Trigger Warning: This essay mentions rape.
By Lynn K Hall
I wasn’t afraid, but I should have been. I was at the start line of an ultra-marathon, and before me lay 65 miles of Colorado’s Never Summer Mountains. I’d have 24 hours to cover them, to summit multiple peaks, to traverse long stretches of alpine ridges high above trees. If we were lucky, we wouldn’t hit thunderstorms. There wouldn’t be cheering crowds like found alongside a road marathon, but instead moose, elk, bears, or mountain lions. The race director warned us to pay attention to the pink flags marking the course which may or may not follow obvious trails. A missed turn could result in being lost miles from a nearest road without cell reception, maybe in the dark and frigid night.
I squished in a gaggle of runners as the skyline above the far mountains lightened to navy blue. Some breathed warmth into their curled fingers. Others re-organized their gear and food in their running vests. I crossed my arms across my chest and squeezed my biceps. I was numb. Apathetic. I smiled and chatted with my friends but the excitement was an act. I didn’t care about the race. I didn’t have room in my psyche to worry about mountain lions, lightning, or hypothermia.
Ultra-marathons are Rorschach tests. Tribulations in the mountains’ extreme environments – the exhaustion and vulnerability – elicit a depth of feelings not typically dwelled upon by your consciousness. The emptiness of miles upon miles becomes the canvas on which you project your deepest state of mind.
Nobody signs up for a 65-mile race because they want it to be easy.
I had woken up at two a.m. that morning, thoughts unstoppable. I wasn’t dwelling on the race. I was perseverating on my book, a memoir, a hypothetical, pie-in-the-sky dream I’d been chasing for the better part of a decade. It was a story of having been sexually abused as a teenager and raped again while a cadet at the Air Force Academy. The story contained many heroes, but most notably, it was a testimony brimming with accusations. Against multiple perpetrators. Against the institutions which protected them. Against the doctor who failed me. Against the squadron that ostracized me and told me they’d let me die in combat. Against the family members who didn’t believe me.
My memoir was an admission of my weaknesses. My failures to protect myself, to help myself, to be strong.
After years of writing and re-writing, I had a draft I was proud of. I had landed a New York literary agent who told me my memoir was wonderful. I was one publisher’s “yes” away from a book deal.
Years ago I had lost my dream of becoming an Air Force pilot, but now I had a new dream, a better dream, and one “yes” would transform that dream into a reality. Continue Reading…