The season is underway on Mt. Everest. Teams of climbers are making their way to base camp, Sherpas and yaks in the lead. Advance teams are working to fix the ropes on the Khumba Icefall, a treacherous, harrowing part of the climb that begins just above base camp. Some say the Khumba Icefall is the most deadly part of the journey to the top of the world.
More chilling than the Death Zone?
I hope there’s a stash of anti-anxiety medicine next to the supplemental oxygen tanks and ramen noodles.
The Khumba Icefall is described as a moving sea of ice, immensely unstable. The typical climber will spend 4-6 hours navigating the glacier before ascending 2000 feet to…
Baptism by glacier.
Working up to summiting Mt. Everest happens in the months (years) leading to the climb, not on the climb itself. By the time the plane lands in Katmandu, one must be prepared to be physically, emotionally and mentally challenged in unprecedented ways. And even then a shot at coming down unscathed is pretty much 50/50. At best.
On May 29th, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, and Tenzing Norgay, born a Sherpa but living in India at the time, were the first people to summit Mt. Everest and live to tell the tale. The mountain was a clean and deadly slate in those days. Now, just deadly. But at least there are ropes and ladders and paths taken, a proven way to navigate the Hillary Step, thanks to the Knight himself.
It’s been done before, a small but essential comfort to those who are now partaking in the puja ceremony as they ask the gods to bless their journey, leaving at a base camp altar sampa cake (a cake made from ground barley), yak milk butter, fried dough, fruits, chocolate, and drinks, while the sweet smell of burning juniper swirls in the thin and frigid air.
By summiting and living, Hillary and Norgay made it easier for the rest of us who wish to reach the top of the world. Every person since who has descended alive has made it easier.
Which doesn’t mean that it’s any less formidable, intimidating, grueling, unnerving and challenging. And still so deadly. So, while all those that have summited have illuminated the path ahead, they are not able to make it any less precarious for those who will follow.
If there was a gondola to take you to the top of Mt. Everest it would be a ride to queue for but not an accomplishment worthy of bragging about. Making the minute by minute choices that keep death at bay, pushing the body beyond what it’s built to endure for weeks, living in thin air on a razor’s edge as you climb up and up and up, over and over again, pushing against hurricane force winds and hiding in plain sight from sun rays that can blind you in seconds – these are the conditions that make climbing Mt. Everest a grand achievement.
I received an email last week regarding a reply I wrote in response to a comment. S wrote:
…you said something to me in a comment yesterday that I wanted to ask about. You said “…I am also motivated to do my best so that I can figure out ways to make this process less painful, easier to navigate and full of opportunity for anyone who is dealing with divorce and betrayal.”
You make it sound like the Holy Grail. Which, of course, makes me think of Monty Python and those old King Arthur movies, with those gallant knights strung up on the trees for even daring to look for the Grail. So my question to you is, Is it even possible to make things easier or do we all need to go through the pain and anger to come out better on the other side?
Hillary and Norgay proved the mountain can be climbed, but I’ll still have to weep tears of fear as I cross bottomless cravasses that crave permanent company in their icy belies, on nothing more than common ladders roped together to make it possible, but by no means a guarantee to get to the other side.
All while wearing crampons.
They showed me how to scale her, but they can’t do it for me. I’ll have to take those steps, but knowing that others have survived encourages me to be brave, gives me hope. They set for me an example I wish to emulate. There are lessons to be learned from their missteps.
That is what I hope to do for those who read my words and follow this journey, a journey that is not as deadly as climbing the world’s tallest mountain, but some days it certainly feels as intimidating.
The day before Easter I arrived at the curb in front of The Genius’ house to pick up the dudes. We had arranged for me to have an hour or so to shop for their Easter basket treats while the dudes played a t-ball game. I couldn’t do it any sooner or I would have systematically plowed through bunny after bunny. I have zero will power when it comes to chocolate. The stores were filled to capacity and I was stymied by all the offerings. I arrived back at The Genius’ house about a half hour after they returned from their game – just enough time to change and become engrossed in backyard badminton.
I honked the horn and got out of the car, hopeful that I would not have to knock on the door. Moments later the little dude bounded out first, his blond hair flopping in his eyes as he ran to me. He stopped short of a hug and said,
Mama, I promise not to play video games all day, but can we stay overnight with Dad? I want to play badminton.
I looked up to see the tall dude, followed by The Genius. I could tell that this change of plans had been discussed. All three sets of eyes were waiting on me to respond. My chest emptied, my stomach sank, my heart went silent for a beat. I looked to The Genius to step in and say, Boys, another time. Have a great Easter. It was so fun to see you today.
That didn’t happen.
And then this did:
Really? Um, okay. (Regret #1)
I walked back to the car to remove the bag of Easter treats, shocked that the request to stay over wasn’t taken care of, as in denied, before my arrival. I was not pleased and felt as if I had been set up. My moves were controlled. My words few. But inside emotions, thoughts, feelings were swarming.
The dudes went back in the house, excited to resume play. I reached into the back of the car to pull out the shopping bag.
Glad I could pick these up for you, I said sarcastically. (Regret #2)
It was then that The Genius pulled the plug on the last-minute overnight.
Sure, cancel on them now making me look like the bad guy. How convenient. (Regret #3)
That statement launched him into a tirade wherein he called me manipulative, rude and mean. The next 5 minutes were ugly. He spewed. I asked him for specific examples of how I was being manipulative. He spewed, but declined to provide examples. He spewed some more.
My hands shook. I stared at him without flinching or looking away. I drilled into his eyes. I doubt I even blinked. I wanted to spit in his face.
Not exactly poster child behavior for one who desires to love unconditionally. But trust me, I applaud my self-control. I would have thoroughly enjoyed a front lawn smack down.
Disgusted with me, he bounced away in anger, entering his house to tell the dudes to gather their things. Moments later they emerged. No tears or tantrums, but nonetheless they didn’t need to experience any of it, nor should they have been given the opportunity to alter the game plan on a holiday in the 9th inning.
As they buckled in to their seats, The Genius sat on his Yertle the Turtle perch, telling them how we need to communicate better and that plans sometimes can’t be altered last minute. I chimed in saying that it’s important for us all to speak gently to each other and with respect so that our words are heard.
I was tired of being verbally bullied.
But one last shot was to be fired. I can’t recall if it was wishes for a good day, a safe drive or a Happy Easter, but the final word was spat at me: Sunshine.
I’ve not seen a single Twilight movie, but I have seen enough trailers to know what the werewolves look like when they leap for the throats of the vampires. I would have nailed the audition, without the help of computer generated animation. Instead I put the car in drive, stared straight ahead and waited for him to close the door.
As we drove off, my entire body shaking, I asked the dudes,
So, Santana or The Parlotones?
Santana won out.
I pushed the experience out of my mind and away from my body, adamant that his childish words and anger wouldn’t derail my day. But I was surely affected by them.
Later that afternoon I received an email from The Genius suggesting that we have it out, face to face. He graciously bestowed upon me the opportunity to release all the anger and poison and hatred I have for him, unleash it upon him, so it isn’t bottled up in me anymore. Then, he would do the same.
I’d rather criss cross the Khumba Icefall barefoot and inebriated.
The only anger I felt that day was directed at me for failing to bite my tongue and for failing to have a strategy in place for just such an exchange well in advance. A fact I discussed with Mr. Esquire, the super fantastic kitten who handled the legal transactions of the house sale.
We shared a celebratory dinner at the Sand Dollar after a brisk walk on the beach. He, too, is in the midst of a divorce. One without infidelity, but not without anger and resentment. I told him my tale. I’ll paraphrase his sage response:
Divorce is like playing 3D chess. It’s that complicated. Nobody is prepared for it. We don’t become students of divorce until faced with getting divorced. You kept your cool. I can offer this suggestion should the situation arise again: Tell them that they can stay and finish their game and you’ll come back in 2 hours to pick them up.
Oh. My. Errrrrrr! Why didn’t I say that? Why didn’t I meet the little dude’s request with a smile and a hug and an, I’ll be back in two hours? I could have avoided the entire, nauseating exchange with The Genius with that simple strategy. Oh, why didn’t I take the high road?
Because the Home Ec elective was not followed by Divorce 101.
And even though I know these types of collisions happen often with divorced parents, living one out is the best way of insuring I don’t make the same mistake twice. But here’s the best part – the reason why I want to illuminate the path ahead for those just behind me – I discovered in that exchange that the event itself means nothing. It’s just a way to conjure up a mirror, showing me a part of myself that needs some attention.
I allow myself to be bullied.
I need to continue to work on my boundaries. But what better way to work on them then via this type of exchange? As S asked, “…do we all need to go through the pain and anger to come out better on the other side?”
You can’t get to the top of Mt. Everest, or through a divorce, without a number of harrowing experiences bravely endured along the way. We can take comfort in knowing that so many have gone before us and survived. And that while the path may be illuminated, it doesn’t mean one foot in front of the other will get you to your destination.
Without the extreme hostility and ugly dialogue of our encounter, I wouldn’t have realized how important it is to minimize any interaction with The Genius for the foreseeable future. A part of me hoped that we could be more present with each other as parents, but it’s not possible. As with refusing to acknowledge an allergy, I kept tasting the wheat and feeling the bloat and burning itchy rash until one day the welts took over my body, forcing me to go cold turkey.
I am relieved. Emotionally relieved. And relieved of having to interact with someone who is not able to respect my boundaries. While I receive mixed messages from The Genius, he is receiving only one from me: We will not interact for a very long time. Perhaps not until I descend through the Khumba Icefall after summiting the world’s tallest peak and thank not only Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay for showing me the way, but The Genius, too.