Miraculously, somehow, her rope, coiling wildly above her, snagged an outcropping of rock after she had plummeted about twenty feet. I braced myself and two other guys, seeing the same thing, quickly grabbed ahold of me and braced themselves. The slack was snapped up a moment later, almost pulling all three of us off our feet, as we watched her fall instantly stopped. The rope had held on the outcropping. Her athleticism showed as she immediately righted herself and had her feet towards the wall to stop her as she swung towards it.
“God, I hope she’s okay. That was really a hard stop,” somebody muttered.
“Better than the alternative,” said another.
We all were watching, now with our mouths open like gaping fools, at what we had just witnessed. Nobody said anything. Every one of was hardly breathing. We saw her moving and grabbing purchase on the rock. Her next move was to grab an anchor off her belt and wedge it in to a crack and tie off. She set yet another anchor and was now doubly secured, then she set a third. Stabilized, she sat there in her harness. I could see her breathing hard, wiping her eyes.
She called down in a shaky voice, “I need to check the rope and make sure it’s okay.” She found the downside of the rope and did a quick loop hitch in her harness to secure it and then untied it from her harness and pulled it over the out cropping letting the loose end fall. She then pulled it back up and carefully examined it. “It’s pretty frayed. I’m going to cut it and get rid of it,” she called down.
We watched her as she found her knife and cut the frayed part off, letting it drop. She retied the rope to her harness and threaded it through her anchors. “I’m ready to come down now. With the rope safely in her anchors, I could now belay her down.
Minutes later she was on the ground and collapsed. I was first to reach her. She was on her hands and knees, crying, shaking, retching. I took her in my arms and held her for a long time until she slowly regained her composure.
The first thing she said was, “How could I be so stupid? I’m sorry, so sorry. I was in a zone. I didn’t want to stop. Just wanted to keep going. I thought I had it. I know better. It was a stupid, stupid, stupid asinine thing to do. I would’ve died if that rope didn’t catch. Just hold me for a minute. I want to feel alive. I just want to feel alive . . .” Always in control, I had never seen her so vulnerable, like a child with a badly skinned knee. I held her, gently but firmly, feeling a lump rise in my throat and tears of relief form in my own eyes. She finally stopped shaking. Then she just went limp and let me hold her.
“Okay, I think I need a beer,” she muttered.
“I need more than one plus a tequila shot or two,” I said.
“You brought tequila?” That was the last thing she said.
I put away our gear while she slowly sipped on a beer. I prepped some food and we ate. One of the other campers came over and asked if we wanted to join them. I looked at Billie who was now staring off with vacant eyes at the granite wall that almost took her life, and said thanks, but I think we’ll pass. He nodded his head, said good night, and left.
She said flatly, “I’d like to get out of here tomorrow. I’m finished,” She said no more.
“Understood. We can pack up and head back early then.”
She said nothing more, never looking at me. We crawled into the tent and sleeping bags. She turned away from me and feigned sleep.
Her night was fitful. She woke me several times calling out, “No! No! I can’t. No! I don’t want to die. I want to be alive. I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry Daddy. I don’t want to. Mommy, Mommy, I’m scared.”
We were up at dawn. She helped pack up like a robot or a zombie, with mechanical like movements and no words. Gear and supplies loaded in the canoes, we heading back across the lake. There was a blankness about her as she paddled her canoe. She was empty, her eyes vacant, like all energy, like her very soul had been drained from her, like there was nothing left.
When we landed , she went to the van and sat still staring, maybe in her mind at that granite wall. I returned the canoes to the rental place, loaded our gear in my van, and headed down the deserted highway bordered by foreboding dark hills. She had lost herself. And I was losing myself as I wondered for her survival and my love for her. We drove on into a gathering storm of thunder and lightening where her dreams would never be the same.