A lot of people ask me how this is going to work. How in the world are Mike and I going to be a couple when he lives up near the Canadian border in Whitefish, Montana, and I live 20 hours south of him in Aspen, Colorado.
And the answer to this question, like so many others in my life is, "I don't know." I don't know how its going to work. I know that we can tackle the bumps as they come, and that it will only work if we are both totally committed to being open, communicative, and willing to work through the tough stuff.
And what's really amazing is... we are.
I want to tell you the story of how we met, because I think it sheds light on what's at stake, and on what's possible. Its worth fighting for, for sure.
Mike has been reading my blog for about a year and a half. He knew that I was a performance coach, and he's an ambitious, energetic, athletic guy who wanted to do "it" better. So he emailed me off my blog and asked for some coaching. I was psyched, as you all know, money is tight, and every gig helps. I love to coach, and so coaching someone over the internet seemed like a great plan.
We emailed back and forth a few times, but we both got busy and our schedules didn't mesh up. Eventually, he made a friend request of me on Facebook, and I remember looking through his photos. All his pictures are of him outside with his kids, outside skiing or climbing, taking rescue courses, or working at the Pheriche Aid Station in Nepal (one of my favorite places on the planet).
I remember seeing a picture of his eldest son, Cyrus, hanging out of his tent, with wild hair and a big smile, and I remember a picture of all three of his kids hanging all over him and laughing outside. I thought to myself, man, this is the kind of thing that I want. Not this man, because that would be silly, but someday, I hope to find a love like this, someone who is strong and can take his kids outside and be with them and be patient and happy, be close, and bonded and adventurous, and teach my kids with me to live a life outside, full and free and happy.
I remember thinking to myself that he looked a little bit like a Patagonia catalogue, and that its dangerous to dream, to wish, to think you see what you want. "Oh, Kate." I thought to myself. "Don't wish for what you can't have. That's not how it works out for you." And so, I erased him. From my memory. Completely.
About four months later, I was healing from a broken heart, and I sat down and I wrote a list. I wrote what I wanted in my relationships. Not a physical description, because that just doesn't matter to me. But what kind of person. My list went something like this:
"I want someone who is not afraid to love. I want someone who wants to go big with his heart, who is excited, psyched to be with me. I want to be with someone who loves my kids as much as they love me. I want to be with someone who is psyched to see me fly, who puts wind in MY sails, and who lets me put wind in his as well. I want to be with someone who wants to live a life of wild adventure, but to whom love is the baseline that drives that adventure. I want to be with someone who wants to live outside, who wants to help me teach my kids to live outside, I want someone who cares about art and books and music, I want someone who can play in the snow and in the water and who can sleep outside...." The list went on and on like this.
I looked at my list when I was done writing, and realized, wow. I am going to be single for a very long time. And I was okay with that. I felt peace with that decision, because I finally knew and acknowledged that I didn't want anything less than that. I want a big love. I want a big family. And I'm not willing to have less than that.
I should have written "But in five or six months." at the bottom.
Four days later, I was answering my Facebook email, which is woefully neglected. I had four emails from some guy, Michael, which were one month apart exactly. Who was this guy? He had sent me a link from some singer, Lisa Hannigan, thinking I might like the style of one of her songs... and I had listened to it previously, and liked the music, but I hadn't actually LISTENED to it. The song was called "I'd like to meet you.". You can listen to it here while you roll your eyes at me.
I was trying to figure out who this guy was... his last email had said, "I'm bummed you are leaving the state." and I thought, I don't even know who you are, why would you be bummed? So I clicked on his profile, and I realized... HEY, this was that coaching client guy! This is the camping guy! I remembered seeing a photo where he was looking at the camera, maybe doing dishes on a camping trip, and I remember seeing myself behind the camera, and seeing my kids in the picture with him, and I remember thinking, wow, Kate. That's wishful thinking, and that's not healthy.
I emailed him back. I answered all four of his emails about ten minutes apart, and I asked him, "Am I going to meet you?" wondering why he would be bummed I was leaving if I didn't even know him...
