When I was 8, I wanted to quit the soccer team because my coach made us run more laps than everyone else’s coach. Where my friends had the luxury of fun relay races at their practices, my teammates and I would start each practice with 10 laps on our much-smaller-than-regulation-sized field, which was, of course, a goddamn travesty.
I wanted to quit, but my stepmom — an ex-college athlete —would not allow it.
“You don’t quit things because they’re hard.”
That was the end of the conversation. No more needed, no more said.
For the next two months, I ran my laps, I sweated more than I’d probably ever sweat in my 8 years of life, and finished the soccer season.
I was only in second grade at the time, but I think of what my stepmom said often. I think of it when I consider quitting pretty much anything — a job, a class, a hike. I think of it when I feel challenged; sometimes before I even think about quitting, I think about Kim’s sentiment first.
You don’t quit things because they’re hard.
Last week was the first of my second fire season, and it was hard. It was a week that made me think about what Kim said on an almost hourly basis.
This week wasn’t hard in the ways you’d think it would be. It was physically hard, but nothing that pushed the limits of what I thought I was capable of. In actuality, it was the loneliness, the seclusion, that almost did me in. It was the spring cleaning, the boredom, the 40-minute drive for groceries, the lack of a cell phone signal. These are the things that made me think of what Kim told me almost 20 years ago.
I spent the first night in North Fork, Idaho (population 242) lamenting to a friend that there were no bars, no people, no coffee shops, no cell phone signal (though, there are a few places with wi-fi). There wasn’t much of anything, really, except a beautiful trout stream, a ranger district, a windy road and a trading-post type building with wi-fi, a seasonal café (not open yet), a small store and a post office. I cried in their parking lot for a solid half hour while talking on the phone. I cried because I knew that the next six months would be some of the toughest of my life, and I couldn’t quit. I wouldn’t quit. I was committed, and I had no choice but to make peace with that.
So after I cried in a parking lot (which happens with startling frequency in my life, as most of my most formative phases have started with a good cry session in an unfamiliar place) I went home and I made some dinner. I introduced myself to my crewmembers who had shown up before me. And they offered to help me clean my house, which had flies all over the floor and a winter’s-worth of dust on every other surface. We bonded that night over fly carcasses and piles of dirty Clorox wipes. And my eyes weren’t puffy and red anymore and the lack of cell phone signal didn’t feel so bad anymore and…I felt better. And now a week later, I feel much better. It took a few nights of wondering what the hell to do with myself and feeling true boredom for the first time in a long time to start making peace with the situation. Reading, playing banjo, writing, just sitting and thinking — these things that I considered occasional hobbies previously are my life now, the only things to do once I’ve clocked out. At some point I’ll do a post about what happens when you don’t have wifi or a signal where you live, but suffice it to say that it involves a lot of aimless wandering, real alone time (without the mirage/distraction of social media), and making a lot of educated guesses on subjects and questions previously Google-able.
It’s sad that it’s come to this — that the most challenging part of my new job is the seclusion and not having pretty much any use for my phone anymore — but it’s the part I hadn’t mentally prepared for. I’d prepared for grueling hikes and heavy packs and ticks and steep hills and heat and hard work. I hadn’t prepared for abruptly losing all of my vices, all of my safety blankets, my beers with friends and social life (digital and real) and the ability to drive to the grocery store without using a quarter tank of gas. I hadn’t prepared for standing in a big house, alone, wondering what to do now, of having only myself and my thoughts and my books and my words and my banjo when that all gets too heavy.
I’ve learned that I’m not necessarily tough, but I am flexible and convincible. I can be convinced of hard, scary things and can adapt to pretty much any situation thrown my way if given just a few minutes to overthink it, a few minutes to cry in a parking lot over it. And then, even when it’s hard, it starts to feel a bit easier — like a few laps around an elementary-school soccer field.