Watching Simon FallbyMunachi©
They say that when you die, you see your whole life flashing by in front of your eyes.
My life as I knew it ended on a sunny Sunday in April. When Simon fell, something did indeed die inside me. And I saw my life, our life. One year, a tiny part of my complete time in this world, and yet it had been everything that counted. I couldn't stop the images, just as I couldn't stop Simon's descent to the ground. I had been condemned to stand there motionless, helpless, and see both, my memories of our time together, and his falling body. He fell thirty metres, and during his fall I relived a whole year, and that year to me had been a whole life.
It really was a beautiful day. The sky was of a bright blue; the sun had melted the last remains of winter from the earth. It seemed nature was trying to make up for a much too long, much too cold winter. Everything smelled fresh as we walked along the overgrown little path towards the Dog's Head. Simon was walking in front of me, breaking the way through the young shoots of bushes and trees trying to bar our way. I felt like an intruder into this mysterious paradise of bird song and wet grass.
Then I saw the rock. It appeared suddenly between the trees, towering high above the forest, bigger than the other rocks in the area. I was surprised I hadn't noticed it long ago. It occurred to me how appropriate that name was: Dog's Head. It looked indeed like the head of a dog with a long snout, twisted weirdly to look right up into the sky, the nose its highest point. I narrowed my eyes, and the rock looked yet more like a dog. I believed to see it snarl menacingly. Quickly I opened my eyes again — it was just a normal, beautiful rock.
"That's where we will go," Simon had stopped and pointed up to the dog's nose. "The view is great, you can see everything."
I hadn't been out here before, but Simon had. He used to live in a nearby town, and still went here every spring, and the Dog's Head was one of his favourite rocks. He had been talking about it the very first day I met him. I could still hear his voice as if it was yesterday that Cathy and I stood with him in the bouldering area at the City Climbing Centre, and he told us about his planned trip to the area he had grown up in. 'It's not really spring for me, until I climbed the Dog's Head.'
I smiled at Simon and nodded.
"I can't wait."
I hoped he didn't hear the slight trembling in my voice. I was scared, as always. But I was also looking forward to the climb, that was true. Maybe it was that great feeling to be safe back on the ground that made it all worth it, I thought.
Better not think about it, I decided. My thoughts wandered back to that day, a bit over a year ago. Who had thought then that I would be here one day, walking through the wild, towards a rock I was planning to climb? Not me, certainly.
I had never been particularly outdoorsy. Born in a small town myself, I couldn't wait to be done with school and move into a nearby city where I wanted to go to university. Once I lived there, though, various clubs and parties became much more important than my studies. I attended classes more or less regularly, but didn't invest as much time into them as I should have. An evening job in a pub consumed a lot of my energy. Cathy worked in the same pub, and soon became my best friend. It wasn't rare that we went out after work, and soon I would not even consider taking any classes that started before noon. I felt stuck at university, my parents started asking when I planned to graduate, but somehow I just never found the time to take some of the most important courses. It didn't seem to matter, though. Cathy was two years older than me, and she wasn't even thinking of graduation yet, either.
It was Cathy who suggested going to the City Climbing Centre. At first I thought she was crazy. Climbing was about the last thing on my mind, and I couldn't imagine Cathy to be any more interested in that type of exhausting and scary sport.
It turned out to be about a guy. Of course. Almost everything Cathy did had to do with a guy she had a crush on, and wanted to see again, or impress.
"His name is Simon," she told me. "I met him at that party the other day, when you had to work. He's so good looking, and you can't even imagine the muscles he has and everything. Well he told me he always goes climbing, so I asked him if he could teach me -- I really want to see him again. So anyway, I meet him there tomorrow. Are you coming too?"
"But what am I supposed to do there?"
We were standing behind the counter in the pub, we had our shift together that day; it was a quiet shift, though.
"I..." she blushed. "I can't go there alone... And I told him my friend also wanted to learn climbing."