The next morning, I got an email, "My flight vest was rumbling all the way to Spokane..." Apparently, he's a flight paramedic. He flies around in a helicopter rescuing people in remote and urgent situations and taking them to hospital care. Yeah, I know. Okay. Heroic. His flight vest was rumbling because he was getting my emails. And he was glad they were all from me.
And thus began 48 hours of mad texting. And then I thought, this is insane. I don't know this guy. How do I know what he's like? He could wear socks with his teevas for all I know. He could be a serial killer. You decide which is worse.
Finally, I told him, after being completely twitterpated for two days, "I can't do this. I can't flirt with you and be swept off my feet by a man I don't know. I know NOTHING about you! And you know nothing about me, and I can't ask your friends, hey, what's Mike like?" I was stuck. I've never been in a situation where I wasn't friends with someone first and then grown into a relationship with them.
And so, after being the recipient of such texts as "I want to plant food with you, I want to dance with you, I want to sit with our bare feet in the grass together at the edge of the river and watch our kids play..." (Are you reading this out of a book? Really? How can you be brave enough to say these things to me?... oh wait... I asked for this. I wrote down what I wanted. I want someone who is not afraid to love, not afraid to say how he feels, who is willing to take risks, who loves me passionately... shit. I asked for this and now I'm scared of it and I'm running away...) I balked.
"Hey, I'm going camping with my kids on Friday. Want to come?" he asked me.
"Sure." I said. (What? Really? Well, there were some other folks up in Whitefish we could camp with, so it would be safe, but on the other hand, what would be worse than being stuck all weekend with some wierd guy who I didn't hit it off with? Was I insane? Part of me was already feeling like I was in love with him, could that even be possible?
I told my sister. "I'm going camping with this guy..." of course, she thought I was certifiable.
"Kate. You can't do this. You can't go camping with a total stranger with your kids. No." I told this to Mike.
"Hey, my sister is very protective of me, and she might have something here... I need to listen to her. I'm not sure I should go."
"Can I talk to your sister?" he asked me. Sure. I gave him her number.
An hour or so later, she called me back. What could they POSSIBLY have been talking about for that long?
"Okay. If you DON'T go camping with this guy, I'm never talking to you again." WHAT? Really?
And so it was decided. We'd leave in two days. Let the mad texting begin again. We packed our stuff. Ethan and Bodhi and I drove with our dog, Wya, to Rocky Creak in Valley of the Moon. We got there before they did. Just before I lost cell service, I got a text. "I've never wanted to tell a woman that I've never met that I love her before..." Oh my god. I'm either insane, or he is, or this isn't possible or real, or I'm perhaps the luckiest woman to ever walk the earth. You choose.
There was another family already there when we arrived, and the kids ran around playing together while the us grownups attempted to put up the tent and get all ready. I was having trouble concentrating for some reason... and he was late. Very late. And I thought, oh, my god, he's not coming.
Finally I let go and settled down and had a glass of wine around the campfire with our neighbors. I was worried that my kids wouldn't get along with Mike's kids. I mean, his eldest was almost thirteen. My youngest was not yet six. What are a thirteen year old and a five year old going to have in common? I could just see the teenager rolling his eyes and saying, "Oh, this is soooo lame, Dad..." and longing for his x box... a nighmare was about to ensue, i was sure of it.
And then up the road came this old beat up Land Cruiser. Oh, wow. Of course, he drives a super sexy truck. And its covered in gear racks that are all beat to hell, because he uses them. And then he pulls up, and we are all walking across the campsite towards him, and his kids get out. And they are amazing. And Cyrus, the eldest, walks right up to me, and introduces himself with a big smile, and so does Ethan, Mike's Ethan, who is a bit shyer, but very warm, and my Ethan walks right up, "Hi, I'm Ethan, and this is Bodhi, want to see the forrest?" and all four kids take off into the forrest with both dogs running after them. And there I am standing by myself. Mike is watching from the truck, he hasn't got out yet. And I think, well, gee, that was easy. I can see the kids from here, they are holding hands. For real.
