A Long Climb - By Michael Palisano - The-Laser.com









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



A Long Climb

As the summer came to a close, many of the events that occurred receded and gradually submerged under the otherwise calm surface. I walked towards school each day and it seemed that with each step, reality became more intrusive overshadowing my summer memories. Being young at the time, things that wouldnít make sense as I grew older didnít bother me. On the other hand, I was smart enough to know how the older ones would react if I said anything about what happened and what I saw. Theyíd probably label me crazy, and I had enough labels to contend with. That encounter on the beach was in that category. I remembered her smile and her eyes and wondered why she had even bothered with me. I was small, young and a bit weird to the rest of the world. Obsessed with computers, I wasnít someone who attracted much attention from the outer world. There were loads of other people out there, and I questioned why she had chosen me from all those others. I never really acclimated to what the world seemed to reward, but that wasnít a problem for me. I wasnít terribly unhappy with things as they stood, there was plenty of quiet time for me, and I was never really interested in others Ė they seemed to exist in a different world. They had their expectations to live up to, and I had mine. I always seemed happiest when I was taking on my own path. I had my dreams and they filled my imagination, while the mundane tasks I suffered through were something to be endured, not enjoyed. After I saw her that summer, it only reinforced my feeling of being alone and not understood. I was tempted to tell others of her existence for the longest time, but I liked the idea of having a secret that only I knew. I decided not to tell anyone, not even my brother, about her appearance. 

When I did come in contact with the other ones, I usually averted confrontations, not wanting to make a big deal over things that didnít matter. They tried, but at this point I knew how to deflect their attacks. My eyes usually looked away when theyíd confront me and I usually didnít like the company of others. Despite all this awkwardness, It was good time to be young with the emergence of the new digital world coming to the forefront. That was more exciting than anything else to me and I didnít want anything to distract me. That summer, I had spent a lot of time thinking about these things, reading up on the new games and largely ignoring most things for the most part. I was going along just fine when that one moment on that hot June day happened. It definitely changed my perceptions, at least momentarily. Up until that point, I hadnít even considered whether there was something beyond what I could see or play with, I needed to see things with my own eyes. It was very strange, to have this encounter and wonder what it meant, or if it meant anything. She had knocked around in my head for several months, and as the school year began, I once again found myself surrounded by others who didnít have the same feeling that I did. It was a strange situation, sometimes I felt like I was the only one who could see things that way. It was hard to fit in, and I usually kept to myself. As was usually the case, the point after school was the most difficult to navigate. I watched them congregate from a distance, nervously anticipating what was to come.

They converged on the left side of the field, coming from all directions, their screaming and yelling creating an intimidating mass of aggression, like an uncontrollable hurricane. Even though I wasnít in its direct path, It was still overwhelming to observe and frightening, making me feel especially vulnerable. It had been a long day and I wanted some quiet, but they wouldnít stop, their screams gushing from the field in endless torrents. The final bell had rung and I was in the middle of the field, watching their frenzied screams and yells completely out of control. Another long day had come to an end, which would usually grant me some temporary relief, but I still had to navigate their screams before I could truly escape from the chaos. At this point, I figured out how to escape largely unharmed, walking around the edges of the fence, up the hill and safely out of sight. It was a draining day for me, filled with numbers, facts and, names, I was exhausted from answering their questions, most of which didnít mean anything to me. I needed to escape - I didnít want to hear them anymore. None of this was a surprise, and I always felt they were asking the wrong ones. The strange thing was, I felt more alone all these months later than I had when it was just me and my brother on our life raft. When we were at the beach that day, we felt safe and free. Overlooking the schoolyard was completely different. Even with hundreds of others nearby, I felt alone and trapped, like I was marooned on an island in the middle of nowhere.

Still, they persisted in their attacks. I tried to cope as best I could, but the pace was relentless. My only break during the day came at launch time, when I sat alone and read one of my magazines. These were the best parts of the day, and I could imagine what things would be like. A few months had passed, and the memories of the previous summer had become a little less important. I spent the remaining months of the summer dreaming of that moment, wondering if I would see her again. As the summer dragged on, and she didnít return, I began to think it was just a daydream. Still, I remained hopeful. Eventually, our summer vacation ended and my brother and I returned to school. Our codes that we had developed together became frayed, then scattered to the wind, forgotten by time. Those summer dreams were gradually washed away under the relentless currents of tests, questions and answers. The fleeting calm moments where I was allowed some freedom helped keep me from feeling completely overwhelmed. Otherwise, it was an exhausting, never-ending battle and I needed a respite from their games. I watched them from a distance, carefully walking around the edge of the fence, but their screams echoed through the schoolyard as I slowly walked away from them. I was unnoticed, and I was happy to let them turn their attention to other pursuits. It took some careful maneuvering, but I finally escaped unnoticed and found a way out of what felt like prison. Once outside the metal, rusted wire fence, I felt completely different. Unencumbered, I drew some deep breaths, and felt the pressure draining. The air was crisp and the sun, while bright, wasnít hot. It had finally began to cool down after several warm weeks and the October breeze portending an oncoming storm might have had something to do with the ease of my escape.

