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At the midpoint of the trail on my regular walk at Lafayette Reservoir is a wide path that goes around a bend after about 50 yards. Sam and I decided that since Isaac was with Kathy and Ras Mo, we would go on a hike instead of doing a double lap. We see a guy go in this trail a couple of minutes before us and decide to try it. We walk down the path (in an open field in full view of the main path) and notice how muddy it is. Sam said that it’d probably be less muddy up ahead, so we keep going. Already this seems like a bad idea since my shoes are getting sucked off of my feet and I don’t want to slip because I’m carrying Malcolm. I grudgingly keep going and follow the path around a bend, through a more wooded area. We are walking through the wooded area when I look to the left and see the upper torso of a deer, minus the head. I said, “Wow, that’s interesting.” This is when the voices in my head started speaking up.
My Higher Self starts tapping me on the brain saying, “Hey Ani, this does not seem like a good idea.” My Slightly Less Higher Self says “Take a good look and try and figure out how old the deer is. It looks at least a day old and what would a mountain lion be doing hanging out on a trail in the middle of the day when it’s super busy?” I repeat this to Sam. My Regular Self processes the two other thoughts and says, “We should have a stick. Mountain lionsdon’t like sticks.” It was at this time that Sam says, “I’m going to grab a stick.” Sam picked up a large stick, which is when my Higher Self That Knows Better Than the Two Other Ones speaks up and compels me to pick up what can only be described as a segment of branch. It was a STICK (a.k.a. log.) Feeling smart and much better about myself and our situation and ignoring Sam’s grumbling about how heavy the log is, we continue through the wooded area about fifteen to twenty steps where it opens up into a beautiful field. I look up the path and notice, walking towards the path, a creature. My Higher Self chimes in with, “Wow. That’s definitely not a Large Dog.” My Slightly Lower Higher Self notices said creature is only about a hundred feet ahead, looking directly at me, twitching its’ tail, and just licked what can only be described as it’s “chops.”
My regular self shits in her pants.
Sam, who is speaking eloquently on some topic I have absolutely no recollection of, does not notice. I freeze in place and grab his arm, saying, “Oh…Shit. Mountain Lion.”
All three of my selves and all of Sam’s selves clearly see the creature and immediately (in our heads) create the list that One Must Do When Encountering A Mountain Lion:
1) Pull jacket over head and make self appear big. (Um…it’s so big.)
2) Make sure small children are close. (Check. Thank god Isaac is with Kathy and Mo.)
3) Wave arms and Make Loud Noises. (Again, Um…it’s really big.)
Several things were going through my head at this point. The various exclamations going on in my brain went a little something like this:
“Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit! Calm down and try and breathe. Thank God Isaac isn’t here. He would try and kill it or pet it. I want my mommy. No one will believe this. Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit! Headline tomorrow: Tragedy strikes at Lafayette Reservoir, Husband, Wife and infant son die tragically, their story at 11pm. Seriously? After the shit that I’ve gone through I have to now get eaten by a mountain lion? Oh God, Sam has the stick, please don’t let him try and kill it. Sam runs so fast. I can give him the baby and he can run. Oh God, Sam runs so fast. I hope he doesn’t leave me here. Oh man, Why do I have to be the one to die? Wait..Why do we have to make noise and wave our arms? I don’t want to become any more interesting to that thing.”
Sam must have thought the same thing about the noise and the bigness, because he says “Walk backwards slowly.” Yes, Sir.
We walk back slowly, but there is one problem. After about twenty steps, we are now back around the bend, next to the deer corpse and can no longer see the path where the mountain lion was standing. Sam says, “Run!” but at the same time seems to acknowledge that this is a bad idea. “You run, I have the stick. I’ll run backwards.” So there we are, running through mud that is thick and squelchy, Sam backwards, me forwards, until we get to the next bend that opens up into the field that looks onto the main path. That is when Sam drops the stick and turns to run. “NEVER. DROP. THE. STICK,” I scream as we head, painfully slowly, yet as fast as we can toward the main path.
I see the people happily walking their dogs on the main path. I begin to, what I can only describe as honk at these people– It was a cross between screaming and crying that came out in honks. This is when Sam realized that I was scared. Really, really, really scared. We get back to the main path and I want to tell every single person we see what happened. Of course, by the time we get there, the path is pretty clear for the moment, except for one old guy and his dog. I shout to the guy that we saw a mountain lion. He, while picking up his dog’s poop, says, “Oh really? Wow” as nonchalantly and unimpressed as one could be, as though it happens all the time to him and he just pats the lionon the head and goes about his day, the bastard. I wanted to go shake him and scream in his face that we could have died, but that didn’t seem appropriate. Sam called the Visitor’s Center to report it, and they too, could have cared less. Once the shakes died down, Sam turns to me and says, “Man. I wish we got a picture for Facebook.” I turn to him and say, “Yeah, I can’t wait to post this.” Then we looked at each other and felt profoundly stupid and disgusted with ourselves.
(Author’s note: Sam and I were also at the SF Zoo when the tiger was loose that Christmas several years ago. We were at the penguins, next to the tiger paddock, when we decided to skip the tigers in favor of some time at the playground before heading to Alex’s for Christmas dinner. It was within about five to ten minutes of our walking away, that the tiger jumped the paddock and killed the young man in front of the cafe that we had just passed a few minutes earlier. We found out at about 10pm that night and thought about how serendipitous it was that we skipped the tiger section. If we ever decide to go on Safari, you have permission to remind us of these two encounters and mildly suggest that maybe we should avoid areas with Big Cats.
