I knew MJ and I needed some time for ourselves to reconnect. I just had no idea how urgent that need was.
It seems we get bad news at home every day. Being threatened with lawsuits for not having enough money. Our bank fails to read paperwork and act accordingly. Our car insurance company still hasn’t sent a check to fix my car after I was rear-ended last week. And, of course, MJ’s adjustments to the new meds, which make her mood and temperament a nearly lethal game of Russian Roulette.
Basically our home serves as a reminder of what we can’t afford, what we’re about to lose and is a symbol of everything that is wrong in our lives.
So we escaped to the smallest of small towns in Denmark, Maine for a weekend of camping. No kid and no dog. The first time we’ve camped in four long years. We got up to Granger Pond campground close to sunset and it was just freaking beautiful, as the picture to the left attests. We could tell right away we’d love it there. Everyone was SUPER nice. Within two minutes of arriving, Paul and Sue—the owners—made us feel like we were old friends. And a nice guy named Frank offered to take me out fishing right then and there before we had even unpacked.
But the best thing about it was the air.
On Cape Cod I smell the salt air all day. Some people love that, but not me. I love the mountains and the country. And the air in Maine stimulates my olfactory senses to the nth degree. I take one whiff and I’m simultaneously energized and at ease. And happy. Breathing that air is a privilege, almost like a reward for good behavior. It’s the kind of sensory memory you revert to when you need to find a happy place. And we found it.
But despite our happiness with our surroundings, we were still slightly ill at ease. Probably because after three-plus years of constantly caring for Will, combined with the recent months of merely trying to survive MJ’s medical maladies, it seemed we didn’t exactly know what to talk about. Not to mention the wood we bought was crap and wouldn’t burn, so we didn’t have a fire. We went to bed disappointed and worried the weekend would be a wash.
When we awoke Saturday morning I was determined to have a great time. So I quickly jumped online and searched for the nearest easy day hike. A Google search later and we were off to nearby Mt. Cutler.
Perhaps I should’ve read the hike description a little more carefully. Or stopped to realize that the “Mt” stands for mountain. But what can I say? I was excited to be out and doing something with my wife. Which is probably why I decided flip-flops would be adequate footwear.
From the moment we started on the trail, it was clear this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. It was steep from the get-go. Really steep. And it stayed that way.
At first it was exhilarating because the scenery was beautiful. Huge rocks that we had to scale and narrow passages with precipitous peril lurking just beyond the ledge. It definitely got the blood pumping.
But soon trouble started.
First of all, I’m not proud to admit that the way I’ve been dealing with our struggles lately is by eating. I’m huge. As in 265 lbs. Which would be OK if I were 6’5″ and built like a linebacker. But I’m 5’10″ and out of shape. So picture a fat guy hiking and climbing up 60-degree inclines…in flip-flops.
But while my problems were physical, MJ’s were mental. After more than an hour of strenuous hiking, it appeared we were nowhere close to the summit. We rounded a corner hoping to see relief, but instead we saw an even steeper route up the mountain. MJ began to get panicked and started to have an anxiety attack.
I wanted to be sensitive and tell her we could turn around. But I couldn’t.
Somewhere between the parking lot and that point on the mountain, this had become more than just a hike. I don’t know how or why, but it transformed into a referendum on our marriage. I suddenly felt like this hike was the most important thing in the world, and the fate of our marriage hinged on the outcome.
Maybe it was all the disappointments and hardships as of late. Or frustration with feeling like I’m losing my wife to a condition I have no real way of combating. Whatever the reason, I knew there was no way we were turning back. And I’m not afraid to say I got emotional and delivered a fairly impassioned speech to MJ right there on the side of the mountain. I tearfully told her she could make it. That we could make it. That we HAD to make it.
And so we forged ahead. Exhausted, limping and moving at a snail’s pace. But moving nonetheless. Until…
I won’t lie, it was emotional at the top of Mt. Cutler on Saturday.
I’m proud of us. Proud because we proved a lot to each other. I needed to know I could count on MJ to push herself beyond her comfort zone and achieve a goal. And I needed to see if I have what it takes to stick out the difficult times when I feel the challenges are too great to overcome. I needed to know we could get through things together.
This hike was not at all unlike marriage in general.
I don’t care how ready you think you are, you can never be totally prepared for the ups and downs that come with sharing a life together. Like wearing flip-flops for a mountainous hike, I was completely ill-prepared for the trajectory of our lives. But despite the hurt and the pain, you trudge through. You rely on one another for strength, always make sure you’re moving in the right direction and don’t stop until you get to the top.
Some people ask what’s the point? You work like hell to get to the top and then what? You stay there for a short while and then have to make your way back down.
My answer is simple. With apologies to Miley Cyrus, it’s all about the climb.
For better or worse, what I love about marriage is getting to experience a journey with the woman I love. To enjoy the good times, weather the bad and take pleasure in an adventure that lasts a lifetime. So when someone asks me what the reward is after you make it to the summit, I don’t hesitate with my answer. The reward is being lucky enough to continue the trek all the way to its end. Together.
MJ and I did more than climb a small mountain in southwestern Maine on Saturday. We renewed ourselves. Our marriage. We recommitted to one another and provided each other reassurance that we can do it. Despite the odds and all the bullshit that life can conjure up, we can make it.
Turns out that feeling of security was put to the test just hours later. Come back later in the week for Part II of our camping trip. But first, enjoy a little video.