A Letter to my Daughter, Part III

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My beloved Zoe Lynn, We have some many things I would like for us to do together before our time is through. There are rocks and mountains to climb, rivers to kayak and swim in, ideas, hopes and dreams to discuss. I want to be there to comfort you when you go through your first heartache, I want to be there when you graduate from high school and college (although whether or not you choose to further your education is, of course, completely up to you.) Someday you may have children of your own, and I look forward to being a grandfather — as long as that doesn’t happen too soon.

Life can be hard, it can be cruel and capricious, yet there is so much magic, wonder, love and hope as well. My sincerest hope is that you can return to seeing this more positive aspect of existence. I know how hard it can be to see that side when you are depressed — I know that only too well. I also have been hospitalized because I was despondent, as you know, but I kept myself alive because I knew how much my death would hurt the people who loved me. I believe that now you know this as well.

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The last letter finished with you and your mom moving to Portland. She had quit her job as a nurse to return to school for acupuncture. This would prove to be the catalyst for your downward spiral. Of course, it was only part of a combination of factors that made for a potent recipe for depression. The move, you and I seeing each other less, a new school and city, your mom being really busy and not having as much time for you, plus the new addition of hormones, all of these contributed to your sorrow. But I believe that the thing that pushed you over the edge was you and your mom’s roommate, J.

She called you a slut(even though you are a virgin). She told you you were ugly and that no boy would ever want you. She insulted and dragged you down. Then she would lie about it to your mom and say you were making things up. I didn’t know any of this was happening until it was almost too late.

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I found out about this when you called me one night in May, revealing to me that you were struggling with bad depression. You told me about the situation and your mom and I agreed that I should come get you and bring you back to Southern Oregon for some extra time. However, it wasn’t until I called your school — to let them know you would be missing school for a few days — that I was informed that you were posting suicidal thoughts on Instagram. When your school counselor sent me the links to these posts I was beyond horrified.

I was in the last few weeks of my college career at Umpqua Community College, and I remember waiting for Brook to come pick me up so we could get you in Portland. I was like a caged, wounded animal, pacing ceaselessly, unable to concentrate on anything except coming to get you. I was so scared. Brook too was frightened, and she drove like woman possessed on the drive north.

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When I picked you up from school, I had already made up my mind that it was time for you to come live with me. I was ready to get a lawyer or go before a judge, anything I needed to do to keep you with me and keep you safe. I sure as hell wasn’t going to let you return to that house and be around that woman. You didn’t react well to the news, and neither did your mom.

Thankfully, Brook was able to calm things down between your mother and I and a short time after bringing you to live with us, we went to mediation where it was agreed that not only were you going to live with us in Roseburg for the rest of the school year, but that you would also be coming to live with us when we moved to Utah at the end of the summer. I really felt the change would be good for you.

I was wrong.

End Part III

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A Letter to my Daughter, Part II

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My dearest Zoe, today I took a trip to Zion, which was badly needed. I dropped Brook and the kids of at the school around eight and headed east towards the park around 8:30. I arrived at the trailhead for Angels Landing around 9:40 and headed up the trail as fast as I could. I needed to be back at the school by 1, so I had to hustle in order to reach the summit and return in time.

The Angels Landing trail is considered by many to be one of the greatest in all of North America, and ever since I first reached the lofty summit of this magnificent peak in 2011, I have wanted to take you on it. (We got about 3/4 of the way up the trail about a month or so ago.) I sincerely look forward to the day when you and I can do it together. Of course, being that this trail has massive exposure, we will have to work on regaining a lot of trust before I take you on it.

I thought of you a lot as I hiked, but I didn’t once think of that terrible scene from a week ago. This is a trail that requires full concentration. Being freed from that God-awful mental loop was a major relief for me. This is one reason why I climb, it frees me from any and all issues I might be experiencing back in the “real” world. I think that you too will utilize this aspect of climbing as you grow.

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The famsters on the Angels Landing trail, in Refrigerator Canyon

 

I want to return to the thread I began in my last letter to you. I ended it by recalling how I ended up moving to Southern Oregon. Despite living about an hour from you, I made every effort to see you on the weekends, often driving over one thousand miles each month in order to do so. I am proud of that fact. I would have done it even if the distance had been further.