I walked up the hill and found myself with two options. I could walk on the sidewalk towards home, or I could take a shortcut through the woods and get home faster. I usually took the path by the road, since it was safer. However, there seemed to be a lot of traffic and noise on the road, and I wasnít in the mood for more of that. I decided I wanted a little peace so I walked towards the edge of the woods. Before I entered, I took my notebook and its accompanying issue of Ďelectronic gamesí magazine and put it in my backpack, carefully putting them inside to protect them from the rain that was beginning to fall. The path was a bit uneven but I slid over the rocky terrain easily, since I had been here many times before. I wasnít in any hurry to get home that afternoon, and I wanted to do some exploring on my own. It was still early and there was plenty of light left for me, so I decided not to just go through. I walked towards the deeper part of the trees and found a pleasant respite from the chaos of the day. As the noise and chaos began to recede, I began to feel calm. Safely away from their piercing eyes, I was finally able to have a few moments for myself. As I walked, I remembered how quickly the summer seemed to have slipped away; those many days at the beach had become a distant memory. The fall was robust and crisp, Without the onslaught of fiery heat, being outside wasnít nearly as unpleasant as it had been in the summertime.

I watched the leaves sway and swing under the autumn breeze, their colors were slowly beginning to turn, but they were still very much attached to the trees. Their splendor was overwhelming and as I got deeper into the thick woods, they became increasingly dense, forming a natural ceiling to protect me from the wind and incoming storm. I walked down the path, the crunching leaves and sticks under my feet accompanying me on my journey. It was a difficult to navigate through as I went deeper into the woods, the path became less clear as I ventured deeper into what was becoming a forest. Its trees were packed closer together, making it hard to move, but I wanted to get as far away as I could. I felt safer with the noise and chaos receding in the distance, buffering me from the jarring noise and unsettling commotion. I embarked fearlessly into the deeper woods and came to a steep formation of rocks. They were intimidating and dangerous for a small kid like me, but something told me to climb up them, there was something there that was waiting for me. As I began to get closer to them, the rain began to pour down on me in buckets, washing over me and nearly ending my journey. However, my desire to see what awaited on top of the rocks was stronger than my fear, so I began to climb them. I looked to see places where I could grab onto and where it would be safe to plant my feet. I took a few nervous steps up the rocks and it wasnít as hard as I initially thought it would be.

My confidence increased as I climbed up a few more feet, getting higher on the rocks, then Iíd climb up and find myself higher by few more rocks. As I went higher, the surface became slicker and wetter and the wind became stronger, making it harder to stay on the side. It was also starting to get dark, nightfall was rapidly approaching. I knew I didnít have a lot of time to get to the top of the rocks. This led me to quicken my pace a little, which made me a little less careful than I should have been. I noticed that I was higher than the trees, and as I got a little closer to the top, and the winds got a little stronger since I had no protection left. I almost got there when I felt my foot caught on something. I tried to move it, but there was something lodged above it, that prevented me from moving it, I tried to maneuver around to regain my balance, but I couldnít see what was blocking me. My hands were firmly grasping the wall and I felt trapped there. I stood in there alone for several minutes, my anxiety growing with each second. I was afraid to move around too much, since I didnít want to loose my balance. I tried to move up to the next rock, but I couldnít. The top was just a few feet out of reach, but I couldnít scale up the side any further with my foot blocked. By this point, it was completely dark up there, and aside from the distant streetlights and the now darkened outlines of the school, I couldnít see anything. I looked around and there wasnít a safe place for me to go, It was too far down for me to jump and I didnít really know what was on top of the rocks. More time passed and I began to panic. I wondered how long would I be trapped up there and whether anyone would find me. It was cold, and I felt absolutely alone. Just as I was about to give up, I heard something making noise above me and before I knew what was happening, I felt someone grab onto my wrist and begin pulling me up to the top of the mountain.

