Ambivalence

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7.31.17

Some of you have been asking what it was like to revisit Trinity on our recent trip, so I’ve decided to share a bit about the experience.

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This past month has held such a strange mix of emotions as I’ve been pulling together plans for a small “memorial” trip to Trinity.

Ellie and I talked last year about putting a plaque up on the mountain in the spot where we think Steve died, but summer came and went without making it happen. It seemed ambivalence was running high (for both of us). Then, several times this past year I heard, “So, Mom, are you still thinking of doing the plaque thing for Dad?” I took this question as a sign of Ellie’s readiness. Maybe now the timing was right.

From the first day of planning, I felt such a crazy mix of emotions: anxiety every time I pictured the drive up, the cabins, and Billy’s Peak. But then there would also be surprising spikes of excitement about the chance to see Meghan and Peter (our Ripple Creek hosts), as well as reuniting with some of the searchers who were hoping to join us.

It felt so odd to pull out the “Trinity” box from the garage, rummaging for bear spray, walkie-talkies, etc… those everyday tools of the search trade that have absolutely no place in my day-to-day life these days. Since spring I’ve been making lists and schedules, placing calls and sending out emails. All of a sudden, it was starting to feel like “search season” again. I am so thankful to be on this side of that crazy time, but I must admit I do miss the sense of urgency, focus and teamwork that infused those eighteen months.

When I went to the granite shop to choose a piece for the plaque, I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to walk into a room with all of those tombstones and grave markers pointing to the deaths of men, women and children. There were so many. Too many. After just ten minutes there, my head was spinning, and the clear vision I had when I came in rapidly evaporated. In the end, I just impulsively pointed to a gray piece of granite about the right size, saying a quick, “Okay, that one.” I just had to get out of there before my grief got supercharged by all of the loss I could feel permeating that warehouse.

About ten days ago, we packed up the freshly engraved plaque, supplies, and our suitcases and headed out. My tiny car overflowed with suitcases and three generations of ambivalent women: my mom, Anna, Ellie, and me. It was a beautiful day, and we spent our time talking and pointing out changes in the towns we passed since we had last been through. It wasn’t until about two-thirds of the way there, when we were approaching Redding and the turnoff toward Trinity that I felt the shift: the closer we got, the more energy-sapped and heavy-laden my body started to feel–like a state of passive surrender. My foot had been pretty heavy on the gas in the planning stages, but now the brakes were coming on strong. It continued like this for the next hour. Once in Weaverville, we pointed out the “Motel from Hell” to Ellie and my mom when we passed, grateful we would never have to revisit it. Then when we arrived at the supermarket, I was having flashbacks of the surreal afternoon Anna and I drove there to ask if we could put up Steve’s “missing person” poster. It’s the kind of task you never picture doing.

We spent as little time in there as possible. Then, as we were piling bags of groceries on laps and stashing them at our feet, Anna and I laughed to think of the entertainment we provided to a couple in the parking lot observing our attempts to cram what must have been twenty bags of groceries in my car when we were preparing for one of our longer searches. Compared to that challenge, we had nothing to complain about!

I was pleased we would be staying in one of the resort’s small cabins, right along the creek itself. It’s a particularly lovely spot, but also has the added benefit of not being the large cabin we practically lived in during our twenty-one search expeditions. I was unsure how many memory triggers I could really tolerate. So as we pulled in to park, I saw something that helped my mood do a “180.” Just as he had every other time we came up, Peter had raked the blank canvas of our simple pebble driveway, transforming it into a welcoming work of art, with pinwheels, spirals, and other designs–all flowing together into one beautiful, simple gift of love and blessing. Then I turned around, and there he was: our warm-spirited friend, with his soulful brown eyes and ever-ready hugs!

We settled in to the cabin, then met up with Meghan and the kids, who invited us to join them at the swimming hole. I’ve spent so much time at this place, but had such thick, gray lenses of trauma and grief over my eyes at the time, I couldn’t see how perfectly lovely it is there, with the gray-blue river, flanked on both sides by a hundred different textures and colors of foliage–all lit up with a golden early evening sun. A little later, they joined us for a simple dinner at our picnic table by the creek, where we enjoyed their whip-smart, bright-eyed children and caught up on the news of their tiny community.

I think it was only eight p.m. when we were all crashed in our beds, reading, writing, and drifting off to sleep. The journey so far had been good, though not easy, and we knew the next day could be our most challenging one.

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