Let’s go back to when I restarted my life for the umpteenth time. The most recent restart, which began when I applied for the five-week general animal care internship at Best Friends Animal Society. I’m still deeply entangled in the luxurious newness of it all, despite having existed in Kanab since mid-February, but I failed to document my arrival. Skipping over the lives I’ve lived previously – of which there are many, and will be many more – my application was sent out into the universe in early December, carrying with it the hope that I would even be considered despite my glaring lack of professional experience within any shelter-related field. I trudged through my days after that final email left my draft folder, waiting for something. Maybe a sign that it was the right time to think about myself finally, or anything to convince me I was worthy of this endeavor. Weeks passed. A month. I had been silently rejected many times before, ignored, and my doubt grew alongside my desperation, each one encouraging the other to stretch their roots deeper and to swallow more light from the sun. I was trying to plant a garden, but I didn’t have tools strong enough for the weeds, and they continued to slowly strangle each of my little aspirations.
I reached out and received a reply almost immediately. They were waiting on two more references to check out. I promptly got in touch with the people I had listed as authorities on my applicable skills, and begged them to just entertain the thought of filling out paperwork that might help me to follow my dreams. Two more weeks and my birthday had arrived; I was three years away from thirty, coming to terms with a broken marriage, living with my parents, and setting boundaries for all of the dysfunction that surrounded me. The last time I felt so wholly unprepared to simply exist as a person was for a labyrinthine period of time after my brother died.
Checking my email at work on my birthday, I saw this message:
I ravenously shredded into the allegorical envelope and devoured what was inside. I was going to Utah. In three weeks. In an instant, I knew where I wanted to be and what I needed to do to get there. I gave my notice to my employers, who were also my family, and began sorting through all of the memories of a tragic fairytale life that I was no longer consumed by. I packed nine boxes into four and saved just enough room for myself in my car…and then I drove a snowmobile off of a hill.
I experienced the proverbial life flashing before my eyes in the three or four seconds it took for me to hit the ground from twenty feet in the air. I felt my lungs crumple and my spine compress, each vertebrate slamming into the one below it. I fell backwards off of the machine as it roared out from underneath me, and I opened my eyes to a monster-filled darkness. I wasn’t dead, but I wasn’t there. I had landed in the middle of the trail and my dad was still behind me. I subconsciously reminded myself that I shouldn’t move, but the part of my brain that was still struggling to remain sentient forced my clawing limbs to frantically clamber off to the side so I wouldn’t also be run over. Unable to physically express any emotions at this point, I wept mentally with gratitude that I was alive and – as far as I could tell – not paralyzed. My dad vaulted from his snowmobile and kneeled over me, ripping his helmet off and ordering me not to move. But I couldn’t listen. I couldn’t hear him over the fear that was thundering in my ears, that had replaced my blood. “I need to get up! I have to get up!” I was gasping. “Help me roll over! Please, I need to get up!” I was so afraid of lying there and being preyed on by sharp teeth and cold breath dripping with blackness of the winter night. “I’m ok, just help me roll over!” My dad’s face expressed panicked dread and extraneous remorse and I didn’t have the capacity to indulge either of those things. As he hesitantly aided my anguished, and completely illogical, petitions, I steadied myself on my hands and knees. “I’m ok…”
There was a gut-wrenching realization that I actually wasn’t paralyzed, but that something was out of place. There are no words for the immense elation I felt at the surge of pain that began to throb through my bones and at the muscles that trembled violently with adrenaline. I was alive, and I was there. I tried to stand and collapsed. I still hadn’t caught my breath and I was losing it all over again. My dad hoisted me up and my left ankle dangled, refusing to participate. We were ten minutes from the nearest shred of civilization – a backwoods bar in the middle of the northern Wisconsin woods – and we needed to get there now. I slowly drove his snowmobile over the remaining bumps and dips, sobbing and panting from the exertion. After reaching the bar, we had a beer and some dinner before we headed back home…a drive where I both argued that I didn’t need to see a doctor and pleaded to be put out of my misery. Two and a half hours later, I was in the emergency room getting x-rays and vomiting from the oxycodone. By three in the morning, almost eighteen hours after the beginning of the snowmobile excursion, I was finally laying in bed with a splint on my severely sprained ankle and an untreatable sprained back.
I emailed the intern coordinator at Best Friends when I woke up, terrified of what could happen to my internship opportunity, but not willing to entertain the possibility that I might not be able to participate. It was five days before I had to drive halfway across the country, my ankle wasn’t broken, and I was still capable. She responded almost immediately, saying she would make it work for me, and I fell back asleep to hold onto my dream.
Tuesday, the day before I started my journey west, I saw an orthopedic surgeon who gave me a boot and wished me godspeed. My family thought I should stay and heal, rather than risk further injury, but I had too much personally invested in this endeavor, in myself, and I left Wednesday morning. I arrived on Friday afternoon and settled in for what is now the most rewarding and challenging experience I’ve ever pursued. It’s been seven weeks since I arrived in Kanab, since I started living for myself. I don’t have my influential relationship, I left the dysfunction behind, I came alone and with nothing and with everything. “I’m ok.” I’m alive, and I’m here.