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Out of the Depths

Brendan O’Brien
The two had never met. In fact, the sheer existence of the other came as a shock. Yet, in a

moment’s gaze, their secrets had been shared and they knew what must be done. A small boat at

water’s edge was soon carrying them to the far shore. Few words were exchanged, but a

previously unintelligible truth was suddenly understood. Then the one who had waited was

stepping onto dry land and disappearing into the forest. Alone and with purpose, the one

remaining returned to the original bank. And life resumed as never before.

**********

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I am the bottle, the nearly empty vessel cast to sea and struggling to transfer the meanings

of messages. While you see only words, I feel the shuddering heart from which they came. When

you hear nothing but the steady sway of your own voice, I hear the uneven tone of raw emotion.

When you see a hand moving listlessly across the page, I see the truth, and the truth is that the

carefully measured words your eyes now scan were called forth from the dust and confusion of a

mind, much like yours, constantly embattled with itself.

The truth is, every message you now read as fact has been filtered. Everything you see is

but a shadow of the reality. I cannot explain what is missing; I can merely note the limitations of

what you know. Yes, I too have a story, but mine is only significant insofar as it serves to

connect others.

This is the irony in which I exist—not as a grain of sand but as a piece of the desert, not

as a droplet of water but as a part of the ocean. I am a connector, an entity truly defined by my

ongoing attempts to relate. This goal seems both encompassing and unreachable, and maybe

that’s not so far removed from that which unifies the human race: each has something to search

for, to look forward to, to find peace within, for the world can be revealed in a singular

relationship.

No matter what I express, you’ll never truly get it. This fault is neither yours nor mine but

merely the consequence of the distorted reality offered in any reflection. All record of my

existence and interactions is and forever will be incomplete. It is both a sad and hopeful fact of

being human that a lifetime spent recording and observing another will only scratch the surface

in understanding the complex reality of experience. The one who can tell you every detail and

happening that has contributed to another’s sense of self could never relate their meaning. And

were it possible to measure and communicate a life in all its degrees, no one could or would hear

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it, perhaps accurately inferring the life experienced is of altogether greater importance simply

because no other can live it.

The value of a life is often best conveyed in those moments an individual is alone. It is

during one of these times that a nineteen-year-old named Patrick Ellison stood on a cliff

contemplating his departure from the world. By himself and at a loss for hope, he heaved his

words into the sea and shuffled toward the edge. It is this story—of the reason for his message

and its passage beyond the moment—that I wish to tell you. It is this story I must tell you if only

for the sake of coming to terms with the limitations of understanding.

First, I must take you back to his origins. It starts, as all human stories do, with the family

into which he was born. Patrick was born to a mother and father who had been happily married

for a decade before deciding to bring a child into the world as their legacy. They were the perfect

family, which is to say all their imperfections simmered beneath the surface, obscured by a

wealth that made it hard to look oneself in the eye without a twinge of guilt. His parents’ glances

in the mirror produced reminders of power, confidence sculpted through years of faking smiles

and fixing ties; years of evading self-reflection. Patrick’s, however, were undeveloped,

unpracticed in the art of looking beyond what was evident: he had not earned this.

How could he accept being driven to the airport for another first-class flight when news

reminded him of the millions whose finances made it impossible to leave home? How could he

breathe in the fragrance of their freshly cut lawn when the man who had mowed it could hardly

feed his kids? But Patrick had always been taught to be thankful for their good fortune. In fact,

he could remember once being instructed to avoid helping those with less, that aiding the less

fortunate was an attack on the world’s plan. Patrick wasn’t proud of that and wouldn’t want to

tell others of it, but this is not the pure, unblemished story he’d like to tell; this is what happened,

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the only story he has and the only one I can tell.

I tell it because a truth glossed over is an essential part of oneself removed, an inability to

face all aspects of the world. Perhaps this is my own way of simplifying the world. After all, can

I still not feel despite being unable to touch? I know things you, as one with eyes and ears and

hands, will never know. Imagine me an artist: I am blind, but I capture the world’s beauty in

every image, and what is a sunset or flower’s colors to one who cannot see? Imagine me a

musician: I am deaf, but I find perfect pitch in every sound, and what are notes and ballads to

one who cannot hear? I am not of the world and I know nothing of my origins; I know only that I

have a message to relay. Perhaps, that’s why I was able to record Patrick’s every thought and

observe his every step at the end of his life and feel no aspiration to intervene.

When he stood at that cliffside thinking, ‘If I slipped or jumped, no one would know the

difference,’ he was wrong. He was, however, right to believe it didn’t matter. At least not to me,

and I was the only one who knew which really happened. Patrick’s fight to connect had been lost

and it was mere fate that I was the one to transport his postmortem words in one last chance to

form peace with his life.

The thought of causing his fellow human being to lose faith in their self was enough to

keep Patrick silent. But the fact that nobody picked up on the unrest that had steadily grown

within deeply bothered him. It was this combination of guilt and anger that pushed him to the

irreparable nature of his final act. He elevated himself so far above all else that the Earth and its

people could no longer hold him, failing to realize life was a moment-to-moment struggle for

peace.

Perhaps I, as an outsider, cannot understand but if he had never found and kept peace in

life, hastening his own death would not seem to change that. How could peace come from a letter

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to a stranger or a whisper from beyond? It was neither a cry into the darkness nor a whimper into

the waves. How could it be found in a suitcase or constrained to a bottle? After all, isn’t the

significance of the bottle what is placed into it? Without another’s message, I am no more than a

container. And the same goes for Patrick; peace cannot be found on any death bed for one’s

peace is entwined with all others’.

But as Patrick glanced into the murky waters beneath, he was well beyond feeling

sympathy. He felt no connection to most of those he was leaving behind and therefore no reason

to so much as attempt to relate. It seemed all he wanted was to be remembered, to live on if only

in the heart of one other person.

If I could feel—if I could have focused my attention and felt something for even the

briefest of moments—I would’ve been in tears in his final breaths. He had lived an unremarkable

but relatively happy life. He’d been surrounded by friends and maintained an uncommonly

strong devotion to the distant plan in which he’d been raised to believe.

To have all that he held dear called into question seemed a cruel injustice. One minute, a

firm believer to the next in isolated confusion: what could possibly be the justification for

forcing someone to choose between betraying roots and living a lie? How could one be left to

struggle with their own story alone, especially one so clearly incompatible with the truth that’s

always been known? The question is begged: how can anyone handle the path at their feet? I,

however, am not at liberty to say. Tears stain the message.

Amidst blessings and thanksgivings and pleas for help, I have a first-hand view of the

way so many claim the future is not in their hands and offer it to the beyond. In so doing, they

seem also to offer the present. Perhaps it is my limitation of feeling, but Patrick seemed so

fixated on his reliance on these external energies that he failed to ever realize his own capacity to

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alter his life. He was always of the mind one believing himself to be lesser was for that reason

more, and who am I to critique his self-depreciation? Perhaps this is simply the nature of being

human.

But, even as an outsider so reliant on others for connections, I still feel there is an

incredible power in being human. Far and away, it seems better to give more credit than one is

due, to overestimate and refuse to have one’s potential remain untapped. The realization of one’s

power in simply existing reaffirms that very notion. This power comes from the

acknowledgement of standing on a pedestal which one could never ascend alone. It is derived

from knowing that you are a different side of others, that Patrick’s death was partly your own.

Your experience cannot be divorced from his, and that’s why his life and demise are so

intricately intertwined with yours that you cannot pick them apart. No matter how badly you

want to.

In his last few weeks, he’d tried hinting that he desperately needed someone to talk to,

only to be let down by the fact nobody seemed to care. Then again, this was nothing new; his

words to others always seemed to fall short.

Maybe that’s why he clutched the bottle in his hand with his last words to whoever

should happen upon it. It was no chance event that his last words to the world were to a stranger,

and this stranger’s identity was no longer important to him. In that moment, Patrick sat on a rock

looking out at a sunset just as beautiful as it had always been to him. Separated from feeling, I

was a witness to the memories playing back through his mind.

Maybe there’s something about humans that causes the threat of the end to cause them to

revert back to beginnings. This was where he’d flown kites with his dad, constantly cautioned

with a knowing look and point of a finger to stay clear of the edge. This was where his last

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girlfriend and he had shared their first kiss. It was where Patrick had first said, “I love you,” and

felt the feeling increase ten-fold when the sentiment was returned. At their meeting nearly two

years later, things had changed. It was then that he told her they had become like a distant

sailboat, simply being carried along by the breeze. Once upon a time, she would’ve clasped his

hand and let a smile pull apart her lips at the image, but her face showed that she had taken note

of the subtle change in his voice and the difference in their interaction the last few weeks.

They were just drifting and, for other people, that’d be enough. But she could see the

passion was gone. Patrick had told his parents and friends they’d simply drifted apart. The truth,

although he could scarcely admit it to himself, was he’d let it happen. The watchful eye of some

greater strength had always been real for him, until one unwitting evening when meaning seemed

to have been lost. That evening brought forth a momentary reflection that caused his reality to

crumble without understanding the thought that made him question it in the first place. The truth

was he still loved her but was having doubts about whether he knew what that meant anymore.

Patrick would admit he was a long way from perfect, but he believed firmly in the

balance of the universe and had tried earnestly his whole life to be a divergent force to the evil

and injustice he’d always seen. Whether it was in rare contemplation, in everyday commotion, or

in others, nearly everything he’d done had been for the sake of growing in the plan to which he

belonged.

And now he found himself staring out at an endless sea, heart heavy and tears rolling

down his cheeks. Looking out over the vast water, he’d given up on flying; he was content with

falling. He stood up and peeked over the cliff’s edge, down to the rocks below. Taking a few

steps back, he clenched and unclenched his right fist. Checking the cork once more, he

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transferred the bottle to his right hand. With a stride and a whirl of his arm, I was sent flying end-

over-end into the waters below.

Patrick realized that the bottle would probably end up no farther than the base of the cliff

on which he stood. But that wasn’t the point. I knew I was being distanced from him. It didn’t

matter so much where I ended up so long as his story lived on after him. When I entered the

water, he stood as a figure at the cliff’s edge, watching the sun gleam off the container of his

final words as they vanished amidst the waves. Was he thinking back on his life? Was he

apologizing to his parents? Was he wishing he’d written more? For the first time since his

entrance into the world, I found myself utterly cut off from the inner workings of his mind.

In the next moment, the figure at the bluff was a dark blur proceeding from the top and

past the rock face into the water below. My attention shifted from the small splash below to the

now-empty space where Patrick had just stood. The cliff and everything else seemed to fade to

black. I knew it was all over; I was now delivering the final message of a dead man.

*************************

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I’m taking control. Following the destiny that had been laid out for me nearly led me to

my death, but I’m still here. My name’s Patrick Ellison. I’m well-aware of how little I can really

tell you about where I’ve been and who I am, but I feel an intense desire to try. Maybe there is

nothing of great value that I can say, but I think there may be something, perhaps hidden within

the story of how close I was to ending my life or perhaps in my journey to discover why it’s

worth living.

Thinking back on that moment suspended at the cliff’s edge, I remember watching as the

glint of the bottle vanished amidst the waves. I found myself wishing I’d written more. What did

it matter, though? The words weren’t mine anyway. They’d never been mine, and I was tired of

pretending. I decided that for far too long, I’d been pretending my life was my own. All those

hours kneeling in quiet prayer had led me to that point, standing alone over my own grave.

I steadied myself at the cliff’s edge, feeling a gentle gust of wind push at my back, as if

whispering my fate. And yet, if the will of the universe had led me there, maybe the way to

destroy my destiny wasn’t to end my life. After all, sometimes the bravest acts are the simplest.

It was clear I couldn’t just stay where I was anymore. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. And

then stepped back.

Without another glance to the setting sun or the grave for which I was meant, I returned

to the path from which I’d come. I found myself still breathing heavily from the weight of what

had just occurred. I couldn’t vocalize why I stepped back from the ledge in the same way I

couldn’t vocalize why I’d stepped there in the first place. In that moment, I made a decision—a

promise, a vow—to make my life my rage against fate.

Life changes don’t happen overnight though, at least not the ones we desire. The events

of the bluff took place a few weeks back, and there really hasn’t been much difference in my life.

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Except that the times I’ve been happy have seemed more real. I excelled in school, like I had

done before. I set time aside for daily reflection and volunteered three times a week, like many

“good people” reminded me they did as well.

I even found a way to stay close with family and friends, despite keeping them all at

arm’s length. Still none of them knew what had taken place on that cliff, and I was not yet ready

to tell them. In this respect, the person I was closest to was the stranger who chanced upon that

note, if anyone. Often times during these weeks, I could be found staring at an open page. Sleep

had recently been taking a backseat to this notebook. I was trying to keep the promise I’d made

at the cliff’s edge and my writing had taken a definitive turn since those events, but I was

realizing it was hard to continue pouring out my mind when my own voice was the only one that

ever echoed back. Each word was inscribed as if writing to someone—occasionally at

someone—but I knew it was just as much for me.