It could have ended in disaster but for some reason I didnít understand, she saved me. It was confusing but the moment I felt her touch, I knew I was out of danger. It was almost effortless, and my foot dislodged from its trap almost instantly. The force she used was something I couldnít explain, but I knew it wasnít something ordinary. The next thing I knew, I was standing on the top of the mountain and I saw here standing right in front of me. I remembered her quite vividly from the previous summer and I knew who she was, but I hadnít expected to see her again, especially not in this situation. My reckless exploration could have ended in disaster, but once I saw her, I knew she was watching over me the entire time, I felt. Giving me enough freedom to explore, watching me, but waiting for the moment when I wouldnít be able to protect myself. It seemed almost as if she knew what would happen before I did. It was a strange thing to be in this place. I saw her looking at me and wondered why she had chosen this moment to come back. We looked at each other for some time, as the rain continued to pour down on us. There was no one else around, the skies were darkening. Looking up, I could see the clouds, almost sprinting overhead, rushing onward in their relentless attack. They converged and separated, overlapped one another and changed rapidly. It was an intense storm and its wind made an almost screaming noise. Its strange, but I really didnít feel threatened by it once we were together. She provided me a kind of immediate shelter, a strong shield against the elemental furies surrounding me. The ground on top of the rocks had filled with freshly downed leaves, and was muddy underneath. We held onto each othersí hands and supported each other. Still, our steps were tentative. It was very dark up there, and I let her take the lead. Underneath, I heard the cracks of breaking twigs as we walked and the darkness seemed to have settled in. The night had come and the lack of visibility made it difficult to navigate through its narrow path. We walked towards a cluster of trees on the other side of the ridge and found a small section where we could sit and ride out the storm.

We sat silently for a long time and watched the rain as it washed down from the skies, its waves making for a calming effect. I held onto her hand and felt unexpected warmth from her fingers. She seemed distant in some ways and also much older than I was. Beyond this, I knew there wasnít much more to know. I had slowly come to the realization that some questions didnít need to be asked. She was there for me at that moment and thatís all I needed to know. As the storm plowed through the night, it seemed like it would last forever. Its intensity grew stronger as we sat there, and I looked up and saw the trees swinging under the assault. They bent to the wind and I saw their branches twisting and flaying. I watched as gusts came and blew down a few leaves at a time, and watched them circle downward into the valley below, covering the ground. It seemed as if the storm would never let up. Despite the chaos surrounding me, I didnít really feel afraid. She was right there next to me. I looked over to the other side of the mountain where she grabbed me and after calculating how high up we were, realized just how far Iíd come. When I first started climbing up the mountain, I didnít know what exactly I was looking for. Once she held my hand, I knew what it was. Under the rains, I knew something was happening and while I didnít understand what it was, I knew that she wasnít going to answer any questions. She didnít need to since I already knew enough.

We watched countless leaves fall under the windís power, surrendering to its force, making no effort to stop the onslaught. The let go so gently, it was hard to feel sad. It was a natural process. No one was around to tell us what and where to go. No one to ask us questions, no demands for answers they couldnít comprehend. We were alone together, I didnít owe her anything, and she wasnít about to extract anything from me. The rains swept on and on, out of our control, the wet seeped through and saturated everything on the ground, Small ponds began to form around our feet, but it was hard to notice at first. We were so transfixed by the storm, our individual situation didnít matter. It seemed like it would never end, and to be honest, I didnít want it to. There was no point in rushing forward and I wanted our time together to last. High above, we saw the street lights and rushing cars washing away in the distance, slowly the rain began to let up, almost imperceptibly, but steadily decreasing until it became a slow drizzle, gently washing down over our heads. The wind was still strong but it turned into another direction. Slowly, it began to feel cold up there. These changes came on and slowly the realization came. I stood up and began to look around. Going back down the rocks wasnít a good idea, especially since they were now saturated and slippery. I felt momentarily trapped up there, but she had a good idea. She pointed me towards the other side of the clearing and I saw a small, narrow but much safer path out the other side. We walked towards its opening and looked back at the cloud of trees that protected us. It was a strange moment, but after sitting still for so long under the trees, we finally had an idea where to go.

We walked down the path and despite being a bit muddy it offered a better chance for us. It took some time to traverse its winding ways, but our progress was slow and we made our way down the path one step at a time. Our pace grew a little quicker as we began to get nearer the bottom. I walked ahead of her and I heard her behind me and I began to have a little fun, and began to almost run. My heart beat a little faster and I began to feel almost a little playful. We changed places and I was behind her again. I saw here take a run to the left and I watched her duck to the side, and suddenly, she was gone. I looked around and I couldnít find her. She had vanished just as quickly as she had appeared. Searching to the left and right I couldnít see where she could have gone. I heard a yell from above me and I could see a distant figure, back on top of the mountain, looking over me. I couldnít believe how quickly she got back there, but I knew it wasnít my time to try and follow her back up the pathways. I saw her looking at me. She knew I was safe and could handle the rest of the journey home by myself, As I walked away from her, she a small wave to me. I knew that I still had plenty of walking to do, and that there would be many more questions for me to answer, or at least try to. I knew they would want to know where I had been, what I did and who I was with. I wouldnít tell anyone about our time under the rain. This could get me into trouble, I decided to keep our night between us. Even though we were separated temporarily, this time was different. This wouldn't be the last time I'd see her.

- Michael Palisano