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This must be the place: Turn your head to the cries of loneliness in the night

Stepping out of my truck, it was a cold wind rolling off the nearby mountains late Monday afternoon. A stiff breeze pushed across Lake Junaluska as I took the first strides of my four-mile run around the manmade body of water. Heavy snowflakes hit my face. I zipped the jacket closer to my chin. 

Pushing along the walking path, up and down the hills, across the dam and back around to the highway, the mind kept drifting, my gaze constantly moving across the lake to the snowy mountains to the west, as per usual while in the midst of jog — a Zen zone for many, myself included. 

It’s funny how your thoughts can shift wildly in the matter of seconds, all spurred by the simple yet completely unique snowflakes swirling around you. The snow reminded me of my native North Country, as did the Christmas lights on the homes I trotted by. I could see cozy couples and families through living room windows, triggering a flood of memories from my own endeavors. 

Those thoughts and memories transitioned into a sort of existential crisis that surfaced around mile two of the run. Nothing dreadful, more so a deep reflection of self that usually rears its head this time of year. 

For someone like myself, you spend most of the year either chasing down story assignments, meeting editorial deadlines or just wandering in pursuit of adventure and dreams grasped in real time. That said, it was a long time ago when I chose the written word (and whatever hardships or aspirations that encompasses) over stable and long-term relationships. 

Thus, when the holidays are in full swing, I almost seem caught off-guard by it, this whirlwind of a year now in the rearview mirror after riding shotgun in my truck to destinations unknown each morning and every night. Step outside your front door one morning and it’s freezing cold, your truck covering in a light blanket of snow — winter has arrived, and yet have you? 

That question was something at the core of the existential pondering during the recent Lake Junaluska jaunt. I found myself alone on the walking path, lost in thought, cars passing by along frozen roads, windows rolled up and the heat cranked. The anonymous faces kept zooming back and forth, thoughts like a bouncy ball within the depths of my mind. 

Seeming out of nowhere, I started to think back on what it was like to have a significant other during the holidays, someone to hold and cherish, to keep warm with when the weather outside is frightful. 

There have been a handful of incredible souls I’ve been lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve with over the years, with 2020 finding itself in the “dinner table for one” column once again. 

What’s sad is that, even at age 35, a lot of those memories of mine of femme fatales from winters long gone are either foggy or, perhaps, glorified in hindsight, just like that high school basketball game junior year where you seem to remember your layup being more important and inspiring to your team and school than it actually was. 

There was the first holiday girlfriend when I was 15 and a sophomore. She was a junior. We went to the Christmas Ball together, broken up by the time school resumed in early January. There’s only one photo of us as a couple, holding each other in front of my locker, a Santa hat on my head. I didn’t realize this image still existed until she messaged me a few months back on Facebook and sent it along. 

The rest of high school and that first holiday back home from college were spent with my high school sweetheart. She went to a different school before and after graduation. It was a long-distance relationship the entire two and a half years together. But, holidays were always when we’d make up for lost time. She’s a doctor now, somewhere in New England, with a growing family. 

Most of the holidays in my 20s were spent traveling solo around America, in search of not only myself, but of whatever it was that lay just beyond the horizon. In many ways, I’m still doing that. There were many Christmas celebrations away from home, hundreds and thousands of miles from all things familiar and beloved. 

Although, there was that one Christmas when I was 24. I thought I’d marry that girl. I really did. Adored her family. We spent all winter together, bouncing around the vastness of the Adirondack Mountains. I was truly happy back then. Everything looked good on paper, but it just somehow fell apart in method. The last I’d heard, she’d gotten married recently and was putting roots back down as a teacher in her hometown up north. 

In my 30s, only one Christmas that I can, honestly, say was spent with a femme fatale. I’d given up on relationships by that point, but mustered up enough within my heart and soul to try again. Attending holiday parties and family obligations. Handed beers from the garage fridge by her dad. Shaking hands with her uncles, hugging her aunts. Listen to the old stories from her elderly relatives. Sneak away to sip some whiskey with her siblings and cousins. By the following Christmas, we’d broken up and she moved across the country. 

I honestly thought I’d end up with one of those girls. Start a family. Start a life together. Test fate. See what happens, just like everyone else does. But, it all fell apart, as it always seems to do, which is why I jump into the truck and continue on. I’m not jaded, more so avoidant of the inevitable disappointments and cold sunsets that tend to follow the brightest of days. But, head held high, I remain optimistic. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 

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