I have always loved hiking to the tops of mountains and the journeys one takes for hours to be a top something so old and magical. The idea that one wrong step or taking the wrong path could lead you to a perilous situation was my idea of an adrenaline rush. Not being the kid to jump his bike, sky dive, or leap off of the tallest cliffs into the water below, this idea of being on top of a mountain thrilled me. Once upon the peak the feeling of being absolutely microscopic to the rest of your surroundings humbled me to no end. Sitting there on the bare rock, staring out over hundreds of years of growth and progress always made me think of how small I actually was. I am not sure why the idea of being small or insignificant appealed to me as much as it did, but I always enjoyed it. It was a stark contrast to how I was or am when I am not on the top of a peak.
Much as when I walked up to my wife, sometimes my body’s natural reaction is to do things that put me, internally, in an uncomfortable situation. I don’t like being the center of attention, I never have, but I always seem to end up there. I am funny, have always been, some may not find me funny, but for most of the people that I surround myself with I am. We have alike senses of humor. When a room gets quiet or a party starts to get dull something just comes over me that, internally I am fighting with every fiber of muscle I have in my body, but outwardly my body just moves or my mouth just opens. Externally I had no fear but internally I was the small kid hiding in the corner from an abusive father. There has always been the idea in my head that I wanted to be liked but an outward nonchalance about the whole thing turned people off. I always gave the appearance that I was someone who was very comfortable in their own skin however internally I was scratching and clawing to get that skin off of my body. At work, I have been successful everywhere I have gone. Promoted multiple times made good money, came off as someone who could one day be a large part of an organization, a leader. This came at the expense of the internal self who had no idea what he was even doing in a place like this having studied art in school and being covered in tattoos. I was like Clark Kent and Superman, I had the shirt and tie on by day while writing poetry and taking photos in a Goonies T-shirt by night. I never felt like I was smart enough to be there, all the while people are telling me how smart I am and how I am the next this or that. I thought they were crazy. I was a walking contradiction; fraught with anxieties that one-day I would be figured out, that I was a fraud.
I have always been under the belief that starting over wasn’t a big deal, as far as my career was concerned. I left management positions for mid to entry-level jobs several times to climb that mountain again. When you summit that mountain a number of times throughout your career though, people start to just want to place you on the top. It would be like taking the ski lift to the top of the mountain and not enjoying the journey, or the difficulties that would be placed in front of you that you now have to over come to get back to the peak. There was no earning something it was just handed to you, with the paycheck and the stature that went with it. While one would never complain about a good paycheck, what if you wanted to learn something completely new? What if all I want is to be insignificant for a while, to climb that trail, to twist an ankle or lose my cell phone along the way? What if I want to struggle to find my place on the mountain or get turned around a little bit so I can feel my heart racing in a moment of panic about being unsure? I am not allowed those senses anymore in my career. I am frowned upon in corporate America for thinking that starting over is just a natural thing. To come in, do a 9 to 5, punch the clock and walk out for the day. To build my potential back up and show once again that I am worthy of a larger role or additional responsibilities. In my job I love to start over, to learn, to see things from an unsuspecting view, to absorb the environment around me as I start my ascent.
Personally, however, I don’t want to climb that mountain anymore. Like the walking contradiction that I struggle with, in one area getting a fresh start is refreshing, in others, I am terrified. I don’t want to be insignificant or have to prove my worth to a new woman, a new set of parents, and at my age maybe even children. I hiked that mountain, the one mountain that I wanted to climb since I was 15. I didn’t have the right map at that time and I got lost, it was scary so I ran down the mountain and hid. When the opportunity presented itself again I had all of my orienteering tools in place. I had my compass set, I had my map, I was going to see the highest elevation and there would be no stopping me. Once I got there I would set up camp, plant my flag and that is where I would be the happiest for the rest of my life. And I did it, all of it. My flag was planted, as was hers, our camp was set up and we were at our peak. I will not get into the cliché of there is no place to go but down from here but I assume if you have read anything else I have written, that is exactly what happened. She climbed down. She climbed down without me. Before I could catch up to her I had to take down our camp, take down my flag, hers was missing for some reason, and then I started my descent. She had such a jump start that there was no way I could catch her. I shouted, I ran, I screamed and banged pots together, but she was out of range. So I walked at a pace other hikers may have found to slow, some passed right on by without looking back and some would walk with me for a while but eventually had to go their own way. This I understand, like them, I need to go at my own pace so I can feel safe and comfortable with the trail and my footing upon it. If it means I hike alone then I am prepared for just that. I made it to the bottom, my pack dragging heavily behind me, dehydrated and thirsty, and now with the full knowledge that I could never hike that trail again.
I see, on a daily basis, the mountains that surround me. I see tall ones that reach up to the skies, I see smaller ones where I could reach the summit in just a few hours, and I see dangerous ones without clearly marked trails, rock ledges and warning signs everywhere. Yet I drive by them, I will look up and wonder but never enough to pull over, grab my pack and start the climb. I am afraid of the peak; I am scared to feel small again, to feel insignificant again in the only area I never wanted to feel that way. May it be a call back to childhood, a reflection of teenage angst, or adult insecurities, I do not want to wake up another cold morning at a camp built for two searching for the other flag that once waved beside mine. I am scared to risk injury on a climb that could only get me half way and I am scared to think that I would set camp half way up a mountain that I don’t belong on. There is no more thought of the adrenaline rush that would accompany this climb, just the tired legs that would have to come back down only to start another climb somewhere else.
Once in a while I see the mountain that I called home for many years and I remember the breathtaking views and I wonder what might have been. I wonder why she ever climbed down and planted her flag on another peak. Maybe she just got sick of the view? Maybe she didn’t want to know why I liked the feeling of being small? Now though with my feet planted down on the level ground, I feel smaller than I ever did when I was so insignificant atop that mountain. Yes, at least made it to the peak once, at least I know what that was like, and it is true I have been somewhere others may never make it to. Maybe I will see one again or maybe I will just hang onto the old view in memory like that one photograph I never took.