This notebook was how I stayed sane. Until I write about something, I can’t really say

how I feel about it. In any given day, I’d lie, be lied to, become a hypocrite, feel the need to

apologize, and end up kicking myself for what I’d failed to do. But when I sat down to write, the

world made sense. More accurately, it didn’t make sense, but I was okay with that. This had

become my faith: freed from otherworldly desires, this world had become all I have. I have but

one life and to spend it merely chasing my own better existence would serve only to waste it.

I am simply too guilt-ridden to tell anyone what I actually believe, but I know that I must.

Besides, how am I possibly supposed to expect others to trust me if I can’t trust them? This

weight is simply too great of burden to bear alone.

It took an encounter with death for it to hit me. Just as sleep reminds us we are awake, the

lurking of death ensures we do not forget how very alive we are. Hearing complaints and worries

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of daily struggles, it makes me wonder if people appreciate these everyday tests of character.

These little inconveniences seem to drive us to the brink of insanity but we should realize they

also keep us sane. We can only remain in this motionless sea for so long.

Finding peace at rest is not the challenge. We must instead find tranquility in the trials;

strength in the storms; freedom in the finite; our haven in the habitual. And though we lose and

fall short and are left alone in this world, this internal peace gives us the ability to step forward

with a grin spread across our face because we know that it’ll be alright. We will make it.

I am starting to come to terms with this now, but it’s a difficult concept to grasp. I’ve

been constantly measured and compared to other people my whole life in a way that makes

accepting ambiguity akin to accepting defeat, something seeming to contradict everything I was

taught. When I was little, I saw the world from a different point of view. I knew there was more

than just my corner of the world, but my corner was all that mattered. Back then, all that lied

beyond my vision lied beyond my consciousness. I lived in the light of a candle and was unaware

of anything beyond.

But, as I’m growing, I’m realizing life takes place in that darkness just as surely as in the

light. I am arrived at the point where I finally wish to know what’s out there, hidden in that

dense, dark place of unconsciousness. I’m not going to say it’s an easy fact to accept, because it

isn’t, but I’m finally realizing that my light is not full and the darkness is not empty. The

existence of something more is independent of my choice to embrace it.

Maybe that’s why I’m writing to you, because I need someone to come with me if I am to

face the unknown. It’s as simple and complex as my innate need to form a connection. Before I

go further, I feel it necessary to restate that my words are as much for me as they are for you. I

take comfort in knowing there is record of my existence, if not in another’s mind and memory

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then at least in my notebook. Perhaps this world is too much to confront alone or I feel too weak

to do so. Perhaps, I have depended for so long on some all-powerful, life-sustaining energy as a

source of comfort that I refuse to allow those closest to me to get a true glimpse of who I am. Or

maybe this is my way of embracing the unknown, of billowing forward without regard to the

nagging voice whispering my shortcomings. Especially when I know that voice to be my own.

Regardless of the complicated mixture of influences that has prompted me to articulate

my thoughts, I feel freer when I am laying pen to paper than at any other point in my life. I am

asking you, whether out of a deep-seated mistrust in everyone I meet or an unshakeable trust in

your willingness to relate to your fellow human being, to walk with me. The way ahead is well-

traveled and lies in ignorance of the world it cuts between. I have sought for so long to follow the

road that’s been laid out for me that I ceased questioning whether it led where I wished to go. It

took far too long to realize the only desirable path is the one I forge myself.

I can remember the words I wrote just a few months past, telling of my emotional

isolation which had grown in part due to my sacred devotion. And now, here I stand on the other

side of the issue feeling more alone than ever before. Long ago, I marked myself as different and

was wrong. I share much with others and am eternally connected to the world, but I feel there is

something which sets me apart. This scares me, because it seems as though there is no one to

share the load.

In all honesty, I don’t know much. Yet, being aware of my ignorance is the greatest

knowledge I could ever possess. Please, if you can accept how little we know; if you accept the

burden of another being; if you will deem my morsel of experience worthwhile, then I promise

the same to you. Although I remain as clueless in describing my place in the world as any other,

I do possess the unique ability to describe the world from my place. I am a human being, one of

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the seven billion-plus people attempting to survive on this Earth, and that is enough connection

to humanity to see the beauty in each life. Despite this, I hold dear the fact that I am my own

person, an individual neither defined nor defiled by the whole.

If you, too, hold fast to your independence of mind while maintaining an unabashed

appreciation for your connection to every person on this planet, I want to invite you into my

mind, and therefore into a part of your own. You don’t know my face and I, not yours, and our

experiences have seemed never to intersect, but we are far more alike than either of us can

realize. I, too, am not necessarily someone with answers but with questions. And you see, an

answer is warped by time and differs by person and always falls short of the question which

prompts it.

What then is our fascination with answers, with trading confusion for comfort or giving

up the mystery for the sake of knowing? And knowing what? As long as we continue settling for

answers, we’ll never know anything. We find it easier to vocalize one side—to deny our

indecisiveness and refuse acceptance of the ambiguity at our foundation—in order to avoid

appearing vulnerable. The line you draw between yourself and your neighbor is a barrier

separating you from who you could be. The second we limit another or attempt to pin down what

we know about the world, we limit ourselves.

Everything we say and do contains a truth about our identity and relationship to the

world, but even everything compiled and analyzed in the greatest of detail would fail to deliver a

complete picture of who we are. If you wish to know me, I can explain at length but will fall

short and seem to contradict myself at every turn. Call me human. I know who I am, even if I

cannot articulate this knowledge or explain why I have come to be as I have. My fears,

motivations, and emotions are outrageously simple and inexplicably complex all at the same

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time. I am outgoing by some standards and to some people, but my shyness is a constant

presence. I am open to a point but when I feel as though someone is too close, I seize up.

My yells are often whispers and my soft-spoken words are often shouts. My emotions

often go unnoticed although my feelings run deep. My joy in living is the cornerstone of my

actions and my love of this world impacts all my decisions. I may struggle from time-to-time, but

I rejoice in my struggle. I have had a tendency to push people away when they get too close,

perhaps because I fear being rejected or misunderstood or, worst of all, understood. The truth is,

I feel limited and pinned down by the idea of someone else knowing the real me.

Yet, I also feel it is impossible to ever really know a person. We are far too complex to be

fully understood, perhaps most notably by ourselves, and there are moments in which nothing

and nobody seem to connect. At these times, this planet appears to be nothing more than seven

billion paths and people seem so distant that even the prospect of approaching remains elusive.

At times, I feel the need to scream because anything less would go unheard. Perhaps a shout

would awaken all those who walk alone.

We all have our own hurdles and walk our own paths of our own accord but, regardless

of whether we wish to travel our present path or change course, we need not walk alone. The

way to the self is not an independent, uninterrupted search or a lonely, barren route traversed on

one’s own. Without others, in fact, our very self is beaten and withered down until we have no

concept of what and who we once were. I am an individual because I live in the world.

I speak in generalities primarily because you do not know me. Beyond that, you should

realize my story is of no greater significance than yours. In fact, I am quite unremarkable in

every respect except for the fact of my present realization of my existence. Thirdly, every little

piece of my life shared is something I can no longer control and I, like many, have an innate

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distaste for being vulnerable. Lastly, I tell no personal story because, on some level, I wished to

die as a mystery, something to draw the attention of those who thought they knew me.

Otherwise, who would offer another glance?

We hate to admit how we fall short, often because it means admitting our shortcomings to

ourselves. Sometimes, only you can understand my confusion and confuse my understanding,

and only I can do the same for you, and this apparent dependence is terrifying. So we

continuously and unhesitatingly build walls. It’s as though we were created with a world to share

within our very hearts and minds only to stonewall it inside. I am convinced it’s not out of greed,

because I really do believe we want to share. It’s that we don’t know what to say. And when we

do, we often find ourselves too afraid of the reaction. And when we’re not, we struggle to accept

that being open strengthens us.

We’re social creatures so we chatter constantly, but what are we really saying? We’re

also spiritual creatures, independent of our belief in the laws governing our existence, so why

does our speech so often fail to display that? Why do innermost thoughts and beliefs so rarely

see the light of day? If we refuse to tell of them, even to those closest, are we deeming them not

important enough or too important? Here’s to our deepest musings, may they be passed along to

an open ear. And may we listen when another heart opens toward us.

*************************

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Unbeknownst to him, the breeze Patrick had felt at his back as he teetered on the cliff’s

edge had picked up soon after he left, carrying the bottle farther from the shore. The bottle was

thrashed by the current and nearly cracked by the strength of the waves, but his message had

stayed intact, despite its separation from its author. As Patrick wrote pensively in his notebook

and struggled to choose his course, the words he’d penned weeks prior now arrived at their

undetermined destination.

*************************

Lamira had crossed into a new world when she was just a little girl. Without a single

contact, any knowledge of the language, or any money to their name, there had been multiple

times in which her family had been on the brink of being forced to return. And, somehow, they’d

manage to evade detection, eking out an existence picking crops on corporate farms. Within a

year, Lamira’s family had an address, a name, and an income, albeit meager. This was not to say

they had become invincible, for a simple phone call or run-in with an overly interested official

would’ve sent them home in a heartbeat.

And now, as Lamira walked the beach in search of the pieces for her next work of art,

quite literally searching for the next week’s meals, something caught her eye in the morning sun.

Thinking it to be a pearl, she quickened her pace only to be disappointed to find a green bottle

partially submerged in the sand. Intrigue quickly rose to replace this disappointment as she lifted

the bottle to discover a tightly bound scroll inside. Her mind exploding with questions, she

placed the bottle into her hand-sewn bag and continued seeking out shells for her next project.

It wasn’t until around five hours later that Lamira returned to her apartment with a full

bag. But in unpacking her bag, she forgot the success in terms of finding inspiration for her next

work; her only thought was on the bottle. The idea of bottling a message seemed an act of such

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profound loneliness that part of her had been distracted since finding it. Having finally received

citizenship the previous year after nearly three decades of avoiding any sort of run-in with law

enforcement, she knew—probably better than most—what it felt like to not belong. She also

knew the difference that a stranger deciding you belong could make, but that’s another story.

Now at home in her one-bedroom apartment adorned with various pieces of past artwork,

Lamira found a corkscrew and twisted the top off. She carefully poured the message into her

open palm as she sat at the counter. Forgetting the shells in the bag at her feet, she unrolled three

pieces of lined paper, smoothed them over with her weather-beaten hands, and started reading.

To the one who finds this,


We don’t know each other and, by the time you’re reading this, we never will. My name’s
Patrick Ellison and I’m 19 years old, at least I was when writing these words. By now, they’ve
probably already had my funeral. Most likely on sacred ground, because they think that’ll please
some greater power.
Not too long ago, that was me always trying to give my earthly happiness away—always
trying to live up to a mysterious being’s expectations. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I
realized I wasn’t simply living out the Universe’s will; I was living out a predestined existence. I
couldn’t tell anyone because they wouldn’t get it. But I can’t blame them: they’re bound to their
beliefs in the same way I am to mine.
I’m writing to you to explain why I jumped off the cliff a few blocks from my home. I’m
writing to you, because I needed to tell someone—anyone—my story, not because it’s so
extraordinary but just to remind you of my existence if it was ever really mine. I can no longer
claim my future and, worse still, I feel no responsibility for my past. I am a meager domino in an
ultimate design, and I can’t go on like that.
I don’t expect or desire you to meet the same conclusion; all I want is for you to hear my
perspective. I want you—somebody at least—to know who I am, and the only way I can do that is
to tell the thought that led me to the cliff. I’ve heard about and felt the comfort of knowing
everything is provided for me. Strangely enough, the thought that made me realize just how
predestined my path really is occurred to me while in deep reflection, appreciating the
mysterious nature of origins. It hit me while out for a jog one day, contemplating my upcoming
path.
If the future is our own, we must be free to choose our course. If this is true, then
whatever rules this Universe cannot also rule the future. If unable or unwilling to know what’s to
come, this force would cease to be all-powerful or all-knowing. In this way, it would really cease
to be Almighty, or anything worthy of such a title. But I cannot believe that.
I can’t pretend that I am not part of this world for I have become fully immersed in it, but
I have been given the freedom to realize the truth. I was made to know what’s out there, and I

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have accepted that; I cannot shirk my fate. My life is like the light of a candle, and I remain
unaware of what lies beyond. I have been given the freedom to see this truth, that the path I have
walked was known for eternity. The darkness looms, and yet I enter willingly with grace, for I
must leave this world behind if I am to meet my maker.
I know whatever brought me here is at this cliff, watching over me. I am afraid and I’m
heartbroken to leave my family behind, but my destiny has been decided and I can’t carry on
with what I know to be a meaningless existence. But with my trust in what’s true, I am released
from the chains that have bound me for so long. Something has loved me enough to entrust me
with knowing the insignificance of the world.
I know now that I am but a drop in the ocean, a silent musing of a restless mind, a single
being of all in existence. But with that knowledge comes the chance to be free. I needed to jump
from this cliff and give up my life to find my life beyond. To walk with greater forces, no longer
for them, I must leave this world behind.
All I ask is that you deliver this message to my parents. I know that they will receive only
what they are meant to receive, but I must leave it in others’ hands. It is with this same faith that
I step from this rock, hoping against everything that a hand is there to catch me.
Yours in faith,
Patrick Ellison

A droplet slipped down Lamira’s cheek and hesitated at the crease of her lips before

falling forcefully on the page below. For an artist so deeply in touch with her emotions, she

didn’t cry easily. And yet, her only movement as she scanned these words was the gentle turn of

one page to the next. She had given up on these beliefs long ago and this letter gave her a

profound sorrow that another’s beliefs had led to such despair, but there was also a strange

sensation of connection with this boy.

