FICTION: The Path of Least Resistance
I was a skilled mountain climber for years. I loved climbing mountains, mainly the puzzle of figuring out the best way to climb the mountain and the fantastic view at the top. It got to the point to where I even decided to move into a cabin at the base of a mountain that I planned on climbing. I scoped out the mountain for months before climbing it. I went to climb it one day. I was so close to the top when I fell. The fall wasn’t enough to cause permanent damage but enough to crack my left tibia. I laid there for two hours before search and rescue came and got me off the mountain.
The doctors said that with enough time, my leg would heal and I could climb again. A few weeks later, that was what happened. My leg began to feel better. Although the truth was that even though my leg was starting to feel fine, I wasn’t ready to go back out climbing again just yet. I kept feeling afraid that I would injure myself again or aggravate my previous injury.
I spoke to a friend of mine about my recovery. She said that when she sprained her ankle, she drank mostly lemon juice to recover. She even suggested that I drink lemon juice more frequently to speed up my own recovery. I tried speaking to other friends about what to do while my leg healed. They gave different, but strange, advice. Some said to stretch everyday, others said to try these different diets. None of those accelerated my recovery or made me feel better about what had happened.
Eventually, I spoke to one of my best friends about what to do with this mental hurdle. She simply said, “Go climb the mountain again. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“I could injure myself again,” I replied. “Maybe even worse than before. Shouldn’t I wait until my leg fully heals?”
“The longer you wait, the harder it’ll be for you to go back out there,” she said. “You’ll be fine. Just give it a shot.”
That night, when I went home, I looked out my window, gazing at the mountain I had failed to climb. I could visibly see the spot where I fell. Out of all of the spots on the mountain, that was the one that stuck out the most. The clouds seemed to move around that spot, as if the mountain was taunting me. I closed the curtains and fell to the ground, weeping at the weight of my own failure and disgrace.
I kept talking to my friends about what I was feeling. They kept telling me what my other friend had said: “Climb the mountain again.” For weeks, I heard that a dozen times over. I was afraid to tell them that their suggestions were actually making the fear of climbing the mountain again worse. I feared hurting myself again while I was recovering from an already painful injury, both physically and mentally.
One day, trying to overcome this fear, I walked to the base of the mountain. It had seemed larger and more daunting of a task than when I had first climbed it. My friends had gathered around me, offering their support as I mentally prepared myself for the climb. I took a few steps upward. My leg felt fine for a bit. Then I felt the fissure in the broken bone shift. It hurt unlike anything I had ever imagined. My friends could probably see the strain on my face because they cheered me on and I kept going. After a few more steps, the pain was unbearable. I decided to climb down. My friends tried to understand why I had turned back. They continued to push me to keep climbing the mountain. I tried to tell them that I was in too much pain, but they kept trying to convince me to go back up and try again. Eventually, I just pushed past them, went into my home, and shut the door.
Over the next couple days, I hardly left my home. I kept my curtains closed the entire time. I couldn’t bare to look at the mountain that had broken my body and spirit twice now. One day, I stepped over to the door and checked all of the mail that had piled up. Most of them were letters from my friends, trying to get me to talk to them and get me to go back out on the mountain. It felt difficult ignoring them. The one letter that stuck out to me was the letter from an old college friend. She had heard about what I was going through and wanted to help. She suggested getting away, from the mountain and the people urging me to climb it. She even offered me a place to stay over in Boston until I got on my own feet. I accepted.
I wrote letters to my other friends, apologizing for my abrupt departure. I told them that I had to leave for the sake of my health, and that it was nothing personal. All I needed was space from the mountain. If they went to my old house, they probably found nothing but an empty cabin. I’d already been on my way out of town when I sent the letters.
Once I arrived in Boston, I found an office job that I used to get some money to afford my own place. I became involved in a support group for survivors of physically and emotionally traumatic events. I felt like I was truly recovering from the accident. I buried myself in activities as much as possible to forget what happened. But every now and then, my mind will flutter back to the accident. To the pressure from my friends to climb again. I push those painful memories as far back as I can. I use some of the coping mechanisms that I learned from a therapist. I remind myself that leaving was the path of least resistance, as my therapist called it. That it was the best option presented to me at the time. But sometimes, even that is not enough to hold back the memory of the pain that I felt on that damn mountain.
Ryan Ellis is a sophomore English major. He is a member of the Harrington Theatre Arts Company and the Climate Reality Project. This is his first publication.