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the last days

Updated: May 13

The rest of Sunday was lovely; we went to the Selfoss community center, which was swarming with kids and pale-skinned Icelanders sunbathing in heated kiddie pools. I went down the slide and cracked up the whole way, especially at the end where everyone waits for you to come out and just stares at your double chin. I went to the sauna for a bit and sat still next to fat-belly men; the sauna is always quiet except for góðan dag when someone opens the door. We stayed at the pool for a couple of hours, catching Katla as she jumped into the pool, over and over, and watching Brenna chase her down whenever she tried to run and wiggle out of Brenna's arms.

For dinner we ate at Kaffi Krús, an incredibly cozy cafe just down the road from the pool. Bren and Ívar told me the owner of that restaurant owns several more establishments throughout Iceland, and it's easy to see why--the chicken salad Bren and I ordered was literally the best one I've ever eaten, with mixed green salad, grilled chicken, bacon, cashews, tomato, red onion, and parmesan mixed with a garlic sauce and balsamic glaze and topped with soft-baked cheesy garlic bread. MmMmm.

We went to Bonus afterward for groceries and then popped into a gas station to get Ívar and Bren milkshakes and Katla a clown cone--a vanilla cone half-dipped in chocolate coating with gummy ears and nose and mouth. Katla sat in the front of the car, making a mess of the clown, as Bren FaceTimed her family for a few. Then we drove the 45 minutes home, where we watched a couple episodes of Nashville and chatted until well after midnight.


Monday night I slept terribly and don't quite know why: maybe because I knew Tuesday we were going to hike, and there's some anxiety I have about not getting enough sleep and then feeling unwell enough to have to cancel? After a few restless hours of dozing, I woke up feeling thick-throated and sort of coughy but told Brenna I wanted to hike anyway. So we drove about an hour to Skógafoss, the same hike I went on two years earlier after my ice cave excursion, when it was overcast with drizzly, blustering winds. This time around, we got unbelievably perfect weather, so much so that I stripped off two of my layers almost immediately and was almost too hot in my other ones. By the end of it, Bren was wearing a tank top, and I'd forgotten I'd even felt bad that morning.

The hike is one of my favorite I've ever done: after the initial stair ascent and tourist infestation, the dirt path winds you gradually along the Skóga River, with rainbows that dissolve and reappear in the waterfall mist. You're high enough to feel dizzy in certain spots, with rapids way down below, but you're anchored by sage-colored valleys and hills where pockets of sheep graze. There's mud and pebbles and boulders and streams and white peaks in the distance; there's always the next bend: at least ten hours' worth. Bren and I stopped for lunch about 45 minutes in at Skálabrekkufoss, where we reminisced about high school and whatever happened to the people we both knew very well and hardly at all, and how strange it is that Facebook can sort of tell us. We talked about peculiar men and the ways we humiliated ourselves when we were young, and how it doesn't really matter who remembers, or at least how it shouldn't.

We hiked until almost 2 pm and then turned around for the hour hike back and picked up Katla from daycare right on time. We grabbed our bathing suits and walked to the pool, where I relaxed mainly in the hot tub but hung out with Bren and Katla in the kiddie pool, too. On Brenna's prompting, I went down the tube slide, which she warned me was very fast. I lay down in the warm water, went down one dip, and suddenly was scrambling for air as water splashed my face and I came to a sudden stop. I'm so glad the end of that slide is covered and no one can see, because there's always that comical panic moment of I'm going to drown.

That night, we ate leftover chickpea curry and I helped Katla jump off the kitchen chairs. As I lifted her up underneath her arms, I felt a small, temporary twinge in my lower left back at the same place I sometimes feel it at the gym during the thigh press, a pain that presses but instantly dissolves when I release the squeeze. But while Bren and I were watching Nashville, I casually twisted to my right and suddenly felt a very sharp pain in that trouble spot. I immediately stood up to try to twist out of it, the way you can sometimes shake off a charley horse in your leg, but it wasn't releasing-- it felt like someone was grabbing my muscles and pinching them together. Bren and Ívar immediately tried to help and gave me some ibuprofen, which I swallowed right away and then paced around, trying to get it to go away. Alas, it did not. After chatting with Austin to help calm me down, I slept maybe two hours Tuesday night, my body a tense ball not only of muscle pain but anxiety, of me thinking I've ruined my trip for however long, and my progress at the gym after the past two months of nearly perfect attendance. There was a shock of pain every time I moved, and my OCD brain kept trying to "test" that I wasn't effectively paralyzed, and that I could still get myself to the bathroom, etc. So every sleepless hour I'd maneuver myself up again, with daggers down my left lower back whenever I did.

