This is part two of an essay that was first published in the Summer 2012 issue of Utah Adventure Journal.
Saturday I rose before dawn in the City of Rocks to the song of birds. In the cool air I ran quietly past the patina covered formations. Swifts darted along the walls of Flaming Rock then Morning Glory and others. This was my first weekend alone with Elizabeth and I needed to strategize; get things properly threaded.
Liz wants to go to the hot springs today; it’s closed on Sunday’s… I want to explore Castle Rocks State Park… She wants to climb… I have to figure out what routes those would be… She should have fun… I should do everything I can to make that happen.
We settled on Castle Rock. Lower in elevation than the other crags the iris blooms were out in force. Snowfields on Cache Peak stood out against the green pastures below. We hiked by lonely rocks and through pines until we found a crag near a stream with aspens that provided shade. I draped a rope over its steeper side and rappelled slowly, inspecting possible holds. Elizabeth hopped from one side of the stream to the other. The air smelled musky and the lawn near the rock was pressed flat.
“Looks like deer have slept here, Liz.” I pointed at droppings and waved to the grass. “Can you smell that?”
The worst of my adolescent angst still haunts me. It occurred one autumn day after holiday shopping with my dad at the request of my mom. I was venomous the entire time. Back home, the middle of suburban sprawl that is Salt Lake, consumed with the desire to get high, I demanded he drive me to a friend’s house. Reluctantly, he started for the car then, reconsidering, pointedly asked what I was up to. He knew my intentions. Unable to give him a practical response he turned back to the house. Something inside me cracked. In a flash I was swinging. He recoiled, trying to retreat, but I caught him inside the door. I was a flurry of fists and feet, a barrage that only stopped after he lay beaten on the steps with a look of horror on his face. As the anger drained from my soul the realization that I’d just lashed out because I couldn’t face the truth and disappointment of what I’d become dawned on me. Never once during the altercation had he fought back. Arms were used to deflect the blows, but nothing answered the onslaught. His face had a sobering effect. What kind of a son beats down his father? The urge to get high, to step away from this reality, grew stronger than ever. That evening I ran as fast and far as possible. I was fifteen years old.
Saturday afternoon returning to the City of Rocks, after a stop at the hot springs, I suggested to Elizabeth we climb Bath Rock. She belayed me attentively then followed, all while speaking to herself. I couldn’t make out the words. At the top she claimed it was the hardest thing she had ever done and I was taken back to my first routes and the fear of the unknown. Elizabeth had no idea what she was capable of and it wasn’t up to me to tell her. I could only offer love and support; the rest she’d discover on her own.
That evening, while Elizabeth slurped hot cocoa, we devised a plan to climb to the top of other formations in the City. Sunday we would attempt Flaming Rock, Bread Loaves, Morning Glory and Elephant Rock. It would be cool to see how many we could climb together in a day.
In their final attempt to turn me around my parents committed me to an institution. After putting on a compliant face and letting a few days pass, I escaped by hopping over the cafeteria counter and running through two secure exit doors that were propped open by a custodian taking out the trash. Wearing a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, I ran onto a snow-covered field. I didn’t look back, certain that if I did someone would catch and return me to that prison. Once again I ran as far as I could.
I’m fifteen… have no warm clothing… No money… My friends can’t help… I’ve escaped to nowhere.
Stopped for a brief moment, somewhere in the Salt Lake Valley, I saw the peaks of the Wasatch. Their snowy summits hovered in the night sky. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d climbed. Considering all the money wasted on partying I could’ve amassed a huge stash of gear and traveled anywhere. Instead I was there, at the bottom of a very deep hole, which had just gotten deeper.
That night on a pay phone I promised my mom that things would be different. I would go to therapy, communicate more, do anything not to be locked up. I planned to straighten up and when that happened return to climbing. For less than one hour I was warm at home. When three large men showed up to take me back to the institution I felt completely betrayed.
Days later my dad came to visit, my mom couldn’t look me in the face. He explained how the insurance would be void if I didn’t finish the prescribed rehabilitation. Outpatient therapy was not an option. Either I stayed, however long it took, or my parents would have to pay over $5,000 dollars. It was money they didn’t have.
The room spun as I fractured and fell to pieces and the cool demeanor worn to defy the institution knowledge that they were breaking me evaporated instantly. Dressed in only a hospital gown, I shook irrepressibly and bawled like a baby. I wasn’t in control of this. There was no way out but one and it wasn’t a choice. It felt as if I’d lost everything.
That winter night a father wrapped his arms around his quaking son. That night a son felt undeserved love from his father.
The final part will be posted next week
copyright louis arevalo 2012.