There and Back Again – a hibun

27 08 2014

There and Back again

From 0 to 90, and back again
My time in the Navy has taken me to some pretty exotic lands and has shown me a few things about myself that I would not have guessed. About 15 years ago I was stationed in Halifax for 6 months as part of a security detail. One August afternoon, the Regimental Sargent Major of our unit took us all out to do some repelling.

I DO NOT LIKE HEIGHTS

I DO NOT LIKE EDGES

I do not like them so much that I can’t look to see my wife walk up to the guardrail at the edge of a cliff.

Repelling was not going to be just another stroll in the woods.

After I got back to barracks that evening, I wrote the story below.


Clear blue sky, not a cloud in sight.
Pleasant temperature, with a gentle cooling breeze.
God, what a glorious day. Off in the distance the first
signs of autumn are painted on the trees.
Brilliant gold and red are splashed here and there
across the green of the forests.
Down in the basin, several boats lie at their moorings,
peacefully at rest.
Further off in the distance a Canadian Patrol Frigate
slowly makes its way out to points unknown.
If ever there were a sight to prove the existence
of a supreme being, this was it.

 

terror

lies beyond the edge-

small death

 

“NEXT, COME ON, GET OVER HERE”

Oh god, that’s me.
Peace and calm are torn away.
My attention is drawn to three new things,
the Man, the Rope and the Edge.

The Man. I barely know him.
Oh sure, I see His shoulder and know His rank.
I know He has spent many long years in this job,
almost as many as I have spent alive.
He has knowledge and experience far beyond
anything I can imagine. He is about to hold my life.

The Rope. Five eights inch, tri-braid nylon.
Working strength in excess of 2000 pounds, a ton,
and soon it too will hold my life.

The Edge. There it lies. A jagged line of broken rock.
There my life will hang.
Somewhere over that edge lies the bottom.
How far? What lies between there and the bottom?
A thousand unknown terrors lie beyond that edge.
Waiting for me.
I step up to the Man and look at him.
He knows I am afraid.
He knows that what I am about to do is the most terrible
thing I can imagine.
He knows I can do it.
He knows it’s His job to show me I can.

I connect my harness to the rope.
I fumble with it.
I almost drop it once.
He watches me work.
He watches me fumble.
He watches me finally get it connected and snapped shut.

“ARMS UP FOR INSPECTION”

I raise my arms, more nervous than ever.
Have I done it all correctly? Have I forgotten anything?
He looks me over, checking my helmet, my gloves, my harness
and most importantly the rope.
He checks it out as if I were his own son.
He wants me to feel that I am the most important thing in his life.
He wants me to know that I can do it.
I pass His inspection; He looks at me and tells me to go.

“One on rappel,” I say in a voice brimming with confidence,
confidence I don’t feel.

“One on belay” a voice replies from the other side of the edge.
One on belay. The man who is to stop my fall should things go awry.
Somewhere over the edge, my safety number is on the other end of the rope.
Is he really paying attention? Don’t think that.
He has a job to do. He will do it

“RIGHT FOOT THERE, LEFT FOOT ON THAT ROCK THERE”

The Edge. I am directed to my waiting terrors.
I turn and back up slowly. My right foot inches its way back
until He is satisfied and then my left foot finds its position.
He smiles at me. I am ready to go.

“NOW, LEAN BACK. COME ON, JUST LEAN, YOU CAN’T GO ANYWHERE.”

0 degrees

I try to obey. I lean but go nowhere. My brake hand, of course.
My brake hand has a death grip on the rope.
To let go is death. I want to live.

“LET GO A LITTLE ON THE BRAKE, YOU CAN DO IT”

I loosen the grip on the brake and start to lay down.

15 degress

My body starts screaming at me DANGER DANGER, this is wrong.

FALLING FALLING FALLING.
I grip hard on the brake hand and stop.

“COME ON, YOU ARE ALMOST THERE. BEND YOUR LEGS A LITTLE.
KEEP GOING, YOU CAN DO IT”

45 degrees

Oh god, I can’t do this. This is wrong, a mistake. I can’t.
I look at Him and see that He is watching me.
He is confident in me. He knows I can do it.
I take strength from Him and continue to lean back.
Lying on my back now, my life hanging by a
five eights inch thread. It is not too late to turn back.
I can still be pulled up, away from the abyss below me.
He is still looking at me.

90 degrees

“NOW DO IT”

“Go” I call over my shoulder and the voice below me replies the same.
Go, I lift my foot a little and move it down.
Let loose on the brake. Breathe. Move the other foot down.
Let loose on the brake. Breathe. My guide hand begins to heat up.
Let loose on the guide, remember, the other hand will hold you up.

Slowly I make my way down the rock wall that commands my undivided attention.
He calls down to me, reminding me of the tree to my right.
The tree. Right. I look down and see it approach.
I step down on it and continue walking down the face of the cliff,
one foot on the tree, the other on the wall.

“Almost there,” a voice from below me calls out. My belay man.
He has taken control of my decent. The Man is watching me but no
longer calls out encouragement. I continue down the tree and reach
a small rock shelf. I rest there briefly and then move out once more.

“Keep going, that’s it,” my belay man calls out. I risk a look behind
me and there he is, only 10 feet below me. I lean back again
and step out, knowing it’s almost over.
Five more steps.
Four more steps.
Three more steps. My brake man reaches out and touches my back,
assuring me I have almost made it.
Two more steps.
Last step.

45 degrees

My knees buckle as I make contact with the ground.
My belay man supports my shoulders and tells me to stand; I have made it.

15 degrees

I apply pressure to my shaking legs and begin to straighten out.

0 degrees
I disconnect my carabineer clip and stand upright.
I made it.
I am alive.
The terrors of the edge have vanished.
I hold my life again.

“One off repel” I call up to the Man

“ONE OFF REPEL. GOOD REPEL. WELL DONE”

I look up.
Seventy or eighty feet of vertical rock.
No longer an unknown, no longer a terrible abyss.

Just one more place I have been

darkness

cast into light-

rebirth

 

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4 responses

27 08 2014
janellmithani

Wow, this is really wonderfully written. I feel I am right there with you.

27 08 2014
polaris299

Thank you, Good to know I can hold someones attention like that. Now if I can stretch it out for 5 best selling novels, life will be good

19 11 2014
Bethany Cone

This is incredible! I have a fear of falling, so I was heart-in-my-mouth with you every step down that cliff! A very powerful piece. Thank you for sharing it!

19 11 2014
polaris299

My pleasure. When I wrote the original story for this event, “THE MAN” insisted on a signed copy.

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