Traveling Outside My Comfort Zone

photo of a large steel sculpture of a fish with a red heart near its tail. white snow is on the ground and there is more light snow falling.

I’ve recently returned from the first vacation I’ve had in four years. And it wasn’t just any vacation… it was a bucket list vacation. I traveled to Chena Hot Springs outside Fairbanks, Alaska with one of my closest friends to see the Northern Lights.

The first time I went to Alaska was in the summer of 1988. My boyfriend and I drove the “AlCan” from Santa Rosa California to Fairbanks Alaska in a dark brown Econoline van. There was a bed in the back and bug netting on the windows to keep from getting eaten alive by Alaska’s famous mosquitos. It was an exhausting, beautiful adventure I will never forgot, even though my boyfriend and I split up the following year. I swore I’d go back to Alaska one day and finally I did, this time in the Fall.

Fall in the Alaskan interior is icy but not yet frigid. The snow is new and it sparkles like it is covered in silver glitter. The sky looks dark blue against all that crisp white. I had no idea how much I would love the sound of snow under my feet; it really does crunch! I’m a California girl who doesn’t ski so couldn’t imagine how cold 12 degrees really is. But once I figured out how to wrap a scarf properly to keep the cold off the back of my neck, I fell in love with the touch and scent of that shivering, dry air.

And we saw the Northern Lights! It was a cloudy night so we assumed we’d miss them, but at 1:30 in the morning, the clouds thinned and a section of the Western sky opened. There was a bright white glow, tinted yellow, with absinth green streaks radiating from the top and spreading across the sky over our head, softly visible through the thicker clouds. It was quiet and still in the night and the cold pressed against my snow boots and two pairs of socks but I was transfixed. I didn’t care that we only saw one tiny piece of the Aurora Borealis; I saw the Aurora! A child hood dream at the top of my bucket list had come true.

photo of a woman in a red coat leaning against a large steel sculpture of a dragon. There is snow on the ground and on the sculpture.

This trip was more than a bucket list adventure, it was also to test my ability to let go of control and leave Rhia at home for several days. I have left her with one of her dads for weekend now and then, but this trip was different. Rhia’s needs are more complex and her health more tenuous. I flew a thousand miles away to the wilderness with limited cell service, trusting that my father, her dad and both of her caregivers could take proper care of her and handle any emergencies that might happen. I was nervous and felt guilty, but I went.

And Rhia was fine. She missed me, but instead of punishing me with angry outbursts and demands as usual, she asked, “Did you have fun with your friend?” My dad said she only yelled at him twice when he forgot to do something. Nothing bad happened when I left. She didn’t fall or get sick or stop breathing or any of the hundreds of terrors I imagined before I forced myself to pick up my suitcase and go to the airport.

Rhia has matured and I’m learning to let go of being in control of her well being. Perhaps I can go on another trip next year, maybe a longer trip, even farther away.

Where in the world should I go?

photo of four yellow sunflowers encased in a rectangular block of ice.

An Open Letter to my Stalker

Congratulations. You win. I’m scared. You swear that’s not what you want but after I’ve repeatedly asked you to leave me alone, what else can I believe from your actions? I think you enjoy messing with my head. And because of you, I almost stopped writing. I almost deleted my blog and considered changing my name when my book is published. But even though I know you read every word, which makes me cringe, I won’t be silent. Not ever again.

I tried responding to your messages on Facebook, but for some weird reason I couldn’t write back to you. I could only read the messages you sent. It looks like when I blocked you, Facebook decided that meant you could keep writing me but I couldn’t write back. Perhaps that’s for the best; there are thousands of people experiencing this same situation, both as the person being stalked and as the person who is obsessed. Maybe this letter will help others, too.

I was sorry to read that you are in so much pain and I truly hope in time you find some peace. However, you are writing to me as if I’m still that scared 19 year old girl you locked in the bathroom and threatened to kill. I assure you, I am not. That was 35 years ago. The little girl is gone and in her place is a 55 year old woman with gray hair who is fully capable of taking care of herself. The only person still in that bathroom or experiencing the harm you caused is you.

You keep asking for my forgiveness. I can forgive you as a human being because I know you were struggling with substance abuse, but I cannot forgive your actions. The only person who can forgive you is you. You also say you are in a program and want to make amends to me. You’ve done that, several times. Stop trying to make amends. They are causing pain. Go back to a meeting and focus on Step 9:

Made direct Amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would harm them or others.

The best way you can make amends to me is to stop trying.

You’ve mentioned my daughter recently, writing how beautiful she is and how much she reminds you of me. I need you to take a moment and think about what you are doing. Now, imagine you are in a forest and you see an adorable bear cub. You don’t mean any harm, you’re just looking. Suddenly, Mama Bear appears from nowhere to defend her cub. You have zero intention of harming the cub but Mama Bear doesn’t know that. What is the most dangerous creature in the world? A mother defending her offspring.

I am that Mama Bear. Let that image replace the image you hold so tightly of me at age 19. I am not writing this to embarrass or threaten you, I am simply telling you or the fiftieth time in 20 years, in this open letter that I know you are reading right now, to stop contacting me.

Forgive yourself. Move on with your life.

I have.