Climbing Red

Climbing Red

July 2011

“Pack up! Let’s go climb in the Snoqualmie Pass area.” I said impatiently wanting to get this drive started. I packed our day packs as my husband made coffee. “What kind of climb is this going to be?” he asked slightly concerned. Half laughing I said, “12 miles, 3000 gain, class 3 scramble…..bring a helmet.” “Seriously??!!” “Yeah!”

It was July and it was forecasted to be hot out in Snoqualmie Pass but I had a long standing date with Red Mountain. This wasn’t my typical scouring over a climbing book looking for a good route or mountain to summit. Instead, my heart was heavy and carrying a burden.

Red Mountain represented a missed opportunity. It represented deep regrets, insecurities, loss and heartbreak. It represented the hurt you can feel when you look back and realize you were so caught up in your own junk that you missed someone else’s hurt. I needed to sweat out the hike, burn the calves and sit on that summit and ask for forgiveness. I needed to be forgiven and pray that I always make myself available.

Two and a half years earlier, I was a staff sergeant in the Army, doing Army things and making sure I enjoyed everyday of Army life. Sure I needed to process the paperwork for these new John Deer Gators, but I also “needed” to see how fast they go through muddy, hilly terrain with coworkers. Did I needed a 60 inch TV in my office with an XBOX connected? Yes, this how I properly accounted for its location and ensured that it worked. The days were long but we had fun.

I quickly became friends with “Sgt C”. We bonded over being enlisted female soldiers, a love of fitness and Army traveling. We were competitive and both liked to push the boundaries of fun. She was known for her sound discipline as a soldier such as never resting your hands in your pants pockets….something that is drilled in to every private in basic training. I, on the other hand, found pleasure in bending the traditional rules and loved walking around with my hands in my pockets. It was my personal freedom. Both Sgt C and I were very private individuals. Neither of us wanted people knowing about our personal lives or anything personal about us. I didn’t want to talk about my then toddlers, or what I was doing on the weekend. I think we both bonded over that similarity. She respected my privacy as much as I respected hers.

At some point, her private world went to a new depth. Something had changed and I knew from her demeanor that asking her was not going to be received well. In fact, it would have been a bit combative. Instead I gave her space. Space to process recent events, process old wounds, process pain, process loss, process grief, process anger, process confusion. I didn’t chase her down and demand answers. I was uncomfortable and insecure with myself. I didn’t believe I had anything to offer because I was so wounded from my own Army life.

When you think about processing traumatic events like early death, a violent attack, sudden loss, or wartime deployments, it is typically not while sitting alongside someone of similar background working through it with you. As soldiers, we don’t always want to let ourselves go to that vulnerable place for fear of what others may think, for fear of what our supervisors think and the fear that we can’t climb back out of our personal pain.

When I saw the signs that something in her world was painful, I didn’t ask or probe. I wanted to respect her privacy and simply be available if needed. When she wanted to share, I listened. Instead, like most of us, she redirected our conversations.

“Hey, you are into climbing mountains, we should go out some weekend?”

“Yes, we should. Lets plan for it.”

“Ok, how does this weekend work? Lets do something really challenging.”

Something challenging. What can I come up with? I checked my books, looking for a non-technical scramble but would really make us earn our lunch. Red Mountain looked fun. Class 3 scramble, 12 miles. I hope I can keep with her. She is definitely in better shape than me. But, this would give me plenty of opportunity to find out what’s going on in her world, if only to listen to her.

The morning we were supposed to head out for a climb, she didn’t answer my call. Later she would text and apologize that she had overslept. I was bummed but oh well.

We tried for another weekend and something else came up before the weekend. This went on a few more times until I gave up on this idea. I took it personal by the end. Maybe I wasn’t cool enough or good enough to hang out with. Maybe she had figured out that I was just as broken as the rest and not worth the time. I stopped pursuing this opportunity. I wasn’t good enough.

Army life went on and my contract was ending. I had decided not to reenlist and just find my way into civilian life. On one of my last days in the Army, we passed each other on a side road. We chatted for a moment and caught up on our different worlds. She said, “you know, I’m sorry I bailed on you, we should have gone hiking, maybe my world would be different now. Things are just so confusing and I don’t understand”

I didn’t know what that meant. I only had seemingly awkward responses and said “yeah, it would have been fun”….”but hey, I get my freedom in four days, we could plan something, call me” She said alright, but it didn’t seem alright. There was a look of sorrow and emptiness. I wanted to ask more, but I didn’t want to get rejected or get too emotional, or too weird, or too uncomfortable, or too deep, or too broken. We are all broken, but we are trying to keep it together. I was wrapping up my last four days in the Army, the safest place I had ever been. I was hoping the civilian world could save me and that I could adapt to a world I have never known and at least be average ordinary.

That time, passing on the side road, was the last time we spoke. Ever.

A year later, A friend would call me up and tell me that our friend had fallen asleep and not woken up (a few days ago) and that maybe she had wanted it that way or maybe in her grief and pain………

And I was broken all over again. It was difficult to breath. I was sure we would see each other again. I was sure she would call again. Why didn’t I push harder? Why didn’t I call her more? Why didn’t I just get uncomfortable and tell her I was worried about her? Why was I so broken that I couldn’t reach her broken? Why was I respecting her privacy? Why was I so insecure about myself that I didn’t try harder?

On the anniversary of her death, I climbed to the top of Red Mountain with my husband. When we left the trail and began the scramble up, we got way off the route and ended up in some unprotected class 4 choss and I was pretty sketched. I was using all the available vegetation to pull myself up while rock holds were just falling down the mountain. To this date, it has been the worst easy mountain scramble that I have ever done. But, the hurting part of me wanted it this way. I wanted to be scared, hurt, sweating and uncomfortable as I climbed this mountain.

As we sat on the top, we noticed a small memorial off to the side. A well known local skier had died earlier in the season and the summit was her last spot before she fell to her death. It felt right to sit on this peak and mourn the people that mattered, the people you deploy with, the people you shared too many drinks with, people you slogged through the mud with and the people who believed in your same convictions. I needed to be forgiven for not being intrusive. I needed to forgive myself. I needed her to know that I was so sorry and heartbroken. I needed to find peace in myself and accept that I missed her so much. I know I wasn’t the reason for the way things turned out, but I believe we always have an opportunity to change the trajectory.

Over the years, I have carried her memory with me and visit her gravesite periodically. Her memory continues to keep me in check and to always push past what is uncomfortable to find out what is truly uncomfortable. We are not meant to bear burdens alone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *