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VxPoem ID: 38716
Posted: July 31st. 2010 11:13:57 PM
Age Group: Adult
Late August, 1973
Eastern Sierras (June Lake Loop) :
Bob Hastings had done it the day before, and didn't get back to camp until just before dusk.
'He went for a walk', Peter Lowe explained, 'at least, that's what he told me'.
'Peter, he's been gone six hours! Did he say where he was walking?' I was trying with all my might not to sound like anybody's mom.
Peter was trying to calm me down. By early afternoon I had replayed the scenario in my head a dozen times. I could already see the headline, Southern Californian Flatlander Lost In The Loop. Friends say he 'went for a walk'.
'He'll show up', Danny said. 'He'll show up as soon as he gets hungry.'
'Well if he doesn't you guys can call his folks and tell 'em how we lost their kid. As a matter of fact, you can call his folks even if he does show . . .'
The two of them looked at each other then at me.
'Why?' They both said it at the same time.
'Because', I said through clenched teeth, 'I'm gonna kill him'.
Danny laughed. Peter went to see if there was any beer left. Bob showed up a few hours later. The first words out of his mouth?
'I'm starved', I think they were.
A snort came from Danny's direction and he assumed his most nonchalant pose while giving me the finger.
'Shut up, man, ' I said to him then turned toward Bob, 'An eight hour walk, Bob? Really? Too much of a bother to tell anybody? Where were you?'
Pointing to the southwest he told me, 'There.'
'There where?' I barked.
'There' he insisted.
It finally dawns on me he is pointing beyond the other side of the campground to a massive steel gray peak that juts like a tremendous tooth into the clear blue mouth of sky. Suddenly I was glad I didn't know where he had hiked to. If I had I really would have freaked.
'I'll let it live, Danny, ' I say while I point at Bob, 'I just ain't gonna feed it.'
He laughed. 'You worry too much, Cork'.
It would be twenty five years before I realized he was right. I do worry too much. Back then I thought everybody did.
I don't remember how it happened, but by next morning we had decided it would be cool if all four of us climbed that mountain. So, on the day we were heading home, we began our trek into the southwest . . . not a canteen or a candy bar among us . . . and, of course, we told no one of our intentions.
This is not a eulogy. This is no funeral, nor is it a testament to a life. This is my celebration of the person we knew as Danny Ray. This is how he lives on for me, in the haunted house of my memory. I can't recall how he and I met, it just seemed he was always there. Now it was a given that he'd be mowing the lawn or pulling weeds and pissed about it, but yep, there he'd be, swearing under his breath. My friend. My brother. One of the great landmarks on the map of my life. He was likeable and funny and better yet, he thought I was funny and as if that wasn't enough to cement our friendship, the first time I saw his sister that cement became six sack mix with a hard trowel finish. He walked the tightrope between being Deborah's brother and being my friend like he was a Flying Wallenda.
The climb began with an endless plain of gray granitite boulders that had in some past cataclysm calved off of the monolith we intended to conquer. From a ways off it looked like the rip-rap rock used for erosion control. But the closer we got, the bigger the rocks got. Some were house size all the way down to about Volkswagen size. The climb in altitude at this point was probably at most two hundred feet; but the jumping from rock to rock and the uneven surfaces of the boulders were killing my ankles and legs.
'I don't know if this is such a good idea. I'm startin' to hurt and we are nowhere near the mountain yet, ' I'm talking to everyone but I'm looking at Danny. I know I'll need his vote to turn this mad expedition around.
'I say we keep going, ' Danny says to me. I hear a bit of distress in his voice and that somehow encourages me to push harder. Peter is panting like the Hound of the Baskervilles behind Danny Ray and me while Bob jackrabbits maybe two hundred yards ahead. He is waiting for us when we reach the edge of the boulder field.
'What's takin' you guys so long? I been here fifteen minutes!' He sounds like he's talking about his Congressional Medal of Honor. Cocky.
'Lotta empty holes in the mountains, ain't that right, Danny?' I'm looking straight at Bob.
'Fer sure, fer sure! Body of Southern Californian Teen found in hole on mountainside. Friends still claim he 'went for a walk.'
'Hey, forget you guys. I'll see you up there!' Bob bolts off like a mountain goat. A fast smart-assed mountain goat.
Danny and I waited for Peter to catch up and then the three of us began the climb; loose rock and sand to near vertical rock face. Up above the tree line now, we were headed to where the thin air lives.
'Man, if I had known what this hike was gonna be like, I'd be fishin' down at the lake, ' I griped to both of them.
'I hear ya, ' Danny replied, 'but it ain't that much further.'
'It's a ways all right . . . like, straight up a ways, ’ I grumbled mostly to myself. I thought about the six hour drive home I would have this afternoon and got so mad at myself I wanted to break something.
'There's not even anything to break up here, ' I was getting whiney.
'Oh, sure there is, ' Danny replied.
'Like?' I asked him.
'Like your leg. Like your back. Neck. Arm, ' he rattles off and then busts out laughing. He was proud of that one I could tell.