Shortly after moving to Roseburg, I met Brook and we fell in love and created a family together. Your brother Ryan was about a month and a half when Brook and I met, and you were so excited to be an instant older sister. You were six when this happened. For a while, you and Brook had a somewhat harder time bonding, but when you admitted to being jealous of her, everything changed. You guys grew closer and closer as time went on, something that made me profoundly happy. Eventually you even started calling her mama.

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This was during the worst period of chronic pain, as evidenced by my gaunt appearance.

 

These were some difficult times for all of us. My chronic pain issues reached their peak, and there were times I seriously considered suicide myself. I was in so much agony then, and it seemed like there was no escaping it. You were always so protective and compassionate to me when I would be wracked by pain. It was hard for me to be as good a father as I wanted then. Thankfully, I would eventually find the medication that would unlock the doors of this prison.

Despite that rough time, we still managed to find time to go climbing and hiking occasionally. I remember really well when you were seven, and Ryan was a year old, we hiked to the top of Mt. Bailey, an 8000′ mountain just an hour from home. That hike was a true mountain climb: 11 miles roundtrip with something like 3000′ of elevation gain. But you did it, and all under your own power. I was so impressed. On the way back down, you were so exhausted that you kept falling asleep on your feet as we walked.

Zoe, Brook and Ryan on Mt. Bailey

Zoe, Brook and Ryan on Mt. Bailey

Then a couple of weeks later we made an attempt on Union Peak, a smaller mountain in Crater Lake National Park. Again, you did great, but neglected to tell us that your ill-fitting shoes were forming blisters on your feet. When we were within a few hundred feet of the summit, the pain got to be too much and you had to stop just short of the peak. Unfortunately, your feet were so thrashed that you had to be carried out, something like five and a half miles. My friends Scott and Eddie took turns carrying you. Luckily you were small enough that this was possible.

Zoe on the way up Union Peak

Zoe on the way up Union Peak

During this period, we had a lot of financial struggles, and had to move several times. We lived for a time in a mobile home on the banks of the North Umpqua river and that was a magical time for us. Our good friends Amy and Erik lived next door, and their son Hagen and you really enjoyed being able to see each other that often. But all good things come to an end, and more financial struggles forced us once again to move, this time relocating to my Mom’s home.

Around that same time, you and your mom moved north to Portland, and my ability to see you on a weekly basis came to an end. This was probably the most difficult period we had faced, but again, we managed to stay close.

End part II

Swallowed by Darkness

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I am not in a good place right now. I know that the main reason is because I am exhausted. Too much work, too many emotions, and not enough self-care have conspired to rob me of whatever shred of positivity I have left. I have nothing left.

I cannot get the images of my daughter hanging from the tree out of my head. It’s bad enough that I keep replaying that scene over and over again, but what I am truly plagued by right now is the what-ifs? What if I hadn’t woken up in time? What if she had succeeded in killing herself? I cannot seem to stop thinking about and imagining this worst-case scenario. I see here there, hanging, stiff and lifeless for us to discover in the morning. It is the worst thing I can imagine, and I can’t stop imagining it.

I need sleep. I need more than one day to take care of myself. I need an outlet. I need medication. I need to stop. I just want to stop. How can I make it stop?

I am such a shell right now. I feel incapable of smiling, or laughing, or seeing good in much of anything. I know I won’t stay this way, but right now, this is where I am. Surrounded by the dark, with a wounded heart and seemingly no light to guide me out of it.

A letter to my daughter

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On Thursday, December 4, 2014, my daughter Zoe Lynn attempted suicide. It was only by intuition or divine intervention that I woke up and found her struggling with a rope around her neck. I was able to prevent her from dying, but there is much work that now must begin to heal her, myself and my family. I hope this letter is the beginning of such a healing.

Dearest Zoe,

You came into this world on February 3, 2001., surrounded by friends, family, peaceful music and candlelight. You were born at home, in our apartment off River road in Eugene, Oregon. When Clarebeth, the head midwife, lifted you up and cried “it’s a girl!”, everyone erupted in cheers. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life.

