Alive Again

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story
My pulse picked up as I looked at Alexander, down on one knee before me. We’d been dating for two years, but I’d never expected this. Not here and not now. “Alexander, no. I’m so sorry. I’m just not ready to get married.”

His face hardened as he stood and snapped the ring box closed. “What do you mean?”

How did I explain it? Even I didn’t fully understand yet. “Well...we just don’t suit each other’s personality. I’m an adventurer. I’m not ready to settle down and stay in one place.”

Really, what it came down to was that I didn’t want the same life that all the women in my family had—tied down to one place, unable to escape. I didn’t want to be another woman controlled by the man she’s with, forced to sacrifice what she wants so he can achieve his dreams. That pattern was stopping with me. I needed to listen to my heart for once and admit that everything about my current life wasn’t right.

A myriad of emotions flashed in Alexander’s eyes. None seemed to reflect true despair though, like losing the love of your life; they reflected a bruise to his ego, his manhood. He had lost this battle and no longer had control over me. But powerful New York City men didn’t lose, didn’t get rejected. Especially not Alexander Thompson.

He glared at me. “Samantha, how you can do this to me—to us? I’ve made you who you are in this city. You’ll never be anyone in Manhattan without me and my last name. You’ll ruin your career. You can forget about your line debuting in Fashion Week.”

I’d moved to New York City seven years ago, leaving the small Southern town where I’d been raised, to pursue my dream of becoming a fashion designer. My departure was partly out of curiosity, but also due to a longing to see the world and create a different life for myself. I knew there was more to life than being at a husband’s beck and call, constantly seeking his approval.

But was my current existence really any different from how it would have been back home? Day in and day out I worked behind my sewing machine, creating designs to be worn down the runway by a stone-faced model, in hopes that I would inspire other women and make a name for myself. I was dating a guy who put his career and friends ahead of me, didn’t stand up for me because he said I needed to develop “thick skin” to make it in this city, and only wanted me by his side to uphold his image in society. Even after two years, our relationship had no substance. To be honest, it, New York City, and the fashion industry were breaking me. I didn’t recognize myself anymore, lost in the shallowness I’d taken on, and it was time I faced the facts.

“You have not made me who I am,” I said. “My designs deserve a spot in Fashion Week because of my hard work and dedication. It has nothing to do with your last name or your friends’ and family’s pull. The only thing you’ve done is open my eyes to the side of this city that’s hidden from most people—the inauthentic clique clawing their way to the top and taking down others to get there. You’re all living your lives to impress each other, just one big show, but it’s a competition I refuse to be a part of anymore. It’s time I get back to the person I was before.”

I was so tired of the immense pressure to design a new look so Alexander’s friends could parade and hobnob around town. The women were all trying to out-dress each other, be the skinniest, look the youngest, and jump rungs on the social ladder and see their faces on Page Six the next morning. None were genuine friends, and they only socialized to reap the benefits they could glean from the others.

Which was the only reason they associated with me. I’d heard them talking behind my back about how I was from the Deep South, that I was a nobody, and that my little clothing line wouldn’t be what it was without them and Alexander. It was a facade I could no longer keep up. I couldn’t be myself around them, and if I did, they would be appalled. I’d thought my wanderlust could be quenched all in this one city, but I’d ended up losing myself instead.

The only place I found refuge in this concrete jungle was the greenspaces of Central Park. I’d been escaping there to gather my thoughts and clear my head for weeks now. Being there took me back to the long backpacking trips my dad and I went on in the Appalachian Mountains when I was a child. Those were the best times for me. I was able to connect with nature, watch the most glorious sunrises and sunsets, talk to the most interesting people, and breathe the clean, crisp mountain air. I felt so alive on those trips, and I needed to feel that again. If I didn’t, I’d end up on a path that would destroy me from the inside out.

Alexander shook his head again, squeezing the bridge of his nose between his thumb and finger. “So we’re back to this again—the mountain-climbing business you’ve been droning on about? Samantha, you’re a fashion designer, not a vagabond. Not the type who doesn’t shower for days on end. What will you do without your morning smoothie, your espresso, your central air? You won’t make it a week, and then you’ll come crawling back, begging for another chance. But I won’t take you back. If you walk away, we’re done, so make your decision.”

It wasn’t a hard decision to make. All I had to do was remember my recent weekend getaway to the Adirondacks. It had rid me of the negative effects city life had been having—the toll it had been taking. I didn’t like the person I was becoming—just another shallow, pretentious, entitled socialite bossing everyone around—and the mountains had given me a taste of the joy I knew growing up.

And that would be what I would do. Climb the high peaks, sleep next to flowing rivers, and experience wildlife and nature in the raw. I would live with only what I could carry on my back and enjoy the freedom that brought. It was what I longed for and where I belonged.

“I just can’t keep pretending that our relationship is going to work,” I said. “You, your family, and your friends constantly tell me I’m inferior. A few years ago I wanted this, but not anymore. I want to live a life I’m proud of, and it’s not here in the city. I need to start over and do something that makes me feel alive. I’m going to be true to myself this time.”

He snorted. “True to yourself?”

“See? You don’t take me seriously—what I think, feel, or want. You just expect me to keep pumping out new designs to fit your desires, your image. I have a whole other side of me that you don’t know. She’s pretty cool, but you’ve refused to see this side of me because it doesn’t fit the image we have to maintain. But I’ve realized that this is me and it’s what makes me happy. I need to go where I feel truly alive—the mountains.”

I used to live through my fashion designs, but now I was going to inspire others to live a life of authenticity by following my dreams in the great outdoors. I wanted to show people what nature has to offer, give back by partnering with trail groups like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the National Trails System, and teach others the importance of preserving, protecting, and promoting these precious areas in our world.

“Alexander, life is like mountain climbing,” I finished. “There are highs and there are lows. And there are better days ahead—for both of us.”

So that’s what I did. I quit my job, left New York City, and headed for the mountains. I rock climbed, scaled mountains, backpacked, hiked the Appalachian Trail, reveled in the beauty of nature, and shared it with the world.

And there I found the healing that I so desperately needed, because a life lived by others’ rules is no life at all.