I'll Cross That Bridge . . . Or Not

When my legs were strong. When my heart was strong. When my lungs were strong. When I was strong, I hiked. I hiked up and down. I pushed through streams, water up to my knees. I loved to think about my muscles; to be conscious of how they contracted, how they worked to move me up those hills. On one of my strong days, I made my way down the side of a steep hill and saw a face I will never forget; one that has come to mind many times since I became ill. I passed the woman as she made her way up. One. Step. At. A. Time. She put one foot on each step and then the next. Then she stopped; stood still, waiting for the breath, the strength to get her feet on the next step. I smiled and said hello on my way past; made a comment about how it was a “tough climb”. She agreed but did not smile. Her face was grim. Grim and determined.
I moved on and rounded the trail, breathing it in – – all the sights I loved, the sounds I savored, the feel of it – – breezes through trees, packed earth underfoot, resting my back against rough bark or smooth rock, feet damp from puddles, sliding my finger across soft flower petals, running it along the edges of found feathers watching the barbs spring back into place. I looked back before I began my ascent up the other side and saw her still taking one step and a rest. That was the first time it ever entered my mind – – that one day, hiking could be hard for me, or even impossible. It became a frequent thought, and whenever it surfaced, so did she. I wondered after that, while I buzzed around the trails, how I would feel about life if I could not come back, if I couldn’t see the old growth forest, or the stream filled with stones whose brush with the living was forever hardened on their ancient surfaces. I wondered if the forest would notice my absence.
It has been over two years since I have been there, in the deep parts of the wood. I think of the woman and wonder if she had Lyme disease, like me. Sometimes I make an attempt. I set out on the trail, but am soon stopped by pain, fatigue, a racing heart, and a voracity for the air that surrounds me but somehow can’t find its way to my lungs. From somewhere a bucket of sludge-like exhaustion oozes down upon my head and slowly coats me, it grips my arms and legs in a weight I cannot overcome and drips into my brain, concealing my once clear thoughts in a dark cloud. Was the grim-faced woman making an attempt that day? Taking a stand? Saying to herself, I will get up this hill, and I will be in this forest among these trees and this life?
I tried yesterday. It was a rare trip out of town, already worn from the drive but in a place filled with trails that led to waterfalls, hidden streams, deep, cool caves I could not resist the pull. The trails were crowded. I have never seen a forest so filled with people. The way was precipitous to the most special places so stairs had been added to aid the hikers. The steps were steep and winding; people moved up and down like the notes of a scale played prestissimo. I gripped the rail and started down all the while uncertain if I could get back up. With people pressing on all sides all of my symptoms gathered for attack. I was near the bottom but stopped on a landing, once again searching for air. The crowd moved quickly past, and I had the sensation of being in a city. They were like me when I was strong, and I was like her – – the woman on the stairs. I froze. Anxiety, pain, weakness, fatigue were the bars of my prison. Did any of the passers-by recognize that I was trapped? Did any of them consider that my fate could one day be theirs? I turned around, never taking my hand from the rail. I inhaled deeply and took a few steps back toward to the top just wanting to be on flat earth with no bodies in my space. Then I stopped. I rested. Another step. Stop. Rest.
The top, the end, it had seemed impossible, but I was there and pulling in every molecule of oxygen I could find. My knees ached, the soles of my feet were tender, daggers kept my legs attached to my body, and I was incredibly tired. There was nothing to end the fatigue. Nothing. My husband was there supporting me, keeping me upright. We sat on a bench and faced a bridge. The bridge offered more forest, more wildflowers, more waterfalls, caves, and streams, birds and butterflies, trees and stones. More trail, more pain, more tired, more reality. My husband asked if I wanted to go on. Tears came suddenly. They were angry. They were sad. With broken heart, I knew I would have to go back to the beginning the way we had come. I would not see what lay ahead, only what had already been. I could not cross that bridge.
Lyme feels like this.

Published by

Amy Estoye

Nature nerd, wife, mom, birder - but not a crazy one - amateur lepidopterist. Not a professional photographer but I love taking photos on my tiny adventures. I follow Christ first and birds and butterflies second. The kids are grown - for the most part - so it's time for what I call my "old lady hobbies" and I am going to enjoy them! Besides trekking through the out of doors, I like to garden, knit, sew, write, and read. Welcome to my blog and thanks for reading my words :)

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