What We Carry

by Chris de Serres

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I was supposed to be in the mountains today.

It may seem odd to say, but snow scares me.  I had an accident many years ago that has stayed with me.  I fell down a steep snowy embankment, picking up speed.  Like a rolling pin, I impacted a ledge which hurtled me into the air.  My body went across an exposed slope of loose rock, like a banana slide.  It was so quick.  I did not know if I was going to die but I had enough time to consider it.  I didn’t.  The worst part was left to the end.  I loosed a cascade of rocks high above me.  I lay there in shock as volleyball-sized rocks came down on me.

When rock falls the instinct is always to look up, which I did.  It was in that moment that a rock the size of a canteloupe struck me just above my right eye.  I got into a sitting position.  I looked down at this stream of blood dropping into my lap.  I reached up to the loose flap of skin of my eyebrow.  I couldn’t see.  I had lost my eyeglasses.  I really couldn’t see.

I was not alone that day.  Ed was waiting at the base of the long slope when he heard me, then saw me.  Later he told me it would take a long time for him to get that image out of his head.  My body hurtling down hard snow and ice.

Ed came up to me.  Asked me if I was alright.  All I could say was yeah, I think.  The adrenaline in my veins disguised any injury, at least for the moment.

He reached over for some webbing to bind my wound, then hesitated.  He pulled out his camera instead and told me, “You’re going to want a picture of this.”

I laughed.  Ed, always the photographer.  Always looking for the perfect picture.  He bound my head so tight my head throbbed.  Then he slowly led me down the mountain.  I was blind without my glasses.  Everything a blur.

Ed was one of my first climbing partners.  Many years later he disappeared off a ridge on Mt. Forbidden.  I was told he fell, just like me.

I told them that I wouldn’t be climbing the mountain today.  I made up an excuse.

It may seem ironic.  A climber who is too afraid to climb.  It happens.  Trauma is something we carry with us.  It doesn’t heal.  When we are strong we may not even remember that it is there.  Then it reminds us.

We are not always strong.  If I don’t think about it, my body remembers.  The feeling of helplessness right before the fall.  I remember looking down the slope at Ed right before I fell.  It was like he was in another universe and I couldn’t get there.  I knew I was going to fall.  I was too scared, too anxious, too panicky.  I had received no training for a moment like that.  I fell over 10 years ago, but I still remember.

I was not supposed to be in the mountains today.  So I didn’t go.

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