Slowly creeping through his veins like a caterpillar inching its way inside a leaf, the sensation made Harry irritated as his leg cramps returned. He had been sitting in the same spot for hours. Lying down earlier had relieved some of the pain but now it was back again. So he stood up to stretch, his feet slipped out from under him, flinging his legs into the air and sending his butt to the ground with a thud. Instead of staying in one spot, the weight of his body slid him closer to the edge and then suddenly stopped. Harry’s breathing ceased for a second and he froze. Slowly moving only his eyes, he looked around him to determine why he was still on the mountain. After coming to the immediate conclusion that he was on his back staring at the sky above him, he glanced in the direction of his hands and saw that the only thing holding him on the cliff was a branch caught between a rock and a hard place. His hands had turned white against the strain. “Whew”. he gasped. “That was close. What was I thinking?” he muttered.
Having spent the night up here, he had removed his shirt at sunrise, giving praise to the beautiful day and giving in to the chill and wetness of the heavy dew. A compiling of wood-chips had been built up as high as a tiny ant hill beside the rock he had perched his butt on the night before. Needing to keep his hands busy so his mind would remain calm, he had whittled a stick so much that there was nothing left of it but a small stub.
Memories of the past seemed to flood his mind. Growing up, he had always turned the other cheek like the Bible told him to. His family had always gone to church and fervently believed in God and the devil. Both of these concepts were deeply believed by his family and were alive and well and living on earth and in Heaven. His family had chosen to always turn the other cheek like the Bible had taught them for generations. “A man can walk away from a fight and still hold his dignity but once you join in, you are just as bad as they are,” his dad would often say. His family did not act like Christians all the time, however. People were different behind closed doors. His dad was drunk half the time so it was a real challenge believing a word that came out of his mouth. Once again, Harry’s heart chilled at the thought he had been contemplating all night.
The air stung briskly as it hit his skin, rushing in from the trees and the sunny mountain sky. Earlier, looking over the edge of the mountain, bare-chested and in shorts and hiking boots, he could not believe how far down the drop was. Pulling himself up to his knees, he started to stand but sensed something in front of him. His muscles tensed at the sound he heard. Standing between him and the edge of the cliff was a rattlesnake whose shade rock had fallen when Harry had slipped.
Trying to give his mind a respite from the problem it now faced and trying to maintain his balance without moving a muscle, he tried to think of the right thing to do at the moment. But instead, his mind went back to earlier in the day when he had been sitting near the edge of the cliff.
While sitting on a rock, he had received a feeling of power and control over his life. It felt right. He had never known this feeling of control at any time in his life. He could remember a lot of incidents where he did not have control, and as the memories crossed his mind, his attitude started to change from a feeling of ambivalence to an almost uncontrollable anger. Popping into his mind at the moment, he recalled a conversation between him and Jessie, a child-hood friend who had been in his life for a brief time.
“Harry, why do you always let them get to you? Nobody can take your attitude away from you. You have control over how you feel. Don’t let them get to you, no matter what happens. Promise me you won’t let them get you down”, she would often say.
“I promise I won’t let them do that to me. Don’t let me catch you doing that either, you hear me?” he would shout back into the wind.
Times were hard back then, and soon his one and only friend was gone. She had moved to another state and handwriting letters was not his forte so they soon lost touch and the words she had often encourage him with soon left him too. The comforting words pushed into the recesses of his mind did nothing to protect him against the cruel world and the promise was soon forgotten. Teased and ridiculed for having a family who believed in turning the other cheek and having a birth name of Harry Gripp, he had endured a lot of torment over the years.
His mind bogged down with nothing except the memories of pain and the dispositions of everyone he had known all his life. With his support system failing him at home and with no one to count on but his mother, he could not seem to ignore the ridicule and the alcoholism that pervaded his home. His life now had no meaning for him and there was nothing left. He thought there was nothing he could hold on to, not even the love of his mother.
As the late morning started to fade and the sun had moved out from above him, the sweat on his brow drenching his face brought him back with a start. The decision he had to make about the circumstances he was currently in was driving him nuts and standing in a semi-crouch position and not moving a muscle had begun to give him the shakes. Complications were starting to set in quicker than anticipated. It was now or never, he thought to himself. It was time to make a decision. It was time to act. Sweat trickled down his neck, making his back itch, and resisting the urge to scratch was too much. Before he had his mind made up, he instinctively moved his hand and the snake arched its neck and struck, biting his leg.