In a lot of ways, Lamira was just as lost as he seemed. She had close friends but no

family to speak of. A missed rent or parking violation would no longer land her on the next bus

of deportees, but she was still controlled by others’ desires and her own fear. She often painted

sacred scenes, because that’s what sold. She often went to service, because that’s what the family

she nannied for did. After four years working for them, she still felt the need to pretend her

devotion to their same maker was at the center of her life, even if that actual idea didn’t seem to

carry any weight in the way they treated each other.

19
Every day was one lie stacked on another. She went to great lengths to avoid standing out

but Lamira always felt at odds with those around her. Maybe that’s why she found herself

pulling a pen and sheet of paper from a nearby drawer. Maybe that’s why it was no surprise that

she was now scrawling ‘To the Ellisons’ on the first line. Lamira knew she was no mentor or

‘moral pillar,’ as the speaker had explained during last week’s sermon, but she felt somehow

indebted to Patrick. If you couldn’t rely on the one who discovered your last words to deliver

your message, who could you rely on?

Besides, his parents deserved to know the truth. With that, Lamira began a letter of her

own. She didn’t really know how to begin, so she attempted to remain objective, just reporting

what happened. She took on a tone strikingly similar to his: stoic, somber, unaffected. This

didn’t last long as she realized how personally invested in the situation she truly was, and Lamira

soon found herself just writing what she felt.

She laid pen to paper and words started to flow. At various times, ideas were flowing

more quickly than the speed at which she could record them. After a while, she lifted her pen and

stared at the open page. Lamira found herself rubbing her face and breathing deeply as she

contemplated her next words. Lamira wiped her eyes again and thought about what she needed to

say. She knew almost nothing about this kid but she felt closer to him than people she saw every

day. Maybe it was because she knew he was gone forever—because he would never have the

chance to really hear what she wrote—that her words seemed to take on greater significance.

Stark, intimate truths seem most acceptable at the end, when they will not change anything.

Lamira would never admit it, but it was probably because she could and would remain

unattached that her feeling of attachment was so strong. And yet, a few honest words at the right

time can have the most monumental of impacts.

20
By this time, tears were streaming down her face. She looked down at the note she

clutched in her hand then up at the clock. Nearly an hour had passed since she’d sat down.

Sometimes, she didn’t understand herself. Whether out of simple mistrust or shame, Lamira told

very little about herself to even the people who knew her best. Three years prior, her world had

been shaken in a single instant but her closest friends knew nothing of it. In spite of that, perhaps

because of it, here she was pouring out her soul to a kid who’d never read it.

As she pushed the letter aside and began to empty the contents of her beach bag on the

counter, she wondered to herself: would she have even considered writing had Patrick said he

was merely thinking of suicide? She shuddered as familiar memories of a voice in her ear and

hand at her waste overtook her. She shook away these thoughts but still felt their effects. Who

was she kidding when she tried to pretend she closed herself off from others solely because of

what had happened to her? In a way, the trauma had awakened her. Lamira had told herself in the

weeks after that night that she was stronger than to break down. She’d felt lucky to not have to

justify the horrors of that experience with the “plan” of a benevolent provider.

Knowing that any prayer or shout to the beyond would be met with silence, Lamira told

herself there was no substitute for human contact. She vowed that she would be living proof

there were connections far more powerful than any that could be forced on the body. But after

three years, she found herself entrusting her most vulnerable self only to someone who could no

longer hurt her. Only to someone who had already done what many would see as the greatest

possible harm to himself.

She let her mind wander as she gathered the necessary items and set to work with her bag

of shells. There were no phone calls, knocks at the door, or interruptions of any kind. As she

worked, the letter lay beside her, at once ignored and weighing heavily on her mind. And that’s

21
where it remained for the next four days, as if she was scared of what might come of it, despite

knowing the recipient to be dead.

Whenever she saw the note or caught herself thinking of it, Lamira convinced herself she

would find time for it later and rushed off to paint or see a friend. Besides, wasn’t it better to

leave Patrick’s parents in peace for a while? As someone with her own brushes with tragedy, she

knew it wasn’t. These thoughts still occupied her mind several days later as she sat on the

boardwalk selling some of her art. Or attempting to anyway. People just didn’t have the money

for artwork lately and she couldn’t really blame them but, at this rate, she would be living

without electricity and on a diet of cheese-stuffed tortillas for weeks. As Lamira packed her

things and took to the sidewalk beneath a row of buildings that blocked out all traces of the sun,

she resolved to send the letter.

She was struggling to wheel her art case over a curb when a man emerged from the

shadows. She inhaled sharply and stepped back from the unexpected visitor. He smiled politely.

“Sorry to intrude, just trying to lend a hand,” he managed as he shied away from her and

her bag. “Everyone could use a bit of support now and again.”

Lamira looked at him suspiciously, as if analyzing whether his circumstances

panhandling warranted her aid. In a matter of split seconds, she took in his soot-covered clothes,

grizzled face, and expectant expression before shooting back, “Look, I’m in a hurry and I don’t

have much.”

She hadn’t meant to say it so rudely, but it was true. What made him think his situation

was direr than hers? Everyone was going through hard times, and she wasn’t feeling very

generous after another day without a single sale. As she went to turn back on her way, he

shrugged and waved a hand as though absolving her.

22
“Save your coins; I want change.”

Lamira had heard that phrase once or twice before but something about the way this man

said it—as if she didn’t understand—made her stop.

“What do you mean?” she said before she could stop herself to the already-turned back of

the man.

He twisted halfway around with eyebrows raised, clearly pondering whether she was

capable of hearing what he had to say. Letting out a forced sigh, he took a step toward her. She

caught herself instinctively stepping back.

“I don’t pretend to know your story when you walk by. People are always assuming they

know mine, dismissing me as another drunk bum. Maybe I never knew my father. Maybe I’m a

high school dropout. Maybe I just don’t ascribe to the rules of society. I could be a criminal, drug

addict, world-class sprinter, or former stockbroker, but it doesn’t matter because, in your eyes

and the eyes of most people I see scan me head-to-toe and walk on, I somehow deserve to be

here.”

He said it all with such passion there was no doubt in Lamira’s mind that it was genuine

but it flowed as though it had been building for years. The man looked at her with narrowed

eyes, hands on hips.

“If you’d excuse me,” he continued, “I’ve got other things to attend to. Sorry I bothered

you.”

The man’s gaze fell away, freeing Lamira to go back on her way. He again began

searching out cans to add to the steadily growing bag at his feet. Another commissioned garbage

man working on behalf of a thankless city. Lamira bit her lip.

“Wait!” she said, shaking her head as she reached down to unsnap her bag. She took a

23
last look at her relatively small, but elegant canvas painting of an hourglass. Lamira had drawn it

filled with water instead of sand, the significance of which she had a tough time putting into

words. The piece had taken her just a few hours and she’d had a hard time understanding why

she had chosen to draw it, but she found the deep blues and purples encompassed by the fading

yellow border calming. The central feature of the picture, actually a later addition, was a single

droplet fighting gravity and warping the otherwise peaceful body of water at the base of the

hourglass. For whatever reason she’d chosen to bring forth such an idea from her imagination,

the figure somehow gave her a sense of purpose that went unparalleled in her daily activities.

“I’ve been trying to sell this painting for weeks,” she explained. “It should be worth at

least fifty dollars and, well, maybe you’ll have better luck.”

She managed a half-smile as she held the painting out and saw the man’s eye widen as he

took in the contradictory scene.

“I don’t know what to say,” the man began. “All I know is I can’t sell this.”

Lamira’s contrived facial expression suddenly fell: Did this man not understand?

“Sir, please, think of the meals it will provide. You have to—.”

She began to say more, but her words were waved off when the man raised his hands.

“I’m leaving here as soon as I can get enough cans together. I don’t know how long I’ll

be gone, but—,” he paused, biting his lip and looking from her to the painting, “—I need

something like this.”

“But, where are you going?” Lamira demanded. Her tone didn’t cause him to waver.

“The place people go when the world seems to force you into a corner. I don’t know how

far it is or if I can even get there, but I’m finding out what’s at the mountain peak,” he said with a

nod, as if accepting what he was saying once more.

24
Lamira knew vaguely what he was talking about. The peak existed as mere legend for

some, a nice idea to take the hard edges off everyday life. To others, it was the ultimate

destination, one place amidst the doldrums of civilization still capable of provoking one’s sense

of wonder. People throughout Lamira’s life had left for the mountaintop, some of whom had

returned and some of whom had seemed to lose themselves along the way. Or find themselves,

depending upon the perspective. Their draw was always to climb—to leave the chaos of the city

and lose themselves in the mist-shrouded peak. The desire was a common one, borne of the

pressing need to escape one’s own mortality. In fact, the urge to scale the peak existed since the

mountain and humankind had first come in contact, perhaps even before.

There had been many occasions when Lamira herself had felt drawn to such a journey.

Truth be told, it had always been more of her preoccupation with monetary and social concerns

than a lack of fascination that had kept her from attempting such a trip. She knew that such a trek

would render financial security or social attachment useless, but she’d always weighed these

more heavily than her desires allowed her to admit. Of course, most fell short of actually taking

up the journey. Of those she knew to have returned, a select few seemed to have gained a better

appreciation of life but most were remarkably unchanged. And maybe it was the heat of the day

or the desperation of the time or the letter waiting to be sent to the home of someone long since

gone, but it was in this moment an idea began to materialize in Lamira’s head.

“You’re going on your own?” she asked.

“Well, yeah, got no one to go with,” the man muttered. “I think I’ll be able to go in the

next few days, once I get the money together,” he said with a soft rattle of his bag of cans.

For the second time in their brief talk, Lamira was surprised by her response.

“Are you hungry?”

25
The man stopped collecting cans and Lamira watched as a broad grin broke across his

face.

“I could eat,” he said with a sidelong glance.

“Well, if you’d like, I know a place,” Lamira added, returning a smile.

The man tied the end of the bag he was holding and extended a hand to carry Lamira’s

bag as well. It was then that he saw the split second’s hesitation flash across her face. He nodded

and flashed his open palm in a reassuring gesture.

“Ma’am, it’s okay. You can trust me.”

And, something in the straining of his face or the honesty of his reaction made her

believe him. She handed him the bag and turned back the same way she’d come. For a few

blocks, they walked in silence. Both had plenty of questions, none of which lent themselves to

the small talk mandated by first impressions.

“It’s just up here,” Lamira said as they turned left and continued toward the beachfront.

They reached the street vendor and Lamira began digging in the pocket of her sweater for

what few bucks she had. Before she could find them, she heard the jingle of coins and raised her

head to see the man laying out dozens of coins on the countertop.

“It’s the least I can do,” he said with a timid look.

She started to cut in, but then nodded and stopped her search. She really didn’t have

enough money to her name to turn down the gesture. They got their hotdogs, his with everything

and hers with ketchup and mustard, and took a seat on a nearby bench overlooking the beach.

“Thanks,” she muttered.

“Well, like I said, it’s the least I can do. Most people just pass me by. It’s like they think

they’d end up like me if they stopped,” he said with a humorless laugh.

26
“If you don’t mind, why are you here?” Lamira asked.

“What’s your name?” he responded as though he had failed to hear.

“Sorry,” she said quickly, “I realize that probably was out of place. My name’s Lamira.

What’s yours?”

“Mason,” he said, switching his hotdog to his left hand and extending his right. “It’s a

pleasure.”

She laughed and apologized again. Mason shook his head, dismissing her apology.

