This is an essay that was first published in the Summer 2012 issue of the Utah Adventure Journal.
Sunday morning, with the smell of juniper and sage in the air, Elizabeth and I ran to Flaming Rock. Last year she had backed off Rain Dance, the two-pitch route to its summit. This year she cruised it, only hesitating at an overlap on the second pitch. Getting her down the backside was a bit touchier. She crawled to the edge of the face then wrapped her arms around my neck. I gently set her below the anchor and told her it would be fine. Releasing her arms from my neck her lips quivered for a moment then relaxed as I let out rope.
To the Bread Loaves, we chose Twist and Crawl. As she jammed her tiny hands into the finishing crack her face pinched into a scowl.
“Liz, you look like a crack climber!” She responded by sticking out her tongue.
No one was on Skyline at 11 am Sunday morning so I made my way up. Only wanting to take her to the edge of comfort I had some doubt on this one. Steep and precarious, it might’ve been enough to unnerve her. As I neared the top a group of climbers appeared and asked Elizabeth when we would be done. Feeling awkward she asked not to climb it. I felt relieved.
The last formation of our trip was Elephant Rock. We arrived to an empty parking area and saw no climbers. To have the place to ourselves was a gift.
“It wont come out!” Elizabeth was having trouble removing the first cam.
“Take it easy. Squeeze the trigger then ease it out.” She got it and moved on to the next one. It was no problem.
“This is… scary!”
“You’re almost here. It’s the last climb of the trip.”
“I can’t get it!” 30 feet below me and 80 above the ground she was fussing with the final tcu. I had finessed it into a pod and now it’d require some guidance to retrieve. I took up the slack and had her sit on the rope. Her arms jerked up and down as she tried to pry the cam from the crack.
“Stop! Take a breath, Liz. It’s not a big deal.” Tears were falling; I could hear it. “Okay, now nice and easy, move it bit by bit.” It was my father’s voice. “Don’t force it. Never force anything, Liz.” She was trembling when she arrived to the belay. I hugged her tightly and told her she’d done awesome.
I’d like to say the institution was a silver bullet, but it wasn’t. While I never returned to partying like I’d done in the past, time was needed to clean up. Rehab did, however, have an effect on the relationship with my dad. Although neither of us was able to speak about the past, we did develop a distant respect for one another. He no longer demanded anything from me and I took full responsibility for my actions. It seemed like this was a descent outcome to our differences, but after his death depression grabbed hold. It felt as if a dark and toxic cloud was suffocating me. For years I struggled to rectify these issues. At first I suffered from nightmares that revisited our altercations, then after time I began having dreams of regret where I was unable to speak, to tell him that I was sorry. And now, more than decade later, I’m finally being comforted with dreams of his love.
As a young asthmatic I recall several trips to the emergency room. My dad would sit next to me speaking softly with his Peruvian accent. “Luis, I want you to count backwards from the number ten. At each number we will take a breath.” Sometimes he would count in Spanish, “Diez… Nueve… Ocho…” He would calmly walk me through relaxation exercises while my mom, near hysterical, would be demanding the doctors make me “breath like a normal child!” I struggle with this. Why is it so hard to get along with the ones we care most for?
The last memory I have of my dad is being in his room. I was 20 years old. After having his stomach removed in order to stop the spread of cancer, a procedure that his body didn’t accept, he had withered away and now his time was up. Afternoon light crept through thin drapes covering the windows. I sat next to his emaciated body. My weight was the only impression on the mattress. His eyes rolled in their sockets when I touched his hand.
“Dad…” they half opened. “How do you know you’re ready to have kids?” His lolling head snapped straight and the clouds vanished from his sunken eyes. Blinking in astonishment he feigned a smile. “How do you know?” I repeated.
“No one is ever ready for children, Luis.”
On a Sunday afternoon in June I sat with Elizabeth on the top of a granite formation in the City of Rocks. Other rocks rolled away from us, down into Circle Creek Basin. Smokey Mountain sat quietly, covered in dark pine. Turkey vultures floated in a blue sky with the sun beating down.
The fear I’ve known through climbing; embracing uncharted rock, getting buzzed by lightening, rolled over by refrigerator-sized blocks or falling, pales in comparison to the knowledge that I’m capable of despicable behavior. I worry about cross-threading my relationship with these children.
This was only climbing. How would I handle the kids when it became serious?
The thought paralyzed me. Elizabeth, no longer trembling, looked at me and smiled. My father was right. Considering my past I would never be prepared, but right or left, up or down, the next move was up to me.
copyright louis arevalo 2012