'Well, head on HomeSqueeze, ' I wheeze in his direction.
'Think there'll be any water up there?' Peter asks.
'Dude, I'm not sure there is even air up there. No water, no way. Unless we find snow in some shady spot, I don't see it, ’ I tell him.
'Sucks, man’ he mumbles.
'Out loud' I say to him. 'Out loud.'
We are just slightly better than half way between the boulders and the summit. Every once in awhile I would catch a flash of red from Bob's jacket far ahead of us.
This week I reviewed some of my past and thought hard about what Danny had brought to my life. Brotherhood, surely. But knowing him enriched my life in ways I was blind to as a youngster. Through Danny, I met all of you, who would become my chosen family. You all seemed able to tolerate me. I know that doesn't sound like a big deal, but for the kid I was back when it was a tremendous gift.
When we finally make the summit we are about four hours into it. I don't know what I was expecting to see once we had finally topped out, but it felt like I should have seen Lancaster or Ridgecrest. We'd walked far enough. The four of us stood in silence gazing at the vista before us. Mountains as far as you could see. Slate gray and sheer sides. Practically copies of the one we stood on. In the valleys between was emerald green grass and blue mirror lake after blue mirror lake. The landscape seemed to fade somehow into forever and somehow into right now.
'This is the future, ' the eighteen year old philosopher that I was proclaimed, 'all we have to do is jump for it.'
'Right now we need to start down. Hopefully down will not be as slow and rough as up was, ' Danny offered.
'Why not?' Peter asked him.
'Whoa, I got this!' I butt in. 'You fall faster than you can climb, princess. Definitely rougher though.'
Peter ignores me. 'I'm dyin' of thirst, ' he says.
Then Bob chimes in. 'I'm starved, ' he tells no one in particular.
In the end, down the mountain took about forty five minutes longer than up. It was almost midnight when I finally left Highway 395 for the D Street exit and we were home.
Danny and I fished together. I helped him pull weeds and later, when his Dad bought the drain cleaning business I helped Danny with that, too. He thought I was crazy but it really was better than being at home. We'd clown each other but he holds the practical joke crown. Here is how it went down. Saturday night, Deb and I had been to the movies and I roll up to drop her at her house. This mouthy marine comes at my van window. He'd been staying week-ends with the Jordan's next door neighbor, this pain-in-the-ass that hated me and we had renamed 'BirdMan.' The Marine is raging about me soaping his car windows. He threatens me until Deborah brings her brother Paul out. Then he changes tune.
'I'm havin' a party here next Saturday for my squad's graduation from boot. Tell all your friends to be here or be queer so we can beat you all to pulp. I never said a word to anyone but Paul had no such restraint. Come Saturday all my friends and most of Danny's relatives loitered in front of E.D.'s and Larry's houses. Ten or so kids and twenty five drunken rednecks. The Marines never had a chance. The Battle of Ninth Street it was called. A few days later the Marine and the Birdman sued for peace. I never had another problem with them. How was Danny involved? Well, he was there at the Battle, but more important, he was there that Saturday night. With a bar of soap that he had smeared all over the jarhead's car windows in a manner that perfectly framed (you guessed it) my name. All those people coming out for me was hard for me to believe but I had seen it. Another great gift courtesy of Danny.
'They don't expect Danny to make it through the night, ' Larry tells me over the phone.
'Be there as quick as I can, ' I say.
I am on a dark snake of road between Mo Val and Loma Linda. My headlights are too dim and oncoming traffic's lights are too bright. I am pushing the limits of my headlamps when I feel the autopilot come on. 'Oh, not a good time for this. Not a good time at all.' Then I am in a hospital room and the frail form of my childhood friend lies unconscious before me. I reach, barely touch his arm. 'You jump, Bro! Fly! My voice is urgent. Then I am in my car as it rolls to a stop at the light on Barton Road. I know I'm not going to make it in time. I know it.
The elevator dings and the door opens at the ninth floor. I step out. I can tell by Debbie and Larry's faces there is no good news. The autopilot slips into the controls of my body this time. Suddenly I am on that mountaintop again. Danny stands next to me. He reaches over and taps the bottom of the Marlboros in my shirt pocket. They leap into his hands like they were trained to do it. He lights up, draws deep and just looks out across what once had been our future . . . gray mountains, green grass and blue mirror lakes. Our mountain has a sheer cliff that I don't recall from the day in the past when this view was our future. It is different here in the future where these peaks and lakes have become our past.
'You gonna jump, D?' My eyes are locked straight ahead.
'Already gone, man.' His last words to me.
I turn to look and I see I am alone. I have to laugh out loud when I realize the rascal jumped into forever with my smokes in his pocket. I peer nervously over the edge of the world, knowing that my time to jump from this place will come. I hope I handle it as well as my brother did.
'You fly, Bro!' I scream at the top of my voice. 'You fly your ass off, Danny Ray!'
I start down the mountainside and am almost to the boulders before my body calls me home.
For Danny Ray
31 December, 2K9
Author's Location: Moreno Valley, California
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