My daughter was born on April 4, 2004.
On a still Western Colorado morning, I sat in the passenger seat of my friend John Yankee’s Toyota pickup, rumbling over the 50 miles of winding state highways that connect the towns of Telluride and Ouray. I wore a running shell that I still have. My hips sported a pack with four Power Gels, a trail map, a compass, one Power Bar, and two bottles of water—but not the 15-ish pounds I’ve gained and lost five times since then. I didn’t even know why I needed sunscreen, but I put it on anyway. I was just shy of my 27th birthday. I would never grow old.
That day I ran Imogene Pass, a 17-mile trail that cuts unapologetically across the Rockies from Ouray to Telluride, climbing over a mile in order to cheat the mountains and shorten the 50-mile trip that mortals must take.
The trail weaves past abandoned mining towns, growing quieter as the air grows thinner and fewer species populate the hillside. It finally leaves all life behind at 13,114 feet, where only wind and gravel belong. Wind, gravel, and me. For one day.
It was a day that I began as an apprehensive tourist, transforming into an adventurer as I left Camp Bird’s lone sightseers behind. That day I became hypoxic and remorseful in gale-force winds at 13,114 feet, and grateful and amazed as I loped, still somewhat altitude-drunk, past the old Tomboy mine and into a town in the midst of its ordinary afternoon.
I left Telluride two weeks later, to start my life.
And hasn’t that been fun. Look at the Zen-like calm of 27-year-old pre-partum, pre-law firm, pre-mortgage, pre-divorce, pre crapped-on-six-times-today- me. How charming she looked, a jackrabbit with a ponytail springing over the brush. She was house-sitting, running, spending her law firm signing bonus. Calm, isn’t she? Don’t you love her?
Yeah, well this isn’t her blog. Fuck her.
So I had my daughter on April 4, 2004. The road to that is another story, though like Imogene, it’s a place where few things would be foolish enough to live.
-My daughter’s birth was not sublime. It began with waking my now-ex husband to share the news my doc had given me a couple of hours before—I would have a C Section. Then I waited for an operating room and had abdominal surgery after 24 hours of labor. I didn’t see my daughter for four hours—she had to have her chest squeegeed (turns out that in DC they can still force you to accept a squeegee, but you don’t pay extra for it, unlike in NYC). My parenting books about nursing the child immediately, the beatific eye contact, bonding like a baby chick, out the window. By the time I got her, well-meaning (intolerable) people were streaming in. I’d had a cup of apple juice in two days. They took pictures. The day ended with a late-night nursing session during which I tried to gingerly maneuver my kid between the tubes attached to me. It was a very shitty day.
For all of the talk of “empowerment” through motherhood, I never felt less like that powerful woman who ran over mountains alone. My small triumphs—breastfeeding while eating with chopsticks, for instance—always looked small. In fact the early motherhood experience was a daily reminder that I’d said goodbye to that quiet place where everything made sense, and that woman who knew how to keep things sensible. Motherhood, in my estimation, totally sucked. And what happened to that moment in the baby books, where you realize that you can love as you never believed possible? I kept waiting. And waiting.
Fortunately, my kid isn’t a baby anymore. She walks, she reads, she composes surreal knock-knock jokes, she makes her own chocolate milk. She sent Dustin Pedroia a beautiful get-well card when he broke his navicular bone. I have dated less evolved persons than her. She’s changed.
And so have I. I’m nothing like that harried mother, in large measure because I am a happy partner. I met my husband – my daughter’s stepfather—On October 18, 2007. And that wasn’t the best day of my life either. True, I was smitten the moment he opened a coffee shop door for me, but what did the day mean? Was it the day that made our life possible? No. Commitment followed slowly, responsibly. I didn’t even show the cleavage that day.
Our wedding day didn’t top Imogene either. Marrying Dave was the best thing that has ever happened to me, but our wedding day’s fatal flaw was that we had a wedding. If “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage,” then love and weddings demonstrate the difference between correlation and causation.
Groom: bride must leave me the fuck alone so that I can compose a heartfelt tribute to her, dammit.
Bride: I swear to fucking god I’m going to pistol-whip him into gazing longingly into my eyes, dammit.
So October 2, 1999 still stands out. Apart from that, there are days.
Over time, all of these days have affected a change in me. Motherhood is, if not easy, happening on terms that I understand. Every morning I wake up with someone whom I know will still love and approve of me when we lie down to sleep—regardless of how badly I’ve fucked up during the day. I hung up my lawyer suit. I get to say “writer” if someone asks.
