From time to time I will be posting pages from a book I am finishing. I hope you enjoy these lessons:
In the winter of 2010 I find myself alone on a mountain top in an old motel living with the ghosts of regrets. My two youngest are still dealing with the changes of the “poor life” versus their other life of luxuries. Our home is a modest one. My best friend and business partner leaves to work for weeks at a time in the airline business. I don’t know anyone in this town. I am engulfed in my own thoughts and haunting. I don’t want to fail. I cannot fail. Each freezing day that passes I want to return to the old places of familiarity.
The winter is the worst seen in many years on these mountains. The pipes freeze and I am left without water for eight days. Two weeks prior to this ordeal the basement floods. There’s a monsoon of waterfalls coming through the walls. The house is mourning and so am I. I sit on the steps looking and listening to the cries. I join the basement in this release. I don’t know how much more I can take. Was moving here a mistake? What will my family think? I cannot return to the life I had in Florida. I cannot go anywhere without money. I am alone. I am cold and alone in a way I haven’t felt in years. If stubbornness was a degree I would have a PhD in it. I think this is what keeps me moving on auto pilot at this time. I don’t know. What do I know about living in these mountains that seem to be taking me to places of unknown assurance?
The days are gloom. My entire essence is going against this terrain. Now, on the fifth day without water, I decide to go to the frozen pond and grab a bucket full from the excess trickling down the mountain side. It is two degrees outside. I am in my pajamas, hair up on a bun, and water boots to guide my slippery path. I go down frozen steps, iced and slick just like the pond. I stand on the ice waiting for the trickling to fill the bucket so I can flush toilets. I have a half-full bucket when I decide I am cold. It’s enough for one flushing. I make it up three steps when I hit an ice chunk and I tumble down the steps on my ass dumping the icy water on my legs. I am wet, cold, sore and angry as hell. I yell to the heavens, “Is this all you have? Really! Keep giving it to me and I will continue to take it. If I am not supposed to be here then show me a freaking sign so I can leave.” The valley is quiet. The voice travels and echoes through the dead-ness of winter. I am so tired of this crap.
I enter the house and cry on the floor in front of the fireplace. I have no money to get someone to fix the broken pipes. They need to thaw and I need to as well. I am frozen in my emotions as I cannot figure anything out. I don’t know exactly what I am supposed to do at this point. I go downstairs to my basement bedroom where the water has frozen in places. The large part of my shoes had to be thrown out. I am down to nothing in my ability to think or find a positive outlet. These are the moments that bring me to my knees.
I think of these mountains, the Appalachian Trail, the beauty and serenity of winter. I am traumatized by all the white stuff on the ground. I am not made for this cold. I cannot stay warm. I am afraid of the heaters being on too long and causing a fire. I am afraid of the gas fireplace leaking gas while we sleep. I make sure the kids have warmth upstairs in their rooms but I have nothing downstairs in the dungeon. I wrap myself in layers and wait for sun and warmth. It is months before I feel heat on my shoulders. It is years before I recognize the power of these lessons. I am stripped down to nothing. Even my favorite shoes are gone. I wait for a sign and it doesn’t arrive until I am ready to conquer my ego and self-worth issues.
The next morning it dawns on me that I have antiques I can go sell. I have an engagement ring that I can pawn off for food and fixing the well and pipes. I grab a hold of everything in a box and trek down the mountain, avoiding the black ice that has taught me to tread carefully for days now. I go to an antique warehouse in Asheville. I enter with four bottles that are full of liquor and have a music box with a ballerina dancing in the bottle. They are worth something. The Dutch company has been out of business for over thirty years. I know their worth.
Two of the bottles get purchased. I then ask if they buy jewelry and immediately I take the ring that my ex had given me under false pretenses and place it on the counter. The woman checks the diamonds and asks what I want for it. I tell her that I don’t know and to make me an offer.
She offers me two hundred dollars and I tell her I will take it. But then something magical happens as she starts to write the check. She closes her checkbook and tells me, “You know this ring is worth more than $200?”
“Yes, I know.” I stare into her eyes.
“I can’t buy this from you at that price, ma’am.” She hands me the ring and I place it in my pocket. She looks at me and the remaining bottles, “You know God provides tests all the time. Some of us pass them and some of us fail. You have made me question my character. I almost failed another test from HIM. Do you understand this?”
I say to her, “Sweetie, I am humbled by the fact that you didn’t rip me off. I have no sentimental value to the ring. I would take the $200 if you care to buy it.”
She says, “Thank God. I just cannot write the check. I cannot rip you off like that.” Her eyes get glossy and she smiles in such a sympathetic way. She asks, “What is the story behind the ring?”
I tell her it was given to me by my ex and it was to cover up his infidelities at that time. I couldn’t wear the ring and had not worn in years. I want to tell her that it’s okay. I am okay with letting it go. I want to eat something other than Ramen noddles, pay for my pipes to be fixed, and maybe take the kids to a movie. I want to buy water so I can wash dishes. I don’t share any of this.
I tell her thank you for her honesty in regards to the value, but as I am walking out of the store she says, “Miss, you are like that ballerina in the bottle. Don’t ever underestimate yourself. You are stronger and more graceful than you can imagine.”
I walk out with tears racing down my cheeks. I had not shared the story of the bottles and my childhood. I don’t tell her that when I was six years old, in one of many Houdini acts, my father showed up with a similar bottle as a gift to my mother. I remember standing by the dining room table watching the ballerina dance inside the gold liquor while my parents argued in the kitchen. I wanted to be just like the ballerina: graceful, thin, beautiful and oblivious to my surroundings.
As I get in my car I realize that I am finally that graceful little thing inside of a bottle dancing to a French melody. I have become the grace that carries me and pushes me towards the rhythm of God’s tune. I know this. And forever I will be grateful to this stranger for pointing it out that I am stronger than I think. I am the embodiment of grace and forgiveness.
I now have some money. I stop for food and I return up the mountain with a bucket full of hope, grace and peace until the next lesson these mountains choose to bestow upon me. .