Man vs Mountain
When I was a child, my brother and I would spend every moment running up and down the undulating slopes of our favorite mountain, never reaching the top.
We would dance knee-deep in the winter's icy snow which glimmered like tiny diamonds in the sunlight. When we got tired, we would lie on our backs, the soft earth cradling us. We stared at the sky, watching the swirling clouds become fantastical shapes.
My father's voice soon drowned out the memories of these idyllic days. His slaps were painful as he struck our hands with his faithful wooden stick, the two of us repeatedly failing the rite of passage for boys in our village.
Now, as I stand hypnotized by the same mountaintop, catching a glimpse of that marker and feeling the heat that used to sting my palm now radiating beneath my feet, I can’t help but think of him. I can’t help but think of my brother and the elusive enemy that remains.
“Be a man!”
Luminous fog glowed a milky filter over the valley, shrouding the peak of the rocky mountain, taunting me from behind dark winds. It snarled and sneered, mimicking the mockery I had become. The grey wolf wind lies, fawning and mouthing, dropping and snatching its broken toys. The sun had not yet peeked across the horizon, nor had the early morning flowers bloomed. It was just the mountain and I. Alone. Together
The eroded marker determined everything. I had to make this journey.
I closed my eyes, yanked by memories and the echoing taunts of my father. I was ageless, both as old as time and as young as dawn. The one constant was my father's slaps and painful jeers, telling me to be a man and run up the mountain. It was always those words. His eyes were empty, shaped by disappointment and resentment as they did last time we met. His words loaded like a gun.
I opened my eyes. Now was the time to finish our dream.
Ten long years in response. Now was the time.
“Be a man!” Father’s voice boomed.
Memories of my brother and I raced beside me. We always made it halfway, but my father only saw the peak being of any worth.
I followed this time. I had always hugged the ground before, too afraid of failing and fearful he would never return. He always did. If only to remind me of my cowardice. In my father’s eyes, I was unworthy. All these years, I had never attempted to prove him wrong, to prove that I could be like my brother. Until now.
I ventured towards the elusive marker as the dry dirt crumbled beneath me. I lowered my heavy body and pushed harder. The swirling winds lapped against my head, feeling like aquatic slaps, rhythmic and forceful like drums.
Soon, the sound of the bellowing, choppy winds was drowned out by my father’s voice in my mind. It was loud enough to wake the dead.
The praise he gave my brother, the superior son. “That’s my son”, he would say to no one in particular. My brother had always held the prime position in my father’s story, but I was about to change that. I would take my place.
The anger and frustration built, blinding me. I was bones locked in a grave. The peak remained in the distance, calling. Taunting. "Be a man, boy!"
The roar came well before the grey wind. It tumbled me through the burning dirt like laundry. When I could again peek through the broken gaps of fog, I wandered about helplessly in search of the ground, but it was gone. Only the distant peak remained.
Step, push, breathe. Step, push, breathe.
“Be a man!”…SLAP
Step, push, breathe. Step, push, breathe.
The peak. The peak was only a few strides away.
Step. Push. Breathe. I allowed myself to look up.
I saw it. I drank it in.
Seeing it for what it was, I was confronted with the truth.
All this time, our existence, our worth, had been tied around this peak. But why? Why did this old, eroded surface determine whether or not our father accepted us? WHY?
The lapping winds answered. "Like me, like me."
I looked up at the peak, the mist of my brother sitting atop. He is forever nineteen in my memories. For that is where he dwells. In my memories, with the peak.
My heart listened. "Like me. Like me." I heard what I missed all those years. Not "be a man, like him." Just "be a man, like me."
I laid on my back and allowed the now calm winds to glide me down from the mountain I once knew, seeking solace with my old friend.
The sun rose in earnest silence.
The misted memory of my brother sat atop the lonesome peak, both smiled at me as I returned. Home.