“Hey Romeo.” I heard momentarily. I opened one eye cautiously and saw nothing but the blank concrete wall next to my bed. Sleep beckoned, until I heard the voice again. “Hey, you guys. Can I borrow Bob for a second?”
“Sure. We’ve got a harness for him now...” I heard as sheets fell off my body in all directions while I pivoted frantically towards the door.
“Keep that oversized rat away from my bed.” I snapped, rubbing my eyes.
“Bob is not a rat.” My neighbor stated indignantly. “He’s a squirrel.” My eyes were now fully open, viewing the disheveled state of the room, lit from the open door, where my roommate, the neighbor, and now affixed to a lead, the furry mammal stood.
“Aren’t squirrels members of the family rodentia?” I mused, yawning. “If so, Bob is about two cousins removed from avoiding sticky traps?”
“I dunno.” The squirrel keeper said, stroking Bob’s fur.
“Aren’t you worried about plague? Hantavirus?” I asked incredulously as the squirrel scampered onto his shoulder.
“Nah, Bob’s clean.”
“Did he tell you this?”
“Do you wash him? Are you on a first name basis with his fleas?”
“Then keep that rat out of my room.”
“Hey. Romeo – are you fearless?” Henry asked. Henry was the fifth year senior I was rooming with. Everyone called him Henry because it was his last name. No one had any idea what his first name was. I even had doubts whether Henry remembered it, or if he even possessed one. Knowing Henry, it was possible that he had lost it in some liver-killing drinking contest.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Get loose. No need to be so touchy. It’s the weekend.” He smiled. “Anyhow, did you want to use that climbing harness you brought here, or see if you could finagle another date?”
“Get bent!” I snapped. Unperturbed, Henry kept talking.
“Anyhow, I’ve got some slightly old climbing rope that I picked up used, and I thought we could head over to the North Face route on the South Flatiron, and see how we do.”
“Old climbing rope. Used climbing rope.” I muttered. “Why can’t it ever be ‘new climbing rope’ or ‘unused climbing rope?’”
“Hey Romeo. That’s why your date fizzled.” He laughed. “Girls don’t like guys who talk to themselves. So are you in or not?”
“I’m in.” I snarled. “Now get that rat out of the room. And stop calling me Romeo.”
Several hours later, we were crashing through the wilderness on a not so well beaten path.
“Are we close?” I asked.
“Close.” He said, patting the rock face next to us affectionately. “This is the Matron. Maybe she’d date you. Why – you tired?”
“Are you sure? You looked winded coming back up to the second floor.” He jested. This was a not-so-oblique reference to his insistence on a demonstration of my climbing abilities before we left. Since I had rated myself as an “Advanced Beginner” when asked about my skill level, I had been prevailed upon to show my skills. The test that Henry had devised was not devilishly clever or intricately complicated.
His test was to have me to climb up to our room. After I had finished laughing, he had indicated that he was serious. Or ‘deadly-serious’ as he had put it. After lodging all sorts of pertinent protests about the police, campus police, and the simple foolishness of his idea, I walked down the stairs, and around the dorm. It had been constructed with some sort of stone façade, with outcroppings of rock indented and outdented up the walls. The architect who had designed the building had been going for the-large-rectangular- three-story-chimney look. Climbing it was like ascending a ladder. The only challenge was avoiding Bob’s family who were looking frantically for him, questing for nuts, and seeking revenge for my defamatory comments about their species. I made it up easily.
“Yeah, that was a tough ‘climb’.” I noted sarcastically. “I’m surprised it’s not rated.”
“Never mind that.” He said. “We’re here.”
Technically, Henry hadn’t needed to say anything about our arrival. Out of quiet emptiness, we now were surrounded by a large, disorganized crowd of fellow climbers, festooned with liberal amounts of chalk that covered their hands like bat guano in various states of roping up or down. Conversation between us stopped, as we strapped on our gear, and squeezed up a chimney. The air was crisp and dry, and off in the distance, I could see the wisps of clouds trying to form into bone crushing afternoon storms. Past the chimney, we stretched out the kinks, and then headed up the first pitch. A weathered crack where the forces of erosion had gained a foothold in the solid rock guided us across the face as the motionless air captured the echoes of each movement I made.
The rays from the sun flew across the cosmos and pounded each and every surface of my body, attempting to drag me off the rock. Sweat pooled in inauspicious places and evaporated off to the heavens, or tore off my skin, screaming downward to the planet’s surface below. Every single aspect of my essence focused into the rock clenching grips that my fingers traversed. My shoulders strained and extended, my legs twitched, and seem to lengthen, passing from outcropping to outcropping. Old, rusty pieces of unused protection suddenly protruded from the rock like discolored trash on a pristine beach. The first pitch was over. I hauled my gasping body onto a packed ledge with Henry, a small vibrant tree, and several other climbers and took in the view.
Below, the town seemed to diminish in size, shrinking to minor insignificance. Cars shrunk to beetles. Individuals vanished into motes of dust. Above us, the rock soared and spiraled to the cerulean blue sky. Past the blue was a darker black, and past the black, distant unseen points of light and infinite endless gaps of space. I quickly shelved my thousand yard stare and philosophic musings to my pack, and returned my efforts to ascending what was at best half a grain of sand in a cosmic sense. Flecks of rock flew off and beat against our outreached arms. Time passed in a clinging, cloying, series of elaborate motions. Then, with a fleet quick scramble, we were at the top. Hands slapped each other in celebration, as we grinned with tired sunburned faces at cheating death for the last several hours. We drank in the wind for the obligatory five minutes, before fixing lines and bounding down in two easy rappels in a good form that would impress any tree-dwelling mammal.