January 7, 2014
Over the edge. That’s a very genuine concern I’ve had as a mountain citizen. Staying up here, not falling over the edge, I mean. And I’m sure I’m not in a minority. It happens all too often; a vibrant life taken by a curve, a boulder, a patch of ice, another driver. Going over the edge is the risk we mountain folk take living a life which propels us along a highway called Rim of the World, many of us climbing up and down and far into the tangled freeways below on a regular, if not constant, basis. I tuck the fear away and try to imagine myself connected to the road, guided by an invisible yet powerful track that won’t ever allow me to really experience that dream sequence free-fall into nothing. You know the one. That’s my secret for staying on the Rim. But it’s more than the roads; it’s the life. The life above. The views, the air, the bears, the lake. Knowing you’ve been granted something very rare, somehow you’ve been allowed to live for a while in a place of great beauty.
We’ve been approaching that edge, my husband and I, none-the-less, for quite some time. As much as we’ve tried to maintain our security here, the ground has been relentlessly slipping away beneath us. It began, as far I can tell, about the time my brother became ill and we brought him to live with us. I had idolized him all of my life. My husband loved him dearly. Despite our efforts, hopes, and our very deep love, we soon realized that he wasn’t going to get better, was in fact getting worse, and that we weren’t going to be able to save his life. Slip.
That was also a time of financial hardship for much of the country. While my job was secure, there were no foreseeable raises, and benefits were costing more. My husband, used to working long hours and getting plenty of overtime, was reduced to part-time hours and part-time wages. Slip.
Soon, my emergency appendectomy, a surprise in itself, removed another wedge of stability when we learned the appendix had contained a rare goblet cell adenocarcinoid tumor. Slip.
I began to hear a quiet rumble. Felt it under my feet and inside my soul.
Mike was no longer working at all.
Billy was so sick.
I was scheduled for surgery and then chemotherapy.
Over the edge. Slipping. Fearing a violent end. Praying for peace.
When Billy died, so did a part of me. We mourned him as we tried to maintain our balance, still on the edge, and teetering. Within two weeks, our dear old dog died. She had refused to eat after losing Billy. Then our darling seventeen-year-old cat followed.
We lived in a house of death, set on top of a purple mountain, surrounded by deep green forests, and lit by gentle sun and easy moon. I held on to the beauty, clung to it for life, dug my heels into the slivering earth wanting nothing more than stability…that and an end to death and was that too much to ask?
Those months, those years, did take us over the edge. And we’re leaving the mountain now. But not into the abyss. We chose Wisconsin, instead. It’s pretty flat there, and Mike has a new job. It’s a bittersweet compromise. My grown children and grandchildren will be so far away. They are sad, and I am torn. I trust we will find wonderful new ways to connect, both in Wisconsin and back here in California when I’m able to visit. I’m also leaving friends, a church family, and the amazing students, teachers, administrators, and staff of Rim of the World Unified School District. A career that’s given me a heart so full that I know I will never be lonely. A community I love.
But we didn’t fall off the mountain. We leave here whole and nourished. Back at sea level, Mike begins a new job doing what he loves most. I will rest and write and maybe escape the ghosts I loved and left up in a beautiful place, on the edge of a continent, a place called Lake Arrowhead.