We are on the top of a 14,000 foot mountain, Huron Peak, the most beautiful I have ever summited. You are wearing my wool socks on your hands, no coat, because you hadn’t realized how cold it would be up so high. Your face is yellow, stretched across your skull tight, having made yourself sick with too much altitude and not enough water.
My body is shaking and I cannot breathe. I am on the most beautiful mountain, want to throw up with fear, know now that I love you. I shut my eyes, release their tears in streams down my cheeks, then look at the ground to unsee your face, what could happen if I wasn’t able to get you off the mountain. The reaction of my body is startling. We are not together anymore, and I had not been sure I loved you in this way.
You walk over, pull me into an embrace, repeat it’s okay, until my hot tears subside because I cannot see the color of your face, inhale as much of your smell as my shallow lungs can hold, push down the thoughts until I am finally able to stop imagining what it would be like to be without you.
As we make our descent, I see the blue flowers hiding in the shrubs where the trees first fell away to rocks and sky and air, your face start to pink with blood. I exhale and allow myself to be giddy with this: the shape of the tiny petals and pink relief and love and the blue sky that envelopes everything else.
In the valley after the hike, we lay on the sandy edges of a creek, underneath naked mountain tops with only enough snow to trace their inward folds and crevices. Baby green and dark green in strips down below. Clear, impossibly cold, we stick our feet in the former snow, barefoot, feel the smooth rocks at the bed with our toes. The sun feels warm on our bodies, side by side, not quite touching.
You turn to face me, apologize for the mountain, for not drinking enough water. For not realizing what this would do to someone who was with you, someone you must have known loved you.
I tell you I have forgiven you already, do not think about what happened before or what will happen after, but instead close my eyes, feel the heat on my lids at the base of our beautiful mountain. I wrap my arm across your torso, lay my head against your chest, hold onto the sound of your heart underneath me.
We are on top of a 14,000 ft mountain. Hot and angry tears are streaming down my face. Yours is puss-colored, so taut that if you tried to smile the corners would not be able to rise. Your eyes, white and filmy, cannot latch on to me. You are not smiling, are labored in your breathing.
Before we got to this point, I insisted that we turn around, a mile earlier down the rocky trail, when I first realized that you had altitude sickness. But you were adamant that we had to keep going until we reached the summit, would not let me turn around to look back at you, kept pushing me forward.
My body is shaking and I cannot breathe. I grit my teeth, look over at you, eyes sideways, refuse to turn my head. I want to throw up with fear, know now that I love you, am angry for the way you have put yourself in danger, me into this fear. I do not think of how big the sky is, how I can see the navy and green of two other mountain ranges, how I love the way the world looks from up this high more than anything else. I only imagine a life separated from you, of watching your body grow slower, skin tighter, you, lifeless.
You walk over, pull me into an embrace despite my angry resistance, repeat it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay painfully slowly, until my hot tears subside because I cannot see the color of your face. I think you kiss me.
In the valley after the hike, we lay on the sandy edges of a creek, underneath naked mountain tops with only enough snow to trace their inward folds and crevices, the most beautiful place I can imagine. You turn to face me, apologize for the mountain, for not drinking enough water, for not letting me turn back to make sure you were safe at a lower elevation. For not realizing what this would do to me.
I tell you I have forgiven you already, try not think about what happened before or how this moment will make me re-read us through my not-knowing after.
Then you apologize for the night before, for kissing me in my car, without asking, across the console, before we had tried to fall asleep. I turn to face you, sun illuminating your hazel eyes, could not remember you had done this.
Two months later, we are at the place where the Poudre River is dammed up into fishing ponds, hiding from the mosquitoes in the front seat of my car. We refuse to crack the windows and release the August evening heat drowning our bodies in sweat. Would rather drown than let our bodies be pierced. You lean over the middle console, tell me you hate me for leaving you, could not believe I did not care for you, kiss my salty fingertips in between each word. You tell me you love me, want to marry me, kiss my salty, wet eyelids, my cheeks. You tell me you don’t want to see me again, kiss my temple. You tell me that I lied to you, that I don’t really love you, never did, kiss my damp forehead.
And my body fountains out tears, like it always does with you in the front seat of my car, and I tell you I love you as your sweat and tears and my sweat and tears become indistinguishable from one another, just salt and your lips on the bridge of my nose as you do not listen, do not believe me.
We are in the valley after the hike. You apologize for not drinking enough water on the mountain, for kissing me without asking the night before when we could not sleep in the back of my car. I had forgotten, was trying to forget the uncertainty of these things.
Clear, impossibly cold, we stick our feet in the former snow, barefoot, feel the smooth rocks at the bed with our toes, worn with time to the slippery shape of least resistance. I watch my toes, distorted and covered in waves of light by the movement of the water above, until I cannot feel them and then until I cannot feel anything but pain. I quickly pull them out, curl up beside you in the sun, will them to thaw. We alternate between stream and sand, stream and sand.
Lying beside you, I prop my head up on my hiking backpack. We are listening to the creek, closing our eyes, not quite asleep but nearly. When I adjust my body and turn to face you, my earring catches between the mesh of the pack, separates itself from its back, becomes tetherless. You hold both halves of the earring in your palms, tell me you would hold onto them for me. Close your fingers around them. I insist this is not the danger, but instead the piercing closing up, flesh growing back together without the earring as separation.
Two months later we are hiding from the mosquitoes in the front seat of my car. I cry like I always do with you across the center console, do not ask myself if this is really what love is: when you held my earring in between your large, permanently stained fingers, put it through the tiny opening in my skin, secured it. The way you kissed my salt without permission and I did not remember, the sickness in my body when I looked at your face, the relief of the pink and blue as you followed me back down the mountain, unharmed.
I do not know what to say, did not say anything as I felt you kiss my fingers and eyelids, felt your sweat and tears and my sweat and tears become indistinguishable from one another, just salt and your lips on the bridge of my nose.