Somehow, I moved. You must have climbed back down, steadied yourself on more substantial toeholds above, and extended your arm towards me, given me your strong, warm hand. I must have let go of the side of the mountain. There would have been a split second of release, a slice of just before falling as I reached up and grabbed your wrist, a perfect shot, and your hand encircled mine. Linked. You pulled me up.
Such levity. Such sweetness when you are released from the possibility of plummeting from a mountain face or any almost certain death, for that matter. As I write, I reach back to that moment of surety when I was finally free from John Linnihan. The moment that his sorry vehicle bounced and squeaked away and down the highway for the last time. My disbelief. He was leaving. Was this really happening? Was it really over? Yes, it was. I was free. I hadn’t died. I remember I was floating on relief. But with you, there was no disbelief. In those few minutes clinging to the side of a mountain, I knew you would reach down and save me. Of that, I never had any doubt.
There was still a lot of snow on top. We strode around tall and proud like we owned the place. Admired our triumphant view. For this moment, it was our mountain top. The air was never crisper, made of particles of ice, and each breath was like the purest drink of water. It is all about superlatives when I remember climbing mountains with you.
One of us had brought a tripod. We took a picture. This was long before the days of selfies with their impossibility of nobility as the taker’s arm fills up a quarter of the frame. This picture was taken with my old Nikon FE. My first camera. I know that because I printed the picture later. Black and white. The photo still sits on the dresser in my childhood bedroom.
Beep run beep beep run beep run beep beep beep run pose beep beep beep beep beep beep beep: click. We are on the summit of Mt. Cokely. Cliffs and peaks and snow are our backdrop. Your smile, perfect as always when on top of a mountain or in any posed photo for that matter, your imperative to be documented as fully happy, perhaps so that you would believe it too and perhaps because in these moments you truly were. But I know as I look at the photo now that my bright smile is not entirely what it was. A forced ideal. I knew it then, too. I can tell you what was beneath that cutie pie-little-girl cock of the head exuberant I’m with Daddy smile: it was a wish. A wish that it would be what was being photographed. A perfect father and daughter duo for everyone to see and admire. But even though the idealism of my pose fooled everyone, I was always on guard when wishing for your closeness.
We didn’t know it at the time (film days, remember? No possibility to check and delete and retake to obliterate even more truth like today), but our deception was captured perfectly in one shot. Perhaps that’s because there was so much beauty there too. Latent. Like the promise of alpine flowers beneath the snow.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish