I’ve been seeing a counselor. Do you know how difficult it is to find a counselor? Not that there aren’t enough of them, because hoo boy, there are. I mean how difficult it is to select a counselor, I guess. I just kept typing random things into a search engine, feeling about as much self-pity as it’s possible for a person to feel. It’s such an overwhelmingly intimate, humiliating thing to ask for help, it felt unspeakably wrong to be doing it via Google. But what are the alternatives? There’s no Yelp for that shit. Or if there is, I couldn’t find it. Eventually I came to a site that listed counselors by their specialties. It had photos, bios. I stared at faces and tried to imagine myself sitting in front of them. Talking. Oh god.

Making the call was the hardest thing in the world, except maybe for actually going to the first appointment. I could imagine what my body language looked like to her. My hands twisting in my lap, my lips pulled over my teeth as I kept biting down as if to stop the words I’d come to spill.

Even in that first session, there was an eventual sense of lightening. What a terrifying relief it was to sit there and say things, things that hurt and pulled and snagged. Secrets tumbled from me. Afterwards I had the same sort of feeling you get after being violently ill: weak and emptied and somehow grateful.

So now I see her once a week. I am always uncomfortable when I first arrive, overly polite and formal and nervous. Then we transition from the small talk and it’s … I don’t know. It’s maybe like walking into a pool, in a way. With each step I unburden myself a little more. She talks, too. I like that about her, she isn’t the sort that waits in silence and only says things like, “And how did that make you feel?”

I spent my life, pretty much, thinking it was indulgent and silly to pay someone to listen to you talk. It was a pussy thing to do, is what I thought, if I’m being honest. Even though I’ve unraveled parts of my soul behind the relative safety of a computer screen, and I know exactly how healing such actions can be.

Now I realize: there is such a power to being vulnerable in front of another human being. To opening up and telling someone the things that drag me down. It’s scary. Devastating, even. And then it’s like being rebuilt, a little at a time. The ugly shit that makes me feel so broken is out in the open. It doesn’t take up the same kind of space when it’s acknowledged. And oh, that feeling of acknowledgement, it runs deep and wide. I am here and this is me, is what I’m essentially saying, when I talk to her. I am listening, she says. You are here.

(Previous Oregon trips I’ve recapped: Crescent Lake and Rogue River/Indian Mary campground.)

Last Saturday we hit the road for our first official no-shit family vacation. We’ve done plenty of weekend outings with the kids, and of course there were all those epic Seattle-to-Coos Bay visits before we moved, but this was our first lengthy getaway that was just for the four of us. While we’d considered a handful of destinations that required air travel, the expense and inevitable ass-painery of flying anywhere led us to cobble together a 5-day road trip instead. The general itinerary: Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Bly, Crater Lake.

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Day one: Grants Pass. We drove 140 miles from Eugene to Grants Pass and headed straight for a deep bend in the river where the water was slow enough to swim in. The boys played for hours, hucking rocks and chasing minnows and marveling at the rumbling jet boats that politely motored by before gunning it around the corner and sending white-tipped waves crashing back. An ice cream truck picked its way over the rocks to offer its wares, completing the tableau of summer perfection. We stayed in the awesomely kitschy Motel Del Rogue, and ate dinner sitting on the deck watching rafters lazily drifting by.

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Day two: Lava Beds/Klamath Falls. On Sunday we drove about another 140 miles southeast to the Lava Beds National Monument in northern California. Out of the 22 developed caves, we hiked into three: Mushpot, Skull, and Valentine. Skull was the scariest, with precariously steep sets of stairs that became so cold the handrail was almost unbearable to hold (despite the scorching temperatures on the surface, the floor of that cave is covered in ice year-round). Valentine had a lengthy section that required a bent-over scuttle and I couldn’t stop thinking about that horror movie The Descent, but they were all so awesome and after a little initial nervousness the boys were absolutely blown away. Afterwards, we drove 40 miles north to Klamath Falls where we stayed in the Best Western Olympic. The lobby looked like an outdoors store, the pool was fantastic, the staff put out sandwiches in the afternoon and cookies at night. I fell asleep dreaming of flashlights and chlorine and chocolate-coated grins.

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Days three and four: Aspen Ridge Ranch, Bly, Oregon. On Monday we drove northeast to a little town called Bly, where JB plans to hunt antelope next month. We scouted some hunting spots, then headed down some remote and winding roads to our log cabin at the Aspen Ridge Ranch. Oh, that ranch was unbelievable. So gorgeous and serene and miles from distracting cell signals or email notifications. We hiked, swam in the nearby lake, drove around the countryside, searched for obsidian arrowheads, spotted antelope, played Ping-Pong in the lodge, walked through crumbling homesteads, startled entire herds of free-ranging cattle, dropped crackers in lakes to watch the fish swarm (kids: “FISHNADO!”), tooled around in the ranch’s rowboat, fed curious chipmunks, and sat on the deck as the most glorious sunsets I’ve ever seen spread across the sky and the boys ran and played in the aromatic sagebrush. It was simply magical. I would go back there again and again and again.

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Day five: Crater Lake. From the ranch it was about 130 miles northwest to Crater Lake. We took a few hours to drive the jaw-dropping loop around the lake, stopping here and there for photos that didn’t have a chance at capturing the view. Our lodging for the night was the Wagon House at the Aspen Inn, which delighted the boys to no end with its western decor and pool table in the living room. It was fun, and I did love seeing the lake — but if I were to do it all over again I’d probably skip this last stop in favor of something else. The kids were far more impressed by the tourist-choked gift shop than the scenery, and the mosquitos were so thick in the evening we felt house-bound. Still, what a spectacular part of the country.

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All in all, it was a glorious, unforgettable trip. We definitely had our moments of frustration now and then, and I joked that by the last day JB had started to sound like an infomercial with his repeated phrase of “It’s that easy!” (“Just keep your hands to yourself! It’s that easy! And you, I told you to put your shoes on! IT’S THAT EASY!”), but really, the boys did very well with the driving and they were so much fun to be with. For the most part I felt like we were in a bubble of family bliss, miles and miles from real life and all its responsibilities and challenges. I’m sad it’s over, but so grateful for the memories.

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