home is where the heart is

The past couple of weeks have been pretty eventful in my world. I spent a week in Colorado and successfully executed a fundraising event for a local kid’s ski club that I helped plan. I visited a friend who soon thereafter passed away, and realized that for what I’m doing out here, it isn’t worth it to keep pushing through the misery. So, I have decided to take off a few weeks early and head home the weekend before Thanksgiving. But, before I go into that, let me talk more about my trip home!

I had been counting down the days to my trip for, well, basically since I booked my ticket the second week I was here. I left for the airport 3 hours early (meaning I got to the airport at 2AM) just because I was so anxious to get there, and I napped in my car in the parking garage for about 2 hours before going inside. My flights were on-time, and even though we spent an hour in a holding pattern circling DIA (I could SEE it! It was RIGHT THERE! I feverishly committed myself to writing flash cards for GRE vocab to try to keep myself occupied… instead I just ended up wasting a bunch of note cards because all of my definitions were pretty much illegible due to over-excited scribbling), I landed at about 11:30AM in a sunny, albeit windy, Colorado. I got off the tram and as soon as my head peaked above the windows halfway up the escalator, my boyfriend Brandon came running to meet me. My dad and his girlfriend were there, too, because he happened to be dropping her off for a flight that left at about the same time. It was sunny, I was surrounded by people excited to see me, and it made me actually feel like the person I recognized as myself for the first time in several weeks.

Brandon and I headed up to Frisco, and as we crested the pass, snow was falling in big puffy flakes and we moved into the right lane and slowed down to about 25 MPH. It was winter up there! After sitting through a rainy, non-committal interim season in Vermont, I was so happy to see snow and not just slush. That night we bundled up and walked to the brewery in Frisco, and I started thinking, you know, my lease up here starts in about a week – I’m paying rent anyway, what am I doing suffering through life out in Vermont when I could be HAPPY out here??

The next few days came and went with the usual whirlwind caused by the I-Have-To-See-Everyone-I-Know debacle often faced by those visiting home for just a few days. I carefully worked around mealtime dates and trying to make sure that nobody felt like it wasn’t important to me to see them. In the end, I saw almost everyone I had hoped to, but half a week is not a lot of time. I was exhausted, but not as exhausted as Brandon, who had graciously driven me around and come along for the ride as I introduced him to pretty much everyone I knew. Through the social exhaustion, however, I felt very loved, and very very grateful to have such amazing people in my life who take time to see me when I come through town. I loved being in Boulder, back in my element, where I could go to Whole Foods and the Southern Sun and the Fellows’ house and feel pretty much set for life.

On Saturday I hung out with Sarah for Halloween, and we talked about my situation out in Vermont. She suggested that I leave early and come home for Thanksgiving. I told my Mom about Sarah’s idea, and then Steph, and then Brandon, and they all agreed that I needed to get out of Vermont before my full tenure was up. It all sounded great from there, but I knew it would be a different story when I got back to the hills and had to sit down and tell my bosses that I couldn’t make it work. It’s not easy to admit that you are struggling, and especially not easy to admit that you feel like you are out of options.

I left on Monday after a great week spent surrounded by friends and family who love me, in a state that I love, in a landscape that makes my soul feel alive. I wanted to leave Vermont early. And that decision was made eventually. But I am leaving out something else very important that happened when I was home, and it was this:

On Friday, Brandon and I got to do a very special thing and go visit a friend of mine named Aaron Kittel. You may remember Aaron from my article about the FA river trip I did with Splore. Aaron’s battle with a progressive disease called Friederich’s Ataxia had been going on for years, and it had started to become apparent that his body was starting to get tired. Aaron’s spirit was just as in ebullient as ever, but during our visit Aaron was visibly exhausted. We watched while Aaron said goodbye to his brother Mike as Mike headed for a road trip with some friends to California. The words, “I am so excited for the rafting trip. You know I’ll be there,” were spoken to Mike through tears. We hung out for a little while longer, talking to Aaron about Halloween and to Aaron’s aid Katie about her sort of ridiculous experiences skiing (Katie was wearing a shirt that said “Trust Me, I’m Ski Patrol” – since Brandon actually is ski patrol, we had to ask her about it, and found out that her first time skiing she had taken out an entire line of ski school kids… oops!), and then said goodbye to Aaron before he began doing some energy work with a few of his friends who had dropped by. Brandon and I had a quiet and somber drive home, hoping that we would see Aaron on the river again but knowing that it would be hard for him to make it to next summer. Later that day I made the decision to definitely go back to Splore for a second season next summer. Five days later, Aaron passed away.

I found out about Aaron’s passing on Wednesday afternoon. I had already made the decision to talk to my bosses about leaving early, but hadn’t had the chance to do it yet, and was feeling incredibly apprehensive and unsure about my decision. How much of a difference could leaving 3 weeks early really make? What was it about me that I couldn’t just figure out how to suck it up? But then I heard about Aaron and something clicked. Life is short. And as cliche as that sounds, we all know it’s true. I won’t be around forever, and my loved ones won’t be around forever. I thought about Mike saying goodbye to his brother, and realized I had witnessed the last time that Mike ever saw Aaron. I have this amazing life full of people who love me waiting for me in Colorado, who support me being out here but with whom my interactions have pretty much been limited to complaining about Vermont. That night, a sadness came over me about Aaron and the pain his family is feeling, and I suddenly felt very at peace about my decision to leave Vermont. There is a time for going out on your own and doing what needs to be done; but there is also a time to say, this is enough, and I want to be happy.

So, I am coming home early. I will be home sometime the weekend before Thanksgiving, and then I will head right up to Frisco (since I am, in fact, already paying rent up there as we speak) and start getting settled in. And while I am sad that my time in Vermont was not what I’d hoped it would be, I’m happy for the experience, because I know that I will appreciate Colorado and being around the people I love that much more.

In the meantime, rest in peace, Aaron. Thanks for the smiles. I will see you on the river again, someday.

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