Denver, Dead Rocks, and the Dichotomy of Leaving

Dobra vetche Lovers. I’m coming to you from the Sofia Airport where I’m snacking on a convenience store tuna sandwich (sometime I like to live dangerously), blasting Metallica’s Unforgiven at a Starbucks Lightning level to drown out the wailing child to my left as I wait for my flight to Italy. I’m rocking the solid hangover that travel day requires, So I figured it might be a good chance to write the next chapter in the Specifically Random adventure that is my life.
I won’t use the term “recent”, as the Denver chapter is now two months old. I’ve known that this post would be particularly difficult for me to write, and if you don’t know why, you haven’t been paying attention. Even two months out, I’m still hesitant, but with my essential travel day half Xanax in my system, and (now) Zed’s Dead in my ears, I’m bold (or medicated) enough to recount my last week in the US..
I can’t remember the last time I was nervous to land in a city, but after only three weeks, I was that girl, the one who contemplated what to wear, consulting my step mother about attire among other matters. I landed and immediately hit the restroom to “freshen up” (after a flight that was only 2 hours, mind you), something I can’t ever remember doing. Fully expecting a typical Marky running way behind, me standing outside the terminal, waiting on him as I had so many times before, I was shocked and elated to see him front and center as I exited the terminal, his signature smile plastered across his face, perfectly placed between car service drivers displaying passenger names and families waiting for a glimpse of loved ones. Immediately I laughed at myself internally for my previous anxiousness. We caught up on our last few weeks as we waited for my bags, then off to the Markymobile where I was asked a question that I answered the same every time: Top up or down? – Always down.
We cruised into the city, taking a small detour to see downtown before getting to my BNB. After dipping into the mezcal we had procured from our tasting at Cicitrz, we we were off to see how a Friday night in Denver is done Marky style. After a quick stop in to see Sergio (who I’d previously met in Thailand), we hit downtown and a club that was certainly not my cup of tea, but there was bottle service and it was good to see M catch up with his friends. After sensing my discomfort (and not hearing a song either of us knew for about an hour) we moved on to Mile High Spirits, a vodka distillery that was much more my pace. Drinks and convos until the place closed down and I grabbed us a $70 Uber back to the burbs BNB that fit my budget. In case you didn’t know, Denver is massive and surge pricing is real.
The next morning, I had persuaded Johnny Boy to make the drive up from somewhere in the south of Colorado that I’m told is quintessential small town. This wasn’t too hard of an ask as he had just procured a new two wheeled whip and was eager to hit the road with it. The three of us took the train (no more Ubers) into downtown and hit Ophelia’s, and eclectic and intimate restaurant/concert venue for some grub and bottomless mimosas. After brunch it was time to try this craft beer scene that everyone is always raving about, so we hit First Draft for some 5% and up craft brews. On my way to the little girl’s room, I stumble upon a pool hall and after some very light convincing, I drag the boys back for a few games of cutthroat. We move onto teams when Meraki and fellow S.S. Shitshow crew member Vanston arrives. After what I assume is a sweeping victory (this part is admittedly a bit fuzzy, from the altitude, of course) we head off to Work & Class for some eats, where its quickly realized that Johnny Boy and I have had our fair share of intoxicating beverages {this altitude tho}. We get most of our food to go and M and I grab the train back to the burbs.

Sunday morning is for a hangover breakfast that I barely touch, and I hug Johnny Boy see you later until our January snowboarding trip. I had apparently drunkenly agreed to a hike the day before, and try as I might, Vanston was not letting my weasel my way out of it, so M and I scoop him up and head out to Red Rocks. This is definitely the first and possibly the only time that I’m besting M on a hike as he’s usually blowing ahead and leaving me alone at night in a Peruvian Jungle, but a recent gym shesh with his bro has him debilitated with a serious case of DOMS. I’m not laughing, I’ve been there. The granny walk post heavy squats is no joke. I also don’t have much room to talk, as two days of drinking and the dry altitude of Denver has my performance at less than ideal, but we make it up the mountain and savor the views. We’re under time constraints, so we hustle back down the mountain to get home and freshen up for dinner with the Hernandez family.
While I’m most certainly biased, I don’t think there are too many people that would disagree with me that Mark is about as quality as humans come. He’s genuinely caring, smart as hell, driven, open minded, laid back, the kind of guy who brings a room to life when he walks in, with a smile that can brighten even your darkest day. It takes me about 2 minutes with his fam to see that this didn’t happen by chance. Papa Gilbert is a jovial ball buster, tending the grill as he and Marky trade blows on almost every subject, especially how and when to flip the charring meat. Momma Linda is one of the sweetest human I’ve ever met, every bit the schoolteacher demeanor you can conjure in your mind with the cutest voice to round it all out. While I’m having trouble finding the physical resemblance between Marky and his brother, they share mannerisms as only brothers can, and I’m really just waiting for them to break out and wrestle in the backyard.
Home cooked meals are hard to come by on the road (unless I’m the one cooking), and while I was grateful for the delicious food, I was over the moon about getting to spend such an enjoyable evening with the Hernandez fam. We talked travels, swapped stories about M, discussed wine, and had one very uncomfortable conversation (for me) about my traps {CROSSFIT!}. I left their home that night with my heart and soul just full from the love and laughter that filled the evening. I know, its sappy AF, but I don’t particularly care because it’s the truth.
Monday we’re off to Boulder for the main event of the trip: Two nights of Zed’s Dead at the infamous Red Rocks Amphitheater. I’m starting to feel the effects of the altitude and dry air, and I’m trying to drink as much water as possible, and although I’m achy and downing headache meds left and right, I power through because I’ve been looking forward to this since M mentioned it back in January. We’re booked on a bus from the middle of town to the Amphitheater. There’s no other way to describe this bus other than a party bus. A giant speaker in front is blasting bangas and kids (yes, to me, they are kids) are all over the aisle, smoking, drinking, and getting lit AF. Again, not my jam, but I remember what its like to be 24, and I can’t even count the times that M has had to play up to my level over the past year, so I embrace the madness and even take a swig off the bag when it comes my way.
We arrive at the venue and after some pregaming in the parking lot (complete with a liter of water), we head in to scope out the opening acts. The venue itself does not disappoint. If you haven’t been to Red Rocks, put it on our list. Nestled between natural rock formations, its the most unique concert experience ever, and the sound quality the resonates of the rocks is something only nature can provide. For the first of our two nights, we got seats in the second row up close and personal for all the bass. I’m running out of superlatives for this trip, but I honestly don’t even know if I have them words to describe how incredible the show itself was, lightning delay and all, so let me amend my previous statement. Go to Red Recks, but more specifically, go there for a Dead Rocks show.

