My life has been an absolute roller coaster. Have you ever been to Cedar Point? I’m talking not a smooth roller coaster like Millennium Force, more like Top Thrill Dragster. But instead of going straight up and straight down, you fall back and don’t make it quite all the way up a couple of times, and then when you do make it over, you go back around and attempt again and again. I saw my mom’s car fall backwards on that ride once, and I vowed to never ever go on it as long as I lived. Now I just feel like I am living on it.
Particularly in recent years has my life been more strange than normal. I was like a firecracker out of Grand Rapids, back when the city wasn’t as nice. I wanted away from my family, away from my rules, away from everything. I craved adventure, growing up, and being stable on my own. I looked no further than the Marine Corps at this time. Six years later, I still look back on joining the Marine Corps as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. However, during my four years of active duty I felt differently about it. The Marines took me through some of the hardest times of my life, but it has also given me some of the best memories with some pretty amazing people. The corps gave me the growing up and the being stable on my own, but it never fully satisfied my thirst for adventure. I left after four years of active duty with a new life, I had a husband, an adorable dog, and a plan set in stone to make my dreams a reality.
See that’s when God likes to change your life, you think you have a plan but everything gets completely flipped upside down, you think you know what you want until that person decides they want to give someone else a try. You feel defeated, sad, lonely, and then you become numb and indifferent and begin to make some irrational decisions. You jump for other options, scanning and searching for the best route to take. Hoping you can find your sense of plan and security again, but that’s when God again laughs and says leave the worrying up to Me. I looked no further than to go home, I left the state of Connecticut with everything to my name in my little candy apple red Mazda. I was off through Canada, heading for the mitten and trying not to look back. Not looking back is harder than a lot of people think. You can see these memes and quotes all over the web and social media about not regretting, but you can’t help think about all the times someone brought you pain and sadness, yet all the times they made you feel like you were on top of the moon.
Back in Grand Rapids was awesome. I had one of the best summers of my life hands down, I didn’t get a job because I didn’t want one. Every single day was full of sun, fun, fishing, relaxing, exploring, and literally everything that is the reason why Kid Rock sings about summer in Michigan. I was loving life and not worrying about my future one single bit. My best friend and I had made plans to volunteer in the Panama Canal for a few months, and if anyone asked me my plan, I smiled ear to ear telling them about the experiences I expected to have there.
These experiences were some of the most humbling, joyful, pure bliss filled, and out of this world ones yet. The Panamanian people are so great and loving, the tourists who travelled to our floating lodge were so different and fun and eager to learn and see and adventure, and the weekends I had off to go explore other parts of the country were epic. This experience slowly changed my life, as my best friend had to bid me farewell to go chase her dream in the LAPD (she did it by the way, my little badass, stay safe out there), I was left in the middle of the vast jungle wondering what I was going to do and where to next.
The website that initially brought me to volunteering on this amazing lodge also brought me to a small island outside of Panama City, PA, called Taboga. And in turn, it brought me to a new friend from England, a little crazy red-haired girl who had the best English humor I had ever heard in my life. Taboga had some great local people, however, the people we were volunteering for were not local. They were miserable and ungrateful of what they had, they basically ran me and my English friend out of there in approximately a weeks’ time. I didn’t have a plan, but she did and the people she was headed for were ready for the other survivors (which consisted of me and only me). Hence, we set out on what later turned out to be a 22-hour bus ride, from Panama City to the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose.
During this time, Costa Rica was having some political uprising, many strikes were going on and the buses were running slower and longer than ever. We still needed to get to our destination, 1,900 ft high in the cloud forest, a quaint town called Monteverde, but it was best we took the bus leaving at six in the morning to ensure our arrival. This bus (not surprisingly) took way longer than it was supposed to as well because of these strikes. Eight hours later, we made it to Monteverde, around two pm. Now you need to understand something, at this point I haven’t worked since I lived in Connecticut back in April, it was mid-September and I was balling on a budget. Something you also might not know; Costa Rica is EXPENSIVE! And I mean that, I’ve lived an hour outside of NYC, I’ve lived in the retirement capital of the USA, I’ve travelled around in my few years of living and I still think this place is expensive. The town seemed quaint enough, so I opted for putting my thumb out instead.
