He knew the way, but I was steadier. In true tourist fashion, I wore overly appropriate shoes-Water resistant Merrill’s I bought in youth size ( to cut the price in half) before my trip to Israel. He slipped and slid on iron-colored sand in what may have been an old pair of Nikes. I grounded myself with each step on a teetering rock-winding up and down the side of a cliff, catching glimpses of white water stampeding through the creek below and castles made of red rock, all of the scenery over-exposed in the Mid-day Arizona sunshine.
Avoiding cacti and examining the occasional agave plant, we made our way down intermittent rock stairs and through natural rock-formed gateways until we came to what was obviously the scariest part of the walk to a Sedona local treasure: “the wind tunnels”. I watched him-a healthy, 19-year-old, guy who’d obviously done this a million times before-calculate his every movement while briefly hugging the side of a cliff, several stories above the ground. Up to now, I carefully-yet-confidentially followed his choreography to overcome a few mildly dangerous parts of the “trail” (was it even a trail really?), but this part was the worst of two that gave me pause.
“Give me your hand,” he said, channeling Aladdin despite being extremely Aryan and sporting a baseball cap instead of a…I have no idea what you call those things.
“I only met you yesterday!” I shouted in refusal. Crumbling with the weight of my indecision, the rock beneath my feet began falling, and my frightened body went with it, falling off the side of an actual cliff as I screamed. Because I had a guy back home, and I’m just not that kind of girl. Woman.
Just kidding. I did take his hand. And I didn’t fall. But I could have. And if I did, I would have DIED.
That’s right, died.
I’m not going to sugarcoat my adventures for you, Mom, step-dad, grandma, brother, remaining cat, etc…That would defeat the purpose of my journey and this blog-and thus do a disservice to the fact that I COULD HAVE DIED.
But I also could have died several times in my life, and a few times in the past year. I’ve done dangerous sports, been amidst shootings and terrorist threats, had major medical scares and accidents…and the most recent things to try to kill me were sort of every day: my car, a candle, pot (the drug, not the cousin of the pan), beer, antibiotic (what the fuck, right?), an Aleve tablet (a bigger wtf), poorly chewed food…and these aren’t exaggerations.
All of these landed me in seizures, unconscious, or at the very least, at a hospital, in the last couple of years-and not due to hypochondria, but necessity. Practically overnight, lyme disease and other issues had made me undeniably sensitive and unfortunately fragile. Add a daily dose of paranoia from my mom and both local and faraway news sources-which are way too abundant and accessible these days-and it’s probably pretty obvious why my once spontaneous (yet somehow teacher’s pet) self now had a too-accessible, steady drip of adrenaline keeping me in a permanent fight or flight state and influencing an urge to hide from all of the dangers that surrounded me-which apparently, could be as mundane as a house plant. Like based on my skewed experience of the world with this illness, it was totally likely that I could get entangled in a water hose while going for a walk and be suffocated.
Facing your own mortality has this interesting way of making you both NOT want to ever do anything that could be deemed remotely a slap in the face at the chance to live a full life, and also wanting to do them more of those things-because, screw it. People with the same disease I have die in their own bathtubs.
Prior to all of this, I was an avid dare-taker, adventure maker, and rule breaker (sort of). I used to jump from the top of the movie theatre’s back row down to the doorway to leave instead of taking the stairs. I’d flip upside down on the Gravitron (that terrible/great ride that spins so fast you stick to the wall without your feet on the ground) when I wasn’t supposed to-waiting until it almost stopped to nearly fall on my head but back flip off instead. I’d do backflips on cement. I did my own stunts in films. I’d travel to anywhere without knowing any one in my group. I’d jump in the pool with all my clothes on. I was no member of the Jackass show, but I dated people who may as well have been-and that’s close enough too, you guys.
But after my worst seizure episode, I went through a phase where things like watching a skyline parkour video didn’t just make my stomach churn in fear-they downright pissed me off. People like me were fighting to live while lying down…and yet you balanced your perfectly healthy body off of skyscraper, taunting death because you could. I also both mourned the loss of adventure in my life and resigned wholeheartedly to our separation. Zip-lining, mountain climbing, surfing, riding the tallest and fastest rollercoasters, skydiving, and the like disappeared from my bucket list at the same time like they’d been written with ink from the wizarding world. After all, guidelines for living with one of my conditions (a brain malformation and spinal cyst known respectively as “Chiari” and “syringomyelia”) literally tell you not to even tilt your head back to shampoo your hair. I’m not joking. And the episodes I was going through forced me to start taking those ridiculous guidelines seriously.
