When I was just wee tot — always wanted to start a sentence that way — I had several hideouts; spaces and places where no one could find me. Growing up in the lush, dense forests of Western New York provided ample options for magical disappearing acts. I’d wake up that morning, strap on my bedazzled pants/shirt/everything, and set off in search of a hideaway. I’d sneak behind huge boulders, nestled deep inside a hurried gorge that emptied into Lake Erie, or become buried in thick vines, cascading and commingling from forest canopies. I’d play for hours in solo enjoyment of my organic Jungle Gym. I wasn’t a lonely or asocial kid — hell, I had two sisters and a neighborhood spilling over with buddies my age — I just enjoyed my solitude and special time.

My favorite of all my favorite places was Love Water.

When I was about eight or nine, I started wandering across my back yard, into the patch of trees at the edge of the property. Behind the trees lived a huge stretch of grapevines; acres and acres all being tended to by farmers with knotty, callous hands. They’d drive huge, loud, green trucks with sharp teeth on the front designed to harvest the fruit from stubborn vines. I regarded them as mechanical scarecrows, nearly sending me running back towards the safety of the house. I’d crawl through the trees, twigs snapping under my ratty mud-caked tennis shoes, and pause at the edge of the vineyard to survey the safety of my path.

Leaving the property line at such a young age inspired a new thrill of liberation. With age and wisdom, I’d grow a deep appreciation for the feelings that come with true liberation from other people and commitments. My destination was about one mile through the weeds, past the rows of grapevines, under the birdhouses filled with beehives, and into a second row of trees hiding a tiny little creek.

The first time I discovered Love Water I was hiking with my mom and chocolate lab named Wally. I was about five-years-old. It was so beautiful and magical, that even now the image is imprinted freshly in my mind: a small babbling brook, dewy mossy banks, ink spots of tadpoles, and sunlight pressing through the leafy treetop stencils. I claimed it as my own and have countless memories of hiding out just pondering, humming, or looking for frogs.

As a woman in my thirties, I have yet to really get the full perspective from my parents and sisters on Love Water. I mean, I suspect the conversation went a bit like this…

Dad: (looking bewildered) “Where’s Chunk?”
**SIDEBAR: Yes, Chunk was/is my childhood nickname name, and I’m still recovering from this. Baby pics to come**
Mom: Un-phased, standing on the linoleum kitchen floor in slippers, holding a “Buffalo Bills Superbowl” mug of black coffee in one hand, a bottle of creamer in the other. “She’s at Love Water.” She pours the creamer and looks up.
Dad“Oh…” Long Pause. Shift. “Love” Pause “Waterrrr.” Scrunches face.
Mom: “Yes. Love Water. It’s her special space. She’s fine.”

And I was. I had a sweet super overprotective older sister who probably knew exactly where I was, how long I’d been there, and how many pancakes I had for breakfast. Thanks, Katie!

Over my years of running away to Love Water I didn’t think about what my friends were doing. I didn’t question the time unless the sun was starting to wave goodbye and I knew I had to head home. I didn’t have a video game to turn on, or a fridge to open and close, obsessively checking my hunger vs. boredom status. Zero distractions, and I wasn’t bored. I was mighty entertained by the thoughts that came rushing in, and unafraid of what I felt. I wrote poetry that fills books I still hold today, and sometimes I just sat and cried a little… or a lot.

I spent a long time in my twenties afraid of my solitude.

Text messages
Missed Calls
Happy Hour, dancing, happy hour, Grad Class
new People, pups, flights
Output. output. Output

…I was afraid of my loneliness. I was afraid of what sadness would come up when I was alone. I was afraid of the work I’d discover needed attending to.

…I’m still afraid of my loneliness at times. I am learning to embrace my sadness.

Two days ago, I was supposed to virtually attend a seminar on mindfulness sponsored by the awesome/progressive tech company I work for. I ended up blowing half of it off. I was swirling with work emails, thoughts, feelings, and a whole bag of unresolved stuff. Meeting a friend later, she gave me a piece of paper with a poem by a poet I newly regard as one of my favorites. Nayyirah Waheed provides a flashlight into human emotion and experience that sometimes illuminates a path home.

express your sadness.
it has only one place to go.

I’ve been swept up in the motion of human-doing lately. Living some great experiences, but also not taking time to myself to reflect and think deeply in solitude. In meditation last night, I was shocked to find myself on a journey to Love Water, to visit a tinier, wiser version of myself I knew so long ago. I just let myself cry a river for the little parts of me that are still super grieving, and ashamed that I’m not fully healed. Strip away my marketing smile — I’m still a little sad. Guess what? It’s ok.

If we don’t visit the sadness inside of us, we carry the weight of sadness around like heavy buckets of water spilling over. We get short, angry, pissy, self-destructive, and reactionary. Think back (to like, ten minutes ago) to one of the many times you had unknown or unprocessed emotion that showed up with an unexpected rush…. it’s a messy fantasia-like nightmare. Right? Scene: A beautiful tropical getaway, palm trees and a sky full of stars. Ocean rushing against rocks. Kinda shitty ‘champagne’ on a balcony. Me: storming out of a room in anger because my ex poked a little to close too unresolved sadness I had around religion. I poked back. I never took the quiet time to cry, and hold myself in it before opening up and “putting myself out there.” Just last week I had a lovely woman say something so sweet to me, and I recoiled with attitude, self-shaming, and met her with a long list of questioning. Classic. All of it is sadness seeking its due time of reflection.

So you say, “well Am, I’m not really a sad person. I don’t have anything to be sad about. My life is great!” Yep, me too. Trahhh la la. But, come on. Let me be clear: We have a divine right to feel sadness fully; if not for our own experiences, then for our collective existence. We have a divineresponsibility to weep for native graves being decimated by oil trucks, for youth without supportive homes and warm meals, or for the heartache of families separated by unjust incarceration. If we don’t connect and express this sadness, we cannot return to our partnerships and communities with a profound understanding of the WHOLE picture that surrounds us. We’re missing the point.

I have a cabin I disappear to often — family-owned and deep into the Pike Forest of the Rocky Mountain Front Range. The trees protecting it are dry, tall, thin, and friendly. I like to sit and just watch birds with blue wings. Even back in the city we have spaces to retreat and process. I know of one coffee shop that has a perfect little nook in the back for dealing with some rough shit without anyone bothering you. At the center of my kitchen table, I have a little stone bowl filled with rocks and tokens that hold memories. I like to hang out here alone and just be. Finding a place to process isn’t hard if you just look for it and liberate yourself from commitments for just as long as you can.

So, I leave you with this: If you need to find me, I’m not hiding out in order to reject community, partnership, or friendship. I’m simply seeking to plug into the source, so I can return to you better than before. This is the lesson of Love Water.

We return to each other in waves
This is how the water loves.
– Nayyirah Waheed

Onward and upward, Strange One…