My life changing events appear to occur concurrently– colliding, knocking the wind out of me, leaving me struggling to regain my breath, my balance, a sense of normalcy. It was newly 2008. We moved into a fixer upper in Oakland, what felt like a million miles away from my life in San Francisco. Though I’d grown up less than thirty miles from my new home, I may as well have moved to the Arctic.
I spent 2008 like a tennis ball in a high paced match–batted back and forth with an ever growing list of must-repairs and must-gets. Our son broke his collar bone (on my watch) early in the summer, rolling off of our ottoman in an effort to avoid a diaper change and landing “just so.” My grandmother, one of my most cherished touchstones, passed away. Then like a pigeon with a sense of humor and excellent aim, the Employment Development Department flew in, saw a target, and splat–our business was getting audited (which turned out to be a clerical error of sorts.) Because this was my area of expertise, I spent the last quarter of 2008 getting every last “i” dotted and “t” crossed. In 2009, it became a hunt for preschool, the hunt for an office, and the news that we would have another baby boy in early 2010.
IN addition to having to start all over with schools, friends, work-life, etc., I became estranged from my mom for reasons that appear again and again in our relationship. Our second son was born two weeks late in what was a very fast–and I mean two pushes–birth. His birth fell in line with the Great Recession and what would be the beginning of the end of our almost ten year old company. I was definitely self-medicating at this point. I had pretty severe Post Partum Depression and what turned out to be undiagnosed hypo-thyroidism. Add to that impending loss of income of both parents, a mortgage and two kids and you’ve got a recipe for severe trauma. Yay, more trauma!
Stick a fork in me. I’m done.
All along I self-medicated. Eventually I went on antidepressants, but only when my husband asked me to. Before then, though, in order to combat the fear and anxiety, I was hiking between three and nine miles per day (!)–trying so, so hard to get my endorphins up–to quell my fears. But in reality, I had not felt that helpless, that rootless and terrified since that policeman pulled up to my house in my mom’s car 15 years earlier. My world was ending again in an awe-inspiring, volcanic-level of destruction, wiping away the sense of stability and progress that I had built up since my dad’s sudden death. Not again.
My husband, the work horse and optimist that he is, refused to give up until I had what can only be described as an intervention. We had to give up this dream–the business had to fold. We had one unethical client that we trusted, that over time became our only client–every month asking for more hours more people–walk out on an invoice that killed our business. We trusted someone we had no reason not to, and in order to save himself money, he took us out. Sure we made mistakes, should have diversified more, but we’d known him for over a year.We had taken out a personal loan to try and keep people working. In the end we filed for bankruptcy–a taboo in both our families that created an atmosphere of shame and blame–the immediate ire of people who felt we were irresponsible, lived beyond our means–attempted to rise above our stations. The truth of the matter is that we both worked our asses off for a decade, gambling on ourselves, building our dream and taking calculated chances and we lost. It’s different when you have kids. Losing gets personal.
I lost faith in everyone, myself included. To have to ask family for money so you don’t have to leave your home, it’s quite humbling–to take the lectures, the well-meaning lessons on what appropriate spending is versus irresponsible choices. I never had great self-esteem to begin with. It seemed like any time I tried to be confident I would get cut right back–I’m tall, blond, endowed in the correct areas except ego. Karmic lottery, perhaps. But as a mother of two kids under five, battling depression, a newly diagnosed disorder that I would have to deal with for a lifetime, and the loss of a business that I had built over a decade–what should have been rage, ferocity was gone–there was no rage left, no indignation. I had no pride. I would have eaten shit on tv–(and actually almost did make it on a reality tv show) I just wanted to feed my kids, stay in my home (which due to the recession was under water), and pray that my kids were not being effected by my high state of anxiety. You could tell me I was worthless (and they practically did) and I would take it if it meant my kids would be ok. Sadly, it happens every day to women–poor women, women of color, moms, not moms. Marginalized. Demoralized. Demonized. That’s for another post…that rage is strong in me, especially now. I think of the time I was driving with my grandmother, complaining about life and injustice and she told me how selfish I was, how spoiled. She lost everything–her parents, her culture, her country because of men’s greed. She worked as a janitor, alone, didn’t speak English, living in a one-room rental with my great grandmother and my toddler-mom because my grandfather would not be allowed into the country because of scars on his chest that the Americans thought were TB scars, when in fact they were shrapnel scars from a bombing on his factory during the years leading up to WWII. Again, another post for another time…
I don’t often think about how scared I was, but it comes up. I was driving to San Francisco in 2010 to visit a friend when I had a panic attack whilst sitting in traffic on an overpass. All of the blood drained from my head, I went shock-white and was hyperventilating. I was fighting for what felt like my life, to stay behind the wheel (my youngest was in the back seat) when all I wanted to do was get out of the car and run screaming into the Bay. I was in so much pain–trying so hard to keep it together. A single thought, probably about the ’89 quake, sent me off my bloody rocker. I called my husband who talked me over the bridge and to my friend. A month or so later, we accidentally interrupted a mountain lion while on one of my endorphin-inducing hikes. I literally could not go anywhere without being traumatized. That’s when we decided I needed medication.
This is part seven of a series of essays on the emergence of a crutch and the reality of parenthood for an alcoholic in long term recovery. To start at the beginning, click here. Feel free to share and pass along.
Angelina Grab lives in Oakland with her husband of 14 years and her two sons, Isaac, 8, and Malcolm, 5.