October 1, 2010

Plowing through dirt, dust and spelling tests

When I was in the first grade a mean, old crotchety and possibly repressed lesbian teacher named Ms. Tipton would give us spelling tests on the overhead projector. Frank would turn off the lights and for about twenty minutes we’d sit in the dark and scribble the words she’d bark out to the class. After each word, she’d project the correct spelling onto the big screen; quite a dramatic approach to spelling. One afternoon before the lights were turned off, I approached Ms. Tipton.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I timidly whispered.

“We’re taking our spelling test now, get back to your seat,” she snarled with her stale coffee breath.

Defeated, I returned to my chair and waited for the darkness to come. During the test I had trouble concentrating since I was using every cell in my body to hold back the gallon of piss in my tiny bladder. Finally I reached my breaking point and in a moment of utter desperation I let loose. I’ll never forget the warm relief that catapulted throughout my body as the piss saturated my pants. Reminds me of the first time I drank incredibly amazing red wine in Napa Valley – pure bliss flooded through my veins and for a brief moment I was in sync with the ecstasy of life.

The sweet relief only lasted about two minutes and the drenched pants grew cold, leaving me shivering in my chair. I made the colossal mistake of telling my “friend” Heather what had happened. She promptly got up and conspired with a group students, so when Frank turned on the lights and announced, “There’s a puddle of water under Simone’s chair”, another young boy from across the room yelled out, “That’s not water, that’s pee!” Laughter ensued and I was sent to the nurse’s office for my mom to pick me up. But not before Ms. Tipton asked me why I didn’t just leave the room to use the bathroom.

Her inquiry left me baffled. Why would I deprive myself of such a basic human need? Was it my fear of authority, or my people pleasing? That event subconsciously planted an enduring message into my impressionable brain – plow through and ignore your needs. And if you piss your pants don’t tell anyone.

A couple days ago I was hiking on Gridley Trail – turns out the county doesn’t clearly mark the signposts and I ended up on an entirely different trail and got lost without a person in sight. I turned a corner and spotted a dog, “Oh good, his owner must be nearby!” But when that ratty little creature stood up, I realized that was no dog – that was a mutherfucking coyote. I was beyond exhausted after trudging ten miles through the mountains in the high heat for almost four hours and – get this – no water.

I stood in the middle of a path, stranded and dehydrated, and came to a moment of complete rout. I didn’t know what to do – should I walk back and try to find the other trail, or should I forge ahead in hopes to get to a main road? The objective was to walk as little as possible without crumbling to my death. Which direction would be the shorter route? I collapsed to the ground and prayed like a whore in church on that dusty path, my salty face buried in the palms of my filthy hands. Earlier I had come to a breakthrough in my writing, and now my brilliant solution would die with me on the Los Padres Mountains.

The tears stopped, although I don’t think there were actual tears because my body was deplete of water, and I calmed down enough to hear a small voice inside say, keep going forward (you over-dramatic idiot), there’s a road ahead, and construction workers who can help you… I pulled my weary body off the ground and plowed head.

I had just one more panic attack when I came around a bend and the scenery looked exactly the same as a mile back. I thought that evil mountain was fucking with me, as in “The Blair Witch Project”. Instead I trusted the little voice and kept walking until I reached Foothill Road. I heard the sound of a large machine, the kind that moves dirt on construction sites and I wobbled my way onto the private property. I’m pretty sure I looked very similar to Chevy Chase in “Vacation” after he had walked through the desert. Delirious and insane.

“Excuse me,” I gasped to a Latino man next to his truck. “I’m lost. I’ve been hiking since 10 a.m. and I don’t have water. And I’m lost. And I’m freaking out.” My lips stuck to my teeth like Fire Marshall Bill.

“Do you want some water?” He laughed and pointed to a giant orange cooler. They didn’t have cups but I didn’t care, I leaned under the spout and let the water pour into my desiccated mouth. The relief that quenched my cracked lips and erupted down my throat was better than any glass of red wine, pissing after holding it in for too long, and possibly even better than sex. Yes, it was better than sex.

When one is so close to death, any ounce of pride is shot out the window, and I had no problem begging those men to please give me a ride back to my car because, “I would rather curl up on the side of the road and die than walk another inch.” They laughed and while I appreciated they got my humor, I really just wanted a fucking ride. The dude on the plow truck spewed off directions to get me back to my car that sounded a lot like a shit ton of walking. I looked down at my feet and sighed, “Fuuuuuck.”

He saw my resignation. Also, he realized I wasn’t going anywhere, so he jumped down and walked to his truck to give me a ride. Good thing he did because my car was three miles away and there was no way I would have made it back. I had already gone 13 miles. I was done.

Some new lessons were ingrained in my brain to replace the old ones that definitely are not working. I can safely say from now on if I ever go hiking I’ll bring water and possibly a cell phone (maybe a gun for random coyotes or sabertooth tigers).

The real lesson learned: Stop pushing myself so hard and depriving myself of basic human needs.

Had I listened to my body I would have turned around long before and with a clear mind stayed on the right trail back to my car. Instead I drove myself to the brink of delirium and made a poor choice that landed me down a path of potential doom.

I’m glad my mom never taught me not to talk to strangers because one saved my life that day.

Thanks, Cory – may you always have plenty of dirt to plow.

Keep writing. It saves lives.