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As soon as I open my eyes the next morning, I know it’s going to be a rough day and I’m glad I’ve already taken off work. The festivities, altitude, and dry air have all caught up to me and I am not good. I can’t keep anything down, I spend the majority of the day in and out of consciousness with a pounding head and I hurt from head to toe, a deep muscle ache that makes it hard to move. M is giving me water left and right, but all the Zofran in the world isn’t helping me keep it down. We push our bus to the latest departure, and even then I’m putting in my best rally effort to get to the show. We grab seats near the top where the cool breeze and lack of crowd make keeping baby sips of water down a more manageable effort. The view from up there isn’t bad either, and being July 3rd, we’re able to see several fireworks shows from downtown Denver and surrounding areas. I hung in there as long as I could, but about 45 minutes from the end of the show I tapped out, practically in tears at my inability to stay any longer.
The next morning I was feeling better – not 100%, but actually functional enough to do human things again. We hit downtown Boulder and found a little French Bistro where I ate my first meal in nearly 48 hours – and it stayed down! Nourished and satiated, we headed to the flatirons to hike a bit before the ‘rents came to pick us up. I’m still struggling a bit with being able to breathe, but we wind our way up the mountain discussing whether or not to trip up to Aspen for the next day or so. Along the way I spot a hiker donning an Auburn hat, so a quick “War Eagle” strikes up a short convo with a family from Georgia. The world is smaller than you think.
After a coincidental lunch at the same French Bistro M and I fueled up at, Momma Linda and Pops Gilbert scooped us up for the breathtaking ride back to Castle Pines. I’ve been assured there are buffalo just a stone’s throw from the Hernandez home, but even our second attempt reveals no burly beasts in the fields. We head to the house where Gil throws some brats and burgers on the grill (I’m so happy to be able to eat again) and its everything I have in me not to ask them if they want to adopt me. You can never have enough family right? looks at flights to crash holidays with the Hernandez clan
Our Aspen plans are thwarted as wildfires approach our planned accommodations, so we hit downtown instead and do some cafe and coffee shop work. We head to an M style bar before I take the reigns and drag us to a rooftop for sunset. Vanston meets up and we move on to a speakeasy style cocktail bar where a taste testing of the menu ends in a fun but fuzzy night.
Friday brings my last night in Denver and M and I have been invited to a colleague of mine’s home for dinner with his family. I’m loving the home cooked meals and time with secondary families, but M is a much bigger hit with the Massingill children as he takes the younger boys for a spin in his Mustang (top down, of course), jumps on the trampoline with their little girl and talks music with the oldest boy. After the kids are tucked into bed, the adults {loose term, maybe just older kids :)} chat into the night until I notice my hours with M dwindling and steal him off to myself for the next 12 hours.
The drive to the airport was both the longest and shortest ride ever, made only slightly better by my last meal of Chick-fil-a before heading into the land of no waffle fries . We had agreed that the best thing for both of us would be walking away from this past year as friends, but that didn’t make it make it any easier. We said our words, hugged one last time and I walked into the airport, pausing just inside the door and out of his sight to compose myself.
I never wanted to fall in love on Remote Year.  That said, I’m glad that I did, despite all the hurt leaving it behind caused, and even though I’ll never look at the moon the same way again. Falling in love with Mark allowed me to open myself to more of the possibilities of the world around me and reevaluate what I want out of this beautiful life.  And while I sit here, now in a piazza coffee shop in small town Modena, Italy, living the life I know I’m supposed to be living, I’m more open to the idea of things like marriage, kids, and family than I ever was before, given the right set of circumstances.  I’m not exactly sure what that looks like just yet, but I hope to recognize it when and if it appears, and the experiences of this past year have removed the blinders I previously had, making my chances far better than they were when I steeled myself to the world around me.
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Until next time Lovers,

Specifically Yours,

SR

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