No news this week whatsoever, hah hah hah! So let’s delve into the past. This wouldn’t be a real blog without desperate attempts to endear myself to you, after all. Here’s something that happened some fifteen years ago. Yay let’s do it!
* * *
We finally get to the hilltop. I did it before by myself, but it feels even more impressive an accomplishment with company. They don’t expect a guy of my girth to be first.
I’m spent, but of course I don’t show it, or I try not to show it. I’m the guide, the Guy That’s Done It Before. Such intricate, secret paths I have discovered! Such rich experiences I have accrued! The lure of the unknown was enough to convince my two best buds to come along.
“Shit man, that was steep,” Alex says between pants. “We should’ve taken the road instead.”
“I’m good,” says Daniel. He doesn’t even look winded, the bastard.
Okay, so there’s an actual dirt road a few paces off the path, and it didn’t take that long to get up here. These facts don’t diminish my accomplishments in the slightest. You have to start somewhere, right? I’ve been obsessed with hiking lately and there’s absolutely no chance I could ever lose interest in it. I feel pretty good about my early progress.
Besides, I don’t like dirt roads when it’s so dry. Your boots get filthy and the dust dries up your throat real fast.
“Come on,” I say, “let’s keep going.”
“Naw, let’s take a break by the pole.” Alex starts walking toward it without caring whether anyone agrees. Of course we will agree. It’s a universal constant: nothing’s faster than the speed of light, opposing electrical charges attract, and other kids do what Alex says regardless of who’s officially in charge of the whole goddamn expedition.
The pole is a tall metal pipe embedded in a huge concrete cube—no idea what it’s for, won’t ever care. The concrete is wide enough to provide shade for two and a half teenagers. Three could squeeze together, but we wouldn’t do that because we’re Manly Dudes and physical contact is strictly forbidden. Alex sits straight in the middle, one-hundred-percent uncaring of my and Daniel’s sunbaked noggins.
Daniel squeezes in anyway. “Scoot, man, don’t hog the shade.”
Alex nonchalantly complies. Daniel pulls out his water bottle and takes a gulp. I stand, pacing a little. The wind is strong up here; I lean against it, enjoying the chill on my sweaty skin.
“This is pretty cool,” Alex says. “You can see the whole city.”
I follow his gaze, swelling with pride at his acknowledgment. “Yeah. I bet it’s better from the next hill.”
“Dude, you’re obsessed with the next hill.”
“Well, it’s the goal for today, I’ve never gone so far.”
“It’s still fine to take a break. Aren’t you tired?”
He gestures at me while he says it. At my body. He might not mean it that way, and I might be just a tad oversensitive about my weight, and he doesn’t ever tease me about being fat, really, but what he’s implying seems crystal clear to me at that moment. Luckily, the fluster from the climb covers my embarrassment.
“I’m doing fine, man. I could run down the hill right now. I’ll bet I’d beat you, too.”
My miffed tone seems to fly straight over his head. “Hahah, that’d be fun, running down the road.”
“You wanna do it?”
He blinks, then his smile broadens. “Hells yeah.”
Daniel is looking back and forth from one to the other. “That doesn’t sound so smart. Looks pretty damn steep.”
Alex sticks his tongue between his teeth and goes cross-eyed. ” ‘Lookth preddy damm thteep’ blurr durr durr ….”
“Pff, whatever man.” He gets up. “I’ll race you down and laugh when you’re tumbling behind me.”
I’ve already walked up to the point where the road starts sloping noticeably. It doesn’t look so bad. It’s, what, maybe a quarter mile until it levels out? Not even that. I’ve never dared run downhill, but how bad could it be? It’s just running. I’ll show them how fast the chubby kid can go.
They stand next to me. Alex doesn’t look so thrilled anymore—it looks as if his eyebrows are trying to climb into his forehead. “Oof, it does look pretty steep from here.”
Daniel snorts. “Told ya.”
I smile like they’re speaking nonsense and wave my hand dismissively. “Come on, don’t chicken out. I’m going to leave you in the dust.”
“Alright, fine,” Daniel says.
“Let’s do it,” says Alex.
“Ready?” says I. I don’t wait for a response. “Go!”
I take off. They startle into movement with me, but I easily leave their cautious trot behind, because there’s nothing cautious about my all-out sprint. I feel giddy as I pick up speed and realize they’re nowhere near me.
It crosses my mind that maybe I’m going a little too fast now, so I slow down a bit. Or I try, at least, to no avail. Gravity adds way too much momentum to the run, and soon all I can do is concentrate on keeping my legs under me. I realize I’ve lost control altogether when my strides become long enough to qualify as jumps.
Another stomp, another jump, and it feels like forever until my foot lands again—flat, hard, heavy. My entire leg wobbles upon impact in a terrifying way, and I’m just amazed that it didn’t simply break and give out.
As I begin to tip forward in mid-flight, I become certain that I’ve run out of strides.
Now, there’s this way overplayed cliché in books and action movies where at the grand climax things seem to stand still for the hero, and they have time to think of a way out of their problem as everything moves in super-slow-motion around them.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not really true. I looked it up: we simply remember it better after it’s over. The amygdala goes into overdrive and whatnot, laying down memory after memory of your stressful situation and giving you the impression that it took longer than it really did. It happens in high-risk situations, when true survival instinct kicks in … no matter whether you’re the mega-spy held at gunpoint by Doctor Villanos, or you are a dumb-ass teenager at the brink of breaking every bone in his body.
Thus the memories form for posterity in rapid succession. My center of gravity becomes horizontal and tilts even further. My backpack nudges the back of my neck. I think of how I’ll never, ever live this down, and maybe I can pretend I did it on purpose somehow, if I survive it. The ground soars under me, and it seems possible that if I spread my arms and begin flapping, I’ll start going up instead of down. Possibilities race through my head faster than the road draws near my face.
In truth I only have time to raise my arms in an attempt to cushion the fall. It’s not even a choice I make—it simply happens. I suspect it’s an instinctual response to understanding that I’m fucked.
Arms hit first and immediately go out of control, spreading to the sides and skidding in the dirt. Face goes next, and I slide, slide, slide forward for eternity and beyond. Dust gets in my eyes, my nose, my mouth; it goes between gums and lips, between tongue and teeth, down my throat. It gets everywhere, down my collar, through my sleeves, down my pants, into my underwear, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt.
There must have been pain. There must have. But all I’ll ever remember is how the world went brown. The taste will never leave my memory.
The trip downhill doesn’t become a tumble. I simply slide on my face until I stop, much, much later. I spend some time there, reflecting upon pride’s folly. Or trying to breathe, maybe.
My friends are soon by my side, breaking the Manly Dudes rule by helping me up. They’re saying things but I’m far too busy spitting and coughing to respond. I do notice they’re not laughing. There’s fear in their voice.
“Dude! Are you okay?”
“Are you okay?”
Am I okay? I didn’t break my neck, as far as I can tell. That’s a solid victory right there. I keep spitting while checking every spot that hurts.
Nothing seems to be broken, actually. In fact, there’s not even wounds to speak of, just scrapes along my arms.
“Holy shit, you’re filthy, man.”
There it is, the first hint of amusement in Daniel’s voice. Ah well. I definitely earned this one.
“I win,” I choke-wheeze-chuckle.
Alex laughs. “You’re nuts!” They’re already swatting and slapping my clothes, clouds of dust puffing out with every stroke. It catches on Alex’s throat and he coughs for a bit.
Daniel keeps swatting. “We were like, alright, let’s take it easy, this is really steep. And then we look up and we’re like, what the fuck is he doing!”
Alex resumes patting. “That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen!”
I give him a fool’s smile. “I thought I could get to the bottom before losing control. Nnnnope.”
Daniel starts laughing. “Look at your teeth! It’s like you were chewing on shit!”
“Nice.” I redouble my efforts to get all the dirt out of my mouth.
Alex pulls out his water bottle and a roll of toilet paper. “Let’s see if we can clean you up, man.”
I couldn’t agree more with the proposal. The joint effort takes up the next twenty minutes and most of our water. We don’t get anywhere close to cleaning me up, but at least I no longer look like an unwashed hobo—only a slightly unkempt one.
We trade glances. I’m achy and still covered in filth, water is almost gone, and there’s two thousand jokes to be made at my expense. After a full five seconds of deliberation we reach a consensus: the next summit will have to wait for another time. Let’s go home.
The road ahead forks toward the city, and all the dirt inside my clothes is already telling me that it’s going to be an extremely uncomfortable walk to the bus station—yet somehow it doesn’t bother me that much. I know Alex and Daniel will tease me about it for years to come, but for now they seem to be more in awe than anything else. I’m crazy, they say. I’ve got balls the size of pumpkins, they say. I find myself in an excellent mood.
I did beat them to the bottom of the hill.
* * *
Throw enough words at it and the mundane becomes momentous.
I can see Russia from my house,