(Notes from a fly fishing trip on the Deschutes River, a three-day trip my father, brother, and I take every year in October around our (my brother’s and my) birthdays.) [Author’s note: posted in November, though I wrote most of this before I actually turned 30.]
We awoke before light appeared in the sky, dragged our tired sorry asses out of bed, filled up on a hot continental breakfast (a real unexpected treat), then off to drive down to the river to meet our river guide. We've worked with the same guide for multiple years now, it's always good to see his friendly, annual face. We hit the river by 7am.
Within moments of casting off from the shore, the rain started, ranging from a niggling drizzle to an oppressive downpour, and essentially didn't stop for the next 12 hours. Even with all our waterproof gear, it was still an unpleasant experience, defending my cocoon of dryness against the attempted breaches by Mother Nature. Everything around you is wet: your bags are wet, the seats are wet, your snacks are wet; every time you remove a glove to do something with your bare hand and stick it back into the glove, some wetness infiltrates, compromising the zone of warmth you had set up for yourself. The steelhead salmon remained elusive throughout the day, though that’s par for the course for these fish that are infamously difficult to catch. Standing out in the river fishing through a spot, there’s no evidence that they’re even present: we’re a bunch of anglers praying at the alter of the Fish. I can’t help but lose interest or hope after a time, so my mind wanders.
During this trip, my thoughts have been centering on relationships lost. I'm rapidly approaching my 30th birthday and I still harbor a deep, inexplicable, and unshakeable fear that reaching my 30s and still single means I will die loveless and alone, and it's my fault for this situation and I chose this path to destruction and gave up some perfect opportunities for long-term happiness. Standing out here in the frigid waters, feeling the heat leech from my body, there is precious little to offer distraction from these thoughts.
A lack of action in fishing, the insufferable weather, and my melancholic humor combined together to make a rather quiet, withdrawn day. By the time we reached our campsite, all three of us were ready to be done. "Thank god," I thought to myself, "I'm not sure I could take much more of this.” We were all similarly exhausted. It’s strange, thinking about how we were willfully engaged in an activity that we were *relieved* to be done with at the end of the day. Wandering around the camp grounds did treat me to some lovely views, which offered me a welcome respite and a reminder of part of why I make this trip every year.
If yesterday was the day of rain, today was the day of wind. While I generally find wind to be beautiful and awesome, it is profoundly frustrating to attempt fly fishing on a blustery day. Casting with a fly fishing rod is a delicate art of timing and finesse, a subtle dance that the wind bowls over like a ogre. Despite the impeding weather, we did at last get confirmation that steelhead were there, with my dad and I each landing one within a couple minutes of each other.
I quickly descended into the same ruminations as yesterday. I don’t know why I obsess over such things, or why 30 is considered a critical checkpoint by which I should have settled down with a partner. It’s been a chief concern since high school, though at that time I was focused on finding a romantic partner who would play video games with me. We’re in a new era where “30 is the new 20,” but unfortunately my expectations haven’t caught up to match, so my gremlins keep telling me 30s is when my prospects of finding a person start to dwindle rapidly. It’s annoying how intransigent they are: I have plenty empirical evidence in the form of so many amazing people in my life, people with whom I’ve formed connections of many styles and forms, which should indicate that I’m going to be just fine and I need to be patient.
I suspect much of my anguish stems for a belief that I nearly secured for myself that desired future (and blew the chance, my gremlin would append). Up until last year, I was happily moving forward with my life, unconcerned about this goal on the horizon, until I met a person that gave me concrete hope in turning that dream into reality, unleashing a bunch of hopes and dreams I had tidily locked away. When that relationship came to an end, my hopes ended with it, leaving me alone with the fears. I still miss her, a lot, I dream (literally and figuratively) of sharing space with her, I’m still hooked on that imagined future I created with her in it.
Admitting it brings on feelings of shame: I should be over it by now, I’ve been grieving for longer than ever before. I judge myself because there have been other impactful relationships in my past and it feels like I’m disrespecting them by being more heartbroken over this one than any other. I don't understand why, and it seems incongruous with my reality of how profoundly I've been affected by others, how much other relationships have meant to me.
All this hurting certainly confuses the fostering of new connections, as I find myself blindsided by a flashbacks that grip my heart, even when I'm sharing space with other people and being wholehearted. In my last post on this topic, I wrote, "The challenging part is accepting the interleaving of moments uplifting and crushing.” I am just feeling that so hard right now.
Part of healing is finding new love, and yet it’s hard to welcome in that love to heal you when you’re still hurting, and that catch-22 makes the prospect of getting over someone feel impossible. Do people normally carry past loves with them for so long, always aware of those paths unexplored or curtailed? I have a hard time sitting with this reality, for that other path feels like it was ripped away from me, I was stripped of control and had to accept a new harsh reality that I didn't want to accept.
As the night carried on and I poured my thoughts onto the screen, sitting by the river with the rush of the water in my ears, I slipped into a woeful downward spiral, recounting many of my past relationships, recalling their highlights, and feeling increasingly sad about the loss of them. Eventually, I forced myself to sleep in order to break the cycle of derisive and destructive self-talk. It was one of the worst spirals I’ve faced in several months. I had been doing relatively well for quite some time, I guess I had built up a lot of sadness to release all at the same time.
A short and sweet day, and a decently uplifting ending to a rather physically and mentally demanding fishing trip. The rain and wind relented and my brother, whom the fish had eluded for the first two days, at long last hooked a steelhead on our first stop. (As if in a way of cosmic apology, Nathan landed yet another fish later on as well.) In the process of taking some action photos of him, I tripped and fell into the river, flooding my waders with icy water. I fortunately had a spare change of clothes and the weather wasn't as wretched, so I wasn't shivering all day. Even so, it broke my resolve to keep fishing, so I was very glad to see the landing ramp that signaled the end of the trip.
Now it’s off to home, a quick dinner, and then a drive back to Seattle. It’s going to be a busy week — my birthday is Thursday, my 30th birthday weekend shindig gets underway Friday evening, with many logistics still to handle. This pace of life, swooping from one activity to the next with little downtime, is par for the course, and one not maintainable forever.
I’m slowly trying to shift gears toward being more locally focused. Having a place of permanent residence certainly helps. My calendar is not nearly as packed as it has been in the past, and while I’m still traveling a great deal I have been getting a lot out of being home in Seattle. It’s hard to say “No” to opportunities for travel, for visiting new places and old. I see a conundrum in wanting a local partner to build something with, but not spending enough time locally to foster that possibility because I’d rather travel when I don’t have a partner to be with. But as I enter this new phase and learn from the past relationship, I seek ways to create space for something more permanent and rooted. It can be hard to maintain hope that such a person will come, that I will eventually meet someone and I haven’t “used up” all my luck, and I guess that’s just a struggle I’ll always be living with.
As I prepare for this thirtieth trip around the sun, I certainly didn’t want to be flying solo, but such is the way my life has unfurled, through a meandering sequence of decisions and events that have brought me to this moment. Reflecting upon each turning point in my life, each career decision, each relationship started or ended, it’s unclear whether this reality is my own "fault," if I made an error along and now I am reaping what I sowed. I branch off from each place into an alternate universe where I took a different course, forecasting a rose-colored life where I’m somehow far more happier than I am right now. It’s a useless, unproductive habit, and one I can’t help but indulge in from time to time. At the end of the day, there’s not a thing I can do to change it: there’s only one way to travel the river of life, and that’s downstream.