I laughed. Cathy was anything but shy. Usually she just asked the guys she liked on dates straight away. If she was making excuses like that, then there must really be something about that guy. Admittedly, I was curious.
"Okay. I'll come, and I'll watch your climbing, or whatever. But I am not getting up any walls myself," I finally said.
"Isn't it beautiful?"
There was pride in Simon's voice, as we reached the place from which he wanted to climb the rock. We let our backpacks slip to the ground, and Simon touched the rock's surface tenderly, before he started to pull out his climbing gear from his bag. He inspected everything carefully, he always did. I remembered how that was the first thing he told Cathy and me -- before even showing us what gear we will use, or how to do anything, he told us that we should always make sure everything is alright.
Thinking back to a year earlier, I remembered I was looking around at the climbing place rather nervously, watching people ascending to heights that just imagining made me dizzy but also strangely excited. Cathy, on the other hand, had her eyes only on Simon; she didn't care much what he was saying, as long as he, hopefully, would ask her out on a real date soon.
We weren't going to start climbing right away, anyway, Simon explained. First we would boulder a bit, so we could get a bit of a feeling for things, before being concerned with heights, and securing someone, and similar problems. He then led us to a wall covered with colourful handles of various sizes, and climbed up a bit there.
"What we are going to do right now is called bouldering," he explained, while hanging on to the wall as if that was the most natural thing in the world. I suddenly noticed how well defined his muscles were.
It was our turn to try then. Simon explained patiently where to put our feet, how to best hold on to the wall, how to shift our weight and position so we could move with ease, without using up too much of our strength. He liked explaining things. I often teased him later on that he should have become a teacher, and he usually answered that trying to teach me anything was already the task of a life-time. To which I then would giggle and try to kick my elbow into his side or something similar, but he'd catch my arms with ease and hold them away with one hand while tickling me with the other, and well... Things would proceed from there.
The thought alone caused a warm feeling inside me, a certain anticipation. I looked at Simon. He was still preparing his gear. This wasn't a good moment, I knew. Right now, he had his mind only on the rock. Afterwards, when we would be back on the ground, and I would be glad to still be alive, and probably feeling like I wanted to sleep at least a year... On any other occasion Simon had difficulties keeping his hands off me, but there wasn't anything in the world that could distract him from climbing -- even less so, if it was the Dog's Head.
Had it been anything else he was so much into, I would probably have gotten jealous. As it was, I understood and in a way even shared Simon's fascination. In my own way, though.
I can still remember what it felt like, my first climb back in the climbing centre. Simon was belaying me, and Cathy stood next to him, trying to get his attention. Her constant chatter made me nervous. As did the height of the wall I was standing in front of. We were at the easiest route of the whole place; I was tied securely to a rope. Top-rope. Taking the rope up with me was something I was going to learn later, Simon explained.
For it being the easiest route, I sweated quite a bit. Simon kept telling me where best to put my feet and hands, what to do next. And that I needn't be scared, that I should just try. If I fell, he had me safe. I wasn't sure whether to believe that or not, but with every bit I made it further up the wall I felt more secure. It was as if I was climbing away from everything. From my parents' constant reminders that I should do more for university. From all the pubs and parties that suddenly seemed old and boring. From a life that I somehow felt disoriented in. It was almost as if for the first time in my life I had a clear and distinct goal: I wanted to get up there, somehow.
I was scared, I can't deny that. I stayed scared, every time I climbed. I am an easily scared. Cathy, the few times she did come to the climbing place, laughed about my fear. She didn't worry, she had no fear, she learned everything with ease, yet she didn't care either way, and soon her interest in climbing ceased altogether. For me, on the other hand, it became an addiction. My heart was beating wildly just thinking of the heights I was going into, I wondered if I was crazy, yet I just couldn't stop. I admit, in part that had to do with Simon.
The worst was yet to come, the scariest part of my first climb that still went relatively easy. I reached the top of the wall, I looked over it; someone had stuck a little picture behind it, a motivation for the children that were occasionally doing climbing courses here. And now? Simon told me to lean backwards, keep the feet at the wall, but let go with the hands.
