Go Tell It on the Mountain: A girls' trip leads to a fork in the road
I stood on the top of a small mountain in Golden, Colorado, with two of my best friends, Sophie and Maree. We had just hiked up the rather tortuous path, toting a six-pack of beer and blaring songs from my iPhone. This wasn’t just your average boozy hike. We were on a mission.
My divorce had been just been finalized. Maree had recently ended a four-year relationship. Sophie had a extremely intense job and desperately needed a break. We all needed a vacation. So, we decided to head west, hike up some mountains and just have fun.
These women had been friends of mine since our early 20s, when each of us moved to the same relatively big city. Like many 22-year-olds, I showed up to adulthood without a job, without money, and without a general plan of what I was going to do with the rest of my life. All I knew was that I wanted to do work that was honest, artistic and impactful.
When I found my first job — a job that I loved so much, but paid next to nothing — it didn’t feel like a sacrifice. Other practical, more lucrative offers were on the table, but it felt like I was on the right path. My friends also made sacrifices on their own paths to finding happiness. Maree moved halfway around the world from her family to pursue a career, and Sophie, who married young, started a business to support her husband while he followed his own artistic path. None of us had any money. But one thing we all had in common was that a simple little splurge, like buying a $6 lip gloss at the drugstore, had the ability to make us incredibly happy. We still joke about that to this day.
As I climbed the mountain, I thought of everything that had happened in the decade that we’d known each other. We were definitely older, and hopefully wiser, and absolutely in better financial shape after years of working hard in our respective careers. We could now afford $28 lip gloss, even though we all still preferred the $6 kind. Each of us had suffered tragedies — heartbreak, miscarriages, divorce, deaths of loved ones, family feuds — the kind of tragedies everybody experiences in life, although that certainly doesn’t make them any less tragic.
We were old enough to have some serious life experiences under our belts, yet each of us somehow had retained the sense of fearlessness and adventure that we had in our early 20s.
While this particular trip was intended to be a good old-fashioned girls’ trip — staying in Estes Park’s haunted Stanley Hotel, flirting with cute cowboys on an early morning horseback ride through the mountains, splurging on big brunches and lots of dessert — it definitely ended up being something bigger.
Somewhere in between acting like tourists at the Coors Brewing Co. and visiting Sophie’s nearby family, I noticed that my wedding ring was still inside my wallet. This is going to make me sound like a horrible person, but when my marriage was on the rocks, I didn’t feel like wearing my ring. So, I hid it in my wallet in lieu of leaving it home, because I just didn’t want another thing to argue about. After I filed for divorce — and even after it was finalized — the ring remained in my wallet. I honestly wasn’t sure what to do with it.
I didn’t want to sell it, because that seemed wrong. I didn’t want to keep it, because that seemed even more wrong. You get a ton of paperwork when you get divorced, but none of it tells you what you’re supposed to do with your wedding ring, so it lies in a morally ambiguous area. But at that moment I felt like I just had to get it out of my wallet and out of my life. So I decided that I was going to throw it off the mountain.
When I revealed my plan to Sophie and Maree, they loved it, although Maree, eager to avoid a strenuous hike, suggested that throwing the ring in the stream behind the hotel might be preferable.
“Maree,” I said. “I need a mountain.” She got it.
Sophie suggested I write a note to put in the ring, which seemed like a nice gesture. I really didn’t feel any hostility towards my ex-husband — a term that I was still getting used to — and writing a note would provide some healthy closure. (On my end, at least. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t wondered what he did with his ring, and I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t worried he’d be offended if he found out what I did with mine.)
I thought about what I wanted to write on that little piece of hotel paper. I thought about the last four years of my life, how I felt I had sacrificed so much to try to play the part of a wife to a man who didn’t understand me at all. I thought of all of the friends — Sophie and Maree included — who I lost touch with during that time. I thought of all of the material things we’d splurged on to pretend like nothing was wrong — a house, new cars, jewelry I didn’t need, fancy dinners with people I didn’t really want to be friends with — all to assimilate into a role I thought I was supposed to be in at that point in my life. It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t even really mine, was it? At this point, I didn’t even know.
And then I remembered the broke 22-year-old who could barely buy groceries, the one who lived paycheck to paycheck but always had good lip gloss. She was scrappy, and she was sharp. She knew better things were on the horizon, and she was willing to work hard for them. I was still that girl. I just needed more wrinkle cream now.
I scribbled the first thing that came into my head. I’m sorry. And I forgive you. Then, after thinking for a moment, I added, And I’d really like to see my dog again. I rolled the note into a little tube and stuck it inside the wedding ring.
Maree decided she needed to send a note to her ex, too, so we started our hike with an iPhone playlist rotating between Lady Gaga, Queen, and other anthemic, fist-pumping music. Eventually we found ourselves singing — or, rather, yelling — the ubiquitous Gotye song at the top of our lungs. It seemed appropriate (also, it’s a really fun song to sing). I shudder to think what the other hikers must have thought of us that afternoon, but, like I said, we were on a mission.
When we got to the top — or as far as we could go, since we expended so much energy with our off-key singing and beer toting — both Maree and I took turns throwing our parcels off. We laughed, we cried, we danced around the top of that mountain. As cliché as it sounds, I felt like a great weight had been lifted. After what felt like years of holding my breath, I felt like I could breathe again.
I realized I didn’t need to forgive him. I needed to forgive myself. For several years, I’d let myself sacrifice what I wanted — and even who I was — but I was fortunate enough to figure it out and admit that it was worth leaving what appeared to be a comfortable life. It was worth missing my dog every day. It was worth starting over on my own. I knew I wasn’t cut out for the white-picket-fence, 2.4-kids-in-the-suburbs type of life. It may sound selfish, but I needed to splurge on the life I’d always wanted, a life filled with wanderlust, romance, laughter, music, art, inspiration, and — above all — happiness.