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The Mountain


Fetal Heart Monitor & Tiare’s Contractions, originally uploaded by tiarescott.

(*Photo courtesy of tiarescott under the creative commons license.)

The Vicadon makes me doze. My dreams are short, freeze-frozen vignettes. Sound bites. Truncated sleep through a haze of narcotics. I’m borne backwards through time and space to this: the gap in space in which there are no thoughts, where only silence speaks.

When I reach back into my past, it is clear that I’ve walked to the fork of this crossroads once before. I arrived at the apex and chose to climb slowly down the mountain. Once before, death beckoned and I elected life. A choice. We choose, and the carpet of destiny unfurls. We choose even before the choice is presented. Our karma instructs and insists. Who was choosing now? My unborn son held the future in his hands. The choice was entirely his. Would he choose to be by my side or far away, where even a mother’s voice couldn’t reach him?

Five years ago D and I were hiking the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayas of Nepal. It was me, myself and I, and a recently acquired very short hairdo.

“Just cut it off,” I told my stylist. “I’m heading out into a new life.”

Approximately two weeks later, I was standing closer to the heavens than I ever would have thought possible in this lifetime. And yet, one short week later I found myself at 15,000 feet in a portable pressure chamber called a Gamow bag, vomiting violently and suffering delusions worse than any nightmares I could have here on this pillow, in this hospital bed. I’d learn later that I’d had a severe case of H.A.C.E (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) and H.A.P.E (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) due to my inability to tolerate the very thin air of the Himalayas. Several Sherpas (including mine) were busy laboriously pumping air in the bag. D was there too, taking a turn. I knew instinctively from the stricken look on his face that the situation was grave indeed. I had been in the bag for the two hour maximum, and if my magnanimous retching was any indication, the prognosis for recovery was dire. Despite my condition, I was also well aware of what lay ahead of me in the near future: A six-hour trek down to Manang (12,000 feet) where I could receive medical attention.

Soon after I’d emptied the contents of my guts into the tent, a glorious something occurred: I felt a delicious sleepiness overtake me, and as I nodded into dreamland the agonies of the last few hours dissipated completely, to be replaced by a sweet cocooning warmth. As my body relaxed into this toasty goodness, it seemed to surrender to the peaceful knowledge that the sleep I was choosing to enter was a permanent one. The long and final sleep. In that moment of choice I felt at once the greatest peace and gratitude. I harbored no resentment toward a single living creature.

I was ready to let go.

Our Western culture represents death as the Grim Reaper, the restless night stalker whose long claws rip us from life into the darkness of the night, deep into the abyss of the unknown. We run from this dismal apparition, shrink from his beckoning scythe. We jealously guard our impermanent lives, believing once we are “gone” the universe will suck us deeply into its blackest hole. How wonderful to see this ridiculous archetype for all it was: a bleak and empty stereotype. A lie devised by the frightened human ego. Why hadn’t anyone told me how utterly peaceful dying could be? Now that I knew, I resented the life propaganda machine that had convinced me otherwise.

My peaceful reverie and short lapses into unconsciousness were soon shattered by a furious rapping sound, which pounded like the rusty keys of an old pipe organ inside my skull. Through a small porthole in my Scuba-tent-prison, I could hear D and the sherpas knocking, deliberate in their intention to keep me awake. They knew where I was drifting and weren’t about to allow it. Before long my tranquility was replaced by rancor: why couldn’t they just leave me alone to make this passage with dignity? Why did they insist on rattling the cage of my death chamber, like the bloodthirsty warden, hungry for the rasping sound of his keys against the cell’s bars?

I railed against them. I cried and begged. Still they prevailed. I was not allowed to sleep. My naked determination to vacate my body was seized and singularly refused, the desire to cross over denied. My lessons, after all, were not finished. The light of day beckoned.

I was going down the mountain.

**All rights to this short story are reserved by the author of this blog. No portion may be reproduced without my prior permission.