"Just let them hang down, or hold on to the rope, if that makes you feel safer."
I did, and it helped a bit being able to hold onto something. I leaned backwards, and for a moment I thought nothing is holding me. Then I felt the resistance of the rope.
"Okay," I shouted with a slightly shaky voice. "You can let me down now."
The next moment the resistance of the rope was gone, and my first instinct was to quickly lean forward again, grab the wall, and hold on to it. But I didn't, and then, slowly at first, he was lowering me. When I got a feeling for how to guide myself with the legs so I wouldn't crash into the wall, Simon let me rappel faster, and a few moments later I stood back on safe ground.
"Wow," was all I could say that day, and I knew I had to come back.
"I'm ready. Security check?"
Simon stood in front of the rock, the rope tied into his harness. He always insisted on checking each other, whether the ropes were tied in correctly, whether all Karabiners were closed. 'You can never be too careful,' he said, and I agreed. I never completely got over my fear when climbing, in a way it was part of the fun, but when I climbed with other people I often felt less safe than with Simon. Most seemed to think they were experienced enough not to make any mistakes. Simon always double-checked everything, not because he mistrusted himself or me, or was scared, but just because he said that was the way it is supposed to be done.
"I'll go up about thirty meters, and build a stance there," he explained. "Then you follow me, alright?"
I nodded. In my stomach there was once again this feeling of having eaten too little, or maybe too much, I don't know, like a hole. I felt like that each time we were about to climb, whether it was in an artificial climbing place or out in nature. And the fact that I would have to start by myself, in a little while, when he was up there and couldn't even check I made all my knots correctly, made it worse. Of course, I had been climbing for a year and knew how to do everything, but I was nervous every single time. And yet, I also looked forward to the climb more than anything.
It was similar to that time after I first started climbing. I couldn't stay away from the City Climbing Centre after I had been there with Cathy and Simon. Simon had told us he was going to go spend a week in the village he had grown up in, and he told us about the Dog's Head and how he would climb it like every year. There was no way of getting Cathy to go to the Climbing Centre with me as long as he wasn't there, so I went by myself, rented some shoes, and tried to boulder a bit by myself. I watched the other people there, imitated what they were doing, and usually failed miserably, but after a lot of practice there were a short route or two I managed. I was still smiling when I got home hours later, exhausted and sweaty, my arms aching, and longing for a bath more than anything in the world.
I went there twice more that week, bouldering a bit and watching the climbers. I wanted to go up there again, I had almost forgotten about my fear now, just remembered the feeling of having made it, of having safe ground under my feet again and looking up there, thinking that I made it.
I could see right away that Simon had climbed this rock before. He tried to take a different route each time, he told me, but still, he seemed right at home, and climbed with a speed that made it difficult to take up the rope quick enough. I tried to watch closely what he was doing, I was by far not as good a climber as him, and probably could use some ideas of how to best get up there. But my thoughts kept wandering all the time that day, I just couldn't focus. Now I sometimes wonder why I was thinking of all these things just that day, of how I met him and how I started climbing. Did I suspect something? I don't know. Maybe it was just the fact that it had been almost exactly a year.
Back then, Cathy had called me one day to tell me that Simon was back from his journey, and that they were going to the movies the next evening.
"He asked me if you were coming along too," she said, in a tone that was difficult to interpret.
"Well, would you want me to?" I asked eventually.
"No, not really," she said. "I'd like to spend some time alone with him, maybe that will lead to something."
"Well then I won't come along. I don't really have time anyway," I said and hoped that the little pang of jealousy I felt didn't show in my voice.
Cathy had always been the one that got more attention from guys, and who went out with more guys. I occasionally had boyfriends, there had been one serious one in my last year of school, but somehow I didn't meet men as easily as Cathy did. I never minded. Occasionally Cathy tried to set me up with friends of her boyfriends, in one or two cases that even lead to relationships between me and that friend that lasted longer than the one Cathy had with her guy. Still, I was too busy enjoying life, partying, and avoiding my studies, to think much about anything serious. Cathy, on the other hand, suspected each new guy to be the one. Until, a few weeks later, it was the next one's turn.