Wednesday I managed to do a little work with the help of a hot water bottle and tea. Around 4 pm, Bren and I drove to Selfoss for a hair appointment--the lady chopped off my horrible haircut from the man in Berlin, and she gave me a nice clean look that she says complements my "strong" neck and jaw line. I think I like the angled look better, but this one is great for now. After the hair appointment, we popped into a couple of shops but I waited out the last one in the car, feeling like all the moving around was making my back worse. We met Ívar for HOT DOGS and the biggest bag of salty fries I've ever seen. We talked about relationships--Ívar had heard something on the radio that morning about how the most important thing for marriage is having shared interests--and my fear of commitment; how Ívar and Bren can just so casually talk about being together when they're 80 and I'm like, doesn't that scare y'all? Doesn't that make you feel claustrophobic? And they're basically like no, it's a comforting and wonderful thing to spend your life with someone you love, and to have and build a family, etc etc. That night I took some melatonin, borrowed Brenna's old pregnancy pillow, and fell very quickly to a deep and wonderful sleep, only occasionally waking.


Yesterday, Bren and I had planned to go to Reykjavik, but there's no way I was going to go with the pain, so she went alone, since she'd taken the day off of work and was meeting someone that afternoon at 4. I didn't get any work done despite wanting to, maybe because I didn't really get out of bed and start the day until almost 11, and after chatting with Austin, texting, and listening to a work meeting, suddenly it was already 4 pm and Ívar and Katla were home. When Ívar said it was so nice outside, I said I hadn't been outside at all, and Ívar looked at me and addressed me by my full name in the "you're in trouble" tone, so we walked down to the pool and I relaxed in the hot tubs with the jets at my back, and then the sauna for a few minutes, too. When we got back a couple of hours later, I said I could make some bacon and potatoes for dinner but Ívar offered Street Food instead--the best burgers in all of Iceland, he told me, and how could I say no to that? He was sweet enough to order for all of us and pick it up while Katla and I watched Miss Rachel, a YouTube lady who sings songs for kids. When he came back with the food, I gobbled it up, a delicious cheeseburger with a generous portion of incredible sweet potato fries (maybe the best I've had) and my first full bottle of beer in many months: not that I've been purposefully not drinking, but then again it's easier to slack on your diet when you're not going to the gym. MmmMm it was all amazing and made me feel better.

Last night I had a great night sleep, too, although each morning I wake up hoping the pain will be gone and then feel defeated when it isn't. Like there's this low-grade throbbing throughout the day and then a sharper pain whenever I stand up, cough, or readjust in bed. I still can't bend forward at all, so I have to do all of these awkward, time-consuming movements to pull on my socks and pants. I'm having to be super intentional with how I do anything, which maybe isn't a bad thing: in a way it's sort of nice because I really feel that my legs have become so much stronger over the years, and I'm using my "squat muscles" a ton right now, and they're doing a good job.

But I'm not quite looking forward to the next 48 hours: today is my last day in Iceland, and Bren is driving me to the airport tomorrow morning at 3:30 or 4 am, which means I should go to bed early but probably won't be able to, and if I do eventually fall asleep it will only be for an hour or two, and then I'll have to sit in a car for an hour and a half and then a plane for 3.5, and I'll *have* to get someone to put my luggage in the cabin for me because I physically can't, and plane rides hurt my back anyway, and then I'll have to meet the AirBnB lady at 3 pm, but at least it's right next to the Dallgow-Doberitz train station. I called Oma yesterday and chatted with her for a few, and she told me Opa is just mumbling now and having pain in his throat, and it really sounds like he's on his final days or weeks. So I'm not looking forward to seeing him again, even though Danielle reminded me that he'd probably find comfort in holding my hand. For now, I'm going to sip this cold tea (how'd that happen) and keep listening to this "river night jazz" music, and trust that everything will be okay again soon, because it always is.

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