I have been writing a piece of fiction inspired by a song every Friday. This Friday’s story is based on “Hold Back” by The Revival Hour. This is not the story I planned to tell. Not that it is too different. It is just that it ends where I felt it should end versus where I thought it would end when I started the first draft. I love this song. It breaks my heart every time I hear it. Check it out.
Brent read stories online about Mt. Everest. Since the ice has been melting, they have found more and more dead bodies of climbers that have been missing for years. Brent took in a deep breath because Cheryl was still up there, still somewhere on Mt. Everest, still lost after thirty years, still running away from him and the idea of settling down. He closed the browser and closed his eyes to the tears. Every day he tried not to think about Cheryl every day, but in his heart he knew she was one of the people that was now waiting to come off of the mountain. Brent was going to get her.
The last time he saw Cheryl was 1983. They had been dating for almost a year, every day being a shorter day than the one, filled with sunsets and joy, laughter and magic. He quickly knew he wanted to spend his life with her. Their last night together, he invited her to dinner at the fancy restaurant he could not afford. They sat next to the large window that showed the river and the lit city skyline, finished dessert and the bottle of Chardonnay that he thought was too expensive before he pulled the ring out of his pocket. “Will you marry me?”
Cheryl looked out the window for nearly a minute. When she turned back, she gave him a look that he still remembers vividly, almost 35 years later, a look filled sadness and misery, a look that told him her answer was, “No,” without saying a word. A look that petrified his love and made it sink into the bottom of the ocean of his soul.
She said, “I’m not ready for all of this. I still have things I want to do. I still want to travel the world. I still want to climb the highest summits and eat the most exotic foods. I don’t think you want to come along. I don’t see the wanderlust inside of you. You want to settle, and I want to be free. I don’t feel like you want to do all of these things with me.” Brent tried to find a way to tell her she was wrong. They walked along the river after dinner, silent and sad, already one hundred miles apart.
He thought about what he was going to do now that she was not going to marry him. He did not want to be left standing around while she had all of the adventure she wanted. The idea of her traveling the world while he waited at home did not appeal to him at all. He said, “Where do we go from here?”
Cheryl tried to grab his hand, but he buried them deep in his pockets. She did not answer right away. Finally, after a few blocks of dead night, she said, “I hope that we can stay together. I hope that even though we aren’t getting married we can stay together.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t do this right now.”
Brent did not see her again. She called him a few times in the middle of the night, but he did not answer. He heard through acquaintances that Cheryl was going to Mt. Everest in March. Six months later, he learned that she never came back. The idea that she was still up there, never recovered, buried in the ice and snow that was now melting, made him think that he needed to go find her, tell her they should have done things differently, that if he did not let go, she would have come back.
He was not an experience climber, adventurer, survivor, even athletic, but he motivated. He spent his life saving plus money borrowed from family and friends for his equipment, a climbing permit, and guides. He was going to find her.
Two problems still persisted. The first was that Cheryl could have taken one of two major routes, the Nepal side and the Tibet side. He tried to think back to any time when she talked about Mt. Everest. Nepal seemed like the more likely choice because it was less expensive, and if he was wrong the first time, he was just going to have to climb it again. The other problem was that he needed to get into some sort of shape to do this. Brent did not consider himself fat, but he was not in any shape to be climbing a mountain for two months. While he spent hours everyday in the gym, his friends thought that he was crazy. “Let me try to understand this. You’re doing all of this to find the dead body of your lost lover?”
“It’s more than that,” Brent said. It was more than that. While he lifted weights, ran miles and miles, and ate healthy to become slim and fit, he could only think about how he had not had any serious relationships since Cheryl left. He dated here and there, but the majority of the time, he life was alone. He had spent many hours in the thirty-five years since she walked away from them thinking about what could have happened differently. He could have insisted on being her travelling partner, hanging onto their relationship until she felt it was time to get married. He could have worked with her, showed up to her work, wrote her letters, left her phone messages, told her she was his everything, the person he would swim to the bottom of the ocean to grab and pull to the surface, the person he would climb the highest mountains to bring her back with him. He felt like the years he had been inactive in searching for her were a mistake. Brent did not understand the depth of his sorrow until he was on the plane, flying into Nepal after months of preparation, looking out the window at the Himalayas. He studied the pattern of the snow covered peaks and knew that there was nothing left in the world for him besides this purpose.