I stood, coated in a thin layer of dirt and sweat, clutching the bear bag rope. There I was, on North Manitou with four backpacks chock-full of food. And my co-leader, Cole, was convinced that we could hoist this gargantuan bear bag by ourselves. It was our responsibility, as the leaders of this backpacking trip, to elevate our food off the ground so it wouldn’t be decimated by chipmunks in the dark of the night.
As I tugged on that rope with all of my might, I felt a familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. This is a feeling that I often ignore, that I often firmly stamp under the edges of my thoughts, though it somehow leaks out anyways. I won’t think it out loud, I won’t think it out loud, I won’t think it out…
“I don’t think I’m strong enough to do this.”
I nearly stumbled backwards at hearing my own voice admitting that. Me, the one who nearly threw out her back dragging a bookcase across school last year to her new room. Me, the one who got into a minor argument at a wedding this summer because one of the groomsmen tried to carry a ladder for me. Me, debilitated to the point of self destruction by the thought that someone might think me physically incapable.
“That’s okay, just go ask some of the campers for help.”
Cole, Cole Cole. How naive of you to think that it was as simple as that. I can’t WALK ten feet to the nearest tent and ASK some sixteen-year-old boys to help me with the bear bag. That is admitting clear defeat. In a war I have waged against all mankind for the past twenty-four years.
If you don’t know me, I am rather small of stature with mysteriously inverted hips. So when I move around, I give off the general vibe of physical helplessness. In response to this reality, I have built up this wall of defiance against condescending offerings of help. But due to my burning rage against being patronized, I assume that everyone is patronizing me (which cannot possibly be true). Naturally, this pig-headed independence leaks into all aspects of my life, and I end up doing foolish things in isolation, like writing entire ninth grade curriculums from scratch.
Last night, I attended the current Broadway revival of Into the Woods. Despite what the first half of this post might have you think, this show has nothing to do with backcountry backpacking, and everything to do with retold fairy tales. I was mesmerized by the talent of every single cast member, and particularly by the song “No One is Alone.”
People make mistakes,
Holding to their own,
Thinking they’re alone.
Well okay, Stephen Sondheim, just go ahead and call me right out. So what if I “hold to my own,” trying to handle the weight of teaching single-handedly? So what if I stumble blindly across a church, waving a ladder wildly in the air so a groomsman can’t condescend? So what if I would rather have my body be eaten by chipmunks than ask teen boys for help stringing up a simple bear bag?
But then, they reach the lines in the song:
Someone is on your side.
You are not alone.
Ope. I am in the theater sobbing. Because I have family members who sit with and share my feelings at confusing potential employers. I have best friends who will talk with me on the phone for hours when my feelings threaten to overwhelm me. I have a co-leader who will patiently listen to my false moral dilemma about asking for help.
And so I talk a deep breath, grab Cole’s collapsible camping lantern, and walk over to the tents.
“Can a few people help Cole and I with the bear bag? It’s too much for us to do by ourselves.”
Still, you’re not alone.
No one is alone. Truly.
No one is alone.
Susannah currently lives in New Jersey and works as a 7th grade ELA teacher in East Harlem. When she is not teaching or writing, she can be found exploring independent bookstores, going backpacking, and trying to roller-skate on all the cool trails in the city. She is also recently experienced in the art of citrus skunk repellent (I know you’re impressed).