I dreamt of you last night. It must be because your birthday’s coming up, I must’ve seen your name on the calendar by the fridge.
In my dream it was so cold. I turned on the electric blanket and pulled the covers around me tightly, but I was still shivering. So I got up and went to the window, and saw the curtains were moving. I pulled them aside and, in the moonlight, realised the pane was smashed. But I wasn’t scared of intruders – in the dream I felt quite safe. I stuck my head out to see, but there was no one there. Then, I don’t know why, I pulled my head back in and thrust my arm into the night air instead, and you grabbed my wrist.
Your skin was ice-cold and I jerked back, but you didn’t let go. Your arm got sliced by the broken pane and there was blood everywhere.
That’s when I woke up with a jolt, my eyes and nose running. Because it’s not your birthday coming up – it would have been your birthday. If things hadn’t happened the way they did, three years ago. If I hadn’t … If you hadn’t …
I reach for a tissue, wipe my face, and try to go back to sleep.
But sleep comes hard. When it does it is filled with the black hole of my memories and sometimes I feel as if I will be drawn so far into that horror I will be crushed to a point of nonexistence and never be seen again. When I do sleep it’s from exhaustion or because of the whiskey I douse myself with.
I have sought help with the dreams and waking flashbacks and everyone is so understanding. If I could feel guilt I would, but since I’ve never felt emotions much, unless they’re ego-driven, I don’t have to deal with that.
The doctors and friends think I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of what they believe I saw happen to you. I’m not about to explain that it comes from what I did to you in a fit of rage, when you questioned my authority and my background. Why you had to start digging is beyond me, first verbally and then with a pick and shovel. Everyone else thinks the sun shines out of my backside and so did you. I let you get too close to me and I actually began to like you in a strange way. That was my mistake.
On Everest there is no room for negotiation and the further you climb the more dangerous it becomes, for everyone. I let you get too close to me and it swayed my judgment. I abandoned all my hard-won, frost-born sense and experience, all because I needed you. This experience would weld our lives together. Well I am welded to you know for as long as I live and my heart dangles, withered and cold, at the end of its own rope. In the void of a life that is empty.
When I called the order to turn around, to declare this year’s attempt a failure, we should have gone back. You might have left me, but I would know you still lived, even if I would be alone.
The first problems with your kit were a sign that you had a lot of unseen faults. When the first problems arose, your look of disappointment and your questioning of my competence convinced me there might be a chance, if everything else when right.
But it didn’t go right, the climbers ahead slowed us and the window in the weather was closing. My eagerness to see you succeed almost killed us all. You were the only casualty and what no one else knows is I had to cut you loose to save them all. I listened to the evil, logical voice, telling me I was responsible for protecting the others. I made the inescapable choice and cut away half of my life and I will never let it heal.
I loved you so much, so damned much and in the end that’s what killed you. That and my own selfishness.
You were so delicate. I loved the way that, when we went to parties, you could tuck your head under my chin, even in your heels. It made me feel strong, powerful, and I loved that you looked to me to protect you.
But I didn’t, did I? In an effort to spare your feelings, and my own selfish need to avoid the hurt in your eyes, I told you that you were ready.
And you weren’t.
So instead of hurting you a little, you lay dead under the snow on the mountain I loved almost as much as you.
Even at the very end, when you dangled from a cliff face, you begged me to bring you home.
I could have, you know … that’s the truth. I could have pulled you back up. But the twelve other climbers needed me, too. They needed me to be strong, to make the decisions, to get them off the mountain and back home. So I made the choice.
I wake suddenly. Sitting upright on the bed, the cold night air flutters around the curtains and chills the tears on my cheek. I become aware of your presence beside my bed and, reaching out, I want to grasp your cold hand again. I want to bring you back from the precipice of death. But you pull away, shaking your head. And I hear your voice again, echoing as it did on the mountain.
“It’s ok. I understand why you made that decision. I forgive you.”
I feel a memory of your caress on my face and suddenly you’re gone. I sleep undisturbed by my memories and in the morning there is only the broken window pane and a damp patch on the carpet to remind me of your visit.