Hello. Please… sit. Relax. See? The snow’s not so bad a seat.
How high have you climbed? You don’t know? Well… neither do I. When did you start? You don’t know? Well… it doesn’t matter now.
What a wonderful view. I’m glad I brought my GoPro along, even if the headband mount feels like a vice. Yesterday I filmed the tahrs as they roamed the Kharta Valley winterland. They looked so small down there. Like ants.
Shame I lost the camera though.
You’re staring at my left leg. Don’t worry, I’m not offended. Doctors call it a transtibial prosthetic. I call it a pain in the dick. Ha ha. But what else could I expect growing up around fast food and insulin injections? Had my first heart surgery at twenty-seven (in the family we called that “popping your cherry.” Mom popped hers at twenty. Dad at twenty-two. Avita, my sister, my Supergirl, died from complications at eleven). One amputation and nine years of healthy living later, I had dropped from 739 pounds to 165. Yet when I told people about the excess skin surgery, they gave me a look as if I had magically disappeared the weight off.
But I didn’t need their approval. Apart from a few doctors, I mastered my struggles alone. I knew if I could do that, I could do anything.
From then on, I lived to be the death of the word ‘impossible’.
But maybe some things are.
Let me tell you about my hike up Everest.
The day was cold. Very cold. It did not snow. The summit rose to a height out of view. And I, a lone speck, I, without an oxygen tank, without a radio, inhaling and exhaling, weighted beneath a heavy cocoon of climbing gear and hypoglycemic shakes as I crawled up with my ice axes and steel-toothed crampons, I tried to reach it alone.
I know. Smart decision.
As I climbed, the prosthetic’s titanium rod began chewing into the bottom of my thigh. The pain then swelled from my leg and into the rest of my body. But the higher I climbed, the deeper a numbness sank as my extremities chilled blue-black. From suffering to agony to feeling like a heap of scrap metal.
Why climb? I tried not to think.
Despite this, I kept crawling, struggling, inhaling and exhaling despite each breath producing bubbles which burned my fluid-filled lungs. On and on I hauled the weight of myself, toiling for one more inch. Only one more step.
One more, no less.
The cold never stops to rest.
The day felt long. Very long. When you’re thousands of feet above sea level, the seconds and minutes and hours blend into a tedium comparable to running late night television marathons. Stab the mountain with your axes and crampons, crawl your tired body upwards, remember to try to breathe. Stab, crawl, breathe, stab, crawl, breathe: tick tick to an unknown end.
“I want to fly like Superman.”
No, just the gale beating my ears. Just the gale scratching frost against my face.
Snowdust ascended; how easily it danced and shimmered as it flew away.
The sound of rocks hitting other rocks as they tumbled down the mountain.
I remember that sound because that’s when my camera slipped out of its mount and fell down the mountain.
But I went on. One more reach. One more step.
Time never stops to rest.
I was tired. Very tired. Yet through the snow covering my eyelashes, I saw the summit fade into view and the sun that swallowed the sky behind it.
Breathlessness. Vertigo. Excitement. A strength outside of myself, like puppet strings, possessed my arms and legs to reach for every rock and hole without regard for pain until I was able to roll on top of the mountain.
I closed my eyes. I turned my head away from the world under me. For a second, my body felt warm and unimpaired.
Then I opened my eyes.
There was no sun.
There was no sky.
A thousand feet of stone and snow still towered.
As I lay there, paralyzed, the crunch of metal chipping into the mountainface grew nearer from below. A Sherpa with a face like tanned leather and eyes duller than coal climbed into view. His parka blended with the greyscale environment. Behind him hiked three slender figures — each wearing jackets similar to their guide’s — whose bowed heads hid under the shadow of their hoods.
“Please,” I tried to say. “Help me.”
The Sherpa stood over me. He looked to the group behind him and said something in a language I didn’t understand. The three took off their hoods and I saw them.
Their cheeks were hollow, their eyes sunken to pits — more skull than meat and flesh. But I recognized them.
“Seen any hearts?” Avita said.
“We have none,” Mom said. “Wasteland stole them from us.”
“We’re nobodies,” Dad said.
I wept. With an outreached hand I asked for their rescue.
My family dissolved to a red snowdust that blew away with the wind.
The Sherpa remained. As if they were paper, he peeled off his eyes, nose, ears, mouth, cheeks; the jagged holes that remained on his face were like silent screams from hell.
Then he too dissolved.
Keep it together, I told myself.
But how could I?
Keep it together.
Though the snow didn’t melt, the air grew warm. Hot. Boiling. I stripped myself naked. I needed the cold again. I needed the snow against my skin. I needed to think. Just a moment of breath.
On that mountain I stopped to rest.
So now you climb, high to higher, attempting what I failed to do. Yet you stop. Are you cold? Can you breathe? Relax, you’re not alone. You’re sitting next to me, listening to the eternal story my frozen lips tell. I promise the pain will disappear.
We are not superhuman.
Marquise Williams writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Community College of Philadelphia with an Associate of Arts in English.