Marriage Is Like Climbing a Mountain

Before I met James, I’d never been hiking. That all changed quickly.

About three weeks after our first date, he asked me to come with him. He showed up at my door in mesh gym shorts and a white workout tee. I had on sage green khaki shorts and a white scoop neck tee. At the time, my impression of hiking was a bit like golf. You were working out, but you had to wear khakis. Man, I felt stupid.

In the 4 years since, we’ve gone on more hikes than I could’ve imagined. I’ve skirted along a precarious stretch of rock to make it up the “A” trail in Great Falls, Virginia. I’ve huffed and puffed my way up half of the Maryland Heights trail in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. I’ve paused over and over, hands on knees, begging my heart rate to slow on a short quarter-mile clip up to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. I am officially a hiking convert.

And I have to say, after just one year of marriage, that it’s a bit like climbing a mountain.

You start with this lofty plan to make it to the summit, some rock-encrusted trek that seems worthwhile because you’ll get a great picture to post on Instagram. A breathtaking view, a calm, cool breeze, a check mark on your list of a life well lived.

But life is hard. And that doesn’t change when you get married.

I’d gone through a lot of sweat and tears and mud before I met James. So why, after just some wedding bells and rings and vows, did I think that life would be magical ’till death do us part?

The idea isn’t that life gets better when you’re married. It’s that marriage helps us through it. We climb half a mountain, and have to switch trails partway through. Maybe in a few years, we’ll walk back to that other path and start up again, but not today. Not anytime soon.

It’s a series of routing and rerouting. Of rooting for each other and creating roots as a family. Because you have someone with you, breathing life into your tired limbs, pushing you to press onward, to not look back, to carry your past as a marker of how far you’ve come.

For our anniversary, we went on a 5.5-mile hike. And it felt like the perfect reminder that life is a journey. Sometimes, you get to tumble effortlessly down the hill, foot over foot, or walk on the flat, soft, packed dirt, and other times, you have to keep looking up, spotting the next tree, taking deep breaths, and steadying yourself next to your partner.

You take turns leading. You take time to check in. And you make it through – together.

Cheering You On

I’ve been thinking a lot about connection lately.

I don’t do well with beginnings. The awkward, stifled, bland part of the relationship, where you’re both searching out your commonalities, weighing the other person to see if your own heart and soul reflects back a bit when you hear them speak.

Being 27 is hard. You’re half a decade out of college, and everyone you know is in a different place—they’re changing careers, longing for a new job, looking for a spouse, skipping the dating scene altogether, announcing their pregnancy online, walking down the aisle, waiting for a sign to get up and move halfway across the country.

They’re doing different things. All of them. And you’re trying to figure out who has friendships on their mind—who wants to grow their community, who wants to have a real, meaningful relationship with the person sitting across from them sipping on iced tea and talking about their week. Someone who wants to skip all the small talk and get down to it.

I haven’t figured it out. Tell me if you do. I’m an introverted, emotional, deep person. I don’t do well with happy hours and bar hopping. I don’t do well with groups of people in loud rooms at midnight. I’m good at one-on-one, let-me-solve-your-problem, let-me-cheer-you-up, let-me-be-your-sounding-board. I’m good at caring. I’m good at listening.

My senior year of high school, a few weeks into the cross country season, I went to this Saturday invitational a few counties over.

We were stretching, touching our toes and hopping around before the start of the race, when a sharp pain shot up my leg. Whenever I started up again, it would inevitably come back after a few minutes. I didn’t run for months. I couldn’t figure it out.

I spent every Wednesday standing on the edge of the grass, face red from yelling, learning every girl and boy’s name as they crossed past me, up the slow hill and around the corner, headed into the cemetery for the second leg of their 3-mile race. It was all I could do. Learning the names of the freshmen, learning what made everyone tick, that’s what got me going.

It still does, even if I don’t have to stand on the sidelines. I’m better that way, face flush from fighting for them, for wanting them to be better, for wanting them to be whoever they so desire. I’m better wishing and hoping and cheering.

Life doesn’t work that way though. You don’t always fall into a purpose. Sometimes, you have to seek it out, ask questions, offer to be there for somebody and run the risk that they tell you to go away. Sometimes, you have to take a tiny step in a scary direction and see what happens.

