The descent

“What was it like?” he asked again.

She knew he wanted her to tell him the story, but somehow she couldn’t find the words. She sat there, sinking deeper into her chair, and drew in a deep breath.

He waited calmly, as usual.

“Can I write it?” she asked. She had always been better with putting the words down on paper. Something about their physicality made them feel more like the art they were.

He nodded, giving her his assent.

She reached over to the table next to her and grabbed the notebook and pen. She stared out the window for a few minutes, watching the people shuffle to their destinations. Finally, she started, writing furiously but focused.

The mountain air got thinner, making it harder for me to breathe. I bent over, briefly, trying to catch my breath. ‘Deep, calm inhales,’ I told myself. I looked at the path ahead of me, growing narrower, gaining altitude quickly and eventually curving off to the East where it went past where I could see. To my right was the mountain side, offering me something to grab if I needed it. And off to the left, just about a foot, was the edge. The vastness of the landscape below stretching out before me. One big step that way and I would tumble to my death… Or learn that I could fly.

Each step got a little less sturdy, a little scarier, and a little riskier. But I went on anyway. Most people had told me that this was one hike I shouldn’t do. They looked at me like I was crazy, like this time I was just tempting fate and that surely fate would win.

The dizziness from the lack of oxygen started to feel more like a drug. Perhaps because I wasn’t getting enough air, my brain had started to weed out all the information that it didn’t deem important. Suddenly, all my worry about what might happen, all the things I had been climbing to forget, ceased to matter.

I took the final few steps and there I was, on top of the world. I drew in another deep breath, filling my lungs with this new air, breathing out what had come before.

There wasn’t ever a doubt that I could reach the top, in fact that was the easy part. Despite how difficult it was to breathe, how treacherous the path became, my perseverance would get me there.

“But once you’re there,” they said, “you’ll never want to come back down. The views are incredible. It’s invigorating.”

But I had to try. I needed to know what that level of aliveness felt like. I needed to feel the fresh air filling my lungs, to see the world below me- as if making it smaller would somehow allow me to control it from above. I stood there, and even though the views in front of me were unlike anything I had ever seen, I closed my eyes. I needed to feel what it was like to be up here. I needed to let this place and me be one.

I knew that the descent would be the problem. All along I knew that. Going up was difficult because it was so steep, but I knew I would likely fall almost the entire way down. As I stood there, none of that mattered. I didn’t care how hurt I got on the way down. The few brief moments spent at the top were worth every ounce of pain I would inevitably feel. They were worth every possible broken bone, every strained muscle, every scar.

When she was finished, she handed him the notebook. His gentle eyes glided across the paper, reading each word intently. He smiled.

He handed the notebook back to her. She sat with it in her lap for some time before moving. Finally, she lifted her pen once again to the page and scribbled a title across the top, so that if she ever decided to read this again, she could remember why she had written it. She closed the notebook and set it back on the table. Perhaps now her story could be contained. She would keep it there until she wanted it back.

She wiped a tear from her eye but looked up at him and smiled. That was the way this had all gone, sadness mixed with gratitude, bittersweet memories. She supposed that’s how all great love stories went- love and loss. Sometimes the fall wasn’t worth it. But this time it had been. It had been.

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