You were such a sweet, mellow baby, and I realized after you were born that i truly did not know what love was until you entered my life. I did not know what life was until you entered mine You were such a funny little goose. When you began crawling, you hated having your picture taken. You would fuss and scoot towards me, trying to get so close I couldn’t take a shot. You also were a little jealous, and never wanted your mom and I to be close, pulling us apart if we cuddled.

I remember all too well, when 9/11 occurred and you were just a few months old, how scared I was, and how I wondered about the kind of world I had brought you into, and whether it was fair of us to bring you here when so much bad was happening. Of course, I no longer feel that way.

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Your mom and I did not remain together much longer beyond that, a clash of personalities that was impossible to fix. But fortunately for myself, I was always able to see you on a daily basis, and as you grew, we became closer and closer. Many people said you were a daddy’s girl, and I still think that is true. We have always been close, and I hope we always remain so.

When your mom went to Nursing school, I took over the primary care for you for a period of a few years, and even though it was hard, it was one of the most rewarding periods in my life. I would wake up each weekday around 6 am, feed you and get you ready for school. Then I would return home and try to get a few extra hours of sleep. Then I would wake up, pick you up from school, we would have lunch and then I would take you back to the school for aftercare. Then I would go to work (as a manager at Sweet Life) and work from 3 until after eleven (most nights), then I would go and get you from your Mom’s house, where you were asleep, put you in my truck and drive back to my apartment. I was fortunate to be able to get to sleep by one in the morning. Then I would wake up around 6 and start it all over again.

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During that period, I would take you on walks up Spencer’s Butte almost daily, carrying you in the baby backpack as we wound our way towards the summit. I remember once when it snowed, you hiked all the way to the top on your own (in over a foot of snow, too!) When your Uncle David and cousin Travis came to visit us, they took you on a hike on the Butte, but it quickly got too dark to continue, and you threw a hissy fit because you wanted to reach the summit. Of course, as a climber, I loved that.

I started taking you to the rock climbing gym at three years old, and wow, you blew me away with not only your natural climbing ability, but also your determination. I remember seeing other kids around your age trying to climb at the gym, and mostly they seemed to want to just swing on the rope and play. Not you. You were aiming for the top. I actually had to make you stop, take breaks, get a drink of water, because otherwise as soon as I lowered you from a route, you immediately wanted to go right back up.

I remember when you graduated from pre-school at the Waldorf. I was the one parent there who was bawling like a baby, it was so embarrassing, not because I was crying but just because all the other parents weren’t. I have always been very emotional about you.

A series of events (your great-uncle Jorge, your Pampa (my father) and my friend Traci all passing away, a painful breakup with my then-girlfriend Bethany, stress at work) put me on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and I myself went through some serious emotional trauma, which culminated in me taking myself to the hospital and getting mental help for a few days. I remember times when I would be just sobbing, and you, all of three or four years old, would drape yourself over me, trying to comfort and protect me with all of your soul and body. Eventually I made the difficult decision to move an hour south to Roseburg,  a more rural area so I could decompress for a while. Yet I still was able to have you for almost every weekend, and even though I didn’t get to see you every day, I was still so grateful to see you as often as I did. It wasn’t easy for us, but we always made the most of the time we had.

End Part I

 

 

 

An Update to the Death of Innocence

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Well, it has now been three days since my beloved daughter Zoe attempted suicide. She has been in the Provo Canyon Behavioral Hospital during that time, and apparently, all is going well. She has been learning coping skills and seems quite happy there. Of course, at this point, I am somewhat suspicious of her happiness because she had pretended that she was happy in the weeks leading up to her attempt (and had been planning on it all along.) Still, I am hopeful she will find a renewed sense of purpose and life after her stay there.

As for myself, I am…okay. The day after this happened, I felt very, very positive and hopeful, and found a new sense of purpose. But I also went right back to work the day after we returned from Provo and worked something like seventeen hours in two days. By yesterday the cracks in the dam had begun to appear and my emotions started going on a roller coaster ride. By the time I got home yesterday, I was a wreck again. There is only so long one can be strong, and yesterday I needed to let down my guard, take off the armor and let some of that pain out. It felt good to do so.

