I realized recently that I identify as a “city-slicker.” I love going on long walks through densely populated areas. I like hanging out in cafes and browsing bookstores. I enjoy people-watching and going to museums. My father, on the other hand, loves the outdoors. He loves going on long runs in the woods, he likes canoeing in still lakes, and fishing in rivers.
My father took the family on a camping trip this year in Wyoming. We went to Yellowstone National Park as a whole family. It had been almost a year since my mother, my father, my sister and I had all been in the same place. It was a family reunion during a strange time in all of our lives. We all had assortments of pains and struggles we were dealing with, and we were lucky enough to get some time away from it all in a cabin in the woods.
While the rest of the family fished in rivers with geothermic steam erupting behind them, I found a comfy bit of dirt on the shore and spend most of my time reading. Back at the cabin, my father made his signature pasta-sauce while my sister and I played Battleship nearby. I had forgotten about the slow, quiet pleasures of being part of a family. I know that when I am in the city, I am always focused on my projects, on my calendars and to-do lists. Now, in the boonies without wifi, I found that my appetite increased, my breathing deepened, and in general I felt better than I had before I left.
However, this is not the memory I am thinking about today.
This year has been one of the hardest I’ve ever experienced. I know I have struggled with sadnesses of various sizes before, but this year was unmatched in its intensity and duration. While working at a coffee shop, a customer asked me how I was doing and I laughed and told him “I don’t know if I have ever been this sad before.”
There are good days and bad days. On my good days I get to spend time with friends and play board games. I go on my city-walks and listen to my favorite music. I dance in my room to slow songs. On my bad days my arms feel heavy, I have trouble focusing, and I don’t find pleasure in the things I usually like.
I’ve seen therapists on and off this year. The only reason that I haven’t seen one regularly is because of insurance complications with changing jobs and moving to a different town. But I still have a list that I keep with me, a list that I made with one of my therapists of things to do when I am sad. One of them is to just sit and remember things that make me happy.
Even though I am a city-slicker, this is my fondest memory:
I am a young kid, in elementary school, and my father took my sister and me camping. It was raining pretty hard and it was very difficult to find a dry place to have dinner. The sky was dark, the ground was muddy like coffee grounds, but we settled under a tree somewhere to set up our portable stove. My dad made macaroni and cheese for us. I remember the rain fell straight into the pot, and there were even bits of pine needles that found their way into the meal. My dad didn’t have regular milk, only chocolate milk, so we used that. To top it all off, he added tuna to the mix for protein. It was possibly the most disgusting combination of ingredients I had witnessed up to that point in my life.
We were cold, wet, and didn’t have bowls, so we took turns passing the pot of goop around as it rained. Raindrops fell off of branches into our eyes, and we laughed harder and harder about the absurdity of it all.
Today, I woke up sad. I called my parents as I usually do when this happens, and when I hung up I remembered this specific memory as one of my favorites. Maybe it’s because it reminds me that joy doesn’t always have to come with convenience and comfort, but instead has more to do with the people you’re with. It’s a cliché but I always forget clichés have truth to them. I forget some of the most basic things when I get lost in my sadness.
I get annoyed when my father buys me camping gear as gifts. Sometimes I feel like he doesn’t know my true interests, and instead pretends that I am as outdoorsy as him. But now I think of it differently. I think of these gifts as a message from him. “Here are supplies for when you need it,” I feel him telling me. “Here are the things I know you won’t buy for yourself, but one day you will use when you want to come back home.”