One Rock at a Time

by Heather Lynn Horvat


When my husband and I moved to Arizona several years ago, he suggested we hike the Grand Canyon. I laughed. "Experience that without me," I said. I wasn't an outdoors person.

As a teen living in central Pennsylvania, I had dabbled in the outdoors, mostly as a means to escape adult eyes. Once, I hiked near a dam in the woods and black snakes slithered across the trail so the ground itself looked like black ocean waves. My boyfriend carried me on his back. I heard the squeak of a tree branch bending and opened my eyes to see a snake dangling above me. There were so many snakes that day that I still question if it was a bad dream. Nightmare or reality, the memory lingered and I stopped seeking nature.

About a year ago, the panic attacks started. Somehow I had become fearful of more than just nature. I now feared crowds, but also feared being alone. I feared my own Self, and the fear paralyzed me. I refused to admit to anyone that I needed help. The attacks worsened in severity and intensity. I stopped writing. Or, the words stopped coming.

"You need to get out of your head," my husband said. "Make new friends. Find a new hobby."

2018 began the year of new: new friends, new freelance work, new hairdresser, new workout routines. I went on a girls' weekend to Vegas barely knowing the girls but embracing the opportunity that presented itself. The freelance work I submitted earned praise and a check. My body boasted muscle definition in places I didn't know could be toned. On the outside, I looked like I had my shit together.

Since my husband is an outdoors person, I agreed to go on a short hike with him to Wave Cave. Like the name implies, there is a cave with a jutting rock in the shape of a large surf wave. A touristy destination per Google and rated at moderate difficulty, I figured it wouldn't be as bad as Camelback, the mountain that left me with three scarred gashes on my left knee two years ago.

Arizona hiking is much different than Pennsylvania hiking. Here, the desert mountains are rocky at best, boulderous with little shade and breathtaking views at high elevations. Wave Cave possessed all the qualities of desert: gravelly, gradual incline to lull you into mental safety until the final elevation gain that's steep enough to make you wonder why you agreed to this.

Finding my footing in the rocks, my thighs screamed while I thought, What the hell I am doing? My husband didn't ask if we should turn around; I'm sure he knew that I might have said yes.

Once we reached the cave and I heaved, trying to catch my breath, I looked back from where we came. The trail was obscure between the jutting rocks and boulders. The desert beyond was serene. Houses and cityscape were further away and didn't seem as claustrophobic as it sometimes feels when you live in a cookie-cutter neighborhood. For the first time in a long time I could breathe.

Ten people shared the cave space with us. I kept to myself huddled against the back wall and ate a snack. A woman about my age, but more fit, more hiker ready, posed on the wave while her partner snapped pictures with his phone. Her laugh made me want to laugh.

When it was my turn to pose on the wave, she offered to take our picture. No judgment in her eyes that I didn't belong, because at this moment, on top of this section of mountain, everyone belonged.

It could've been hunger and thirst or aching muscles, but I felt a euphoric rush.

"Will you hike again?" My husband asked.

I've completed eight hikes since Wave Cave, some of them without my husband. As soon as I finish one, whether three miles or seven miles, rocky or boulder hopping, I begin planning the next. The panic attacks haven't stopped completely, but words are coming back to me.

Heather Lynn Horvat is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. She currently freelances while writing her next novel. 

Dear Davey

by Colleen McCarthy


My computer speakers are pumping out the sounds of loud angry music: heavy pop punk, post hardcore, metal. I tend to measure time in concerts; or rather, between concerts. The last show was four months ago, the next is two weeks out. Concerts are a beacon of hope, it’s a way to connect to the scene, to reach out and have someone reach back.

My room is a visual representation of the clutter within my head. There are books strewn about, DVDs outside of their cases, perching precariously off the shelf, a bag of trash hangs from the knob on the dresser. Three hampers sit looming against the wall, overflowing with the laundry I’ve been avoiding for the past three weeks, and the closet is brimming with bags and boxes of junk that I’ve neglected to sort. My nightstand has a glass of water sitting in a puddle of its own condensation, and the drawer is pulled open exposing old iPods and cameras that haven’t worked since high school. I’m sitting in my bed cross-legged staring down a bottle of Lorazepam 1MG tablets, prescribed to me for my severe anxiety attacks.

Music is the only constant in my life. Davey Muise’s voice floats out of the speakers, surrounding me. The song is Lead Balloon, by his old band, Vanna who has recently been laid to rest. The last time I saw Vanna was in New Jersey, I’d driven up from New Hampshire with a friend. We stood in the small venue with concrete floors and a tiny wooden stage with chipped black paint, barely large enough for the bands to move. The speakers were stacked high and with every stroke of the guitar, every beat of the kick drum, you could feel the music pulsing through you.

We stood at the back of the crowd, this wasn’t exactly my friend’s scene. She’d joined only so I wouldn’t have to go alone. I could see the kids who made up the crowd, people clinging to the walls, people with their knees pressed up against the stage their heads bobbing, people flailing around like whirligigs made of flannel and denim and leather. As we watched the crowd moshing and singing, my friend leaned over and shouted over the music to me, “I get it now, these are your people.” I nodded and smiled, because they were my people.

With each song Vanna played I tried to step closer, without bringing my friend too close to the moshers. I’m not much of a crowd participator, but I bobbed my head along to the beat. When Davey sang Lead Balloon he made his way into the crowd and the whirligig of flannel and denim and leather became a bouquet as they all huddled together, and I fought tears while I stood at the back of the crowd.

I’ve learned that when you want to die, you spend a lot of time alone. My room is closing in on me, getting smaller and smaller with each day that goes by. Music is the reason that, even though I’m having a staring contest with a bottle of pills, I know I’m going to make it through the night. Because I know that there’s another concert two weeks out, where I’ll walk into the venue, into the pit, and have all of these powerful people standing with me, people who feel just like me.