“It’s understandable. I’m where I am due to some choices I made in the past and some

circumstances I couldn’t control, despite my best efforts. Really, I bet, it’s a lot like your story,”

he said with a pensive look.

“I used to be in the army,” he said pulling up his sleeve to show a tattoo on his right arm.

“For a while, actually about seven years. I’d gone to college and agreed to serve four years after

graduation in exchange for waiving my tuition debt. Early into that term, I realized I’d made a

huge mistake. I thought I could get through my four years and go on to law school, but the army

was desperate for soldiers to maintain their wars abroad. I was told that law school would be

covered if I was to stay for another 18 months and I agreed.

“I just felt trapped, ya know?” Mason looked back to Lamira and she nodded.

“Like you’d be letting them down? But that’s not giving up; that’s strength being able to

stand your ground,” she said with a conviction that seemed foreign to her.

“I know, I know. My…my partner at the time, who I’d met on leave the year before, said

the same thing. He left me and I couldn’t blame him. A few months after going back across the

world to fight for a country I was losing loyalty toward—a country that detested our relationship

in the first place—I realized I’d left the only person who really cared about me. Sure, I was close

27
with those I’d fought with, but my heart wasn’t in the cause anymore. And when the 18 months

was almost up and I was preparing to go home and take the LSAT I’d spent every waking hour

studying for, my general came to me and said they couldn’t afford to lose me. They were—.”

“But you’d served out your time. You didn’t stay, did you?” Lamira cut in with a

sympathetic look.

“I wish I could say that,” Mason said looking to the ground. “I agreed to come back for

another 18-month stint as long as I could go home for leave. And that’s what I did. I took the test

and found out later that I’d done remarkably well. I got into a few good schools and I was ready

to go back to classes. The end of my time there couldn’t come soon enough and then I got word

that the army was mandating all 18-month stints be doubled given how thin soldiers had been

spread throughout the globe.”

Mason raised a hand to waive off the protests sure to emerge from Lamira’s mouth.

“I refused. I told them I’d already overstayed my contract. They said I was needed, that

there was no way I could go home at that time. They said it was impossible. And I accepted it,

because I didn’t feel in control of anything anymore. After five and a half years, peacekeeping

missions, suicide bombers, political agendas—they were all the same to me.

“I started having trouble sleeping, stopped feeling anything but shame when I picked up

my gun, started having visions of the child I’d beaten to the trigger when he’d raised his gun

against me as we entered a complex. I couldn’t do it anymore. I made it less than a year into the

term. My mind was going haywire and I had to get out. I knew my general understood when I

came to him, because I’d watched him purse his lips and turn away when I was lost in my own

head. And I’d done the same for him.

“I got sent home, and I tried to start at law school, but I couldn’t focus. Living on my

28
own, I started having hallucinations. A friend from one of my classes noticed the bags beneath

my eyes one day and asked if I was okay. ‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ I’d told him. But I wasn’t, and I

knew it. I’d been seeing a therapist and I felt better each time after going, but it was getting too

expensive. The army was refusing to pay for anything beyond my first year of law school, saying

that I hadn’t served out my term and I had nothing to go off if I was going to have a case.

Nothing had been written down about the agreement to pay for school, I was struggling through

my classes, I found myself barely managing rent each month, and therapy didn’t seem to help the

hallucinations. So, that’s it; I dropped out. I got kicked out of my place and haven’t found steady

work since.”

All this time, Lamira had been nearly silent as she watched his face rise and fall as he

relived the experience. She rubbed his arm and went to say something but paused when he

recoiled.

“I didn’t mean to do that. It’s just…I haven’t had anyone to talk to about this. Every time

I try, it feels like everything comes back to me. I’m trying to put things behind me, but the army

trains you to keep it together, to not show weakness. It’s a tough habit to break,” he said with a

diffident grin.

“I’m sorry about everything you’ve gone through,” Lamira started. “You’re right about

how you got to where you are. In a lot of ways, I feel trapped, too. I wonder a lot if I’d be

happier if I’d done something different along the way, but the worst part is that the answer’s

usually no.”

And suddenly, she was telling her own story. He cut in once in a while to ask a question

but mostly just let her speak, which is what she needed—what most anyone really needs. Soon

they were trading tales, laughing, forgetting the unusual nature of their meeting. They shared

29
things they’d each told few people: about origins and belief and disbelief. For hours, they sat and

spoke until, feeling the sun’s warmth being replaced by the cool night air, they decided to part.

They said their goodbyes and Mason agreed to come by her stand to see her off before leaving.

And that was almost the end of it. Except, walking away from each other at the corner on which

they’d met, Lamira turned.

“I don’t want to—I’m not sure that—Mason, what I’m trying to say is…do you want any

company for your trip?”

Mason blinked a few times as he raised his head and shifted his gaze from her to the

ground and back again. Lamira raised her eyebrows, waiting for an answer to the question for

which she had no explanation for asking. Mason seemed to weigh the prospect of traveling with

someone and settled on an answer only to change his mind.

“It’s a long way,” he said cautiously, before breaking into a grin as he continued, “I may

need some help with my bag.”

She smiled. They repeated their goodbyes, this time with the glance of friends whose

paths would cross again. That was the power of the mountain, whether it was out there or not, let

alone whether it offered what they hoped or not.

************************

30
I’d been gone for what could’ve been four months or a year, because after the first few

days, it didn’t matter. I’d hiked on my own and in the company of others finding their own

reason for following the impulse to climb. I’d eaten the fruit of trees, huddled against

companions, and slept beneath star-graced skies, never really ceasing to wonder where I was

going. Some days, I hiked till exhaustion set in and some days I hardly moved, but each day

brought me closer to the peak and further from where I’d come. I didn’t really know which was

more important.

I’d taken a bus far from home, realizing I had not needed to travel far to reach a place in

which nobody knew my name. Truthfully, I hadn’t been looking for “the mountain.” When I left,

I didn’t even know what it was. But as I worked in a field or traveled on foot, I heard more of

what had merely been a bedtime story when I was younger. And every detail transformed this

story, making it something not only plausible but likely. To me, it became a dream which had

been forgotten and each description made my ability to remember more urgent.

And as I grew closer, the stories became less speculative. I would ask about the mountain

and be given this look that I failed to register. More and more, there seemed a regretful

amusement that I wished to go, that I could not handle what would be said next. But something

more was always added, leading me further toward a goal I’d never known. I could not recount

how I’d gotten there, but I found myself many miles from the sight of the ocean I’d looked out

upon since birth. For the first time in months, my thoughts had returned to the bottle I’d

unleashed into those waiting waves. My mind became transfixed by the question of what it

meant for me to be alive, not simply to exist. I, as an individual, had ceased to be alive in my

parents’ minds. If nothing else, I was no longer who they’d thought I was. To whoever had come

across the bottle—if anyone—I was honest, but I was no longer living. We can never be both.

31
I was learning a great deal more about myself than I had ever thought there was to know.

This was an effect of giving up what I had “known” before, of realizing I had not known much of

anything. Just as my stomach began to rumble, I looked ahead to see I was on the outskirts of a

town. Wedged between the narrow dirt road on which I stood and a hill which seemed to mark

the end of the path, this town seemed as though it had been undisturbed for years. Normally, I

tried to survive on food I found—in store dumpsters, passing by fields—but I felt myself wishing

to spend some time here. I offered my work in return for food and was surprised to discover just

how much people wanted done. How could such a forlorn town need so much? What on Earth

were these people working for?

Soon, I found myself gaining their respect just as they had earned mine. Each time there

was mention of “the mountain”, I was met with a smile. Nothing more ever followed. After

nearly a week spent there, I told the old woman for whom I was then working that it was time I

left. Her initial look of concern quickly changed to a nod.

“Tomorrow,” she said. “Tonight, we make sure you’re ready.”

And then she was gone. It was mid-afternoon but I could tell from the urgency in her

voice and how swiftly her small frame made its way from the yard where we worked that

everyone would soon know. That night, there was a feast and a large fire. I was told when the

last embers were extinguished, I could leave. Until that time, I was to dance and be regaled with

stories of the people who lived there. Few as they were, there seemed to be a drive similar to

what I’d found elsewhere: to be remembered, to exist beyond one’s present circumstances.

Somehow, as we all fell asleep beneath the half-clouded sky, this desire was different

here. Receiving rations to last well into my journey and encouragement to carry me through

desperate moments, I was struck by the sincerity of these people. That was the difference: their

32
desire was not so much to escape the town but to accompany me. As the light of the last ember

grew faint and I trekked toward the hillside, as I had been told, I looked back once more to those

who remained outside. I bowed my head in gratitude and traveled on.

Every step beyond that hill led me deeper into the low-hanging cloud, as though I was

passing into something truly mystical. After all I had heard and pieced together of “the

mountain”, I could not resist walking onward. I had learned that once the possibility of reaching

higher ground found its way into one’s mind, the idea of never reaching it appeared

unforgiveable. For most that looked upon its face, the mountain’s call was humbling. The fact

that such a mighty force would acknowledge the mere presence of a being as small and helpless

as a human seemed to provide reason enough to leave the familiar behind.

Despite sometimes being no more than a whisper, the call can be deafening. Individuals

and entire neighborhoods could hear it and become bewitched by its gentle force. There seemed

no pattern to the mountain’s aura. The challenge and promise offered by that rock distracted the

one living in a fishbowl and the one living in a box. The mountain that pointed like an arrow to

the sun had united strangers and torn apart families in situations prior. It was a source of higher

purpose for some and inspired insignificance in others, in part because, when one’s awareness

expands, so too do that person’s darkest feelings of ambition and inadequacy. It is the presence

of the descending cloud signifying death that first stirs someone to look skyward. In this moment

of clarity, convoluted by the dust and sirens of everyday life, daring and obedient ones alike first

set their sights on rising above such clouds. That’s when they begin hearing the call of the

mountain.

As my steps began to take me higher into those clouds and I met others along the way, I

saw my thoughts grow larger than the trees which surrounded me. My feelings seemed to

33
physically affect me, sometimes driving me to stillness while other times forcing me to quicken

my stride. It is a sad fact that one comes to realize, but our feelings eventually overtake us. When

we ignore them, we are simply carving our own coffins. We spend all our days trying to blend in

and fail to see we’re merely digging our own grave. But I have come to realize a person cannot

deliver their own will or write their own epithet. Each is a link in the chain, unimportant without

and inseparable from the whole.

And yet, perhaps it is simply a part of the human condition that it is not enough to be part

of something; one must start something. One must lead something, finding significance distinct

from the group to which one belongs. It is for this reason that dependence on another being is

enough to make a person look for the nearest exit. This desire to be remembered, loved, even

honored is enough to make one set fire to their own home. To blow away with the wind, to get

lost in the mountain if only to leave a legacy behind.

From my experiences, I can say with certainty that many took up the trek to the

mountain’s peak in the belief that their sheer willingness to undertake such a journey would

make it worthwhile. Many died along the way, their only regret being no one was there to

witness that, though they fell short, they did so in the ascent to glory. They left having followed

the mountain’s call and instead found a scarcely audible, unrecognizable sound seeming to carry

them forward.

Why people left in the first place seemed irrelevant. Once you hear of a world where

every breathtaking moment will be relieved by the freshest air one’s lungs can tolerate, the gas

and smog of your own stings a little worse. They left for the same reason that a bird first learns

to fly: because they become aware such a possibility exists, because on some level they were

born with the belief that a better world exists. More to the point, they were born with the belief

34
they could reach it.

I found it made no difference whether one traveled individually or in groups; the journey

to the peak was inevitably made alone. It is perhaps the darkest but most human quality that it is

not enough to simply know of the better world. It is not enough to seek or even find it; each must

believe oneself to be the first or only one capable. And though I’d met others and could know

that thousands more had undertaken the ascent before, I had come to realize that even stepping

foot on this mountain was rare. Some people never felt the urge. Of those who did, most looked

for, and found, reasons not to climb.

Perhaps this is why every person who climbs has heard others’ incessant chatter and

wondered of the meaning. My own conversations on my journey, however, often belied this

yearning for higher words. Every person who climbs has felt the urge to lash out if only to break

from the monotony of the routine, yet my own calm demeanor in my climb often resisted this

ever-present urge. Every person who climbs has stared deep into the night sky in the hopes that

something—anything—is there capable of delivering them from the trivial existence that has

come to be expected, yet my own mind seldom reached into the unknown as I would lie alone.

Sooner or later, every person who climbs laments what a lonely thing it is to be human. I

know all these things because I still find myself bemoaning the steps I trudge up this

mountainside but would rather be here than where I was. I’ve gone through the highs and the

lows of life and the accompanying joys and sorrows. I’ve had everything and lost it all solely for

the sake that it didn’t make me happy. I left to find out what it took to be happy, and if happiness

was worth the burden. And I’m realizing I don’t know that state of being well enough to say, but

something resembling meager curiosity drives me further.

