“Where are you off to?” he asked me. I turned around at the question, adjusting my messenger back over my shoulder.
I sniffed once, the air cold going in. My eyes fell to the ground, then lifted once more to his face. “Oh, you know…off to find whatever adventure might await.” Half my mouth tipped up, then I turned back around and let my boots crunch down the gravel pathway. A sadness, like a fleeting shadow, constricted my chest. I just let it pass—through my heart and out of my mind, and continued forward. I was going places, see? The past wouldn’t hold me back, and neither would what anyone said about me nor any transitory sense of loss.
I wasn’t really leaving him behind. No—I was only leaving memories behind that had nothing to do with his love. Memories that would never change his love. Memory was the only thing I was abandoning. Because I would never think to go off to scale mountains without Father. And besides—he’d come. I knew he’d come. I swallowed down rebellious tears at the sudden pang behind my eyes.
I walked on, away from the property and towards the great mountain—the one I was ill-prepared for and yet felt I had no choice but to conquer. Knowing. Knowing he would show up when I needed him the most.
I stopped, the vast field separating my feet from that monstrosity stretching out before me. Really? Because, really, I couldn’t rid the image from my mind, as much as I tried. Him standing there, framed by the doorway, his eyes taking me in. He hadn’t made one move to follow, one move to stop me, so I’d gone. And yet, hadn’t he wordlessly reminded me that… That what, exactly? That he didn’t want me to go? That I would always have a place with him even if I never scaled one single mountain? That he wanted more time with me?
Perhaps it was all of the above.
The wind tossed small strands of my loose hair, and I once again adjusted the strap of my pathetic bag. Light, yet the heaviest thing I’d ever carried at the same time. Long grass and wildflowers swayed in their version of an ocean before me, and I closed my eyes. Truly, I admitted, if hesitantly, hadn’t I always wanted nothing more than my father’s love, approval, and nearness? Wasn’t all I wanted to just be understood by him, and the reverse as well? That I would know him so well that just the rhythm of his pulse would tell the mysteries of his heart? What was mountain climbing compared to the adventure of knowing someone in that manner?
I drew in one deep breath, and with the oxygen I allowed all these thoughts to enter my lungs and shudder through my insides. Sweet and bitter at the same time. Memories of unfulfilled longings—longings I’d searched for in friends or tasks or dreams. And the sweet? An acknowledgment that the longings pointed to him—to my father. And not only that, but his arms were wide open, ready to fold me in so I could be safe within earshot of his heartbeat. I knew this, yet the mountain called to me—one invitation competing against another.
I opened my eyes, taking in the massive craggy rock in the distance. Maybe I was getting ahead of myself. The mountain wasn’t going anywhere, now was it? No, and neither was I. Not until I knew what my father really thought, really felt. With a new determination and hope rising up and pushing a strange sense of joy into my chest, I winked once at the mountain and turned on my heel, heading back the way I’d come.
I’d walked not even a few feet when I saw him approach. Slow, but purposeful. I was surprised. Had he followed me, then?
“Come,” he simply said, beckoning with his hands, palms curled toward himself as if inviting me into the embrace I so wanted. I dropped my bag. And though he was not far, I ran to him. He wrapped my head within calloused hands, holding it to his chest. When I wrapped my arms around his back, I felt the large pack he wore. But more importantly, I heard that beat. And it whispered to me to let go. It sang to me that we would scale that mountain as one. But that more important than the victory of triumph would be the way we walked.