But, I have a theory. We always sort of go back to a homeostasis of who we are if we are at our core, as long as we are striving for mental and physical health. My trip to Sedona was another swing to the “too adventurous” side of the pendulum as it winds down and back to the middle-the place where I, Jacquelynne, am meant to live most of my days. Somewhere between psychotically carefree and psychotically careful.
But like I said, the pendulum is still swinging, and I almost was too. I was hugging a giant rock with my my fingers spread like a lizard’s as I pictured them glued to it- going over the precise foot movements I’d watched him make seconds before in my mind, reminding myself to stay connected to the mountain-to keep my weight shifted toward it. To only fall toward it. My legs began mimicking the mental image I had of his moves before I gave them permission to. It simply had to be done, and more time wasn’t going to make holding on less dangerous.
I had already come that far-teasing the side of sort of the cliff a couple of times and ducking through the beginning of the wind tunnels etched through it near the top. To turn around would mean I’d have to do those already scary things over again-alone-and without having had the satisfaction of reaching the final destination. Not THAT final destination, people.
I made it. With a big exhale and a smile, I was back in the tunnels and following him toward an open area where they ended. I felt around, reminded of the times I’d visited caverns but feeling more rewarded. There was no ticket booth or quirky tour guide spouting history. The only price was a small heart attack and taking a chance on a total stranger.
I was slightly breathless and everything was somewhat blurred-or perhaps more sharp, and I wasn’t used to it anymore. I was, if nothing else, ridiculously in the moment. And if there is anything one SHOULD be when tip-toeing on a cliff-besides mildly scared for their life-it’s mindful. I breathed in the fresh air, Happy the wind tunnels were a bit of a reprieve from the sun and a great time to hydrate. I marveled at the innumerable footprints left in the red sand. A lot of people took the risk to come here. Or one person did and they liked to do a really ridiculous tribal dance in celebration.
The local street rat (not really-he had a job and car and a shirt, but I still like that theme) beckoned me to the key hole “window” in the outer wall where he stood, apparently not wanting me to catch my breath and inciting the intrusive thought of him falling and me having to take the treacherous route back on my own to get help. Who am I kidding? To retrieve his body. This shit was high.
I leaned over and got a beautiful glimpse of the trees and the creek. And I was so glad to be right where I was-somewhere I wasn’t sure I’d be again. On the edge. Voluntarily. My blood pumped at the same speed as the rushing water below as I began to remember not only how I got here, but that I’d have to use the very same route-and similar technique-to get back.
Oh, and I wasn’t even done for the day. Pre-lyme Jacquie was awakened like a genie in a bottle, which I have to say because I have to bring the Aladdin thing I started with full circle.
When I get into, “let’s play ‘I’m not sick'” mode, it can be very hard to snap out of until it’s too late. Exploring new places is the number one way for this to happen, because I’m so distracted by the scenery and being who I always was that I forget who I am. I realize that probably requires explanation.
Basically, I spent the day following this kid wherever he had to show me, and finding myself on all of these small hikes that were nothing crazy, yet each added up slowly-a little steeper than I thought, a little longer, a little higher, a little darker-until I had a probably insane amount of steps and altitude changes clocked in considering my physical state. Did I mention I had a picnic and hiked through a National Park to a creek by myself BEFORE ALL OF THIS?
It was worth it, though. Every vista offered a new and stunning view, a different vibe, and a different sort of climb. Some had people who were too loud and some had people who were quiet. Others barely had people at all. The ends of each involved being dangerously close to the edge at heights that usually made my arms go numb. I watched the sunset in three different places as we bounced from the miscellaneous wind tunnel trail by the non-dry creek to the airport vortex and the airport vista, and finally a couple trails somewhere on Dry Creek Rd. This is where we’d go slightly off the trail, finding ourselves alone with the moon popping out, coyotes howling, and the rush as I realized we had to leave before it got too dark or we wouldn’t be able to get back down. We barely made it down during twilight. We got a little lost and I used my sense of direction and watching a jeep leave in the distance to figure out how to get back to the road.
