Ben and Rachael and I decided we needed a break from the city so we got into my car and drove east to a destination that promised a relatively mild hike and a waterfall that was enough to quench our thirst for the outdoors. It was the first quarter of grad school and we three were in the MFA program at University of Washington working toward our degrees in creative writing. It’d been a couple of months and mistakes were being made—mistakes had been made as far as I was concerned, the primary one being my enrollment in the program and my move to a city that I’d never even visited before. But there I was, I was in it, and though I’d given up on so many things in my life, I knew I was going to stick this one out. Two years to go. I couldn’t know it at the time but they would be the worst two years of my life.
We arrived at the trail kind of late in the day, but it was a beautiful afternoon. Hikers walked briskly up and down the path, which was exactly what it had promised to be: essentially a gravelly, dusty road with very little incline. Good, because I was terribly out of shape after having spent months eating my feelings—in bed, under the covers, surrounded by empty bags of Munchos and the discarded red wax of the devoured Babybell cheeses that comprised my dinners. The sun was out, some water source was pleasantly burbling, and I was with the only two friends I had made thus far. I wouldn’t say I was unhappy, but the seed of happiness was nestled comfortably in my chest.
We walked, took our time, talked about books and writing and the program and got to know each other a little better. They were smart and knew about literature and I was easily distracted by interesting looking weeds or beaten paths that led through the thick brush and forest. Everything was so green—the Pacific Northwest—and the color brightened my mood. We came across a trickling water source hugging a cliff side and stood against the railing; not so much to admire the meager stream, but more to take a break and stretch our legs. We had been walking for some time and dusk was making its way across the sky. But we had a goal—the waterfall—and to me it felt integral to my day to successfully reach it, marvel at it.
Now the sun was setting fast and clouds began to spread overhead. There were fewer and fewer hikers, and the ones we did see were hightailing it back toward the parking lot. Still, we continued to walk. And walk. And we were no longer talking, so focused on our end point, like once we got there everything would be good and alright.
And then there it was. At the end of the trail. It stood large and ominous in front of us and we had nothing to say.
An electrical plant.
It was a massive, gray, concrete electrical plant. Surrounded by barbed wire with No Trespassing and Warning signs hanging from the fencing. And that was it. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t laugh for a bit, we did. But something hung heavy in my heart too. And there was such a long walk back, back the same way we’d come, with nothing new to see, with a car and a far drive back to the city awaiting us. I turned my back to the plant and took my first steps back, each limb dragging along like dead weight.
The night sounds came out and it was officially dark. We could barely see ahead of us and though we tried to talk and laugh, there was a nervousness that enshrouded us. It started to rain and we grew cold. No flashlights, the light from our dead cell phones useless, no flood lights to guide the way. I’m going to die here, I thought. In the woods, with three people I barely know, because I wanted to see a waterfall. Because I thought a waterfall would heal whatever wound was festering inside me. I’m not going to make it through.
We found the parking lot, felt our way through the darkness to the car.
I didn’t die after all.