His first thought, of course, was of his mother and what she would have thought had she been here. Had she come up to him at that moment, she would have been appalled to know that he had come to this decision and she would have told him that it was a sign from God who was intervening in his life for a reason. He could still make something of his life if only he would see the good around him and the chances still to take. God had a purpose for him despite the past.
Ignoring the thoughts of his mother, Harry knew this was the moment he had waited for. It was time to prove to him-self and to the others who had taunted him over the years that he had the guts to finish what he started. Closing his eyes and breathing slowly, he knew he had to clear her judgmental face from his mind, from his heart. He knew that deep down she loved him and had always been his ally, but over the years his trials had become hard for her to bear and she had begun to think that it was his fault. That it was him bringing on all the pain. He could not afford to contemplate what she would think of his decision now. At 15 years of age, he was considered a man in many cultures and was old enough to make his own way in the world. His mind was made up and he swore to himself he would not budge.
Coming back to reality, the pain sinking in to his senses, he fell to the ground and screaming in agony, he tried to see where the snake had gone. Inching out from behind a twig, the snake bit him again and again until it had enough room to maneuver to the other side of Harry. Trapped no longer, the snake slithered out of sight. Harry lay there thinking of everything that had happened, the real and the imagined, and it dawned on him that he needed to do something quickly or he was going to die a fools death. Having not been the method he wanted to die from, he managed to get off the ground with the help of a stick he found lying near his head.
Inching his way to a standing position, he looked around him trying to get his bearings. He knew all too well what this meant to him now and the decision he had started with the night before was slowly changing into a desperate need for survival. As the pain grew and retreated like the waves of an ocean, his mind eased with the course of the wave so that he could recall in those moments of retraction where he had left items not needed in his journey the night before.
In one of those tearful moments through the pain, he remembered where he had parked his truck. It was a forty-five minute walk from the truck to the top of the mountain, and he knew he would be dead before he got there. He had deliberately parked where no one could see his truck from the road, and he had hiked in without any extra clothing or survival equipment as his intent was not to survive.
Now, he was berating himself for not being prepared for Mother Nature’s interference. He should have known better. He’d had encounters with her as a child and many a time she had interfered with her gusty winds or bears eating the fish that should have been his while he was fishing in the same stream. Scattering the poles into the water, he would run, leaving the bears to the fish before they sniffed the air and made a meal out of him instead.
Facing once again a powerful pain in his gut, he had to do something quick. Feeling his pockets, he found the pocketknife he had been whittling with last night and he tried to remember what he’s read in that book on snakes as a child. Oh yeh, he said to himself, I should cut the site and suck out the poison. And with that thought, he did. Doing this bought him some time and he managed to make it to his truck. Finding the extra keys underneath the truck made it easy for him to drive.
Halfway down the dirt road, he started to get dizzy and passing out at the wheel he slammed the truck into a ditch almost hitting a tree. Opening his eyes slowly and assessing where he was, he tried to maneuver the truck out of his ditch. Mud sprayed everywhere and the tires went deeper into the soft earth. After many attempts, he finally realized he should put it into four-wheel drive. Doing this gave him an advantage between the mud and his losing battle which gave him the necessary traction to get the truck back on the solid dirt road.
Every minute seemed like hours, and the act of driving became such an effort that even though he was sure he had sucked most of the poison out he began to doubt himself and with this doubt came the fear that he would not make it through this after all. He was hard pressed to realize that staying alive meant, as much to him as his original intent– to kill himself.
Harry could not appreciate the beauty surrounding him as his face was dripping in sweat once again, only this time it was from the poison and not from the sun. He wanted to live and he now wanted to prove that he could turn his life around despite his past.
About an hour down the dirt road he turned off and hit the freeway. Another ten minutes, he saw a hospital sign and taking the exit off the freeway he followed the signs and pulled up to the front doors of the emergency room. Leaving his car door open and the engine running, he stumbled in and collapsed on the cold sterile floor. An attendant rushed to his side.
Hours later, feeling much better and very much alive, he had such a tale to tell. The first person he was going to talk to besides his mom was Jessie– a friend that he had thought was lost forever, a friend that had helped him realize what a goober he had been and what potential he could become.