Jessica Neal’s “note coming”

or How I Fell In Love With Boulder Again

“They say that life is a journey, full of lessons and mistakes intended to develop your character, and make you stronger and wiser as you go along. One can either decide to accept these lessons as they come, or to resist them and keep making the same mistakes over and over again; some people believe in a next—or after—life in which we can rise to a higher level if we have overcome the challenges that were put before us in the current life. This is the idea that lies at the heart of what ‘note coming’ means to me.

I was born in Boulder at the foot of the mountains and have lived here my entire life, except for one year spent away, living on the Gulf Coast of Texas. In the spring of 2012, at age 26, I had become so bored with Boulder and having spent my entire life feeling caged up inside ‘the bubble, that I devoted every resource I had to escaping, running away to Corpus Christi, a locale that is essentially the polar opposite of what Boulder County is. This was the first of several less-than-wise decisions I made in my personal life around that time, which rather quickly took my plans very far off course and led me into what became a very serious bout of depression that, despite all stubbornness and desire, could not be muscled through or talked out of. A depression that at the time I was not sure I would be able to escape.

By Christmastime of that year I found myself essentially stuck in Corpus Christi, working three low-paying jobs and barely getting by, 1,200 miles away from home and isolated from any sense of the family or community that I had taken for granted back home in Boulder. I would hear updates from home and feel the most overwhelming sense of envy, self-pity and hopelessness. A dear friend who had made the move with me had managed to escape and return to Colorado, although not without having endured several life-changing trials of his own, and we had lost touch. My only blood family was stuck up in a fairly remote mountain area and was in just as dire need of help as I was. I was living in an apartment barely better than a slum, I had lost my vehicle, and I had nothing—and whatever I did have was back in Boulder, unreachable to me. Only then did I begin to truly appreciate everything and everyone I left behind.

With nothing left to lose, on April 1, 2013, I packed as many of my possessions as I could fit (leaving just as much behind) into a U-Haul I was towing behind a truck that a friend had shipped to me from up north, as the vehicle I had brought to Texas had a catastrophic transmission failure a couple months prior. I put my two cats in the truck with me—the young stray I had picked up from the streets of Corpus Christi riding on my lap or in my laundry hamper, because I didn’t have a second carrier to transport her in. Unbeknownst to me at the time, she was three weeks pregnant. The day I left had been a warm day in South Texas. I left at about 4:30 pm after spending the entire day packing and loading, wearing jeans, a tank top and flip-flop sandals. I didn’t want to watch as I made the journey back across the terrain I had crossed almost exactly a year earlier, having been so full of hope and excitement then, and filled with such hurt and despair now. I just wanted to wake up the next morning and be home, and have the chance to start over again. I didn’t know where I would live when I got home. I had only $500 in my bank account, this vehicle, a promise for a week or two of work during a peak time at my longtime employer, Boulder Gardens Florist, and a handful of friends I could trust. It was going to have to be enough somehow.

I drove nonstop the whole night. The sun was just coming up as I crossed the border into Colorado on Highway 287 from Oklahoma at about 8:15 am the following morning. The temperature now was about 18 degrees, as opposed to 80 degrees when I left Corpus Christi. I had been adding layers of clothing at every pit stop since Amarillo. A frozen mist hung in the air; I hadn’t seen any storms on the radar before I left, but I really had no idea what was coming. But a humid freezing-rain storm had glazed the roads with an invisible layer of ice. When I wrecked the truck and U-Haul about twenty minutes after crossing the border, I was one of a dozen more accidents on that stretch of highway, and I was lucky to have avoided colliding with an oncoming semi-truck, and managed to keep my vehicle on the road as well. My U-Haul trailer was overturned on its side and I could only imagine the chaotic state of the possessions that were inside… but suddenly I had no real worries about them. I have been in several scary car accidents now and I have never experienced the ‘life flashing before your eyes’ that some people describe. What has always happened to me, and what happened then, is that my mind becomes suddenly very clear and I am able to easily distill what is truly important in my life and what is just unimportant clutter. These have been the moments of clarity in my life. When I climbed out of my vehicle, unharmed, into the frozen mist, my mind became clear of all those unimportant worries that had been plaguing me all that time. I was unharmed, my cats were unharmed, and I was in Colorado again, within reach of my friends and family. While I waited for the vehicle to be repaired and get back on the road, I warmed next to a wood-burning stove in the small-town auto shop and scheduled dates with my friends, most of whom had no idea that I was even coming home. When I finally checked into my hotel room off of Highway 36 at 9 pm that night, 28 hours after leaving Corpus Christi, I was given a free upgrade on my room. I spent the rest of the evening soaking in the jacuzzi tub in my room while it snowed outside, the Rockies game on and a little bit of (newly legal) wonderful Colorado pot! It was good to be home. I spent most of the Rockies Opening Weekend at Coors Field, courtesy of a friend within the organization. I saw people I hadn’t seen in a year or longer. And despite the fact that we got nearly four feet of snow in the four weeks after my return, Colorado embraced me like a good friend, I got a little help from my friends, and everything became fine and normal once again. Even better than before.

The lesson I learned from all this was not unlike Dorothy’s revelation at the end of the Wizard of Oz—’If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.’ The secret to happiness, the cure for depression, the path to contentment—they say it comes from within, and it does, but it reaches outward, into the lives and hearts of other people. Depression is isolation; happiness is community. No drugs or medicine, no diet or exercise program, no ‘miracle cure’ can alleviate that lonely suffering better than engaging with the people and experiences that are around you, to foster as many contacts and relationships as you can, to become a part of something bigger than yourself. It is those community experiences and relationships that lift you up and give you purpose. Truly, I knew that all along, but the circumstances in Texas had made me forget for a while. That is why when I first read about the Boulder Tattoo Project, it spoke to me instantly, and I knew that a phrase from this community-inspired poem would be the first piece of permanent ink that I would commit myself to, because it perfectly represents the lessons that I learned from being away from home.

I love the phrase I ended up getting, too: ‘note coming.’ It is in my favorite part of the poem, the part that begins with ‘comfortable in doubt / in curiosity…’ and ends with ‘note coming / hard times / scarcity of water.’  For me those several lines hold more drama than any other part of the poem—they are words of warning. Caution, they say, be aware of what may be coming just around the bend in the road. Always keep your eyes to the future—to protect yourself from coming heartbreak, to keep you moving forward, and to help keep your eyes off all that is now behind you. I could have used a warning like that many times before in my life. And I’ll always remember those experiences and difficult lessons, but I don’t dwell on them any more—I appreciate the wiser woman I have now become and I know that I will always ‘note coming.’ And I will never be less than extremely proud again, to be a Boulder native and to be part of the creative, brilliant, spiritual, diverse, caring, charitable spirit that runs through the heart of this community. Boulder may indeed be a 20-mile bubble surrounded by reality, but it is a beautiful and unique place like no other, filled with many beautiful and unique people, and I will never again forget my pride in being a Colorado girl!

‘There’s no place like home!!!’ Thank you, Boulder, and Boulder Tattoo Project, for helping me remember who I am and what I was put on this Earth to do, and thank you for allowing to tell my story in the hopes that it will somehow inspire someone else.”

Jessica Neal

Jessica Neal’s “note coming”

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