One ordinary day, as I stood before the mirror searching desperately for the pen that I lost in the wrinkle between my eyebrows, I recognized the woman who ran Imogene. For the first time in a very long time, I wanted to go back.
We have friends in Denver, and soon hatched a plan to meet them there, drive to Utah for some outdoor adventure, head to the Grand Canyon, and stop at some Colorado town or other on the way back to Denver. I didn’t say Telluride, but I got my husband excited about Ouray’s hot spring pool. I looked at the map many times. It just made sense to go back through there. And while we’re at it, why not drive Imogene? My husband and daughter would love it (who doesn’t love getting oxygen-drunk while looking at windswept gravel?).
Meanwhile the prospect of bringing my family to these places thrilled me. My daughter would fall in love with the places that make me whole. My husband would finally see this fantastic woman whom he’d never met – never mind that we’re married because he likes the high-mileage version. I would lead us through breathtaking hikes. I would point out formations in canyons. They would come to my lost country and the experience would deepen my respect for my daughter, and fool my husband into thinking I’m not nuts. Brilliant.
Canyonlands National Park—July 2, 2010:
“Are we going to be in this canoe alllll daaaaaay?”
“We’ll take a swim and snack break at the next beach.”
“Because we’re on a canoe trip. You know, this is a very peaceful way to travel. Did you know that? Well did you?” (husband gives child a granola bar and asks me something about birds).
Zion National Park—July 5, 2010:
“Why are we heeeeere?”
“Because it’s beautiful.”
“It’s not beautiful to ME.”
“What’s wrong with you? It is the most beautiful place in the world and you should feel grateful to be here where you can experience its serenity, now stop!”
We abandoned our Grand Canyon plans. My daughter wasn’t being bad, but she was showing serious signs of being a 6-year-old trapped in her 38-year-old mother’s fantasy. We stopped at Costco and bought her a DVD player for the punishing drives.
And we didn’t go to Imogene. We went to Durango for some decent food, a motel with a pool, and a kid-friendly outdoor park with a luge and a bungee trampoline. Driving back to Denver, I watched the West Slope unfold before me, and vanish behind me. In the San Juan Valley, I saw my favorite kind of landscape, and found myself choking up. It’s so hard to be so close and not go, I thought but didn’t tell my husband.
Colorado just smells better than the rest of the world. It’s as if the grass knows how lucky it is to be there. I knew how lucky everything is to be there, but I was leaving, without even passing this feeling on to my issue —who was giggling in approval of Johnny Depp’s performance as the Mad Hatter.
I could totally nail that part.
In bed that night, I told my husband that I had wanted to show them the person I had been before, and he nodded.
The truth is, I couldn’t show my 6-year-old my very best self because that self doesn’t exist in the presence of a 6-year-old. Nor could that 6-year-old recognize her. Remember, this is the person who thinks that Pop Tarts and “Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” are western civilization’s highest achievements.
That October day when I finished my run through Imogene Pass, I ate a whole pizza. I called Yankee—I’m fine, I said. I slept. I padded to Bear Creek in sandals and socks. I tried to see out of the box canyon, over to the ridge to Imogene, and contented myself in knowing that it was there.
When did it become so difficult to believe that it is there?
It is there. I’m still fine.
And I am here too. The whole me.
I still want to go back to Imogene. Not in a Jeep, and not with my kid. I don’t need her to need this. I’ve always said that she is too young to understand god, and doesn’t need him yet. Nor this. Her Imogene is yet to come. When she can understand what she needs.
It would be good to take my husband with me, but he doesn’t have to go. If he wants to see the windswept gravel, great. But if not—it’s time I understood that he doesn’t need to see the Malibu Mountain Hottie Lara to know I’m worth spending the next five decades with. My occasional cleavage displays are more than enough, and that’s what love is all about.
No, I don’t think they’ll be there. Because I want to run it.
And I’ll start training as soon as I find that damned pen. Better go get my tweezers.
 If something is “empowering,” doesn’t that mean that you were previously not in power? I’m just saying.
 Fortunately for me, he has a more deliberative temperament than I do.
 Our wedding was great. Fresh air, inappropriately long kiss, crab soup in little shot glasses (!!), we pulled it together.
 This is where my husband and I say “you said, nail that part” and crack up. And everyone else leaves.
 See above. I have dated less evolved persons than this.