*************************

35
“Lamira! Psst, Lamira!”

Rolling over on her back, Lamira faintly saw Mason waving from high in a tree. She

found herself giggling like she hadn’t done in a long time. In the city, Lamira had felt small, a

gnawing feeling which seemed to grow with each day that passed. But out here? In the vastness

of nature she was part of something incredible. She was not stricken by mundane plans and the

false pretenses of appearance. There were harrowing moments in which she had to spend hours

scraping together a flame and others in which Mason fashioned a spear from stone and wood.

But though hunger pangs were felt, there was no desperation. Though powerful force was

needed, there was no violence in these acts.

These everyday challenges were not disruptions on life but life itself. The weight of the

days produced a strength that made Lamira feel something shimmering at the surface of her

being. It reminded her again and again how very alive she was in that moment. As she moved

hand and foot from branch to branch, she knew this where she wished to stay.

Mason’s every movement seemed to shake off the ashes of who he’d been forced to

become. The ascent gave him wings he thought had been clipped, allowed him to feel the hope

he’d nearly buried. In this trek—these wild, open spaces—he was free. What was more, he

wasn’t alone. Upon hearing Lamira’s struggles, he opened his own and they became something

tangible. As did his happiness. His silence had been self-preservation but the vulnerability

stemming from the act of sharing offered an incomparable power. He had come to see that the

search which had brought him here could not be made alone.

Lamira caught him while he waited and then continued up.

“Hey!” he called.

36
Mason glimpsed the smirk on her face and quickened his own pace. She only slowed

when there was nowhere else to climb, offering a hand to pull Mason through the final gap. They

sat on branches at the top and shared a laugh that echoed into the still-rising sun. After a few

minutes, Mason finally broke the silence.

“You know, I think this is the first time in years that I’ve enjoyed life,” he said with a

look of acceptance. “I’ve always had this thought in my head about getting somewhere, about

doing my job. It’s been there since as long as I can remember, like a teacher or boss or general

reminding me I need to do something. I’m always looking around wondering what I should be

doing and—this is the first time I don’t feel that way.”

Lamira listened intently, nodding more fully with each insight.

“I have this memory, really more of a feeling, from when I was little. Before my parents

and I came here, it was just a sense of peace. I can’t really explain, but I’ve tried so hard to get

that back from my art and I can’t. I’m always striving and it’s never for what I want,” she said

and paused. “I feel like I’m always just serving someone else’s needs,” she finished.

“Like you’re picking up people’s trash or fighting their wars?” Mason said with a laugh.

“Yeah, I know a bit about that.”

“Exactly! It’s all so detached,” Lamira said. “We’re getting everything we need from

people we don’t know. Nobody ever gets thanked or missed.”

“Nobody even gets known,” Mason added ruefully.

“We just fill needs for each other,” she said with a pause before adding, “I think it leaves

us hollow.”

More thoughts were exchanged as they climbed down and divided up the food they’d

found the day before. This is how conversations went between them. Details didn’t dominate, but

37
the talks were intimate. They shared occasional stories but mostly general senses of things. The

two had come to find that a lot of the feelings that always weighed them down weren’t actually

so unique. And many of the thoughts that always evaded clarity could now be articulated.

Despite their past lives, Lamira and Mason were coming to realize their motivations for

coming here were not so different. Even with everyone they met, they found a strand of

similarity. There was a shared sense of clutching at thin air in the search for the right words. The

people who came to this mountain had an inkling of understanding that all they expressed in

everyday life fell short of what they felt. Lamira felt it when she painted, her hand flickering

across blank spaces as though trying to gather stars in close proximity. In an early conversation

with Mason, she’d lamented the absurdity of bringing such untamable, untouchable entities into

the same realm. He’d answered simply, Why should knowing you can’t succeed stop you from

trying? and these words had stayed with her.

*************************

I woke up in a panic. Rain gushed down between tree branches and still I didn’t move.

After months of traveling, I felt unshakably alone. There was no distraction possible, no way to

delude myself that I was merely being lured by what might be ahead; I was being pushed by

what laid behind me. In my life, there was no trauma or rough patch. What had made my life

difficult was that there was nothing remarkable about it. I had everything and so knew the value

of nothing. What had brought me here was a baffling desire to struggle for something.

I’ve felt my throat strain in search of the right words, felt my body tense in hope of the

right movements. I can’t possibly explain the source of these sensations, but I have felt this

crushing weight bring me to the brink of breaking down. My life is one moment after another of

falling still as I vainly attempt to express how I feel. But I have not allowed myself the luxury of

38
tears, because I realize my life is almost entirely what I make it. Perhaps because I have so

much—because I’ve been given every possible advantage—I have internalized that I have

nothing to cry about. My own struggles have come to seem petty in the knowledge that the

arbitrary identities awarded me at birth have allowed me to navigate the world with relative ease.

I’ve had it reinforced again and again that focusing on my trivial issues is simply being

ungrateful. Instead, I’ve attempted to be happiness unbound. I told myself I would show a

brighter side of the world, reminding everyone that life is happy. I thought I could, at least for a

moment, allow people to feel free or forget the oppressions and traumas that often held them

back. I saw the world through rose-tinted lenses and strongly desired for others to see it that way,

too.

I never felt I’d earned the right to cry. I came here, because it was too difficult to bear.

Yet, even alone in the forest, I tightened my lips and shook away the tears that had begun to well

in my eyes. I was relieved to feel a sudden rush of hunger, something to bring my mind back to

the hike. Back to where I was going, away from where I’d been.

In what had probably only been several minutes since I’d first awoken, the rain had

become sparse and the sun’s beams shone through the tree branches. The lighter side of the

raindrops glistened and I felt myself regaining the sense of purpose that I’d been following for

months. I pulled berries from a nearby bush and mixed them with the last of the rice I’d made

two nights before. With that, my rations from the tiny village I loved were gone. From here on, it

would be entirely up to me, and the thought made me feel still more isolated.

In the days prior, I had noticed a curious phenomenon: the longer I climbed, the shorter

my conversations became. It was as though little needed to be said in my interactions. In reality,

it grew from a personal desire to reflect rather than speak, to explore rather than share. I was so

39
close to my goal; there was just too much on my own mind to begin trying to understand another.

Still, I longed for someone to talk to.

*************************

All it took was a faint rustle and the rabbit was gone. Mason emerged from the bush,

spear in hand. He’d moved purposefully, in the vague hope his prey would seek safety. He

wondered what gave him the right to kill. The need to survive prompted a war of will. In many

ways, Mason felt less hungry, more secure in the next meal, here than in the city. Since as long

as he could remember, he’d lived on the fringes. Oddly, he had never grown to resent the society

that produced these conditions so much as himself. When everyone around was eating to

contentment, he’d come to see his inability to satisfy hunger as his own failure. It was only out

here that he realized growing up on the outside, constantly looking to join those stable souls who

belonged, had made him strong.

Long ago, Mason had mistaken his lot in life with his value in life. In truth, this is why

he’d never stolen. Despite seeing others revel in excess and despite nights spent with such a

gnawing hunger that sleep never came, he could never bring himself to take what wasn’t his. In

conversation with Lamira, he’d stumbled upon a critical truth: those who stole either felt the

world was designed precisely for their benefit or for their demise. He’d come to the conclusion

that he had done something to deserve his fate; he’d also have to show he deserved a better one.

Watching that rabbit scurry free, he was glad he never stole. But, for once, that didn’t

justify his lot. The detachment Lamira had spoken of was present at every level in his previous

life. He’d just been too involved with trying to earn his way forward to realize others had not

earned theirs. But it wasn’t those individuals who’d stolen his jobs or money or meals; it was the

system that had put them in a better place to have them.

40
Out here, the detachment of the system didn’t exist. Despite his rumbling stomach,

resources here were not as scarce. And when he or Lamira caught food or made a fire, it was

because they’d worked for it. In the skyscrapers Mason had once looked upon with envy, what

people earned was largely based on what others had given to them. He’d always recognized the

society he inherited had made it almost impossible for him to succeed. For the first time, it

became clear to him what was missing in that world—what was desperately missed—was the

chance to know the power in one’s own hands.

*************************

“Hi,” I called ahead hopefully.

After walking all morning, I’d seen someone on the trail ahead as I rounded a bend. But

my excitement went unnoticed; the person didn’t turn.

“Hello!” I cried with more force.

Still nothing.

I surprised myself, deciding to try once more and run up. I tried to make plenty of noise

to avoid scaring whoever was ahead, but the person was unfazed. When I emerged alongside her,

surprise washed across her face. She pointed to her ears and it became clear why she had ignored

my calling. She was much older, probably more than 60 with a friendly smile, but still I caught

myself cringing slightly at the sight of burns across the left side of her face. She nodded

enthusiastically when I made a looping motion in the air. I pulled out my notebook and scrawled,

Hi, I’m Patrick! She took the pen from me and wrote Casey. And then a familiar question to

which an adequate response would’ve required the rest of the notebook. How’s the hike?

Better now, I said after a pause. I’m sorry about my first impression. I can’t explain how

badly I needed to see someone else out here.

41
She just nodded and placed a hand on my shoulder. A simple gesture, but it meant the

world to me in that moment. She pointed to the way ahead with a questioning look and I returned

a smile. It was bound to find its way back to me, but I felt my loneliness temporarily lifting. It

was a peculiar sense, but I had so often stood among those I knew so much about and felt

nothing but a surge of numbness. Here I was walking alongside someone who’d merely shared a

name, and yet I felt we’d shared the core of our beings.

*************************

“Did you hear that?” Lamira said, halting mid-step. They knew themselves to be getting

closer to the peak, but their conversation had not turned that way. Instead, they found themselves

giving more and more attention to their immediate surroundings.

“Hear what?” Mason responded blankly.

“It sounded like…” Lamira didn’t bother to complete the thought, squeezing between two

trees and ambling down an embankment to her left. Mason grinned and shook his head before

following after. A clearing came into view as they wound their way from the path and it wasn’t

long till Lamira had her palm flat toward Mason and her other hand pointing to a hawk circling

swiftly atop the trees. There was something reassuring about its presence, something that made

them think they were where they needed to be, something that made Lamira take Mason’s hand.

Mason looked from Lamira’s face to the bird overhead and uttered that elusive phrase we

all long to say—the same we all wish would be said in our presence: “There’s nowhere else I’d

rather be.” Content to feel the warmth in each others’ hands, comfortable where they were, even

if—especially if—it would not last forever; this was the most ultimate of joys. They had a

suspicion that their time was coming to an end, but this only heightened the intensity of their

feeling.

42
“Let’s follow it,” Lamira said after several minutes. Without breaking hands, they strayed

further from their path. They didn’t say it, but they’d come to recognize the peak was no longer

their goal. Perhaps it had never been.

*************************

With Casey, I broke from the wave of short conversations to which I’d grown

accustomed. Outside the occasional writing to clarify an idea, our communication was entirely

gestures, facial expressions, and body language. Still, our friendship grew quickly. Something in

Casey’s face as I related myself to her put me instantly at ease. The apparent limitation in speech

opened me to perceive parts of human expression I’d seldom taken the time to notice. I caught

glimpses of the feelings lost in everyday conversation. Eye contact conveyed messages, gestures

expressed essences of who we were. I felt as though I could not hide, but there was no reason to;

I trusted her.

My initial wondering about how she’d gotten the burns and lost her hearing faded, and I

never found out. I realized just because the marks of another’s past are more readily visible than

my own does not give me more right to discuss them. Besides that, I learned far more about her

than what was seemingly revealed at first glance. I was learning the difference between relating

and understanding, between feeling and knowing. Too often, we put words on people and

experiences to claim an understanding, instead of using those words to grow in compassion.

She brought my mind whirring back to the times in my life I’d felt weakest: placing the

letter in the bottle, hitting the wrong note in a piano recital, giving up the lunch my father had

just made me to the family gardener. But my feeling had changed. What had then always been

felt as weakness was now an incredible strength—a comfort with vulnerability. Whether it

stemmed from our meeting or my collapse before we met, Casey had begun sharing stories of her

43
own. Between her tale of hitchhiking home after being robbed and feelings of incompleteness

after her daughter fell victim to cancer, she offered encouragement through the kind words of

friends throughout her life. And each story lifted me a little higher, providing me the freedom to

be open myself.

*************************

Mason caught himself smiling as he took a moment to reflect. Why law school? They’d

stopped for a mid-morning snack and were preparing to move on when the question came.