Saving ten dollars might’ve been the dumbest thing I ever did. Meeting a Tico and falling in love was not on my agenda for 2018. However, God penciled it in, unbeknownst to me. I’ll describe him as tall, dark, handsome, and oh did I mention he speaks fluent English? Not only did he speak English, but he agreed to go bungee jumping with me, right in this quaint town that turned out to be his hometown. I was only staying for two weeks but this guy had me and I wasn’t quite sure I knew what to do about it. Now at this point in my life I can honestly say I’m good at loving, but I’m better at leaving (cue my favorite country song), so I did what I do best, left. At four am by the way, I snuck away from his house, from this guy who I had fallen for in just two weeks and I was crying on the five am bus out of Monteverde.
I wasn’t sure if it was what I wanted but the cloud forest was rainy, and the beach was calling, and I couldn’t fall more for a guy who lives multiple countries away. I had a week left in Central America and I was going to be damned if I didn’t make the most of it. Again, God had other plans. I didn’t have just a week left there, I had many more ahead and I had no idea. The people who had initially saved me from Taboga and that I had volunteered for in Monteverde offered me a part time job and a place to live along with it. This was my option to either go back to this and the guy who I was still completely missing or continue my unknown journey and end up wherever I would’ve. Instagram polls weren’t around currently but living in Costa Rica or living somewhere in the USA where it gets cold? I have a feeling it would’ve been at least an 83% vote for Costa Rica.
So, back to Grand Rapids, only called home because I grew up there. I sold everything to my name except two suitcases, including my little red candy apple car that I loved so much. Let me give you a spoiler alert, Costa Rica was not everything I hoped and dreamed it would be. Remind you it’s expensive, I wasn’t making that much, the dark haired tall and handsome man was amazing but also often sucked, and the people I was working for and living with were just different to live with and that’s all I will say. Things didn’t work out, and it was my time to head out, once again on the stupid bus leaving Monteverde, at least this time I caught the afternoon one. I cried on this bus too, life really can kick you in the dirt sometimes, and I hope I can someday say it was all for a reason, but I consider myself an honest person and I haven’t found that out yet.
Now this time I didn’t go home to Michigan, if you can’t tell by now, I hate the cold and it was December. A short phone call to my grandpa later, buying a plane ticket, and off I was to Naples, Florida (AKA the retirement capital of the USA). Now of course my grandparents asked me my plans, how long I planned on staying, etc. All things I didn’t know the answers to, after all, you never know if Top Thrill is always going to make it all the way back around.
The next four and a half months were a blur in my memory, when a person tells you they work over 60 hours a week and go to school full time (15 credits), you usually blame their exaggeration or their lack of keeping track of hours. However, like I said, I am an honest person, and therefore these months were such a blur. I was making money and maintaining straight A’s, trying to be the best I could be because who wants to be average??
I made a great friend who became my roommate and now best friend, and he is insanely happy and loving always. Never did I think I would grow so close to him and his family, even when working I still enjoyed hanging out with him on my hour breaks or late after we both got off work. Now let me back track a bit, can you tell I like to have at least the bare minimum of some future plans? Well that’s what I had!
A ticket to Europe and a mission to at least fill up a bit more of my passport. Two months on a mother daughter trip that was one to never forget. We both spent a ridiculous amount of money, fought a bunch, saw jaw dropping scenery, and look back at it as the trip on a lifetime. Now by the way, did I mention my new best friend is also from the mitten and was planning his Michigan summer? Shortly, I was off to join him and do a repeat of 2018’s summer. No plans, no job, just me, him, and each day to tackle with new things and experiences. You know what happens when you try to repeat things? They often don’t quite turn out that way. Now don’t get me wrong I was happy, and I will always be happy, but this summer was just weird. I don’t know how to explain it other than that, I was a bit everywhere and I didn’t necessarily like it. I had moved my mom and all of her possessions to her new home in Colorado, I was back and forth in between Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Northern Michigan all the time, and I even made a random trip to Nicaragua in the middle somewhere (remember the having future plans things?).
Remember I was happy, but I couldn’t escape the feeling of missing someone who I genuinely thought was going to be the man and father figure of my future family. Take a wild guess at who that is……. the Tico from Monteverde. God laughs at me because I’m here in Monteverde writing this right now and He knows I should be somewhere else. This is the part of the story where you might say wow that is fate, and honestly that is what I thought it was too, but while I have been living in Dreamland for a week and a half now, things can easily come crashing down. And that is exactly what they did, I have so much love for this Tico, but it is not healthy for me nor is it seemingly good for him. He is not a happy man and I am not able to give him my happiness, but I wish I could. Now here is Ashleigh McKee, or Howell, who even knows, without any plans once again. A world full of opportunities and awaiting God’s instruction to seek them. Until next time adventurers, I will keep in touch, the Top Thrill is going down for maintenance. <3
© 2019 Ashleigh McKee