I look at the truck. I'm scared, I'm excited, I don't know what to think. I don't know this person at all. But he knows me. "I know the you you show to the world through your blog, Kate. But I want to know all of you. I want to know the you that you don't show to anyone else." Oh my god. Hes going to hold me accountable. He can see right through me. And he stands up, and of course, even though I loved him already and it wouldn't have mattered, he's beautiful. He's tall and blonde and blue eyed and kind. I can feel kindness and caring radiating from him from where I stand, rooted to the spot. He closes the distance between us.
"There you are." he says, looking into my eyes, holding my face in his hands. "Where have you been?"
I just stand there. I don't know what to do with everything I am feeling. I look into the woods, the kids are running around in the trees, oblivious to me and my heart which has fallen out of my body and right into this man's hands.
"Why don't you sit down?" he asks me.
"Ok." I say, and I sort of collapse on the boulder behind me. Mike goes back to his truck and reaches into the driver's seat and brings out a bag of raspberries. (I promise you, I'm not making this up. This all really happened.)
"I picked these raspberries in my garden this morning and I've been waiting all day to feed them to you." For real. He says this. He kneels down in the dirt at my feet and begins to feed me raspberries. And I'm thinking, "I made him up, I made him up there's no way this is real, how did he get here?"
And the weekend continues like this, he plays his guitar with his son, they sing me songs together. Mike plays to Ethan and Bodhi, the boys all play together. We make good food together, we swim in the river together, we have little adventures and big adventures. Its like we've always been a family. The boys are dirty and happy, we play hard for three days, we are irrevocably and completely compatible. We are careful to let the love show, but not to confuse the kids. Mike asks if he can hold my hand, and the moment he does, I can't let go of his. He is gentle. He is respectful. He is patient with his kids and mine. Together, we are all very happy. Its a happiness that none of us have felt in a long time. Its a happiness of getting what you dreamed was possible, but knowing that it was improbable.
And the weekend comes to a close. And I am supposed to leave for India in 30 days and then move to Aspen. His kids ask me, "Do you really have to go?"
At the end of the weekend, Ethan asks me if Mike is going to be my boyfriend. I ask him what he thinks about that. His face breaks out in a huge smile. "YEAH! Yes mom, YES!" and Bodhi is nodding and smiling. Something that was broken is healing here.
That weekend, Ethan caught a snake with his bare hands and Bodhi built a spider web out of climbing rope. The big boys built a slackline and went fishing. And Mike and I fed them and cared for them, and he played me music and looked at me in the starlight. "You are having trouble with this, aren't you?" he asked me.
"Yes." I told him. Because I believe in honesty.
"Can you look at me and tell me you deserve to be happy, Kate?"
I couldn't. I couldn't believe he could know me so well to know that I was struggling, and know why it was that I was struggling. "I deserve to be happy" I whispered, without looking at him. My life is so full, I have so much, wishing and wanting a love like this seems greedy.
"I think you should tell me you deserve to be happy. The way you really feel about it. Don't you want to be happy?" I looked at him. The tears came, I couldn't stop them. He brushed them with his thumb.
"I deserve to be happy." I said, looking into his eyes.
Needless to say, I didn't go to India for my Ayurvedic training. Mike will possibly be in Nepal again this June, I'll go to India then while he's there. We spent the next three months camping every weekend with the kids. On the river, at the resivoir. We took my mom with us, and she fell in love with the family, and they fell in love with her. On the second trip, I got to meet Mikes amazing and beautiful daughter, Marley.
And here's the thing. I've always wanted a huge family. Five skaters and I'll be the goalie, I always said. But I couldn't do it in my previous life, it just wasn't possible to have any more kids. The strain of two on my marriage was hard enough. I was a little sad about that, but I had accepted it and let go of the idea.
And suddenly, here they are. 13, 11, 9, 8, and 6. Five kids. One girl. A tribe. A tribe that meshed on its own with no force or will, just open love, from the very first day.
And lots of people told me that it was too good to be true, that it couldn't last. And it was certainly amazingly overwhelming to both of us. And going at it kind of "backwards" being an instantly integrated family and then getting to know each other certainly had its challenges.
But I got to see my kids blossom and open and grow, they loved to be with the big boys, and the big boys seemed to love to have someone to mentor. And Marley was finally a big sister, and I had someone to do girl stuff with. Bliss. Bliss worth fighting for.