My daughter Jamie and I had a great time camping and hiking in the Badlands – but tears welled up for both of us over how much Kyle would have loved the freaky lunar landscape of rock climbing there. Everywhere Jamie and I looked as we set up camp, we couldn’t help thinking of all the wild climbs Kyle would have wanted to take on the hundreds of rocky cliffs rising all around us. He and Jamie climbed a lot of trees and hiked a lot of mountains together. This is a shot I took of the two of them climbing higher than I wanted them to in 2013, and below is a shot Jamie took of Kyle rock-climbing with her in Red Rock in Nevada in 2015.
And here are some shots of me and Jamie in the Badlands last week:
Had Kyle been there in the Badlands with us, I know he would have terrified me; I would have been – as I always was — powerless to stop him endangering himself, upset by the crazy chances he was taking with his life. I would have refused to watch him climb, and he’d have teased me for being scared, assuring me he’d be fine. Possibly he’d even have goaded his sister into following along and taking foolish chances with him, which would have made me even more anxious and angry. I would have been praying he was as invincible as he imagined himself to be – and that Jamie wouldn’t try to keep up with him just to prove she could. I try sometimes to remind myself how terrible my constant, rampant fear was while Kyle was alive, but of course I still wish he’d been with us in the Badlands, even if I would have spent the whole day frightened – a perfect metaphor for how I feel every day now. (Who knew I’d ever wish to feel such terror again, now that the worst has already happened?) The flip side of fear is hope; without one I no longer have the other.
Here’s a photo of one of the many times Kyle miscalculated the dangers while hiking, one of the many times he told me about a fall he’d taken, sounding amazed at how lucky he was to be alive, lulling us all into thinking his luck would last forever …
Meanwhile, by the end of Day 3, my admiration for Jamie had grown to new heights: not only had she become some kind of Zen master, leading me in yoga routines and setting the most loving intentions for us, but she’d also turned herself into a skilled and expertly outfitted camper and hiker. She gave me a pair of hiking boots and loaned me a pole and then took me up the Badlands’ steepest trail. (She was kind and patient with me when I started perseverating about a fear of snakes on that trail, too, given all the rattlesnake warnings posted all around us.)
The next night she named herself “Fire Goddess,” building a fire entirely on her own, spending 30 minutes gently blowing oxygen at the fire’s underside to help the flames catch. The following night, she pitched the tent, rolled out our sleeping bags and set up the fire all by herself while I was getting food (earning my camping name, “Mama Bear.”) Jamie brought along a cook stove, a headlamp, a lantern, a hammock, art supplies, tools – everything we wanted or needed for the journey, she had it. She was so on top of everything that I found myself able to relax and let her be in charge of all the trip logistics – which I think is the first time I’ve experienced that since I became a mom. (Lovely! I could definitely get used to not being in charge of things!)
I mentioned to Jamie that she seemed to have risen to a new level of competence and self-confidence, and that I wondered if this had anything to do with her recently shaving her head – and/or if it had anything to do with her trying to fill some of the roles Kyle once filled. She’s always been a girly girl, and somehow, despite all my best feminist intentions, acting girly seems to have sometimes meant acting a bit ditzy and helpless. (My mother does this with real skill, and I know that I have been guilty of batting my lashes and confessing my ignorance, too, to get help with everything from changing a flat to finding my way when I’m lost. I don’t feel like I’m acting, though; I really don’t think I’d be able to change my own tire, and I do get lost quite often.)
Jamie agreed that since shedding some of her girly-girl persona along with her long hair, she’d noticed others treating her as more capable, which has probably contributed to her viewing herself that way. As a short-haired woman, she noticed, people expected more of her, which she liked. She agreed that perhaps she had taken on some of Kyle’s roles, too, as she felt that if he were with us on the camping trip, he would have put himself in charge and she would have deferred to him. “I want to be independent,” she told me. “I want to know how to take care of myself.” She is rightly proud that after this most awful year, she is — and can.