My wife Kaleigh loves her fancy Japanese kitchen knives more than she loves me. It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. She also loves several of her other culinary utensils a questionably large amount, but I’ll let those slide for now. See, knives are the reason we met.
In July of 2009 I met my friend Harry in the UVM class of 2013 facebook group. He had a great smile and the kind of swooshy hair that I’m sure I was one of many freshmen girls to fall for. He had filled out a little questionaire for the forum and under pet peeves he wrote “people who put wooden handled knives in the dishwasher”. I remember gasping at the computer screen, for I too shared this disdain and we became fast friends and I give him full credit for introducing me to Kaleigh Wood, a tall, thin cross country running star, with her pixie hair cut and bright blue eyes, there was something I was immediately drawn to and intrigued by, but I wasn’t sure quite what at the time. See, she had studied abroad in Nepal and I wanted to so with little cajoling from Harry I sent her a message on facebook and she suggested breakfast. I showed up, fresh out of crew practice and didn’t do much to impress her as she found me to be a “weird Vermonter” and doubted we would ever hang out again. But we kept bumping into each other around campus and finding reasons to spend time together and the next thing I knew I was head over heels.
I knit her a hat that had the phrase her dad always said to her before cross country races knit into it "run hard run strong" that I gave her after she asked me out for coffee and cookies (hello fika fans) and the rest is history.
Now, seven years later we have a shared experience of a beautiful country on the other side of the world where the milk tea is plentiful and there are momos galore and the mountains and valleys are both higher and deeper than you could imagine. I made a film about apple farming, my Nepali language skills received amazing marks on my final exams and I fell in love with my host families and local teachers.
I came face to face with the weight and depth of my depression, I felt so very alone while so surrounded by so many people and didn’t understand it. So many of my experiences mirrored Kaleigh’s but so many were so different as well. I spent most of my free time with my host family, while she hung out with her study abroad friends who are now our real life friends (Hi Amita and Juni!!) she got a tattoo and I got an extra ear piercing and we both found pure happiness at the European Bakery.
I bought dozens of recharge cards to call her, made her the most embarrassing film for her for Valentines day and spread some of her pop’s ashes in the same spot she found out he had passed exactly a year before. I trekked up the Kali Gandaki River Valley by myself and rode on the back of a motorcycle to film the northern most apple orchard in the valley, I was brave and reckless, depressed and yet so full of joy. I cried as much as I laughed and had never felt more lonely. In so many ways my experience in Nepal, four months away from Kaleigh is akin to what I’m experiencing now in Kodiak, only now I try to fill my family in when I’m feeling down, I'm on antidepressants and just got a referral to see my first therapist in years, and I get out for hikes every day I can because mountains are medicine and I know that it’s okay to feel all of those things. To cry and laugh in the same conversation, to throw temper tantrums and pillows, to drink dudh chiyaa all day and hot toddies at night. To lean, lean, lean on friends when you need it and to be that friend to others in return. If there is one thing I could tell twenty year old Gretchen, it's that I'm proud of her. For everything she did, and the ways she still inspires me to chase crazy film ideas, and the highest mountains around. XO G