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In Light of It All
Autumn is truly about death. Yet, here, death was almost made beautiful. I walked with my head twisted off to the side, staring over the North Outlook. Ten years ago I had been here for the first time with my father; he played the zampoñas across the shifting landscape. When I was eighteen, I had brought Jay here. Just like then, the corpses of trees stand riddled with holes, and stripped of their decaying bark. The nutty, heady, rain-soaked scent of fall still has that distinct sweet underlayer, like rotten apples. This part always reminded me of him. When I reached the beginning edge of the rock scramble path, I read the red sign that ordered you to Proceed at Your Own Risk. I laughed at it. I began the trek over large, slippery rocks. The memory of Jay bubbled up in my mind, and I allowed it to envelop my conscious. I tried not to dwell on high school, but being as it was only last year, it was hard for me to forget.
So I let myself remember.
I had always told my father that I’d bring a boyfriend here to test his athletic ability, and to see if he loved the outdoors as much as I did. But, Jay was not my boyfriend. He had, over the years of high school, become one of my closest friends. Oh, and I was in love with him in that breathless, distracted, adoring, three-year-long type of way that happens to hopeless romantics.
I let myself remember that, too.
“What’s up with your Smurf shoes?”
I had scowled at his comment.
“They’re hiking boots. I love that you’re wearing some crappy no-ankle-support sneakers, though. I can’t wait to see you fall on your ass.” I gave him a wry smile as we reached the entrance of the scramble. I pointed to the red sign that was the only indication a path existed, and began making my way over the stones. Unsurprisingly, he kept up. If he had better shoes he might have passed me. Yet, his shoes were his downfall, and I would constantly hear the squeaks as he slipped, followed by cursing. He doesn’t curse too much, so it made it even funnier to hear. For the most part it was just us climbing in silence, using our hands to cling to rock, and hold our whole bodies up so that our feet couldn’t betray us. The cold spray of the air coated his eyelashes and his eyes were bright when he laughed at the few slip ups I made. Forest green really was his color. At this point, you could tell me he was ugly— hideous even— and you could have been right. But when he laughed he looked perfect to me, so I wouldn’t be able to tell if you were.
Underneath my parka I was sweating from the climb. I slowed as in front of me were four wooden ladders that led up the side of the cliff face.
“What are you doing? You okay?” His voice behind me was full of curiosity.
“I just...don’t like heights too much.” I could hear the incredulousness in his
voice when he asked:
“Haven’t you been here before? Weren’t you telling me how much you love
this place? You’d come here ‘every year’?”
“Yea, but I was always with my dad. He would always go first, and it...calmed me down? I don’t know.” I shrugged as if it were an explanation. He suddenly appeared beside me in the tight miniature canyon.
“Hey, why don’t I go first now? And if I fall and die, then, well, don’t climb it.” He chuckled at his own dark logic and I rolled my eyes at him, but couldn’t help a smirk. Isn’t this supposed to be his test? I thought to myself. Not that he’s my boyfriend— or that this is really a test, I quickly amended in my head. I waved him back and braced myself for the climb, thinking about how this was the first time I’d done it without my father. But, I have Jay.
I didn’t look down or up. I robotically worked my way up each rung. The final ladder led us to the entrance of the biggest crevice. It ended in a choked vertical squeeze on a smaller, more slanted ladder, then you had to find a few foot holds and haul yourself over the edge. I looked straight at the wooden planks I gripped. Every so often his voice would float up, saying my name as both a question and a reassurance. As my fingers gripped the slick limestone at the mouth of the opening, I heard him curse below me, before shouting up an ‘I’m okay!’ I laughed, and it broke through my nerves. I pulled myself over the edge and walked out on the cliff plateau I had emerged onto. I inhaled and closed my eyes, savoring the absolute quiet. The air was thick with life, and the strong wind had enough chill to freeze the outer layer of your skin, but it didn’t go deep.
When he made it out of the top, he looked up to see me waiting, smiling at him, and he raised his eyebrows questioningly. I shook my head as if to say 'nothing, never-mind' and waved him over to where I was sitting. We sat there in silence, breathing the air and staring out at the seemingly changed earth. I turned to him and lightly touched his hand.
“Thank you for coming,” I whispered. He squeezed my hand without a word. Joy rushed from my chest and sparked throughout my limbs.
“I love you,” I breathed out, with a sudden quiet ferocity.
“What?” He turned to me, confused. He hadn’t heard.
I laughed, turning away and closing my eyes, attempting a façade of peace while my pulse thundered wildly in my neck.
“I love this. Being here," I responded, not sure if I wanted him to realize what I had done. I could almost feel the warmth of the smile he undoubtedly flashed back at me in his oblivious agreement. I was silent, as was he, and we continued sitting in silence as the wind blustered around us.
I regret never telling him. What was the worst that could have happened? Could it have been worse than what happened soon after? I sighed, looking at the cliff-face we conquered just over a year ago. I sent my trembling question into the mountain; into the Earth; into God.
“Damnit, why did he have to die?”