clear, he was no longer hungry. Maybe his dick doesn’t work, I inevitably wondered. Sad how that thought always crosses my mind now if a man catches my attention.

But otherwise, it was a long overdue trip that was better than I had expected, rejection and freezing rain aside. My rehabilitated foot held up over nearly 40 miles of rugged terrain while conversations bounced from serious debates to bowel movements to dating over the hill to Belinda Carlisle (which resulted in us =singing “Eternal Flame” up and down the mountain trails). And I reconnected in person with people that give a damn about me. There are still a few left. Even if the one I built up in my head didnt want me for dinner.

“Touch me again and I’ll drown you, you bastard” Mrs. Doubtfire

Got an email today from one of my cabaret ladies that upset me to the point of ruin. I think we managed to hash it out but it’s still clings to me. When did I become the bitch that nobody likes? Most of my life I was a people pleaser, how can I help? That burden looks heavy, here let me carry that for you… And then a few years ago I realized but the people I thought where my friends at the time absolutely drained me and couldn’t even remember my birthday even when we shared it. The birthday is not important but the fact that it was a one-sided relationship. I had a lot of friends but when I took inventory of who would step up in my time of need should I need anyone, my answer was crickets. So I began doing things by myself and for myself. Now I have a small cultivated, tolerant handful of friends. I’m not mean. I just put myself first more than I used to.

But this email made me realize that the alienation I’ve been feeling was not entirely in my head. People were put off by my sullen attitude but rather than asking what was wrong, and I may or may not have admitted to anything, they just kept letting it rub them the wrong way until I was alone in a corner at rehearsals and the last show. Again, I think with a bit of communication on all of our parts, we can get past this but it still ruined my day.

No, more than ruined my day. Left me sick to my stomach wondering if I should quit. Maybe they wanted me to. Maybe everyone would breathe a little easier if I tapped out. I was going down that rabbit hole. And of all people, Robin Williams popped into my head. Now aside from the clinical depression, I don’t for a minute draw a personal comparison to the humor and talent that man had but my point is, here is a man who is successful, and beloved by most of the world. And he killed himself. We assume often I think that someone kills themself because they are lonely. True, it’s difficult to connect. But I think there is an irrational voice that tries to convince us not only that we are not loved but worse, we are not LIKED.

It’s difficult when you feel like you have no one close enough to talk to, and if you did they wouldn’t understand, or there are certain aspects of your job and the day to day war that you can’t discuss. I met with my VA psychiatrist for a biannual follow up a couple of months ago right after C was killed and she asked if I needed to speak to someone and I combusted and nodded. She said she would put in a referral to the social worker. That was two months ago and I’ve heard nothing. But I even suspect the VA social worker is too burned out to give a damn about my problems. And I’m probably not high-risk enough to warrant a speedy appointment. But really, I don’t want to talk to someone that I feel can’t relate. Or worse, doesn’t LIKE me.

Back to war tomorrow. Next weekend I will be punishing my body in an attempt to heal my spirit hiking a few days around the Cascades. I’ll be with retired Army and retired Marines. And there probably won’t be a single war story between us. I’m looking forward to it.