Dear Mom & Dad

Dear MA y PA,

If you’re reading this, I survived Cerro de la Muerte and made it to Zane’s site. Maybe this is one of those things I shouldn’t tell you–that I drove a road named after death in Costa Rica–just like I probably shouldn’t have told you the New Year’s in Paris story, or the flash flood story, or the hitchhiking in Montana story (actually, I’m not sure if I ever told you that story so let’s just pretend I said something else, like ‘time I caught a super safe ride with friends’), because it’ll only make you worry. But really, it should be the opposite: it should bring you comfort to know that I got myself into a mess (not even a messy, really, just a slightly exhilarating situation) and then also got myself out. That’s our girl, you’ll say when people ask you how I am, the one who doesn’t get kidnapped.

Costa Rica feels like the place I’ve been dreaming of since I was a kid: running through the trees behind Uncle Sjoerd and Aunt Sarah’s house and pretending it was a forest, playing in the creek at Hidden Meadows and wishing it was a waterfall; climbing the dirt hill behind the house when they were building the parking lot and dreaming it was a mountain (God, how did none of us die on that? It was a pile of dirt with NO maintained trails and tons of rusty pipes sticking out everywhere).

We went to the waterfall in Montezuma and when I jumped in the water I was shaking and couldn’t catch my breath and I don’t know if it’s because I hadn’t eaten breakfast or because the water was cold or because of the physics behind a waterfall, the falling and the churning and the spray and the gravity all work in harmony to suck the air right out of your lungs (there’s a reason I majored in words and not science). I felt like I’d been looking for this place all my life, dreaming up something like this when I churned out those terribly bland drawings of waterfalls that are memorialized forever in magnets on family fridges, and through some twist of fate I found it.

I wonder where I go from here, what the point is of all of this, what I’m supposed to do with these incredible experiences, these moments of wonder. Do I keep them in my pocket and pull them out on bad days when I’m back home? Am I supposed to write them down, in letters and short stories and Instagram captions? Are they for the people who ask me about my trip or do I keep them to myself? When I tell the stories, will I do them justice or should I not even try?

I’m watching the fog roll in from the balcony of Zane’s house, only I guess it isn’t fog, it’s a cloud. I’m sitting in a cloud writing you a letter.

I read this opinion piece in the New York Times about open water swimming in Australia and how we’re all just looking for something to make us feel small. The line made me think of all those years of Catholic schooling and retreats and hours spent in adoration and how we’re supposed to be dwarfed by God’s presence. At sixteen, I felt like I was broken because I never felt that, not in the way that the people around me seemed to be feeling it. I eventually found it, that need to worship and pray and give thanks, only it wasn’t in a church, it was in the docks under Key Bridge and at the top of Lower Falls in Yellowstone and diving headfirst into waves in the Pacific Ocean.

Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this–you’d be happier if I was finding God in a pew during mass on Sunday–but really it should make you proud that, despite my erstwhile ways, something you planted in me as a kid–faith, wonder, religion–still grows.

When I went to Mexico with Mick, the shore was steep and the waves rough. I got tumbled around in one and, when I made it out again, thought nothing of it until I was at the beach with Maddie in Delaware over Fourth of July. I couldn’t go out past the big break even though she begged me and showed me how to do it maybe a dozen times, I just stood in knee high water having a mild panic attack.

At Playa Grande, the shore was long and gently sloping, the waves manageable. The waves sounded loud and powerful in that way that waves do but they tumbled over you like a basket of kittens. Once I dove through that first one, I never wanted to stop. I wanted bigger waves, rougher ones, louder ones, ones big enough to drown out the voice in my head telling me to go slow and be cautious, ones strong enough to make me feel small. We had to go back in because the sun was setting on the other side of the peninsula and we had a long walk through the forest but I wanted to stay in the water until I had through and gobbled up enough waves that I felt full.

Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that story either; you have enough to worry about with me on land, we don’t need to add water concerns to the equation. “That’s our gal, she knows how to swim” isn’t so much a thing to brag about but a statement of fact and a testament to good parenting that, if I’m ever caught in a flash flood, you and the swim program at the Shenandoah neighborhood pool have at least given me a fighting chance.

Do you ever think about how weird it is that you bring a human into this world, your life revolves around them–they literally would not have survived with you–and then they grow up and move to Spain or Fort Worth or Oklahoma or Washington D.C. without so much as a by-your-leave? It seems incredibly selfish but you don’t say that it’s selfish, that they should stay close, because you want them to be happy and flourish and sometimes loving someone means being the one left behind. And then you’re left to figure out what comes next. I hate that part, the figuring out what comes next.

All this to say, you guys are good eggs–maybe the very best eggs–my favorite eggs for sure–and I’m sorry for the trouble. I hope, at the very least, the stories make all of the trouble and the worry just a little bit worth it.

I love you both so very much and can’t wait to see you soon!

Pura vida,
Mienke

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