July 3, 1992
I know I should be in bed. We'll be leaving for the Sierras in just a few hours and I'm no longer young enough to pull an all-nighter without paying dues for it.
But, I'm all wound up and I can't sleep.
To say I have conflicting emotions is the understatement of a lifetime. In a sense, I'm looking forward to tomorrow (or, more accurately, later this morning) more than I've looked forward to anything in quite a while. I realize now that I've been alternating between looking at this whole Læ proposition as nothing but an elaborate shuck and viewing it as a last chance to make something out of my life.
One thing's for sure. If it is some kind of hoax, Mantami's in line for an Oscar. He's been growing more and more excited as departure time has been growing closer and closer. At the same time, he's been acting increasingly nervous, too.
I braced him up about it following our regular meeting Tuesday afternoon.
"I am in nervousness, Mister Drew."
"I could tell that, Mantami. What I want to know is 'why'?"
He glanced around guiltily, as if someone might overhear us, even though my place is hardly big enough to accomodate all the gear I've accumulated in the past month, let alone the two of us and any lurking eavesdroppers.
"I have sinned, Mister Drew."
"'Sinned' is being a wrong word?"
"That depends, Mantami. 'Sin' usually implies some kind of religious transgression, but I suppose it could apply in a purely moral sense, instead. What did you do wrong?"
"I have been having sex, Mister Drew."
I laughed. I didn't meant to hurt the little guy's feelings, but his grave tone and anguished expression were comical, given the context.
"Sorry, Mantami. I'm not laughing at you. It's just that the concept of premarital sex as 'sin' is a tad bit quaint, these days."
"Sex is being a sin on your planet, not. Sex is being a sin of bigness for Vomisa childs."
"You look pretty grown up to me, Mantami."
He shook his head.
"I am going through Ordeal, not. So, I am being an adult, not, also."
"In the eyes of your people, you mean."
"Trueness, Mister Drew. I am being an adult, not, in Vomisa people's eyes."
"What the hell, Mantami, I wouldn't let it worry me, if I were you. If you're so darned concerned, just keep it to yourself. What they don't know won't hurt them, after all."
"Mister Drew! Vomisa are never lying to the Mothers!"
"Wait a minute! I didn't suggest you lie, exactly. Just don't volunteer information on the subject."
He favored me with a wounded-puppy look.
"Telling of truth, not, is being lying, Mister Drew."
"Whatever. I'm just trying to help. If you don't like my advice, you're under no obligation to follow it."
He stood up and made the faintest of bows.
"I am thanking you for advice-giving, Mister Drew. I must be leaving, now."
I got the strong impression that my well-meant suggestion lost me a good bit of Mantami's respect and, frankly, I regret that. I always thought of myself as broad-minded and I considered that to be a good thing. Instead, my 'moral flexibility' may just be ethical laziness.
I've been facing a good, big stack of ugly truths about myself, the past couple of weeks. That's one of them. Here's another one:
Scared of what?
I don't know, exactly. Certainly, I'm afraid of dying. Isn't everbody? The thing is, I've been looking that possibility square in the puss for donkey's years. I've seen enough of my peers crater big time that I've come to accept my fear of death as just part of the price I pay for tackling big walls.
"Big walls", hell. I've known a lot more bike geeks who got scragged in traffic than rock rats who got bonked without a brain bucket or who did the ropeless rappel. Operating a motor vehicle is even more dangerous. Six years ago, my own parents were killed by a drunken driver on I-80.
No, the big D is just part of the furniture.
I know for sure I'm terrified of getting shot. I get tweaked all the time--I mash a finger, scrape a knee or elbow, do an eggbeater and break something. That's all routine. Gunshot wounds are another story.
But that's not what's eating me. At least, it's not what's really eating me. Instead, I think it might be something like fear of the loss of myself.
Earlier this week, I paid my rent up for six months in advance. That actually felt good in a "I might starve, but at least I won't be homeless" kind of way. But yesterday I called Pac Bell to have my phone service suspended and Wednesday I made arrangements to have PG&E shut off my electricity and both actions made me very, very uneasy.
I think I'm reacting that way because both things are reminders that, if this expedition is not some kind of elaborate joke, tomorrow I'm going to literally disappear off the face of the planet. Nobody left on Earth will know that I've gone. And the only real friend I have in the world is going to disappear with me.
Look, if I cratered off El Cap, the Yosemite climbing community would throw a pretty serious drunk in my honor. I should know. After all, I've participated in enough of them. But, if I get killed or stranded on this expedition, there'll be nobody to mourn my loss. I have no brothers or sisters. My parents are gone. And Alison is gone, too.
And that's my own fault. I took her for granted one time too often and she walked out on me. I can't even blame her for it.
That's the problem with my whole existence. I've been taking everything for granted for far too long now. And, by this time tomorrow, it will very likely all be gone.
I will be gone.
And nobody will know. Nobody will care.
If I don't return, in six months, Mrs. Wong will just rent this place to somebody else. Nobody will file a missing persons report. Nobody will come looking for me. I'll just have vanished into thin air and the rest of the world won't even notice.
I don't like that feeling one bit.
Worse still, I'm expendable.
I like that feeling a whole lot less. And, as far as this expedition is concerned, my feet are getting cold enough to exhibit superconductivity.
I'm going to go along as far as the Sierras. That, I'm sure of. At a minimum, I want to meet the mysterious Læ. But I damn sure want some firm guarantees about things like the length of the contract and the size of the payoff and I want a whole lot more solid information about where we're going and what we're expected to do for our money before I'm willing to play Judge Crater for her. And, if she's not willing to provide that information and those guarantees, then I'm going to turn my ass around and come straight back here and get a goddamn life.
Even if I have to hitchhike.
Even if I have to walk.
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)