This was the first time that I felt jealous. I hadn't thought too much about it until that moment, but each time I went to the Climbing Centre, I secretly hoped Simon might have returned from his vacation, and might be there too.
I spent the next evening in front of the TV, with various types of chocolate and ice cream. I didn't have to work, and I didn't feel like going out. Of course, I usually went out with Cathy anyway, but a few of my other friends had called and asked to join them in the pub. I didn't feel like it though. I couldn't help thinking of Simon, of the patience with which he had shown us climbing techniques, of his encouraging smile. And of Cathy, with him.
Simon's voice tore me out of my thoughts. He had reached the spot thirty metres above me, where he planned to secure his stance with a quickdraw and then belay from up there so I could follow him. The spot was about half way to the top, to which he again would continue first.
I opened the Karabiner I was using for the HMS belay and wanted to take out the rope so I then could attach the end to my harness.
"Shit, what is this...?"
Simon's voice made me look up again. He seemed to be struggling quite a bit to loosen the figure-eight he had tied the rope to his harness with. I remember wondering a bit, why it might be so tight -- after all he hadn't even needed to sit into the rope once while climbing up. Finally he managed, and the next moment he was leaning back, more and more, much further than the quickdraw he was securing himself with should allow. I saw his feet lose contact to the rock, and he started his journey downward.
All this couldn't have taken more than the fraction of a second, but somehow it seemed an eternity to me. I believed I could even see the startled expression on his face, despite him being thirty metres above me, and facing away from me.
And at the same moment I believed I heard his voice. He was whispering into my ear: "I think I've fallen in love with you." The words he had first said so many months ago, last year, on a warm day in late spring, as we were sitting on the grass in a park by one of the canals, his arms around me and the taste of his lips still on mine.
Cathy didn't know we were there. Even though she was already seeing another guy, I still didn't dare to tell her. From the things she had told me after her first date with Simon, not much happened there. She was convinced he was just shy, but he hadn't seemed like that to me. I kept that to myself, though. Cathy wouldn't have listened to me anyway. And in fact I tried to avoid talking with her about him altogether, since I just couldn't get him out of my head.
I kept going to the Climbing Centre. I felt bad -- was I trying to meet him again, behind my best friend's back, to see what my chances were with him? But I enjoyed bouldering and watching the climbers more than I would ever have thought. I wanted to climb again, and signed up for a beginner's course that was held every other weekend. It wasn't cheap, but the more time passed, the more I forgot having been scared, and just remembered that great feeling of having managed to climb up the wall, the feeling of strength.
I suppose Cathy noticed that I less often felt like going clubbing after work. I felt healthier than I ever had since I got quite a bit of exercise at least a few days every week, and somehow the amount of alcohol and cigarettes we usually consumed on our nights out started bothering me.
One day, then, a few weeks later, I started the climbing course. We learned the belaying method Simon had already shown us, and I felt good, I knew what the teacher was talking about. He had an eye on us as each of us had to climb up in top rope while another was belaying. We went up at a part that wasn't too high, and I got up there too quick to get scared.
"That was good!" a familiar voice said behind me after my climbing partner had let me down to the ground again.
I turned around: Simon stood there, with a wide smile on his face. I could feel I was blushing, and noticing that made me nervous enough to blush even more.
"So you really are getting into climbing?" he asked. "How about we practice together a bit more once your class is over. And..." he hesitated for a moment, "we could have a coffee or something afterwards?"
I was still a bit out of breath from the climb, so I needed a moment to be able to answer.
"Yes, I'd love to," I said then.
From that day on we met more often at the Climbing Centre, at first by coincidence, then we started arranging our meetings. My climbing skills progressed well, though I must admit, a certain amount of fear was always there, and that actually got worse the better I managed to go up the routes we practiced on. I did my best to hide it; I didn't want to make a fool of myself in front of Simon.