The Inconvenient Body

I am still surprised by details of living, by things that never cross your mind to question until you find yourself facing it.  The things I want to call administrative, though that isn’t really the right term for it.  How, in a goodbye, there is never the swelling moment of music, the fade to black.  How you can find yourself sitting on the floor with your sister, shocked at the amount of ashes your father became. The weight of them. The ridiculous polka-dot box you have in front of you to send him home to your house across the country because, while it’s legal to fly with someone, it’s illegal to fly with their remains.

Let me backtrack. Life is full of moments that are ridiculous.  After my dad’s memorial my sister and I had a box and had to do something with the substance that used to be my dad. I’m not trying to be cold in this—the body laid out that memorial wasn’t my father—it was just what was left behind.  No smile, no gesture, no laughter.  But you still have to do something with it, and so he was cremated. I remember when we scattered my grandmother’s ashes, so it shouldn’t have surprised me just how much substance there was.  My dad was a large man, and even through sickness he was still tall, even if he’d lost a lot of weight.  We opened the box; the funeral home had put ash in bags for us, but even so, there was more than we knew what to do with. We thought, ok, we don’t want urns, but maybe we can find nice wooden boxes, like something my dad would have made. Maybe there’s something nice at a place to buy tea—a nice wooden box that’s not meant for a body but feels more true to our father.

We found ourselves at the Short Hills mall, walking into Tevanna, looking at the shelves in despair. Everything nice was so small, and everything large was made of china and, well, looked like an urn.  A guy came up to us to see if he could help, and stutteringly we explained that we were looking for something like a tea container, but larger. “Well, how much tea are you keeping?” And, instead of doing the kind thing, where we kept to our story, we spilled out that, in fact, we were looking for something to put ashes into, because our dad had just died, and we thought maybe…

The guy blinked, and then rolled with it. He laughed to join in with our awkward stumbling laughter and looked down at the box in his hand. “Yeah, this is pretty small.” He looked around the store and pointed at a shelf with elaborate white china with blue willow type patterns dancing across their shape. “I’m sure you saw those but… too urn-like, right?” We nodded.  He checked a few more places, but kept returning with things too small or made of too much delicate china. “Maybe try Williams Sonoma? Kitchen N Things?”

We walked out and stood for a moment.  My dad liked cooking—Williams Sonoma was a frequent stop on our holiday shopping lists.  Perhaps it’s fitting that we walked from kitchen store to kitchen store, looking for one last present for him, settling on double walled stainless steel container from Crate & Barrel and a story that involved less detail to the hapless staff trying to assist two grieving and laughing sisters.

Would my dad have been upset? I don’t think so. I think he would have laughed and retold the story in his quiet way, sitting a little back from the crowd at a family party.  There are lately so many things I would have liked to ask him, there are so many stories I want to share.  I still find myself wanting those cinematic stops—his body lifting lightly in the wind off of Rainier when we scatter him.  In all actuality I suspect that when I eventually reach the summit the wind will tear him from me.  I know that I won’t be able to bring the whole container of ashes—each ounce matters and I think he’d rather I take water than a coffee container.  I’ll get back to my apartment after all is said and done and there most of him will be, still waiting on my book shelf.  I’ll be tired and sore.  It might be my first attempt, it might be a later attempt—weather cares little for what your plans are, what ceremony is intended.

There are no nice bows to wrap things up, there are no good endings.  He died years ago now, and still I am angry that I can’t tell him about the first 5.12 I climbed in the gym, about the multi-pitches I did in Mexico. I can’t call him from Oregon this Thanksgiving or send him pictures of my friends, our hands chalky, our skin sunburnt. I’m angry I can’t talk to him about when he met my mom, I can’t tell him shyly about a man I like or tell him, after it’s all gone to hell, about how I’m still trying to figure my life out.  I don’t know if my friends know what the silver container on my shelf is, but it’s my dad.  Because bodies suck and his betrayed him and now, because his gave out, I have to be stronger than I was then. And I am, I’m getting there.

Vantage, WA

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Ladies’ Night (and day, and week, and year…)

It’s been a difficult few weeks.  I’ll leave it that– for once it’s something that belongs as far away from public eyes as possible.  As I’m someone who shares much of my life publicly, it’s been different to be working on projects and taking time to myself– different but necessary.  I’m working on a series of portraits again, thanks to my friend Tim’s generosity, and I’m trying to get into a stronger climbing schedule. I’m doing things, and things, and things.  I’m just doing them a little more cautiously, a little more quietly.

Part of the shift in my life has involved a real re-allocation of time and a re-focus on many of my friendships, both new and old.  Tonight I sat to think about it and realized how many women have been part of this.  It’s incredible.  The past few nights I’ve sprawled on a friends’ couch to help her make Halloween props, I’ve sat in the sauna until my head was nearly swimming, I’ve climbed and climbed, I’ve tried on clothing and I’ve sat with a pile of guidebooks at the Noble Fir plotting more adventure.  I’ve laughed, I’ve cried a little, I’ve fallen, I’ve walked in the rain, I’ve even gotten a little stoked on ski season.

I’m sitting on my couch right now after watching Pretty Faces with one of the most amazing women I have the good fortune to call my friend.  The theater was full of families– troops of girls out to see women ski and talk about skiing.  Hearing their excitement it’s hard not to want to get excited myself.  I’m not just talking about skiing (though that’s part of it) but about inspiration.  The ability to inspire someone is truly amazing.  It’s one of the reasons I love being part of She Rocks.  There’s something incredibly powerful about a bunch of women, and just women, doing something together.  Sure– I bet some of the videographers and folks who helped out were guys– we’re not on an island of women here.  When we go to Smith to climb this Thanksgiving, we’re not blocking off the park to men.  But it’ll be mostly just us, ladies, climbing together.  We’ll be rope gunning for each other, we’ll be pushing ourselves and shivering in the cold and warming our own hands.

When I moved out here I felt like I had a very difficult time befriending other women.  I have a tattoo on my ankle, a girl with her arm outstretched, done by one of my best friends, the night before she got married, with her sister and her mom in the chairs next to us, and I felt like it was only in ink that I would have my women with me.  I was without a team, without a tribe.  I still love the men I knew then, they are still important to me and I don’t pretend like the life I have now could exist without their support and love.  It couldn’t.  I have the life now because of where I was then.  But it feels damn good to have women in my life in such a great way.

So here’s to my girls, my women, my friends. You inspire me more than you can really know.

From the beginning of the summer, with Dyan and Sarah.

From the beginning of the summer, with Dyan and Sarah.