Driving with my family along the Veterans Memorial Highway nestled in the Adirondack Mountains in Lake Placid, New York, we came to a quaint toll booth. It reminded me of something one would see around Christmas, almost like a gingerbread house. Made mostly out of wood and gray stones, the building seemed to have two parts. The first part was a small, almost round stone building with a tall pointed roof that was horn shaped and reminded me of something that would have been on a castle. This was where we actually paid the toll from our vehicle. Connected by a stone breeze way topped with brown shingles similar to wooden shingles, the second part of the building was much larger than the first and was made mostly out of wood, with the gray stones at the base. Around the windows on the first level, wood scrolls decorated the side of the building while the second floor had wooden shutters matching the rest of the natural wood look. If it wasn’t September, I would have thought they were set up for Christmas, but since it wasn’t even November yet, the cottage toll booth was made even more quaint and endearing.
After waiting in line for a few minutes, we paid the toll and started our trek up the mountain. The whole ride was gorgeous, a beautiful new view around every curve. Along the way, there were plenty of places to pull over and park so you could enjoy the view at your own pace. Some of these pull offs had picnic tables, some had stone walls to keep you from falling down the side of the mountain but could also be used as a seat to enjoy the view. A couple of the places had boulders to keep cars from going off the mountain and my little sister and I had fun pretending we were “king of the hill” while our father snapped pictures of us goofing off.
As we drove and paused occasionally, we could see the circle of lakes that included Lake Placid. The further up we went, the more we could see. Looking toward the top of the mountain, what started as a peck we could hardly make out slowly became a castle in the distance. As we finished our drive up the mountain, we came to a parking lot, but were instructed to keep driving up before looping around to park. We kept driving and soon came to the “castle” we saw from a distance. There was an archway to drive through that was a turn-around to go right back out through a different arch, back where we had been but facing the other direction, which made it easier to park. We parked and started walking back to the castle.
Once there, we went inside the castle to get information and look around. We found out there was an elevator that goes all the way to the top of the mountain, but it was broken. The other, possibly less terrifying option, was a hike the rest of the way. The hike would take us about twenty-six stories further up the mountain.
After walking back outside and enjoying the view yet again, we started up the stone steps that began the trail. That beginning part was easy, the rest was guided by metal rails with the occasional added step up the face of the mountain itself. The hike was not easy, but it wasn’t as difficult as the hikers we watched scale the side of the mountain in an area that didn’t have natural stone steps. Along the way there were signs giving different information about what we could see, what the wildlife was like, and environmental information about the trees and shrubbery that managed to grow in such a windy, cool atmosphere.
The air was brisk as we arrived at the top of Whiteface Mountain. Breathless from both the hike and the view, my first experience there was not disappointing. The view extended for miles around in every direction. Looking one way we could see the road we drove most of the way up the mountain, a very scenic drive that paled, however, in comparison with the view from the top. Looking in another direction, one could see the whole circle of Lake Placid and its sisters. I tried to spot the villages, but there were so many trees and it was far away, I couldn’t tell where they were.
Standing at the top of that mountain, I felt as though I could fly away. The wind was chilly and harsh at times, but that wasn’t why I felt that way. I felt free for the first time in a long time. During that trip, I never once minded the lack of cell service, the distance it put between me and the guy I had been dating for almost two and a half years. The actual miles between us felt comparable to the distance between us; he didn’t know me anymore, nor did he care.
All the months spent exhausted and sick kept me from seeing how much he had stopped caring about me. I had spent a long time in a bad mental state. When I finally began taking medicine for my adrenal insufficiency, it took me a while to realize how dangerous my thoughts had become for a season. For someone who worked at a mental health facility, was going to school to by a psychologist, and claimed he loved me, he seemed nonchalant when I told him I had been depressed and suicidal during the springtime.
“It was just situational depression,” he flippantly responded when I told him how I had felt just two months prior. “It wasn’t serious.”
“Being situationally depressed and suicidal is only situational until someone’s dead.” I thought, knowing he’d only argue if I said what I felt.
I then remembered the day around the same time that conversation happened when I was at his house and started coughing up blood. Not the blood in mucus I had experienced prior to treatment, but fresh, loose blood. I felt it in my chest before it happened, an unsettling feeling of liquid in your lungs I would rather never again experience. I managed to get a tissue and clean myself up from the blood that had suddenly erupted from me and tried to decide if that blood was enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room.
“If it’s more than half a teaspoon of blood, I want you to go to the ER,” my infectious disease doctor had told me. But how does one measure how much blood is in a tissue?
As I pulled my phone out to text my mom and tell her what was going on, he told me it was nothing. That there was no need to worry about it. To him, it was more of an inconvenience than a concern.
The freedom I felt on that mountain stayed with me as we went home a couple days later. I realized if I could go that entire trip without once missing him, without ever wishing he was there, perhaps he shouldn’t be in my life anymore. Two weeks later, I set myself truly free in the only way I knew how. It was embarrassingly ungraceful, yet necessary.
Sometimes, we need to take a step back to see what’s been right in front of us for a long time. The trip to the mountains provided clarity and peace in a form I could not have obtained at home. The drive up the mountain made me realize sometimes when we look back on where we came from, we see things differently. The time spent there showed me it was time to move on from a toxic relationship. The next time I visited Whiteface Mountain, the view I had as I was looking down at where I’d come from was completely different. I was standing there with my new husband, looking at the long road that brought us together.
I believe God has plans for us. He knows the journey we are on, where we are at and where we need to be. Sometimes, we need space to be alone and process things by ourselves, other times we get to enjoy the beauty with the ones we love beside us.