in case you aren’t one of 20,000 homes in the colorado foothills regions that receives the mountain connection (positive news) monthly paper (or maybe you are, but just missed it), here’s an article i wrote for the january 2013 theme: new beginnings (slightly longer, clearly not cut for space). i’m very thankful to have been picked as a feature and am even more thankful for the support i’ve received since the distribution date. mountain people are good people.
When I first received the news, I was at the Stonestown Mall. I always liked going there because it was right next to San Francisco State University and seeing all of those college kids running around with cut-off shorts and bad ‘70s-inspired ribbons in their hair reminded me that I wasn’t in school anymore. I liked that. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was shopping on a mission: upgrade to a smart phone. Being in the Bay area, everyone and their mom had an iPhone and I was ready to join the cult. When I went into the retailer, they told me that because I was on a family plan, I had to have the head account holder verify my request before promoting me from regular boring old phone user into the wonderful world of Steve Jobs. I rolled my eyes, whispered “what a bunch of bologna” and dialed my mom.
I’d been living in San Francisco on and off for three and a half years. I originally moved there from Evergreen, Colorado to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising when I was 17. My two-year program consisted of incredibly late nights on the sewing machine and a handful of hilarious and/or terrifying experiences like when riding on an overcrowded subway carrying giant rolls of fabric and overflowing toolboxes, I was attacked by a curious paper bag with a live chicken inside. After finishing with honors, I took my official fashion designer diploma and went on a sabbatical in Yellowstone National Park. I even missed my graduation because I was hanging out with Old Faithful.
After the summer, I took my first apparel design job in Denver. The following summer, I quit to through-hike the Colorado Trail with my brother, followed almost immediately by a month of trekking in Peru with my sister. At some point when I was off gallivanting, I was offered a job back in good old San Francisco. It was with a beautiful, creative children’s clothing company where I had interned during school. It was a dream job, something you just don’t turn down. I loved my work, spending time with crazy city friends, and was finding a balance between my career dreams and my passion for outdoor adventure, because I clearly had trouble finding a work-life balance in the past.
The phone rang twice. My mom didn’t answer. After the third ring, the voice I heard wasn’t hers.
“Hi Angela. It’s Diane.”
“Oh, Hi Diane. Um, how’s it going?” I immediately thought it was weird for our family friend, Diane, to be answering my mom’s cell phone, but maybe my mom was driving or just took a big bite or something. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“Uh. Well. Uhm. I’m…..ok” she answered slowly.
“So is my mom around?” I impatiently asked. I had iPhone on the brain and didn’t feel up for chitchat.
“Well, she’s here but something happened.” My heart stopped. I grabbed my purse and high-tailed it out of the store to try and get better reception. Just as I was exiting she said, “Your _________ was working out over at the rec center.” Long pause. “He had a heart attack.” Long pause. “He died.”
I stopped cold.
“Who?” I said in a panic. “Who did you say? I didn’t hear you. The phone cut out! WHO?!” My voice was shaking. But I already knew who she said. My phone didn’t cut out. I just couldn’t believe it.
Very quietly, she answered. “Your dad.”
I consider myself a levelheaded person; I don’t scream or yell when I’m upset. The most I do is drop a couple of f-bombs and go for a five-minute walk to clear my mind (Namaste, y’all). But after getting the news, I became completely psychotic. Right in the middle of the mall, between the hipster college kids and the suburban families, I lost it. I immediately fell to my knees and started scream-crying. I yelled at Diane. I told her I didn’t believe her. I told her what she was saying wasn’t funny. I didn’t shut up until I heard my mom’s voice. All she could spit out through tears of her own was something about being sorry.
I was 21. I wasn’t ready to lose my dad, especially my dad and my mom knew it. After the longest bus ride of my life (thank you to the random stranger who handed me a tissue), I went home. I sobbed and wailed. I screamed and cried. I threw things in my bedroom. I slammed doors. I sat shaking in the corner. Every time I tried to calm myself, each thought was more painful than the last. I was a freak. I was in shock. I was heart broken.
There is unbelievable darkness that come with losing a parent at 21 years old and many I’m sure I haven’t even experienced yet. But through the sadness, shock and confusion, I force myself to be thankful for the lessons I’ve learned. The day of the phone call at Stonestown Mall was the day I realized I lived 1,247 miles from home. Of course, before that day, I knew I lived full states away from my family (mama didn’t raise no fool), but it took that event for me to experience exactly what 1,247 actually felt like. Talk about a milestone. So I decided to find my way back. I can’t say I did it immediately or that it was easy or even what I wanted. It was what I needed. That phone call sparked my understanding that life is too short to be unhappy, though I’m sure Mr. Rogers tried to teach me that a long time ago.
So, here I am, freshly re-planted from San Francisco, California back to my home state of Colorado. I’m focusing on the things that make me happy: vintage sewing machines, sunsets, views from 14,000 ft, good friends, homemade dessert, old records, the smell of my camera bag, finding that one pair of shoes at the thrift store which are exactly my right size, my brother, my two sisters and my mom. I spend my weekends playing outside. I have a new apparel design job. I’ve committed to new goals.
In 2013, I’ve pledged to raise $8,500 for Summit for Someone, helping fund Big City Mountaineers, a non-profit that takes inner city youth out on outdoor adventures. With a completion of my fundraiser, I’m going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2014 (um, work-life balance who? Some things never change.)
My father was my teacher, my cheerleader and my friend. I miss him every day, but I choose to smile because I know he would be proud. Despite the hardships and freak events life sends our way, at the end of the day, no matter what, happiness is a choice. I’m choosing it.
Angela Bakas is a tree climber/photographer/clothing designer/high-five giver/kite flyer/recycler/long distance backpacker (and short distance too)/verbal trapeze artist. To read more of her stories or to donate to her Summit for Someone climb, visit www.loveknobbyknees.wordpress.com.