The Adventurer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

A short story from a collection that explores the concept of adventure.

 

 

The Adventurer

 

I am standing at the edge of a cool pool in the courtyard of a hotel in Eureka, California. I have chosen this hotel mostly for its pool. It is summer and the heat in Northern California can be unbearable at times. I have jumped into a pool many times; Swam in the damn ocean with sharks, but yet I hesitate at the edge, toes curled around the pool’s lip. To jump means shockingly cold water hitting my skin like a thousand tiny needles. A sudden change of state from warm and dry into cold and wet. I will have to hold my breath under water and swim to the surface immediately. I will not survive if I don’t reach the oxygen rich air again. The sun above is casting a blanket of warmth on my bare skin and I could stand here indefinitely in its comfort.

I am in Eureka at the young age of twenty two to help my mother prepare for her death. She has been diagnosed with a terrible disease. It’s called ALS; Lou Gehrig’s disease. It will slowly and certainly deprive my mother of every faculty that defines her humanness. She will not be able to eat, talk, walk, wipe a fly from her face, tell me she loves me. We have been told by the neurologist that she has at most 3 years left of this type of existence before her ability to breathe will be extinguished by the disease and her body will cease to live. That’s not life, I rage silently in my head with fury from the unjust sentence this doctor has delivered our family; a punishment that does not fit our crime. We are good people whose only indiscretion is to have expected a long and healthy life for eachother. I am a good person who just wants a mother to see me through more of my life than 22 years. She should see me graduate from college, marry and have children. She should become a Grandmother.

My mother has always been a rule follower. She never drives over the speed limit. She doesn’t drink too much, smoke too much, engage in illegal activities. She avoids risk and recklessness. She married into a secure and functional family to flee from her own family’s dysfunction. She doesn’t seek out the edges of comfort within her life. Rather, She rests contentedly within the folds of certainty. She desires a simple predictable daily routine. Her hairstyle never wavers, makeup consistent and flawless. Clothing routinely casual with a modest flare of color. She has been a secretary for as long as I can remember. Always taking notes at the meetings where important decisions are made; never risking making those decisions herself.

She also shows up to life with a daily grace that inspires those around her. “Oh no. Not your mother!” People will say upon hearing the news of her illness. “It is not fair that this should happen to her. She is so kind and sweet”. As though there is anyone in the world who deserves such a horrible sentence of suffering. It’s true though. She is kind and thoughtful. Unfortunately she in particular, is not prepared for this battle ahead. She seeks comfort and security. This disease will steal that from her early on and she will not embrace this challenge with the spirit of a warrior; winning whatever battles she can before the war is lost. This disease has overwhelmed and conquered her from the very beginning. She has surrendered. 

I dwell at the edge of the pool no longer. The clear cool water below calls to me. I suppress prevailing thoughts of status quo; sun soaked skin warm and dry and I jump from comfort into uncertainty and self determination. I jump because, unlike my mother, I am an adventurer. I strive for more than comfort and certainty. I wrestle with the distraction of contentment. I do not remain at the edge of the pool and endure the numbness of sufficiency. I jump into the cool pool simply to feel the shock of it on my skin and awaken to a new state of being. Adventures jump. All others wait to be pushed. My mother would be content to stand by the pool, feel the warmth of the sun envelope her smooth delicate body; look into the clear cool inviting water below and remain indefinitely at it’s edge.

I have brought my mother to Eureka to say goodbye to her father. My grandfather, A man whose parental involvement consisted of little more than sperm donation for his three offspring. He was a self absorbed man. There were affairs and alcohol fueled arguments. As the story goes, my grandmother left him one day while he was at work. She packed up her belongings in a moving van, put the three kids in the car and drove off to California. He married the barmaid whose bed he was already sharing and my grandmother raised his children. She would spend many years of her life pioneering women's reproductive rights. Later, endlessly encouraging her granddaughters to take risks with love and life and never settle. In her final years, she spoke often of the true hardship of enduring the challenges of growing up poor in a decaying town. She would retell the triumphant story of how she elevated herself from a poor farming town and a morally defunct husband. When push came to shove, she left the comfort of the status quo to seek out an uncertain future. My Grandmother was a reluctant adventurer.

My mother was never close to her father and this trip feels strangely perfunctory. We will meet in this arbitrary town to engage in a dispassionate reunion so my mother can say a final goodbye and tie up loose ends. Until then, we are staying in an affordable hotel. Along with the pool, we picked it for the easy wheelchair access. My mother has lost all ability to walk and talk. I care for her daily needs with the instinctual insight that only a daughter can offer. She is weak and tired. She needs frequent rest, and I put her to bed several times a day.