“My mom always said I liked to argue too much for my own good,” he said, “so it

probably made sense to a lot of people. Really, it’s simple: I saw someone do it. My Pop got sick

when I was starting high school, and we were scraping together just enough to make our

mortgage. I watched our neighborhood changing, saw new folks coming with nice cars, couples

moving into homes that had been for families of seven or eight. They complained and things

happened. They paid more and expected to be treated like it. Our bank started looking for

reasons to get us out, so somebody else could take our place. The lawn looked unkempt. Our

payment was late. Market prices required we refinance.”

Mason’s gaze was far away and his face pained as he relived the experience.

“After a while, just when Pop was finally getting better, an eviction letter showed up in

our mailbox. We talked to some of our old neighbors and realized we weren’t alone. A woman

who lived in the house across from ours happened to be a lawyer and said not to give up hope.

Just having someone say that convinced me to get a job to help out. It took nearly a year, but we

finally won our case against the bank and kept our home. Thanks to her. I decided that day I’d be

a lawyer.”

Mason found Lamira’s eyes again and he bit his lip.

44
“There haven’t been many moments in my life where a stranger showed me I was worth

their time. When we first met, I was sure you were going to walk away. But when you

didn’t…something in the picture you gave me really hit home. I felt like I was worth your time.”

“That’s why you didn’t want to sell it?” Lamira said.

“Yeah, it was everything I could do to keep from hugging you,” Mason responded with a

laugh. It wasn’t long until he was serious again. “Your art made me feel a sense of hope. Up until

then, my plan to come here was desperation. Your picture was a reminder that just because I’m

living in this world—even though I’m in the hourglass—doesn’t mean I have to follow the same

path. It made me trust the feeling that first drew me to the idea of the mountain. I never asked,

what made you paint it?”

Lamira had talked to a dozen people about the painting while trying to sell it and each

had said something different about the way it made them feel. The best she could do to explain

her motivation was telling the circumstances surrounding it.

“It started out simple. Things seemed to be falling into place and the hourglass seemed

like the best way to capture that serene feeling of letting life flow.”

Lamira found herself closing her eyes, drifting back to when she added the last feature.

“A few days after I’d finished, I went to worship with the family whose kids I watched. I

got this feeling that I was following, walking a line that had been painted for me. I was doing

things to please everyone else and ignoring what I wanted.

“The water fighting gravity made me feel strong, like I could do that,” she said as she

reopened her eyes. “Without the addition, I knew the painting would’ve sold that same week, but

it was a small way I could step off the line. And that was worth it to me, even if it didn’t sell.”

“And you gave it to me.”

45
“I guess I realized what it could mean to you. I still never dreamed that you would keep

it,” Lamira said with a smirk.

*************************

Casey nudged me gently one morning. I’d walked with her for several days, and she had

done this every morning. I rubbed my eyes and started to stretch before I spotted the hesitation

on her face. That was when I knew it was all about to come crashing down. Please, don’t, I said

aloud. She understood and handed me the notebook, with lines explaining that she’d decided to

turn back. Casey said she’d come far enough and told me she wouldn’t forget me. She added

briefly that she had not come such a long way in order to find out about herself. She traveled

always with the intention of returning, stepping away from her element in order to realize the

thickness of her roots.

It made sense. Still, I felt my breath being dragged from my lungs and could barely

manage to respond. Casey, I can’t do this alone, I wrote. I thought of everything to make her

stay, but it wasn’t long before I fell silent. She simply brought an open hand from her chest to

mine.

The whole exchange had taken just a few minutes. I watched as Casey went back the way

we’d come, rounded the corner, and then was out of sight. I found my footing beneath me and

thought of chasing after her. I instead found myself turning away, trudging forward up the

mountain.

*************************

They hadn’t walked far from where they’d stopped to eat when a gap appeared suddenly

between the trees. Lamira and Mason found themselves standing on a rocky edge, gazing out

across a stream which shimmered with the heat of the afternoon.

46
“After you,” Lamira said with a sweeping gesture to the narrow ledge leading down to

the water. Mason smiled and tipped his imaginary cap as he let the path carry him lower into the

canyon. They were nearly halfway down when they saw a figure coming toward them. Lamira

tensed, her mouth parted slightly. She wanted to let out a scream but nothing came, just a

memory that held her rooted in place. With Mason stopped a step ahead, this struggle was wholly

invisible but every step the man took toward them made it worse. He approached them desperate,

pleading, rambling, explaining. To Lamira, all of this blurred; this man was too familiar, too

similar to another who had once blocked her way. He made a comment about the water

swallowing him up and gestured toward the boat which waited nearby. Finally, he fell silent and

looked at both of us.

“I’m sorry. This probably isn’t making sense,” he said, laughing at himself. “Will you sit

with me?”

The wild look had left his eyes as he met their gaze again. The strain which had been

building in Lamira’s chest eased as Mason looked back at her and they exchanged a nod. The

man offered them each a fish along with some berries, both of which they refused politely. The

man introduced himself as Dean and led them to the water’s edge. He sat with his toes in the

stream and motioned for them to do the same. For the next several minutes, social niceties

punctured silences. Lamira let her attention drift from the water at her feet to a nearby row boat

to the opposite bank where a dense fog just beyond the trees provoked her sense of wonder.

“You’ve never been across?” she said, interrupting Dean’s analysis of the fish that swam

in the stream. Somehow, she knew the answer, but she discerned there was more to the story. As

he looked down with a smirk, she knew she was right.

47
“Well, not for lack of trying,” he said cryptically. They waited. He looked across to the

fog that had caught Lamira’s eye, then back to each of them.

“What if something happened that didn’t make sense, something that made you

question…things?” They both leaned forward as if in acceptance of the idea, as if his next words

had the capacity to eliminate the barrier between them. Dean’s fingers tapped the surface of the

water, weighing whether they were ready to hear his words.

Clenching his fist as if to grasp the water that ran through it, he continued. He started

slowly, telling of how his father put an all-consuming fear in him with the sound of his voice.

Dean showed burns on his leg, where his father had extinguished cigarettes when his yelling

wasn’t enough. He shook his head, saying it was only a fraction as bad as the way his mom was

treated. Before long, he was telling of starting fights and dropping out of high school. He turned

to drugs and placed bets on everything he could to get out of that world. When the bets didn’t

win, alcohol quickly became his crutch. When he finally told of having a child and trying to get

sober, tears were streaming down his face. But he’d accumulated too much debt and he watched

as his little girl’s mother won a custody battle and took her away.

Dean slapped the water.

“It was all too much. I want to do right by my girl, but I was becoming my father. That’s

why I came here,” he said insistently. “But I haven’t changed; there was another guy here before

me and I tried to go across instead. My daughter deserves—.”

“What do you mean by ‘go instead’?” Mason interjected.

There was a change in Dean’s eyes. He swallowed hard and glanced to every corner of

the canyon, as though afraid someone would hear. He leaned in.

48
“There’s something unusual about this place,” he said and then hesitated. “I don’t deserve

it. Nevermind. Look, you need to go. Just leave me here.”

The wild look had returned to his eyes as he rose to his feet. Lamira and Mason

exchanged a confused expression. Dean was now frantic, waving for them to leave.

“No, tell us what’s different here.” Lamira’s firmness surprised even herself.

Dean stopped and sputtered over his words.

“Y-you don’t understand. It’s not…fair for me to say.”

“Let us decide,” Lamira said decisively.

He took a deep breath and let it go. And then he talked of the man who was there when

he’d arrived. Dean talked of the feeling he’d gotten upon first looking across the water, that there

was something incredible in that fog.

“He explained it all to me. It was so simple. I think that’s what made it hard to believe.

You could never take yourself across. The only way was to take someone else and then return.

He told me the only way was to put someone else first. Then you had to rely on someone to

come after.”

That was it. There was no extended explanation, just a few words. Lamira was skeptical

but a glimpse toward Mason showed he was hanging on every word. She wanted to believe it,

but she’d had dreams dashed by crossing borders before. Maybe it was better to leave the hope of

something better untouched. Maybe what we reach for is always tarnished when grasped,

Lamira thought. Still, she felt called into the mist. Her attention turned back to Dean’s words.

“I wanted to help him. We got in the boat and began rowing across. I’d convinced myself

I believed his story, that you couldn’t take yourself, but something swept over me as we nearly

reached the other shore. It was like I was possessed. He stood to step onto land and, before I

49
knew what I was doing, I was pulling him back in. I tried to go instead. But I went to step on the

bank and it was no longer there.”

Dean was shaking his head, reliving the experience.

“Suddenly, I was struggling to keep my head above. I reached for the bank, but I just hit

water. It was like my hand passed straight through. The man helped pull me back in and I was in

tears as I apologized to him. He just hugged me. There’s no reason you should accept this. I still

can’t believe it, so I know you—.”

Mason held up his hand, in the calming way that Lamira had come to appreciate.

“I believe you,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I can’t stop myself. We’re all bound to

each other. To get across, we can’t bring the world—we can’t take even take ourselves. That just

seems…like the way it has to be.”

The three fell silent. Lamira closed her eyes. She searched for flaws, for reasons why this

wouldn’t be the way, but this was what she’d come to the mountain for. It really didn’t matter

what was beyond the trees. Mason was right. Despite never hearing of this stream or anything

Dean had just talked about, it just made sense. She couldn’t fight what she wanted to say any

longer.

“I believe you, too,” Lamira said in almost a whisper.

“But…you hardly know me.” Dean resisted. “I don’t deserve any—.”

“You deserve what you gave to someone else: a chance to go beyond where you’ve

been,” Mason cut in.

*************************

50
Patrick’s father gripped a stone taken from the cliff where his son had breathed his last. A

long time had passed since the panicked morning when Mrs. Ellison’s knock on his door was

met with silence. Just when the permanence of his absence seemed to be setting in, the Ellisons

had received mail from a stranger named Lamira. Enclosed they found a letter from both Lamira

and Patrick. They searched for a return address to no avail and felt their meager hope of his

return finally extinguished. For the first time in their married life, Mr. and Mrs. Ellison cried

together.

Publicly, they’d maintained composure. The two had made statements and had a funeral

service with a closed casket, for friends and family. Even those closest saw only strength and

poise from the wealthy couple. But since that point, there’d been a gloom hanging over the

house, injecting every prayer with a level of defiance, every smile with a tinge of sorrow.

Mr. Ellison’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud ding. Mrs. Ellison put on oven mitts

and set the cake on a cooling rack. He watched her lip tremble before she crumpled to the floor.

Mr. Ellison rushed over and held her close, but he knew there was nothing he could do. He let his

tears join hers. As he looked to the ceiling, he felt his breath catch upon seeing steam billowing

from the cake. With a sigh, he buried his face in his wife’s shoulder.

It would have been Patrick’s 20th birthday.

*************************

51
Lamira sat down on the shore, watching as Mason rowed Dean across. She curled Dean’s

words tightly in her hand, pressing the edges of the page through the mouth of the bottle she’d

been carrying so long. Months ago, she’d copied of Patrick’s letter and her own. Just before she

and Mason left the city, she’d sent the originals to the Ellisons. Since that point, Lamira had

collected words and drawings and imprints of cherished objects from nearly everyone with

whom they’d come in contact.

Something about finding Patrick’s last words, half-buried in the sand in hopes of meeting

an open ear, made her feel an intense desire to let others express those thoughts that all-too-often

lay dormant. She’d never really known what she would do with it all, just that she wanted some

way to connect with what had brought people to the mountain. Lamira had hoped, in some small

way, to grant strangers the freedom to unleash whatever feeling or experience held them captive,

dying to see the light.

As she had echoed Mason’s belief in Dean’s story, Lamira felt herself aching for more

time before she crossed into whatever hid beyond the trees. She pulled Mason aside and told him

that he should be the one to take Dean to the opposite shore. Mason accepted and then added

he’d return to stay with Lamira until someone else came. Lamira protested, saying he should

continue moving forward, confessing she needed the extra time. Seeing something familiar—a

desire to confront fear—in Lamira’s face, Mason had relented.

“How about I stay for one night?” he’d asked and Lamira had smiled in agreement.

A splash snapped Lamira’s attention to the other bank. She heard Mason’s laugh

reverberate off the canyon walls and realized what had just happened. She looked on as he held

his arm over the land and brought it down, again with a splash. So it was true: the only way was

to first help another across. Lamira felt her heart flutter, as though reminding her mind what

52
she’d witnessed was impossible. And yet there was no denying what she’d just seen. She felt

swept up by a sense of wonder as she watched Mason and Dean exchange a final hug. Then

Dean disappeared amidst the fog and Mason was returning with an astonished look stamped on

his face.

He reached out and gripped the grass as Lamira helped anchor the boat to a nearby tree.

Mason jumped ashore and wrapped Lamira up in a hug.

“Did you see that? I thought I believed him, but—”

“I think so, but I can’t wrap my mind around it. I feel like, right now, anything’s

possible,” Lamira said shaking her head.