So here’s to being brave, offering a hand or your heart, or an hour of your time. And here’s to cheering, whether the person on the receiving end knows it or not. There are so many of you out there that I root for, every single day.

The Things My Car Has Seen No. 2

Five years ago I wrote a blog post called “The Things My Car Has Seen.” It was a farewell letter to my first love – a black BMW with a tan leather interior and a sunroof perfect for hot summer nights and cool spring afternoons.

I thought the car was so cool that I plopped down in the driveway one smoky summer afternoon and prompted my sister to snap a few shots for the blog back in 2010. The back passenger side wheel became my backrest, my arms crossed over my knees and that familiar blue and white crest visible to the left of my arms.

Fast forward 7 years. In May, I sold its predecessor, my mom’s much less cool silver BMW sportswagon. She bought it in the fall of 2003, and at 13 turning 14, I made it clear that she was really cramping my style.

“It’s a sports wagon, Kaleigh.”
“Yes, but it’s a wagon.”

We were emphasizing different things. This would go on straight through my teen years. She saw it one way, and I another.

Though I grumbled until the day I sold it off, it seemed only appropriate to think back again, to all the things this car had gotten me through—for better or worse—and be thankful.

In mid-December 2003, that car transported me to a funeral. And as the years went by, another one. And another one.

That car witnessed my last first kiss.

My first first kiss was standing next to the black BMW, in the bitter cold atop a snow pile, in the dark of night. To an Italian boy with blue eyes who ran cross country and track and played guitar and landscaped his way through the summers, with a sister named Amanda.

My last first kiss was standing next to the silver BMW, in the sweltering heat of an asphalt parking lot, in the bright sunlight. To an Italian boy with blue eyes who ran cross country and track and played guitar and never learned to help his father who landscapes for a living, and also had a sister named Amanda. The symmetry and simultaneous contrast of those moments is not lost on me.

That car witnessed plenty of irritated phone calls, driving home frustrated about issues at work, or learning how to be an adult. It witnessed a blowout on the side of I-95 in the windy drizzle of a late April evening. It witnessed a couple of tow truck rescues, smoke on the side of the highway, a doggie sleeping in the front seat on the way home from doggie daycare.

We made it to hiking trails and weddings in that car. We made it to interviews and family birthday parties and the BWI airport long-term parking garage.

But mostly, we made it work. In between my father-in-law’s crouching over the engine, flashlight in hand, peering down into the folds and guts of the machine, we made it where we needed to go. It may not have been beautiful, it may not have been cool, but it worked. For a time, it worked.

As with anything, there comes a time when the most reliable of things sneaks up on you and flips itself around, and when that happens, it’s best to skirt yourself out from under the teetering mess and move quickly while you still can. It was time to say goodbye. And no one was happier than me.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge its good run—14 years of blood, sweat, and tears.


How Are You, Really?


The older I get, the harder it feels to find genuine friends in this bustling world. People who want to sit down over cups of coffee and skip all the small talk to say, “I’m excited about this. I’m anxious about that. And how are you, though? How are you really?”

Life can be terribly lonely like that. Even in the middle of handshakes and cocktails, text messages and missed calls, it can feel like you’re standing outside it all and watching. It can feel like night after night of conversations about things that wash away like the weather.

It feels a bit like a dream sometimes. Like waking up after months and months of memories and catching your breath. You find yourself standing on the outside of all these beautiful lives—these amazing fresh starts and growth moments, these tight embraces and happy tears—and wonder what passcode to use when you knock on the door and ask to come in.

When I met my husband, one of favorite things about him was his joy for life. We dove right in to being our honest, silly selves. We fell in love because we never tried to be small talkers. We acted stupid together, went on adventures, shared our hearts, and continued to reciprocate that day in and day out.

Tonight, I drove nineteen miles on a mostly empty road and thought about how nice it is to sit inside a good conversation for a while. How it feels to exchange real stories and struggles and feel the weight shake itself off your shoulders with each step forward. How it feels to find common ground in a world filled with perfect Snapchat stories and Instagram filters.

I’m searching for more of that. More people who want to come right out and say, “I enjoyed this. I feel like I can breathe again. Let’s do it again soon.”

We all need somebody like that, who asks, “How are you, though? How are you really?”