At these times, I lay her gently on her side. Position the many pillows that keep her comfortable in her immovable state. Then, I go to my own bed for rest. She will not be able to move herself from that position on her own. So, I will wake up often and consider my own comfort in an unchanging position. When this becomes unbearable for me, I get up, go to her bed and turn her. As her body moves rigidly under my repositioning, she releases a low soft moan. The familiar sound that indicates she is glad to see me. She was becoming unbearably uncomfortable in that position. It was her shoulder. I allowed it to rest too far under her torso. I will watch that closer next time. Make sure I get her positioned perfectly. We will both sleep better then.

I will go back to my hotel bed for another round of sleep. The mattress here bears the feeling of too many years of use, fiber and support broken down and unable to hold my weight. The pillow-top addition is not making up for it. My own bed at home is much more firm and I like it better. I want to lie in my own bed. In the room next to me, my mother lies in a body that has been worn and broken down by disease, muscles atrophied,useless, not familiar to her. And I weep because I know I will not be able to care for her much longer. I weep because my mother as I knew her all my life has departed and I am left to care for this helpless woman until I am no longer able. I worry, what will become of her then? 

She will endure for another two years until finally, she is called to death by a conviction that I will never fully understand. She will refuse nourishment through the feeding tube choosing to die with awareness and intent. My last few days with her, I will revel in amazement of my mother's bravery in the face of death. Where did she find the strength to leap from the status que of life and into an uncertain future? She will enter into death on her own terms. It will be her greatest adventure.

Several months after my mother's death I am standing on the summit of a vast frozen mountaintop prepared to release her remains into the universe from which she came. It is a sunny warm day in McCloud California but the wind and temperature around the craggy surface of the summit of Mount Shasta is ominous. This mountain reaches up over fourteen thousand feet from the valley below with a grand presence to generate its own weather pattern. It is wild and unpredictable. Volcanic grooves and ridges formed over hundreds of thousands of years have shaped this mass of mountain with appendages that stretch from either side of its southern slope. Like wide open arms they invite the climber; come on up but tread carefully. It has a history of consuming victims. I have hiked, scrambled, reached and heaved, balanced and stretched myself to stand on its summit, a small granite rock outcropping at my feet, wind chilled and weathered. I am holding a small brown plastic box of my mother’s remains. When I picked it up from the mortuary, it was surprisingly heavy for its size. Now, it feels appropriately dense for it holds a life and that should carry some weight.

It was her dying wish to have her ashes spread from this mountain. We kept a large photograph of it above her bed in the nursing home. She was never able to articulate why she chose this spot. No doubt it has something to do with her general love of nature and the mystique that only a mountain can offer. It’s top is so high above the base that the photograph does not focus on the whole mountain, leaving the summit blurred and obscured. I think that maybe she always wanted to feel the summit wind against her face but never could risk the climb.

For months I have been planning this trek to the summit to grant her wish. I have learned to use an ice ax and crampons, navigate glaciers, and perform a self arrest. I have practiced route finding and mountain climbing. This journey was long and exhaustive and I still have to descend. For a moment, I hesitate to let her remains fly free. To release them means a shocking finality of loss pulling at my heart like a tragic ending to a story; A sudden change from being a daughter to being motherless. I will have to be brave and independent or I will not thrive. I hesitate no more, the mountain wind calls to her. I suppress my desire to hold on and I let her fly. Later, I descend into the uncertainty of life without a mother; a roguish smile upon my face. I am ready for the adventure ahead. After all, I come from a long line of adventurers. 


Submitted: June 21, 2021

© Copyright 2021 cindy040775. All rights reserved.

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Comments

AnitaMumm

Thank you for sharing your work. I found this story deeply moving and the writing quite beautiful. Your style is elegant and the voice is clear and earnest. I liked the way you used echoing to emphasize both style ("I am standing at the edge of a cool pool./ I am standing at the summit of a vast frozen mountaintop") and theme (the author as an adventure, grandmother as a reluctant adventurer, mom as having missed her chance for adventure). There is a tone of sadness, of course, yet the overall feeling I was left with was one of hope; there is the sense that by watching her mother miss the chance to live an adventurous life or take any risks, the narrator has learned a crucial lesson for her own life, and she will live a life of adventure in ways both large and small.

The pacing feels solid; I never had a sense of too much detail that was slowing the momentum, nor any spots where there was too little information to give a clear understanding. I marked a couple of spots that felt abrupt and you may wish to add a transition. The one thing you might add a touch more of is the sister--she's just a quick mention here. What is her reaction to the situation; how is she taking it, especially in comparison to the narrator? Also, is the narrator's father in the picture, and if so, how is he taking his wife's illness and what is his role? (I could also see an argument for leaving this out and keeping the focus on the female members of the family as that seems to be a theme.)

A note on the ending: I think it would more impactful if you omitted the final two sentences and ended with the line "I suppress my desire to hold on and I let her fly." That's a punchy sentence that carries a satisfying tone of resolution. I think the theme of being an adventurer, of having a free or roguish spirit, carries without spelling it out directly at the end.

Wed, June 23rd, 2021 10:00pm

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