“I’ve got an idea,” Mason exclaimed, letting her go. “C’mon!”

And then he was making his way from the bank, grabbing berries along the way and

sending them hurtling toward the canyon wall. Lamira hurried after him. Splotch by splotch, they

worked for hours, laughing and talking as they went. An outsider would not understand and rain

would surely wash the rock clean, but they continued as painters splattering color on empty

canvas. Hunger pangs fell away as the two worked as architects drawing up blueprints for future

construction. Meticulously, passionately, their art was laid out as a sculptor chips away at the

faceless slab of stone. Occasionally stepping back to inspect the work, they found themselves

overtaken by awe, in possession of the fact that their actions were doing nothing short of

enlivening the stone.

They lit a fire as stars began to line the sky, dancing and discussing the mysteries of the

universe. As the night grew short and the flames dwindled, so too did their shadows on the

canyon wall. They awoke refreshed and shared a simple meal together, recounting their long trek

and all they’d encountered. Mason etched a short note and added it to Lamira’s collection, a tear

53
slipping softly down his cheek. They moved toward the boat, Lamira’s face now streaked by

tears as well.

They laughed at themselves, but there was sadness in it. Despite Mason’s assurance

they’d see each other again, neither knew if that was true or how long it would be. Each had

plenty of things to say, none of which lent themselves to the gravity mandated by uncertain

good-byes. Just as they reached the shore, Lamira broke this barrier.

“Thank you. For helping me with my bag that day we first met. I never said it before.”

Mason smiled and waved her words away.

“No debt between friends.”

Lamira pulled him in for a final embrace.

“And thank you for the change,” Mason said softly. “I’d better go or I’m going to make

you sink,” he added, wiping away his tears.

They shared a final laugh and then Mason was out of sight. Lamira rowed back to the

original shore, her heart full and mind ablaze with the familiar question, What now?

*************************

It must have been nearly a week after Casey had left that I rose to find I felt particularly

good. As if the peak was finally within the realm of possibility, my excitement took me running

up the path. But I didn’t make it far. I lost my footing and skidded down a steep embankment to

find myself in a small clearing. I hadn’t seen anyone in days and knew I had to be growing closer

to my goal, but a narrow pathway winding its way through the trees piqued my interest. Against

whatever “better judgment” had first led me to the mountainside, I followed it into the forest and

out of the mid-day heat.

After probably no more than a quarter of an hour, I stepped out onto a cliffside

54
overlooking a canyon. At the heart of this canyon flowed a wide stream. I couldn’t remember

ever once seeing this river or hearing its current carve its way through the rock but even the

familiar appeared foreign on such an enormous mountain. The day’s heat seemed to push me to

the waterside. It was only as I ambled down what appeared the only path into the canyon that I

noticed a boat along the near shoreline. And sitting on the bank alongside the boat was a woman.

She turned as I approached, her face revealing life experiences that appeared well beyond

my own. She appeared to bite her lip and make a vain attempt to smile as she turned to face me.

Still, she had a certain way about her allowing me to feel we were already linked. As I slipped

off my pack, she extended her hand in greeting. I reciprocated the gesture and asked her name

and about her travels. Those always seemed what people first wanted to know about me, so it felt

right to return a similar interest.

It was an exchange I’d repeated dozens of times and, although every response was

unique, each retained a shred of familiarity. Until now. The woman smiled nervously and asked

how I was doing. I answered hesitantly and repeated the question. Instead of explaining what’d

driven her here or what she hoped to find at the mountaintop, she proceeded to tell me about the

man she’d met a week prior when she arrived at the canyon with her friend, Mason.

“I always try to give people a fair chance, but I hated this man from the moment I laid

eyes on him. He reminded me so much of…someone else. Same shaggy hair, same masculine

tattoos, deadened look in his eyes. I trembled just being near him.”

And then the woman was telling his story, explaining how nobody could cross alone. She

told of meeting Mason and the life she’d left behind. With everything she said, my role was

becoming clearer. There were pauses to ask about my own motivations and the people I’d met,

but I moved quickly past these in the hope of hearing more. Finally she reached the reason she’d

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spoken so long, the reason I’d set about ascending the mountain in the first place. And I didn’t

know what to say.

“Wha—why do I have to stay?”

“Because, how else do you expect to cross?” she asked innocently.

“Why would I want to anyway?” I said with a frown.

“To see what’s out there for you.”

“Who decided that? How’d someone know I was coming?”

She smirked.

“Well, you’re here.”

At the confused expression on my face, she continued.

“It’s up to you: take my place here so I can see what exists beyond. Or go back.”

“So, it’s you or me?”

“Well, no,” she responded coyly, “You have to believe in me first if you wish to pass.”

I couldn’t take it anymore.

“But that doesn’t make any sense!” I cried, feeling a deep restlessness having been

triggered. I’d been traveling for months and this was the first person I’d met with even a hint as

to what it was I sought. And here she was playing games.

“I don’t know you. I don’t know what’s over there, if anything. There’s no way to know

when or even if someone would come. I set out to reach the peak, not cross a stream,” I finished,

exasperated and frantic. Twisting back to face her, I shuddered at the sympathy rising within me.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t help.”

“Please,” she begged, but I had already turned around. I heard her pleading as I began

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walking the way I’d come. “Please, I’m asking you to put your faith in me, to put your faith in

somebody!”

I heard something in her voice, a familiar desperation, that caused me to swivel around

but I stayed where I was. Her body seemed to relax, but her eyes still withheld a pain I could not

describe. She started and stopped and then began once more.

“You set out to find if there was something worth searching for. I believe it’s across this

stream, at least for me,” she said looking to the opposing bank. “I can’t pretend to know what’s

out there or if there’s something guiding me along, but I knew looking at Mason this might be

my chance to find out.

“The man before us admitted to trying to climb ashore before the person he was taking.

But when he stepped from the boat, the water seemed to replace the bank and he fell in. He told

us when he tried to swim, the distance to the shore only grew. When he was hoisted back into the

boat, it was still ashore.

“I don’t know why I chose to take his place, especially when he’d been so hesitant to do

so for someone else. But I just realized that, at some point, he’d put that person first. At some

level, he trusted us in much the same way that I’m now trusting you.”

With that, the woman looked at me for the first time in a while.

“But how am I supposed to believe that? How do you know?” I blurted out. “How do you

know there’s anything over there at all? How do you know it’s worth it?”

“I don’t,” she said quietly. “But for once, I won’t stop myself before finding out.”

I looked away and was silent for what seemed an eternity. Finally I sighed, pursing my

lips together as I did so.

“But it’s not easy,” I said gazing out across the water.

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“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say so much; it’s not my decision.”

*************************

I thought back, once more, to the events that had transpired when I’d told her my name.

Just as the woman went to step from the boat to the opposite shore, I’d reached out and touched

her hand.

Please, what’s your name?

Lamira. And yours?

Patrick.

I really couldn’t explain it, but shivers ran down my spine as her lips parted in surprise.

As though she knew me but never expected to meet me. The woman named Lamira flung her

arms around me. Giving one last, almost pitying, look into my eyes, she handed me a bottle. It

took all my strength to return to the opposite shore, a distant and eerily familiar sensation to just

let go steadily taking hold. My confusion only grew. I lost all focus as I saw a mass of papers

bound within, pressing against the glass as though awaiting release. ‘I can’t do this. I should’ve

never set foot here,’ I thought to myself.

When I reached shore, I took a long look at the bottle. I could feel the papers striving to

burst free of their container, and I sympathized. I needed to get out. So, that’s what I did.

Without hesitation, I set the bottle down, started up the path and on to the clearing I’d first fallen

into. My head was spinning and I didn’t know why. I don’t know why I stopped and looked

back, either. And suddenly I was descending the path into the canyon once more. Suddenly I was

cutting off the cork with my pocketknife and pinching the roll of papers through the bottleneck.

Curiosity, fear, anger, wonder, relief, nausea, apathy, desperation—they all had their place. The

fact is I don’t know why, but I opened the bottle to find a stack of papers dating back years.

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I tried to make sense of how they had all been squeezed into the bottle, only to settle on

the conclusion it didn’t make sense. But none of it did. I leafed through the pile and found one

dated to within a month of when I’d left. Feeling a numbness clawing at the back of my throat, I

began reading.

To the Ellisons,

You don’t know me, but my name is Lamira. On the beach far down the coast from where

you live, I found a bottle with a letter written by your son, Patrick. I’m sorry for what you

recently went through and hope that you’ve found strength in each other. I don’t know how it

ended up being me who found his last note, but I consider myself lucky; I don’t believe in any

plans more profound. Me finding this did not happen because I was meant to find it. Really, I

have very little in common with Patrick.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t see a connection between your son and me. I have much I

wish I would’ve said to him; now that he’s gone, I feel like I need to tell you. I know I’m nobody

special and it may not mean a whole lot to you, but I need to tell someone what was meant for

him.

About three years ago, I was raped. It was November and I was walking home from my

waitressing shift. I was pulled into an alley and cornered by a guy I worked with. I couldn’t run.

When I tried to fight back and cry out, he hit me. I still feel his breath as he pressed his mouth to

my ear. I still hear his chilling voice as he whispered, “They’ll never believe you. You don’t

belong here.” I tried to shove him off me, but my arms grew weak and I fell quiet. It happened so

quickly, and then he was gone. I was left there, half-naked and bruised, shivering in the cold

night air.

I was so afraid of being deported, it took me nearly two weeks before I finally went to the

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police. My fear made no sense, because it felt like I had no reason to stay. There was nothing for

me in this land or my own country. I felt like a stranger in the country I’d spent my whole life

and that’s exactly how I was received when I finally came forward. It was as though I was the

criminal. It seemed a bigger concern that I had been working in the country for nearly thirty

years without “proper documentation” than what had been done to me. If it wasn’t for a

lawyer—a stranger who had nothing to gain from involvement—, the coward who raped me

would’ve walked, and I probably would’ve been deported. I now have a right to work here and,

even though I still have a hard time trusting people, I don’t have to live in fear.

I’m telling you this, because the good fortune that’s come of this event does not justify it

happening. Just because I now have the legal status to work and am relatively happy—just

because the kind actions of one individual turned another’s crime into something bearable and

just because I choose to be stronger than the hell I had to go through—does not make it any

easier to live with. I blame an individual for raping me, I take pride in having the courage to

stand up, and I am forever thankful to another individual for allowing me to live freely.

What I’m trying to say is your actions matter. I don’t know who you are, but you have the

innate ability to change the world. What you do is of lesser importance to the fact that it’s you

who decides your fate. If you are smart or kind or anything, it is because you are capable of

being the opposite. It is because you are tempted to give up—because you can fall—that you can

find the strength to carry on. It’s because you can die that you can also live. So, please, live! I

wish I’d known you. I wish you’d found something to bring you life. No matter what, I hope

you’ve found peace.

Love,

Lamira

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In that moment, it hit me just how far I’d come. Just a few months before, I’d have

dismissed the words as empty and the person who’d written them as lost. A few months before

that, I’d have been mortified by the honesty of the one writing them. But now? Now I felt the

words as meant for me, as though mine. I looked across the water and felt the eyes of their

creator looking back, wondering what had become of the one who had given her the chance of

safe passage long before I did.

I sat down upon a large rock at water’s edge. My fingers tightened around the papers as I

turned my gaze skyward. I looked up because the mysterious nature of that blue-hued sky

seemed a fitting place for my perplexity. I looked up because I knew there was something

beyond what I could see. I looked up because I was learning just how much I needed there to be

something more. But at the same time, I was learning how little it mattered to me what that

actually was. Out there only mattered if I was going to try to reach it.

My eyes welled and the thought of holding it in any longer was too much to bear. I

contorted my face and shook my head, trying desperately to hold off what had been building

since long before I’d left. Perhaps nobody could understand the agony and relief my tears took

on as I let them collapse onto the letter below, joining the ones which had already dried. I’d spent

most of my journey thinking of what was “out there” only to find now that such truth could have

been seen within me. I’d always been made to wonder what life, death, striving—all of it—

meant. Only now did I see it really wasn’t about what meaning was there or who’d put it there or

what happened; what mattered was always why.

In everyday life, we could never be quite sure if what people said was honest. Coming

from where I did made me question the true origins—the intentions—of what I did and what was

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done to me. And finally, in arriving at the peak, I’d been confronted with a choice in which what

was done inevitably revealed why. Taking the other person across put the same value in

another’s dreams as I did my own. Making that choice was entrusting someone else to take me.

And when it came right down to it, once I arrived and the circumstances had been determined,

this choice was the only thing that was my own.

