In early May, I drove to Maine, alone, for a much needed weekend of hiking in the mountains. My Favorite Niece, ever perceptive and generous, was largely responsible for making this happen. When I had a last minute car issue, she called upon our friend, Sugar Pumpkin, to help me sort it out, then off I went. I promised to repay them both somehow, but all they asked for was a blog post. So this is for them. A little late, and I owe them something funny eventually, but I had to get this out of my system first.
More often than not, May is not my month. The unexpected loss of my father 16 years ago left its mark. And every May since, with the background reset (cue the lilacs) I brace for the worst. In doing so, I subconsciously create chaos, or consciously cut my losses. Or, in a really bad May, I do both.
Last May, was one of those really bad ones. I moved suddenly, lost a friendship, and abruptly ended a relationship with a man I was madly in love with.
The chaos didn’t end there. In the months that followed, there were more changes, both positive and negative. In July, I lost my job, and it was awful. In August, I reunited with the man I was still madly in love with, and it was bliss. In September, I went back to work. In October, I moved again. Then, in November, with hardly a warning, the relationship ended for good, with an “I can’t do this” email, from him.
It could have been worse. Each drama, on its own, was “no disaster“, as Elizabeth Bishop put it in “One Art”, her poem about loss.But the frequent upheaval and disappointments were exhausting. It was like 6 months of May.
The external chaos finally ended in December. I was glad for the arrival of winter, and the way it demands less of us here in New England. Bewildered and dizzy from the year, I took stock. What remained of my life was exactly what I needed to recover: a place of my own, with a claw foot tub; a low stress job in a blessedly quiet office; and an abundance of free time and autonomy. But I also had more sadness and anger than I knew what to do with.
I wish I could tell you that I spent the winter drinking tea, reading Brene Brown and journaling, but it didn’t happen that way. Managing the dips of sadness, the peaks of anger – and the numbness in between – preoccupied me. In these first couple of months, my attempts at self-care were halfhearted, and short lived. I was angry at myself – enough so that I did not believe my wounds deserved attendance, or, that my bad decisions, forgiveness.
At the very least, I understood the healing power of time. In those first months of winter, waiting was the best I could do. So I welcomed snow storms, watched Netflix, and took long baths in my claw foot tub while reading entire issues of Vanity Fair. On weekends, I drove to nearby towns where no one knew me, and walked, or read books in local coffee shops. I ate ice cream, and drank bourbon. Neither tasted like love, but they came close.
After a couple months, when I felt ready to unpack it all, I called my old therapist and got to work. With her help, and with the love of my truest friends, I began to snap out of it. I watched my appetite for things other than ice cream and bourbon come back – like being outside. In April, I woke up one Saturday, drove three hours north, hiked a mountain, then got in my car and drove right back. I was sore for days, but it felt like a start.
It was nearly mid-May when I drove to Maine. I took me until then to remember the May-curse. I was five hours into a drive that was supposed to take four, and frustrated. There had been traffic, then dense fog followed by heavy rain. At hour five, Google Maps estimated another twenty-five minutes to my hotel.
But it didn’t factor in the frogs. The last twenty mile stretch of road happened to be through a marshy, wild area that is prime frog habitat. When it rains, and especially in the spring, frogs often leap onto roads looking for warmth, or food, or sex. I had forgotten about the phenomenon, despite witnessing it on prior trips north.
The road I was on was alive with frogs. There were so many. But there wasn’t anything I could do to avoid hitting them. I was on a two lane road in an area called – I kid you not – the “Unorganized Territory of South Oxford”. It was pitch black. There was no alternate route, nowhere to pull over, no friendly country cafe to pause in. And besides, the rain wasn’t ending anytime soon. There was no sense in stopping.
So I drove and squished a thousand frogs. I cringed constantly, and kept reflexively yelling “Sorry!” to them. I whispered “what the fuck?”, over and over again. I wondered what it all meant, the traffic, the fog, the rain – and now frogs? Was this another “fuck you” from the universe? Was this the start of another cursed May?
It took me 45 minutes to drive the remaining 20 miles.
The next morning, with coffee in hand and hiking shoes on, I drove on dry roads to a trail head, and thought about the frogs. I felt for them. I mean, I went looking for warmth and food and sex (well, love) last year, and I too got crushed. But I stopped this line of thought when I remembered my new policy against self-pity, and my old policy against anthropomorphism.
And did every last thing need to be a reminder of him?
Or of my shitty year?
On my first hike of the day, I admitted that it was simply a mix of decisions and timing that brought me to that road. Not to mention other factors beyond my control, like weather – or the civil engineering that went into cutting a road through a marshy forest.
While hiking, I also realized that the factors that had me murdering frogs the night before were the same factors that brought me to the wild, beautiful, breathtaking waterfall I’d just reached. The difficult drive wasn’t symbolic of anything other than the fact that life is sometimes chaos, and sometimes calm. We might think we’re in control, but we just barely are. Things can fall apart in a heartbeat, and we can wreck them in one too. My year was one long lesson in that.
When May ended, I realized that I managed to not fuck anything up, consciously or subconsciously. One bad drive aside, it was a good month, though I can’t explain why. Maybe the spell is finally broken. Maybe therapy works. Maybe going away helped. Maybe I’d finally mastered “the art of losing”. Time will help me figure it out. Right now though, I’d rather move forward, and not worry too much about being squished again.
More Frogs, Less Pain,