Today we are going to drive north again and go see her. I miss Zoe so much, so it will be wonderful to see her if only for an hour or so.

 

Hood on the Horizon

Mt Hood from an earlier, successful climb

Mt Hood from an earlier, successful climb

Well, it looks like everything is falling into place for me to go to Mt. Hood over the next few days to make a winter attempt on this fair state’s highest peak. I wasn’t sure if things were going to work out, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to make the trip to Eugene, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get there at all, but after contacting a few people, I was able to hitch a ride with Charles, my friend with whom I went to the Grand Canyon and South Sister. My bags are now packed, the gear is sorted, and I am really excited to meet up with Bill tomorrow.

Bill Soule is an amazing climber. He has summited Hood over 100 times, he has climbed all over the world and personally knows or has met a huge number of my climbing heroes. He has so many amazing and funny stories to tell, I am sure it will be a blast climbing with him.

Our plan is to head out of Eugene around 2 or 3 and arrive at Timberline Lodge in the evening. We are taking canopied pickup, and will crash out and try to get as much sleep as possible before waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning to head up. Probably won’t get a lot of sleep, but that is part of the Mt. Hood experience. Nevertheless, it should be fun.

I really hope I can summit this time. I am ready to make winter mountaineering a more regular part of my life, especially now that my pain issues seem to be a thing of the past. We shall see.

I will be taking both my video cameras, so I will have some spectacular footage when I return!

Thinking about Hood

Mt Hood above Timberline Lodge. Photo copyright (c) 2013 Swift Benjamin

Mt Hood above Timberline Lodge. Photo copyright (c) 2013 Swift Benjamin using a Creative Commons license

I have been wanting to make a successful winter ascent of a major Cascade peak for as long as I have been climbing, but always in the past my pain issues (always worse in the winter months) limited both my fitness and motivation to get the job done. I have made half-hearted attempts on Mt. Thielsen, Mt. Bailey, and Hood. The closest I have come to making a successful ‘winter’ climb was when we got to the summit pinnacle on Three-Fingered Jack before a lack of daylight made us turn back. Still, this was in mid-November, so it wasn’t really a winter climb at all.

On Bailey and on Hood, my hip was hurting so badly that I very quickly had to turn back. On Thielsen I was out of shape — again, because such chronic, consistent pain makes it so difficult to maintain a fitness program. Until last spring, I believed that I would probably never be able to climb in winter. My pain levels were at extreme levels and I wasn’t sure for a while if I would be able to climb much more at all.

But then I started to take Tramadol, a non-narcotic pain reliever that did something that heavy doses of opiates could not: It made my pain disappear. Within an hour of taking it, the pain in my right shoulder eased for the first time in months. Several hours went by. The pain did not come back. After about six hours I felt an ache again, but I took another dose and it went away. Days passed and I kept taking Tramadol, and it continued to keep the pain away. After several pain-free weeks turned into several months pain-free, I knew that I had found a medication that really worked, and did so without making me feel intoxicated in any way.

It has been nine months since I started taking Tramadol, and I have gone through my first pain-free autumn in seventeen years. Now we are firmly into winter and I am still experiencing very little pain or discomfort. I am in better condition at this time of year for the first time in a long time. I have been going on near-daily 5-mile walks and feel pretty happy with where I am at physically. Not in top shape, but not out of shape either. In fact, I would be in much better shape except I got sick over the holidays and lost several weeks of possible conditioning.

I had called my friend Bill about a week ago and asked him if he would want to climb Hood sometime soon, and he had expressed interest. Two days ago he called me and asked if I wanted to go on the weekend of the 19th-20th. I wasn’t going to have my eldest daughter down from Eugene that weekend, so I said I would go. The weather is supposed to get a little warmer during the week, and should get a nice freeze-thaw cycle set up, perfect for winter climbing conditions. Now I just need to figure out a way to get up to Eugene and a ride back on Sunday. Somehow, the conditions will arise to make it so.

I think this could be the first successful winter ascent for me. Bill is an uber-experienced climber who has even been on the cover of Newsweek magazine, and between the two of us we should be able to get up and down the mountain safely. I have a good feeling about this one.

If I can do this, it will be a great way to start off the year.