“Charlie says…” has been leading several of my sentences the past few days. It reminds me of standing in the kitchen on many evenings while growing up. I always thought the water was too hot, so I dried dishes as Mom washed. Brother and I alternated evenings and had a chance to just talk to our mother. I would often roll my eyes and whine about having to do that particular chore. But I look back on many pieces of wisdom I gained and realized they were received while putting dishes back in the cupboards.
One such lesson came with some surprise – though it was repeated ad nauseum. Mom would smile kindly as I ranted through some monologue about a boy. I’d done it several times – despite limited experience while growing up, I have always been a bit boy crazy.
“He’s just so annoying/funny/smart/otherwise interesting and worthy of discussion!”
After letting me talk and talk, asking the right questions, laughing at my jokes, supporting all my ideas, she’d smile, hands still lingering in soapy water or wiping down counters.
“Katie,” she’d offer, “you like him.”
“I do not!” I would gasp, mighty with indignation.
She’d smile knowingly, nod and note that she might be wrong. “It just seems that anyone who would deserve that much of your attention is someone you might like to know better.”
As I got older, I’d realize that a tremendous amount was revealed in those sessions at the sink. While my hands were busy with drying dishes and putting them away, I was free to speak without censoring my thoughts. It was just Mom and she loved me regardless. Bad behavior, stupid statements, fits of rage or despair or other passionate displays – they didn’t really faze her. She always thought I was special and smart and beautiful. Though she did offer suggestions on how I might want to behave and can take me from smug to guilty in the blink of an eye, I just liked telling her about my life.
So when a certain male name continued to spring from my lips, I realized that I did, in fact, like that boy. He took up space in my head. I noticed what he did and said. He was – for some reason – important to me. In acknowledging the truth – I had a bit of a crush – I retained some power over my behavior. You’ll notice I said “some.” I’m still me, after all, and I don’t always make the best of decisions.
I was in the midst of sharing some bit of Charlie-esque wisdom with Friend this weekend when I saw a familiar smile appear. Tolerant, but knowing.
“I like Charlie.” I confessed.
“I know.” She said dryly. “I read that post. And I’ve heard you talk.”
“He has a girlfriend.” I said sheepishly. And she nodded at me, not at all unkindly. “Just a phase.” I continued. “It will pass. But at least my taste is improving!”
I’m aware of the problem. I am sincerely happy he’s in a good relationship. But it’s nice to smile over someone I know I won’t later call a complete waste of human being. (Have I mentioned I’m still a bit angry? Yeah, I may have even wished syphilis on him. Not out of nowhere, but still not a good reflection of my character, so let’s move on.) The point is that an online crush where I have legitimate reaction of guilt is not a good idea. So I’m not doing it.
Charlie and I talked a few weeks ago and he revealed that he used one of my photos as general inspiration. Technical difficulties prevented me from actually seeing said art until this morning. It’s… Well, I love it. Find it absolutely and exquisitely perfect. I could try to describe it for you or I could take advantage of the permission that Charlie offered and post it so you can see. (Credited, of course, to CharlieAmra. He said he'd post it on his site at some point, which would be nice since it's ever so rarely updated.)
Pretty, yes? Vibrant and rich and generally wonderful. I love it very much. Keep clearing the documents off my screen so I can look at it.
My actual photo isn’t nearly so pretty, actually. I took it on my trip to Pennsylvania. It was on my first hike, where I found one of the shorter paths that lead down to a small meadow. Once I reached the bottom of the hill, I wasn’t so impressed with the scenery. So I went right until I reached a No Trespassing sign. I considered disregarding it – I ignored several of them the next day – but was too timid. So I stood on the path and sighed, feeling disappointed that I’d have to climb the same hill I’d just descended. I knew I’d have to pull myself out of the valley, but I wanted to take a different route. I don’t like backtracking! So when I returned to the path, I cocked my head at it and went straight instead of following it uphill.
Likely another dead end, I decided, but took some pictures as I went on my way. When I reached the end, I took a single photo. I named it "Path ends." I posted it not because it was particularly powerful, though I do recall framing it to avoid the worst of the power lines leading to the tiny structure, but because I’d yet again followed my instincts to a place I wasn’t meant to be. There was nowhere left to go – I was once again too apprehensive to make my own way. I wanted to follow a path, but this one had abruptly stopped. So I have no idea what exists beyond that building and farther into the forest.
I was obsessed with recording events at the time. If something hurt as badly as recent experiences, it had to matter. I had to at least tell someone about it. So I took a picture of the little building before I retraced my steps to return to the hotel. The trees past their peak autumnal beauty. The little house that emanated such scary sounds. I didn’t get to go further, I thought sadly. I only made it this far. But at least I had a photo proving that I’d made an effort. Tried. Then I turned to hike up the hill, panting mightily and sweating despite the cool temperatures, returned to my room in the lovely resort and downloaded my pictures.
Perhaps the lesson is that there’s value – even beauty – in being there. That recording those moments and feelings was important. Not solely in displaying my pain to gather sympathy or cause some well-deserved guilt, but so that I could go back to them after I’d healed a bit and see that life had been good. I learned on that trip. I took hikes and captured photos. I breathed a little easier – life didn’t hurt nearly so much. And a throwaway picture lead to a piece of art that I find profoundly meaningful, even if I’m not sure I completely understand all the intricacies of the lesson right now.
I don’t care for that dead tree in the center of my photo – Charlie didn’t include it in his interpretation. I always wish for more reds in any foliage scene, and Charlie provided them. His light, shadow and color are more appealing. There’s beauty in that valley – even at the point just before I decided to make my climb. The scary moments provided motivation to get better – to seek medication and therapy I’d likely needed for some time. Friend and I got close very quickly because I so desperately needed someone to provide support during those days. I told people at work of my depression and the relief at being honest was intense. I grew to love Charlie quite a lot – somewhere in those phone calls where he listened to me cry or rant or sit in silence while I tried to find energy to talk. The advice, stories, support, friendship he offered were invaluable at the time.
I’m profoundly grateful. That I get to know him, laugh at his jokes, pick up snippets of wisdom, interact with someone who has a genuine interest in how I’m doing and what I’m thinking. And that I got to see a really beautiful picture.
I now think of that particular moment - standing in a valley in the Poconos - not so much as where the path ended. Rather, it was just a really pretty place to turn around.