Thursday, September 1, 2016

a bench in heaven

There is a bench in heaven. 

Of course, there is.  

It sits with its back to all the roads leading in. Facing away from the mountain looking over the valley- her valley. Or... the valley of her. 

I hadn't meant to hike to heaven. I hadn't meant to hike at all. It just happened. I got in my car and drove her canyon to the very top. 

I was telling myself that I only wanted to see it before the threat of snow would tuck it in for the winter. And it would be long out of my reach behind the snow gate. 

But before I knew it I was walking up a dusty trail. The parking lot traffic and the whining of leashed dogs fading behind me. And then I was hiking. 

I picked the right-wrong fork in the trail and I found myself climbing through walls of aspens flanked by meadows.  A brook winding through patchy fields of summer wildflowers crisping in the sun's warm breath.     

As I realized where I was I got really excited. I hadn't been on this trail in over 15 years. Not that I hadn't tried to find it again.  I had.  It would cross my mind and I would say, What trail was that, the one that leads out of Millcreek and onto Murdock's bowl? 

Yet somehow I never answer it. It had remained a question.  

And then after so long I had begun to think I had dreamt it or at least made-up its simple beauty using a compost of a dozen hikes piecing together only their best parts.

So finding it that day, the day I was sick and I hadn't managed to turn up the use of a free canyon pass. The day I thought, maybe I should man-up and finally go to my sister's grave today? 

But instead, I drove, windows down, no note left behind, no one knowing (even me) where I was going or how long I would be gone.  Drove the canyon that she and I stashed away stolen hours drinking beer, splashing in the river, stumbling up and down mountain trails, piling spent into her car blasting U2 and the Smiths- all when we should have been in school.     

I was happy hiking up. What I forgot was where the trail led. Not that I didn't know that if one followed it long enough they could end up on the western boundary of what was known to us as the Park West Ski Resort.  That it breaks between the shadow of a leaning mountain peak and the top of a chairlift.  

In the winter Murdock's shadow calls you up.  Sunlight glints off untouched powder. In the summer it floats like a ghost casting barred shadows through the trees. 

I had completely forgotten what the place had meant to me; to us.... until I was standing at the end of the shoot staring at the naked top shack.  All the hours we had spent there together came crashing down on me. 

I hadn't been prepared to walk out on the ridge feeling as if I was entering a bombed-out cathedral.  I felt my stomach pitch. 

I couldn't see it for anything else than what it was.  If there was a heaven this would have been hers.  This is where she would have come.  
The slopes bare cooking in the August sun.  The mountain top silent, free of the characteristic whipping winds that force your voice back into your own throat.  People-less, nameless, sad, and forgotten.   

On the way up I had passed a small group of women who asked me if I had heard them as I had gained.  I told them I hadn't until we both hit the same clearing until then I had been feeling very alone.

"You can hike with us," one of them offered.  

I laughed, "No, but thank you. Feeling alone in the mountains is a good thing."

Walking towards the chairlift with Murdock's broken crescent rising behind me I wondered if that is the reason I hike.  I pack the alone feeling along with me.  Drag it up a mountain until it is light enough to see through.  

But not there on that summit.  Standing there I felt the true weight my loneliness.  Slowly I was forced to admit, maybe truly for the first time, that my sister's death was something I will never get out from under.  I will always carry it.

That was when I saw the bench.  That ridiculous plastic bench. I had to laugh.  Laugh through tears at the whole thing. What a fucking horrible joke.  

No, I hadn't meant to walk all that way, a decade too late just to break my own heart.  But that was exactly what I did.

Alone: like standing in someone else's home right after you have called out "hello?" and you realize no one is there.  Awkwardly but innocently alone in a strange place.

I wandered around kicking stones loose from the dry ground trying not to go completely under.  Then all the fight and the breath was gone.  The world seemed so far away. Nowhere else to go on to but no real reason to go back down. 

No one even knew I was ever there.  

In heaven, there is a bench. It sits with its back to all the roads leading in. Facing away from the mountain looking over the valley.  It was once her valley.  Where she hid away from most of the demons who plagued her. The resort town she lived in and in many ways she died in.  One mountain range away.  It had always been right there.

.... and since I had come all that way... and there was a bench.... I sat down in her heaven.... but she was already gone.  

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