The Villa Italia mall is a memory. It no longer exists, not even a bit or a piece. It used to set back in the center of it’s parking lots on the corner of Alameda and Wadsworth in Lakewood, Colorado, where I grew up. Whenever I’m chatting it up with my buddy, Nick, especially about home, we somehow bring up the Villa Italia Mall. We both chime in and sing the ditty that was played on the commercials, both radio and telly. Nick has a knack for remembering the things that make me laugh anyway, and so we sit around and laugh at the memories of a mall long since torn down.
My Ma worked at Jocelyn’s, which was a kind of Macy’s or Nordstrom’s from back in the day. When I was a wee tot, just learning how to ditch my Mom in that weird way that a 5 year old can do, I somehow wandered off. This was back when there wasn’t as much baby snatching and stuff. My Ma had 5 of us kids going this way and that, and so, it was easier for my to pull a stunt, like a quick walk down the wrong aisle and on out into the oblivion of lostness.
I kinda remember the first few minutes of not knowing where Ma was and they were similar to holding your breath for too long. A dizziness right before hysteria. Absolutely no logical thought at all. Then running and some quiet crying before turning it up a bit and then full on, like a siren. I think I was corralled somewhere up the mall near the Orange Julius, a lady that knew my Ma saw me with a security guard. The word was on the street, I’d been found. I heard, as if I was a part of an international emergency, my name mentioned over the loud speakers; the usual, weird, mall music interrupted with, we have a little lost boy, named Toby, he is at the security station at the center of the mall. It was only minutes and my Ma was picking me up with twinkling eyes and the knowledge that I was me, a little wanderer, even way back then with 5 years tucked firmly under my belt.
There is a grand timberland on the western slope in Colorado. The Uncompahgre Wilderness stretches for several hundred square miles across some of the most wonderful land in the United States. The high country streams are full of trout and the Aspen groves are miles long. It’s full of elk and bear and winding passages that crawl up the flanks of 13,ooo foot peaks. If the Rocky mountains were a mama, she’d be proud of this pretty child, The Uncompahgre. When I was 17 I went out into the hills for a week or so. I did this kinda thing often, but mostly with my buddies. Kevin and Kelly, two tough ranch kids from my school, were always down for a good fishing excursion. Fishing was always just a good reason to give for any kind of mountain adventure, so when we said “fishing”, we really meant runningswimmingclimbingwanderinglaughinglyingandeverythingunderthesun. I loved the thought of leaving and being in the woods. But this little meander was different, I was out and walking over country, alone.
As can happen, it got cold. A bit of snow fell and I was a day or two out from where I had left the car. I was intimidated by the onset of the cold and I decided I should loop back in the direction of my vehicle. I remember that I was confident as I followed ridgelines back to the place where I’d started but I also noticed that everything looked slightly different in the snow. Darks were light and mountains changed shape. The birds, ravens, jays, and hawks tipped and slid across a rugged Colorado sky. My pace was fine but a little quick with a little anxiety as I thought about my route back.
When I came across some footprints in the snow, there were several thoughts that passed immediately. Who the hell is out here this far? How old are these tracks? and then a kind of comfort in the thought, i’ll bet this person is going to the trailhead as well. I kept on with my direction but was, I guess, a bit more carefree for some reason. It’s human to be drawn to humans. About 2 hours later I came across yet another set of footprints. I was tired and I sat down and looked out as the two sets of tracks rolled off in the snow.
You know that weird sickness that you feel when you’ve made a mistake? Like when you walk out of your friends house with your morning coffee after saying goodbye and you see that you didn’t set the emergency brake after you started your rig and now it’s rolling, mowing down mailboxes? or like when you get up to the ticket counter at the airport and start to dig for your ID and then you remember it laying there between the seats of the taxi where you set it to put your gloves on because it’s damn cold in NYC that time of year! or like you just dropped out of a helicopter into the pacific and you are a mile from shore and it’s night time and you realize the strap on your left fin has broken from hitting the water. — Well, that’s the kind of sick I felt as I realized that those footprints, both sets, were mine. I had just walked in a huge circle for the second time. It was early evening. With a tightness in my throat that is the onset of panic, I forced myself to walk, not run. I studied every slight variance of my trail and finally saw my mistake: I had followed a false ridgeline that skirted the top of a large plateau. I dropped off and stayed steady, soon I saw a marker and knew I was ranging back onto the trail system that led down to my rig. Being lost in a circle is a strange thing.
I hope I don’t sound like a know-it-all here. I ain’t one. Getting lost really isn’t that terrible. For some reason, it feels bad but I really do think it’s because we are not in control when we are lost. Control is a contrivance. It is all dependent on the environment. The most lost I feel these days is in the middle of huge crowds that have given up on being aware. Like when the Peregrine slammed into a dove and dropped into the middle of an outdoor coffee shop in LA, bounced off a table, hissed at the onlookers and then flew away with bloody coup in her talons and I hooted out loud and everyone looked at me like I had caused this terrible thing and were aghast that I loved it…yeah, like that! Awareness isn’t some new age word that can only be used in yoga practices and Sanghas, it’s simply looking with a wide open lens. So, instead of being wrapped up with being separate, it’s believing in your inclusion, understanding that sight is only part of seeing. What we do with what we see is more a part of being aware than simply seeing. When I’m too self-conscious, I am more lost. I think that’s why I feel lost on the highways during rush hour, because I can only want out but I am driving in a long line of souls and we are all kinda sad that we are trapped in our worlds of confusing, fast, raging stuff. I include me because I gotta.
But every now and then, when everything stops, I’ll look over into another window, and I’ll see a soul and that soul will see me. Contact made. Humanness for a second. A chance at realness that includes a heart, lungs, eyeballs, smelliness, sadness, hands, wrinkles, and feet that could, if given the chance, make marks in the snow next to mine. And I wouldn’t be alone, or lost for that matter.