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Today I feel gutted, split right down the center and splayed wide for the world to examine and dissect. The last few days I have been battling some sort of crud, be it a severe attack of allergies or a cold, I’m uncertain. I know that it has knocked me down, dragged me through the woods by my hair, and left me bleeding in a field for the crows and hawks to feed.

Okay, that is maybe a little melodramatic, but when I woke up gasping for air at 4.30 this morning, tears streaming down my face, tangled in the bedsheets, that is exactly how I felt.

Part of it is last night’s full moon. She was a BIG, intense one. I caught a glimpse of her while riding home from rehearsal. She rose giant and orange, like a harvest moon, over the treeline as I picked my way through bike paths and street signs to get home. I saw her, still rising, as I laid in bed, waiting for sleep to overcome me, blowing my nose at regular intervals, trying not to wake my housemate or the cats.

This morning, the wind is howling through the window frames and doorways. The cats are sitting in the bay window watching all manner of birds and leaves blow past them, fur ruffling in the gusts coming through the open screen. I remember wind like this from my childhood, blowing across the open field near my home, creating sandstorms as it traveled down our dirt road.

I remember always dreaming that I would live on an island in the Pacific Northwest, somewhere rugged and windswept, somewhere with blackberries and salty sea spray and wood stoves and cedar trees. Even as a child, when I would read about places like Orcas Island, or Friday Harbor, I had a sense of home, a feeling I didn’t usually experience (being a black sheep in my family). As a undergrad, I found an old copy of Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm in the library and immediately was transported into the world of which I had always dreamed. Life on the island.

I graduated in December that year, having dreamed about the Pacific Northwest for years, and moved from my small town in Minnesota to live on an island in the Puget Sound (well, technically in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but it was the top of the Sound). I found work in a small town near by, and I made my life: chopping wood for the stove to heat the house, walking the dogs along the beach every morning and evening, looking out at the mist rising from the mountains as I lay in my bed. Everything about it was perfect.

Except the situation, which was dangerous and reckless and unsafe. It ended poorly (well, terribly really, with a death threat and no where to stay, my belongings all in a storage unit not knowing when I’d see them again). I left the island with more tears than the rivers hold, my entire body crumbling with the loss of the first place my heart felt truly at peace (when I wasn’t being threatened).

The wind there was different. It carried not just the salty sea spray, the damp chill of the ocean coming in to land, but something more. Like a whisper in the full moon night, the howl through trees and door frames, the wind carried secrets, and promises of something else. The wind knew me there. She held all my secrets on her gusty breezes. When things were especially terrible, I would head down to the beach alone, hoping the tide was on my side, and walk as far as I could through the torrent of spray on the rocks, soaking my jeans and my shoes, begging for a release.

This morning, the wind in the Midwest reminds me of Washington. I woke up early, terrified of the visions behind my eyes and longing without mercy for the stark grey outline of the mountains in my window, for the blackberry brambles down the hill to the bay. More tears came when I was awake enough to know it was just another night terror, one of many, and that I am here, in Wisconsin, landlocked and covered in cottonwoods, not madronas.

And so I am torn, like the carcass of a young seal I found one morning, chasing an otter away from it like a skittering rat. The pup’s mother was already on the rock far out from land, barking and baying at her loss. There was nothing I could do; the otter had caught the pup and torn into her long before I arrived, and I – knowing nothing of seals or veterinary medicine – was helpless. I sat there with her, my eyes overflowing with tears akin to the sea, while she shuddered in agony. I sang sweet lullabies, hoping her seal pup ears and slowly dying heart could feel all the love and tenderness of her own mother. As I wept and sang, her tail slowed its flicking, her paws became gentle in their clawing, and she died on the sand. I picked her up and carried her to the receding water’s edge, howling in rhythm with her mother on the rock. I saw the mother seal dive from the rock, then lost sight of her as I placed the pup in the surf, wading out to where the water was past my knees, hoping it was far enough for her to not get caught as the tide continued to ebb. I turned and walked back to shore, drying my eyes and wishing I had worn rubber boots that day. I only turned back when a howl solemn and primal, reached my ears from far out on the rock. There I saw the mother, who had come in to fetch her pup, and I knew in my heart I would be leaving her as well. Two weeks later, I was on a plane to the Midwest.

All this change, all this planning and dreaming and hoping — all in the midst of feeling despair and hardship and challenges beyond measure — have got me feeling awkward in my skin. I don’t know how to go about each day. I have selectively forgotten all of my survival skills. I don’t remember how to move forward. It’s simple things, like fixing myself lunch, or creating a resume, or writing a poem.

And so I write all these things because it is the one thing I can remember. The way a pen feels as it scratches along the page. The automatic memory of each key on my laptop, how the squares bear the indentations of years worth of typing, poems and essays and stories and letters. Love letters. Blog letters. Apologies. School letters. Gratitudes. Goodbyes. Greetings.

In my own crazy tender way, I am here. I am fragile and vulnerable and damn-fucking strong. I am in the clouds and in a fog at the same time. I am confused and struggling, but if I am known as anything in life, it is as a survivor, a fighter, a creator of beauty from the chaos. A pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps-and-get-a-move-on-it girl.

But first, before the bootstraps, feel safe to cry.

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