Sometimes You Get Bit by a Copperhead

The other day I left the hospital in a wheelchair with a big, bearded, burly man kindly pushing me to our vehicle, then carefully and tenderly placing me inside, due to I was incapable of standing on my own. My foot was swollen to about three times its normal size and although in quite a bit of pain, I was grinning from ear to ear.

See—it’s funny because—I always assumed that if I were to ever leave a hospital in a wheelchair with swollen feet and a big, bearded, burly man was the one behind the chair, it would be because I had just given birth to our firstborn child . . .

But no.

At thirty-one years old I was not leaving the hospital in a wheelchair post-childbirth with my beautifully bearded husband. I was, in fact, leaving the hospital post venomous copperhead bite to the left foot with my supervisor escorting me to our 1998 silver suburban. Headed back to camp. Where I live in a tent. As the oldest camp guide, affectionately referred to as “Marm.”

Life is full of surprises.

A copperhead bite to the foot being the most unexpected and least welcome surprise to date—I am grateful for a fantastic story if nothing else.

Whilst clearing rocks from around our bonfire ring pre-snake bite, one of my supervisors, “Three,” asked me in the best way he knew how, what exactly I was doing as a Camp Guide at thirty-one years old. Through a series of roundabout questions I finally responded,

Are you trying to ask me why and how I am single, thirty-one years old, and working as a camp guide in the middle-of-nowhere Missouri?

Yes, he admitted, that is precisely what he was trying to ask. “The simple answer,” I said, “Is because I want to be. I am single and thirty-one years old and working as a camp guide making 50% of what I could be making because I want to be. This is where I want to be and what I want to be doing—so I am here. And I am single because I choose to be.”

I have spent the majority of my life making excuses.  

I shouldn’t get married because I witnessed a quite unhealthy marriage for the eighteen years I lived at home. I will never be financially stable because I keep working “meaningful” jobs where I make just enough to scrape by on. I can’t do this or that or all of the above because I am not strong enough. Because I am physically the weakest link in my family and always have been. I can’t travel because it costs money. I can’t speak in public because I am terrified and I am bad at it. Because the only way I passed Speech class in college was by video-taping my speeches for the professor after passing out every time I attempted to speak in front of the class. I can’t facilitate high ropes because I can’t get to the top of the course without shaking with fear and sobbing once at the top. I can’t sing or play sports like ultimate Frisbee because Tomlinsons are writers and piano players and teachers not singers or athletes. I can’t keep moving because what if I never settle down and what if I am alone forever and what if. . . all of my eggs die?!!?

If there is one truth I have learned within the past month and a half here in Steelville, Missouri it is this:

A life full of excuses is no life at all.

There are about a million and one reasons it doesn’t “make sense” for me to be here. Missouri is not my favorite place to live. It is my least favorite. It is hot and humid and swimming with venomous snakes and spiders. I miss Vermont. I did not grow up learning how to camp or build a fire or ride a horse or tie a knot or build a trail. I almost failed my university speech class due to I was terrified of speaking in front of a crowd of more than five. My current income is lower than it has ever been. I am thirty-one. . .

But this is what I chose.
And the hot and humid and spiders and snakes builds resilience. And the not knowing anything of campfires or knots or high ropes makes the new knowledge all the more empowering. And the fear of speaking in public and the fear of heights makes the accomplishment all the more victorious. And the lack of money forces financial awareness and good stewardship. And yes, I am thirty-one years old. I am the oldest camp guide here—the oldest employee here second only to the director. And yes, I am single. And yes. . . my eggs are dying. . .

But there is a reason as I left that hospital in a wheelchair I was grinning ear to ear upon realizing the irony of the situation. And it was not because I was smiling so I would not cry. And it was not because I was high on pain medication (they didn’t give me any). 

It was because I realized in that moment there is nowhere else I’d rather be.

I have spent many years wishing for something different. Discontent when alone. Wondering at what could have been. Making excuses for why life had turned out the way it had or what could be better. But here I was—left foot swollen with copperhead venom (not pregnant swollen), being escorted by my bearded supervisor (not my bearded husband), to our 1999 suburban (not our Subaru outback), en route to camp (not to our very first home). . .

And I was elated—because this is what I chose.

A life without excuses. At a camp. At thirty-one. With copperheads.