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The Birthday Dance - Friday, Dec. 20, 2019
Friday, Oct. 11, 2019 @ 12:21 am
The desert and the sage. Sparse ponderosa forest. A cold, dry wind. This is Skaha.
We drive for four hours to escape the rain of the coast. Through the mountain passes, the windshield wipers slosh sloppy slush to and fro. We arrive in the parking lot of the climbing area with two hours remaining before sunset, though the sun is already dipping behind the hills. Summer is decidedly over.
We pull on our harnesses and helmets. Inventory and rack our gear. I hoist the coiled rope across my shoulders.
We hike across the desert towards a beautiful tower of orange gneiss. The draws that are clipped to my harness clink together and against my thighs with each step. I grasp a handful of sage and breathe it in. A brown-eyed-susan blooms amidst the dry grasses. I smile and reach over and touch Russell’s shoulder as we approach the foot of the bluff. Effortlessly happy.
He leads the climb. I follow, climbing up the vertical slab, my fingers gripping to the tiny crimp holds, my toes edging on the metamorphic ripples. I reach the top and clean the anchor. Before descending, I look out over the lake. The sunset and Russell below me. A cold wind buffets against my face. How did I get here? All of this. I am in love.
“You got me?” I call down to him.
He pulls all of the slack out of the rope and calls back, “Got ya!”
We stay in a hotel, our first night in a hotel together. It’s not a fancy hotel, but it’s comfortable and there’s a king size bed, an indoor pool and hot tub, and a complimentary breakfast. Reassuringly middle class. We’ve spent a lot of nights together: his apartment, my apartment, the cabin at Mount Baker, camping in his van, at his friend’s house in Nanaimo, in a tent on Newcastle Island. But this is our first hotel room.
We soak in the hot tub after climbing. Tumblers of ice and gin and ginger ale. We talk with the others that are in the hot tub with us. I love that he talks to strangers, especially the ones who are outwardly different from us; the way that he treats others is attractive. Eventually conversation with the others fades, and we turn to each other. We are engaged in conversation, and my hand rests on his warm, sleek, golden shoulder muscle. His hand on my thigh under the frothing water.
We go back to the room to clean up for dinner. He comes up behind me as I stand at the vanity, combing out my wet hair. He runs his hand down my bare back, pulls my hair to the side and kisses the back of my neck.
I let everything go. All of my hesitations. I pour myself into loving. I am myself, the true self, the one whose voice exists here. The sensual part of me emerges like the first rays of morning sun. My desire to love and be loved and feel everything. Open and curious and fearing nothing. I feel accepted and cared for and appreciated. I can do no wrong in this moment.
The next day, we climb again. This is my day; this is the day in which I lead. I stand at the foot of a bluff and study the wall against the guidebook. I pick the routes. I lead them. I climb and clip draws into the bolts that are affixed to the wall. I pull up the rope and clip it into each draw as I ascend the wall. Moments of hesitation, of fear. Right at the edge of my ability, pushing myself. My heart pounding.
On my fourth climb, something happens. One moment I am on the wall, near to the next bolt, a stretch of rope dangles down between me and the last bolt. Suddenly I find myself slamming against the rock, my right hand burning. I look down, and Russell is looking up at me. I look up and see that I’ve fallen a good twelve feet. I don’t know what happened. My foot must have slipped from a hold.
“Are you OK?” he calls up.
I inspect my hand carefully. Move it this way and that. Look at the rest of my body for anything awry. My hand is bleeding in three places. One flap of skin at my wrist is especially troubling.
“I am OK. I will need the first aid kit, but it’s all superficial.”
“Do you want to come down?”
“No. I’m scared and shaky and need to rest, but I want to go back and climb through that spot again. I need to work through the fear.”
I climb back up and beyond. I leave a trail of blood on the rock. I build an anchor at the top, and he lowers me to the ground.
“Congratulations,” he says. “You just took your first lead fall.”
For the rest of the weekend, we climb and soak in the hot tub and fumble around with each other in the king size bed. We wander the streets of the quiet town and drink too much and take turns trying to climb up the giant peach that rests at the lakeshore.
I’ve stopped holding my breath. I’ve stopped wondering when it’s all going to fall apart. He is kind and loving and compassionate and funny and nerdy and strong and handsome and encouraging and passionate and adventurous and… there’s no end to the list of adjectives. I admire him endlessly.
It doesn’t matter what happens in the future.
I found someone worth loving.
And love him I will.