The snap and pop of rough gravel quickly gave way to the near-silent whisper of soft dirt and dry, scattered pine needles as he turned the wheel slowly, hand over hand, easing the car into the clearing. Braking just feet from a smattering of boulders, he put the car in park and took one last gulp of water from his bottle- green and orange, “like the Ninja Turtles,” he’d said. He tried so hard over the past 5 years to get either of their children interested in the shelled crusaders he’d grown up loving.
He brought home the action figures, sat with them through the movies.
Neither kid took the bait.
Climbing seemed the one hobby they could share- that and a deep, abiding love for water, be it river or ocean- and this was their first chance to try it outside, under the open sky. She recognized it for the surprise gift that it was, an unexpected opportunity for all involved to test their mettle, push their limits, and take on Mother Nature herself. But she also knew that Mother Nature wasn’t always kind to humans too brash to acknowledge her unrelenting laws, like basic physics.
She drew in a deep breath as she emerged from the safety of the car. Without looking, she absent-mindedly swatted the door closed behind her, keeping her eyes laser-focused on the boy racing into the woods. She slipped her feet into her partner’s size 10 flip-flops, eager to avoid further irritation to the angry-looking blister her own shoes had rubbed into the top of her foot… she looked up. The boy was gone. Then:
“Hey, mom, check this out!” he yelled.
Bearing right, she followed the sound of his voice to a canyon overlook displaying a view of forest carnage; tree walls framed the left and right, while a path of apparent destruction had felled splintered trees right down the middle. A loose boulder? A strike of lightning? That was the boy’s guess, for no other reason than he loved to imagine and ponder aloud the pure, firey power of lightning striking… well, anything.
“We can go up right here,” the boy said matter-of-factly, pointing to a barely distinguishable path to the summit. Okay, she thought, we’re doing this. It’s gonna be fine. We won’t go ALL the way to the top. But she hadn’t counted on the boy being such a steadfast climber. They quickly passed the midway point, stopping at a steep rock face with no obvious hand-holds. “Alright,” she called to the boy, relieved for the natural barrier, “guess that’s the end.”
But the boy didn’t see it that way.
Already halfway up the rock face, he braced his left foot and leaned on his right as he made his journey up the first obstacle and over a 3-inch rift between the rocks. I can’t let him go alone… right? It’s probably safer if I’m there? she asked her internal guide. Setting on her answer, she started up after him, following the same trajectory to show adequate reverence for his path-finding skills. And also because he had shorter legs, so his path was most likely that of least resistance.
She made it halfway up before her knees began to feel weak and her hands took on a slight tremor- she was impressed her limbs could hold out that long against the onslaught of height anxiety.
It took all of her mind power to steady her bodily parts.
So much, in fact, she hadn’t heard a word of the boy’s monologue, except to comprehend that it involved making s’mores and watching an avalanche. But suddenly… “right, mom?” She glanced up to see him staring down at her, eyebrows raised. Just steps beyond him, the summit. Her throat felt instantly dry. “What’s up? I didn’t hear ya.”
“Why does your voice sound weird?” he asked.
“Becauuuuse,” she explained, “I’m not so great with heights. AND I’m wearing flip-flops.”
“Oh,” he said thoughtfully, “Why are adults so scared of heights?”
“I don’t know, buddy. It just… makes sense.”
With that, he climbed the last step to the top and looked out over the boulder (thankfully) framing him in. “How’s the view?” she asked, her body unwilling to move a step closer to find out for herself.
“Come see!” came his response, “It’s so amazing!”
I can do this, she thought. I can fucking DO this. She focused every shred of awareness on narrating her next few movements: foot up, hand out, foot up, grab on. And she was there. She’d made it. Indeed, it was a nice view, though not particularly ‘amaaaazing’ she thought.
Definitely not worth falling off a cliff.
“Okay,” she said, mostly to assure herself, “Think we’d better head back. Daddy and She-She are waiting.” The boy turned and began his descent just as fast as he’d begun, no apparent hesitation or thought to his actions. No fear of what could happen with only a small series of unfortunate missteps. When they reached the bottom, they looked back to survey their shared accomplishment. “Whoo!” she breathed aloud and squeezed the boy tight to herself. “I am SO proud of you!”
Then she added: “Of us.”
With that, they returned together to the waiting car- her by way of the gently sloped grass and dirt, the boy by smoothly scaling one last cascading rock wall.
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