I pulled out my notebook and made record of my thoughts, a final image coming to mind

of Lamira running barefoot and careless into the mist. I accepted in that moment that I could only

describe, that an onlooker could never entirely see from where I stood. I had climbed and fallen

and risen and crawled; even if someone did precisely as I’d done, the experience would be

different. I accepted that the entirety of what I said would never be understood, but I had to say it

for that very reason.

The long-ignored fact of my mortality required acknowledgement. My song needed

singing, my story needed telling, but still I realized the entire significance of my stories could

never be explained for my existence lived in my emotions. I could not so much as hope to

convey such extraordinary feelings at the core of my experience, and that’s why I felt this

immense desire to try. Even if I never again laid eyes on what I wrote, I felt the diffusion of the

pressure that comes with containing a flame or maintaining a secret was a very necessary aspect

of being human.

I let the doubts that lurked on the outskirts of my mind overtake me. In doing so, I cast

them away. Because when it was all over, I remained. In that moment, I knew nothing but the

liberation brought into focus by the movement of my hand across the page. It was inevitable my

words would fall short. That night, I would be left staring into empty spaces, seeking meaning in

dancing flames and starry nights. But for this brief sliver of time, my hand did not look to

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capture these bundles of gas and light. I sought only to feel the present beauty in existing, in

accepting me as I am and the world as a murky reflection of that self. At long last, I accepted I

could not make it on my own. It was then I promised myself to wait for someone to come.

*************************

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With the stone scratches I’d used to mark the days, nearly a month had passed. Looking

back to that conversation with Lamira, I’m just as confused. The only thing that’s made sense, in

fact, is the couple who came and refused to take my place. I found myself wondering why I was

still here or if I’d ever make it to the other side. All I knew was that it was becoming more and

more difficult for me to justify my decision to take her across.

It was true that I still didn’t know what I was looking for. And it was probably true I had

less to live for than she did, anyway. The only reason I wanted so badly to leave was that it was

not allowed. And really, I didn’t even know if this was true.

From watching her step foot on the opposite bank to the meals of fish and berries I’ve

relied on since or the times I’ve gotten as far as the clearing before turning back to the canyon, I

felt trapped. I’d attempted rowing myself to the distant shore only to find my reach was never

enough. Yet, against everything that made sense and my still-present desire to continue toward

the peak, I stayed. Explaining why would be as difficult as explaining why I’d left in the first

place. Regardless of how much I said, it would always leave whoever was listening in want. The

only difference now being there was nobody to listen. Who knew if there would ever be someone

to listen? The hardest part was knowing I had let that person go.

*************************

These thoughts still plagued me the next morning as a group of five ambled into the

canyon. They chatted casually and waved enthusiastically upon seeing me. I was shocked.

Groups larger than two were rare and, after my recent breakdown, their demeanor was

remarkable to me. Despite the varied reasons and people that came to the mountain’s edge, there

existed a common thread. To that point, I’d gotten the sense everyone who came here had found

their world to be too much, at times overwhelming. I often felt as though people here were

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striving to unravel a thread, a thread which had bound them to lives which left them unfulfilled.

As we introduced ourselves, all these things seemed absent in this group.

We talked about our treks and conversation came easily. No matter the differences in

what brought us here or what he hoped to find, we now shared the same air. Finding ourselves in

the same circumstance was all we really needed to feel connected. When the question eventually

came as to how long I’d been there, my gaze fell away. Their eyes followed mine toward the

scratches which marked my days at water’s edge.

Suddenly, I was telling a story related many times before. Interrupted only by an

occasional question, reaffirmed only by an occasional nod, I told everything that seemed

relevant. When I finally came to the end, I felt fear rising in my chest, fit to consume me. When

they stepped away to talk amongst themselves, my confidence fell, feeling the weight of the

coming rejection and the length of the days I’d spent alone. As the minutes passed, I felt my

heart being squeezed tighter and tighter until finally—.

“I’ll take you across.”

They stood before me again and a girl who couldn’t have been 16 was uttering the words

I wondered if I’d ever hear. She spoke softly, confidently, nonchalantly. I nearly dropped to my

knees as I stammered my gratitude. Once more, I was struck by their calm, cheerful tone. I told

them such and they looked bemused. The next several hours passed quickly as we ate and talked,

enjoying each other’s company. When the meal was finished and we stood to say goodbye, I felt

I was leaving friends. Still, marking a final day on the canyon wall, I knew it was time.

*************************

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For more than a month, I’d sat staring into the water in search of secrets. I’d spent so

much time cursing the stream and being met only with silence. Now, as I passed on the bottle

and stepped from the boat, I offered thanks once more to the one who had rowed me across. I

walked confidently from the shore, lured into the fog. And then was overtaken by sound. Voices

collided, at once familiar and distant as though reaching through decades to touch the present

moment. They met my ears the way a tossed stone long-since-dissolved still shakes the waters

far removed.

The voices grew louder and drowned out my thoughts until one voice emerged above all

others. I struggled to grasp its direction, instead feeling the trees, the breeze—the very mountain

itself—had become mindful of my passage. With every step I took, the mangled sounds became

more coherent, the voice being warped from whisper to shout and back again. Despite my

misgivings, I followed all the same. I felt my months of traveling, searching for something, had

finally led me to this and I would not allow the darkness to remain unexamined.

As I trudged forward, I looked out through a distorted lens. I heard the voice echo and

reverberate, shells of the sounds from which they stemmed. I reached my hand outward and felt

only the fabric of the wind, touching only traces of its source. I felt, in that moment, that there

was a truth to be found in following this voice. Though my reality was limited by what my

awareness allowed me to experience, I felt there was unity to be grasped amidst the din.

Besides that, the voice had pulled me forward in such a way that retracing my path

through the forest seemed impossible. I strained further to hear it and words began to materialize.

The voice stirred feelings within me that were rarely awakened, a compassion that grew with

each word and step.

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From the harbor of my withered soul, I gasp for the distant shore. I seek an outstretched

hand, the consolation of shared experience. I cry out softly, loudly, with power, with humility,

with everything I’ve got and my final breath, to the wind and the stars and the passing shadows.

I seek a light amidst this vanity, to stretch out my hand though everything scares me. I wish to

enter unhesitantly into the world unknown, to give up my key to a future once foreseen only to

find the path has been calling to me.

All my days, I spend seeking the courage to call out in the hope someone will be there. I

assert the beauty in shared destination but still aspire for what exists beyond. The great journey

of my life has been spent seeking the further shore. I’ve sought remote lands and higher ideals to

answer the question of what it all means only to find such a distant gaze narrows my vision for

the sake of focus. When trapped at the bank, however, I am forced to look near and find my eyes

grow wide with wonder.

My pace quickened as I sought to keep pace with the voice. I tripped over a tree branch

and fought to rise again. The words pulsated through me but seemed to drag me still farther from

where I’d been. I wondered as to their origin and the voice seemed to provide an answer, though

it brought only more confusion.

Just as I sought to overcome everything—to finally realize the power contained within my

being—I was dismayed to confront the ultimate limitation: I could not go alone. My body always

required the transfer of energy from one form to another and after a great ambition to leave this

world, I found myself utterly dependent on it. That the alignment of atoms I had come to see as

the container of my self was merely a string of experiences tied together. And the connection to

others—to this world—is what established that self.

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I left because I saw myself as a speck; dust in the wind; a tiny parasite in a fluid machine.

I left because I found my hope only in the external, the eternal. The truth I’d accepted of my

origin likewise dictated my destiny, and I found myself weighted down by the feeling of merely

walking a path which had been set. This initially harmless crack had slowly come to divide my

being. A small truth which galvanized the revelation of many more. Only now, at my furthest

point, do I realize my unique awareness of my state within the Universe. And from this

awareness, comes the seed of my freedom.

Long ago, I had put my heart in a box to shield it from the world. And, at some level, I

realized it was killing me. Locked away, little by little, the beat of my heart was slowing like a

song fading into silence. And before it all stopped, I needed to find a way to give it away. I was

just so worried about keeping it beating; about keeping air flowing through my lungs; about

keeping that box sealed tight that it never left my hand.

Sun cut through the trees ahead, the leaves shimmering blue-green. My footsteps seemed

to send gentle shockwaves into the air. A breeze whipped through the trees, swallowing the

words so quickly that I found myself running to hear.

For too long, I remained independent, unshaken by my environment. But unshaken, I

passed through existence unmoved. I needed to meet the impoverished, churning thoughts I often

left buried. I needed to move and be moved, for this was the only thing capable of binding me to

life. In order to cross the stream—to even glimpse what lied beyond my present consciousness—I

had to accept the possibility of never moving beyond. I felt my hand trembling as I extended it to

another. But I knew in order to enter the song, I had to offer up my lowly note, though it was the

only thing I could call my own.

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And just as I felt my legs faltering beneath me, the voice faded and a brilliant light hit my

eyes. The silence was crashing down, punctured by my quickly beating heart. I was reminded of

the distance I’d covered and my past motivations for coming. I wanted so badly to move beyond

or on to the next stage in my life. I climbed the mountain to reach its summit but now was

realizing the only real difference between the top and bottom is how far I’d come.

If I had begun at the mountain’s peak, the base would have been my goal. My mouth

dropped as I emerged from the trees. Before me, mountain peaks stretched as far as I could see,

draped in clouds and dwarfing the mountain on which I now stood. The mountain I’d spent

months ascending was simply a foothill. I stumbled over to a fallen tree and sat down, shaking

my head. I let loose a cry into the stubborn wind and felt a growing sensation in my legs to move

quickly away. Anxiety crept through my veins. Questions gripped me for which I had no answer.

Who would glimpse my shadow? Where would I leave my footprints? Was this it?

But I stayed still. Seated on the tree trunk, I felt staggeringly small. Just as I thought my

journey would end, I found I had merely reached a new summit from which to peer outward. I

thought about the voice and the girl who took me across. I thought of Lamira and Casey and the

couple who’d refused to take my place. I thought of leaving the canyon and nights without food.

I thought of the words I’d written and the bottle that contained them. My mind slipped back to

my path to this point and the cliff where I’d nearly ended it all and my parents. My home. I

brushed my hand through the grass. No matter how far I went, my path to another peak

inevitably included every forlorn patch of earth on which I’d ever walked. Why was it so much

easier to trust my reach than my grasp?

My goal had once been to be somewhere, but as I looked out and swelled with a sense of

wonder, I realized I’d been wrong. What existed in the distance appeared tranquil, idyllic. It was

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only upon stepping closer that colors took on distinction, that what I presumed to know grew

ever more complex. Beyond my vision, storms raged and winter took hold. The doldrums of

daily life, the past’s haunting echoes, the future’s uncertainty maintained a grip on all living

beings. Still, there was something beautiful amidst these brushes with life’s constraints. I’d felt

moved to travel, to explore, to reach in order to satisfy an intense desire to see what was at my

fingertips. I reached to bring the world closer to me.

From my place, I stretched into the fabric of infinity. The thread to which I’d held fast I

now discovered bound me to all existence. From the captivity of my bodily prison, an

indomitable will burst forth. Leaving me with the sensation I could do anything. Though

increasingly mindful that the results of my thinking and knowing and breathing and feeling

would pass away, I found myself laughing, gripping the grass as if in an attempt to hug the Earth

against my chest only to find it was doing the same to me. My joy bounded from peak to sky and

back to my own ears. In choosing to grant another’s release, I’d deemed this whirling patchwork

of dirt and sea worth preserving. And, in so doing, I’d set myself free.

*************************

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For the briefest quiver in time, all the world moved before my wide eyes and I was

impossibly alive. It was ugly and beautiful and mystifying all at once but it was honest and partly

my own. It all merged in an incredible symphony that resounded within my being. And then the

confusion, the noise, the weary movements of the forest, it all stopped. The ground seemed to

give out beneath me, the grass tearing free of my fingers and peaks fading from view. I was

lurched away so quickly that I forced my eyes shut. What seemed just a moment later, a nearby

movement brought my focus back to the present environment.

My eyes opened to reveal a deep, star-marked sky. I sat upright. Squinting against the

low light, I glimpsed my bag at my feet and nearly a dozen people sleeping peacefully around a

dimly lit fire. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lamira. A few feet away lay a man I’d never

met, but with sight of him, a sudden clarity emerged. A familiar winding path. A small hillside

partially obscured by fog. I recognized this town.

I felt something and looked down to find I’d been clenching a note between my fingers.

Scrawled in my handwriting, it read simply: I am the bottle. As if repeating a secret, I continued

in a whisper, “the nearly empty vessel struggling to transfer the meaning of messages.”

Careful not to make a sound, I rose slowly to my feet. The air was cool and a stray wind

beckoned me to follow. Stars flickered overhead, offering to guide my way. I watched

motionless as the last ember faded. Once more peering into darkness, I smiled. The choice was

mine.

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