We ended up emerging from the trails somewhere further down the road than we’d parked and had to walk back to the car in the dark. Suddenly, I started getting shooting pains in my abdomen and realized I desperately had to pee. Lyme disease is not kind to your bladder. I was simultaneously thirsty though I’d been drinking, and my legs were turning into jello. I could feel my heart beating too fast and my blood pressure going too slow. The dark sky began to turn on its side and it took all of my strength for me not to as well. I clenched my legs to keep the blood flowing to my head as I’d taught myself since the fainting episodes started, and I kept moving-telling myself we were almost to the car.
I was getting anxiety, and I wasn’t totally sure why. I was dizzy and nauseous as he drove. I was on the verge of a worse autonomic nervous system episode than I’d had in a while, and I was in the hands of a total stranger. This was exactly what I’d done my best to avoid for the last year. And it’s what I knew I may have signed up for this week.
I had no choice but to be totally vocal about it and grateful that my experiences had made me care a lot less about dignity or being cool. Thankfully, he was incredibly kind about the whole thing. It didn’t hurt that I’d witnessed him unceremoniously puking outside his own door earlier than day when we stopped for a chai tea he insisted upon and ended up being allergic to. Anyway, we made it to a pizza place where I was able to get some carbs in me, thinking my blood sugar might be low from my diminished appetite, period, and over-exertion. I shivered too much as I do when I’m tired or “lyme-y” and couldn’t wait to be back in bed.
Yet, when I was, it was clear that I wouldn’t be sleeping any time soon. I had the distinct feeling of insomnia coupled with a wired autonomic nervous system. My eyes wouldn’t close and if they did, I had the sensation that I’d forget how to breathe or urinate myself. I called my mom and let her know. At the most inopportune time, my phone died. I waited for it to charge, knowing my mom was freaking out but hoping that she’d take solace in the actual hang up and my phone going to voicemail to indicate the battery issue. Next thing I know, there’s a knock at my door despite the ungodly hour, and I knew she’d called security.
Rather than be embarrassed, I calmly explained my situation and that I was alone. I was grateful to have them on call the rest of the night, at one point bringing me a snack and a coke to get my blood sugar back. With no one to fall asleep with in a town I’d only been in for a day (meeting only technical teenager) the lifeline of even the male and female security guard-who looked more like SNL actors dressed in costume-meant a lot. While it could seem like a cop out, it was prudent…and that’s precisely where I drew the line between safety and playing it too safe on my second night in Sedona…sleeping alone after a day of adventure and an attack on my body, but with someone to call if I woke up on the floor in another room (again).
When you’re deep into neurological lyme, I’m not exaggerating to say there are nights you go to bed believing you might not wake up in the morning.
But usually, I do.
And If I don’t…I will, according to various religions and areligons, experience and of the following:
1. I will be bathed in eternal love and light, omnipotent and up-to-then unfathomably able to understand all that ever happened to whatever “I” was and whatever “I” will be-as well as every one and everything else. Basically, I’ll remember that I’m actually a sliver of God-and no, I’m not talking about pizza. Though a slice from Queens is close.
2. I will sprout white-feathered wings and fly around a palace of clouds while watching over children and animals for the rest of my days.
3. I will reincarnate into the wild animal I was always meant to be-or a the rich person I was meant to be. One of those.
4. Whatever makes me conscious will cease to exist, and I will be enveloped in absolute nothingness, but unable to “know” I am.
5. I will forever burn in fire or infinitely drown in a sea of boiling tar.
Now, really, none of those seem so bad-albeit a little far fetched (I’m lookin’ at you, number 2). Basically, while my built-in survival mechanisms are on overdrive due to the many dangers I’ve encountered throughout my 20 whatever years, death doesn’t actually make THAT much sense to worry about. Not intellectually. Not when you consider what you’re really worried about is time, and worrying about time just wastes time…amiright!?
There is a line between precaution and paranoia, and gosh, it’s thin. And when you’re sick or traumatized or honestly, experienced-it’s blurry as hell. If we are not vigilant, we find ourselves far from it-unable to drive, muscles atrophying, people drifting away while we stay in our corner with a silver crucifix and hiss at anything with sugar-or doing parkour on a rooftop and falling to our death while trying to get the perfect selfie. My best defense is to constantly be feeling around a cliff for the edge.