It is a long weekend and Delilah and her son, Django, are invited to go camping with some other families they loosely know.
Delilah wonders at this, only insofar as she recognizes the signs of being taken under the wing of more established others. It is not exclusive to her life with Django, but rather a carry-over from her own adolescence.
(She still receives the occasional Christmas card or phone call from near-strangers who made her theirs for a while.)
It is a long-familiar eventuality, an aspect of life on which she’s come to rely.
And yet, she is curious about the quality that inspires these benefactors. What is it, precisely, that they see in her, and now in her son?
Delilah takes a long look in the mirror, pretending she doesn’t know that face as well as she does. Searching for the detail that reveals her foundling nature.
But is then distracted by a sensation of rising excitement in her chest.
She and Django are about to venture into the wilderness with friends they don’t yet know. How young and green it makes her feel!
“We’ll take care of everything,” they promised. “All you have to do is show up.”
Delilah does a little tippy-toe bounce in front of the mirror. Then corrects herself. She has been a mother for twelve years. Hasn’t the time come and gone that she was supposed to free the grown-up that must surely be gagged and tethered somewhere inside of her?
She shakes off the thought, leaves the house to break Django out of school.
Unzipping the tent on that first morning, Delilah experiences a bizarre gripping of her heart. The clouds are eerily low and the incongruous rock forms jutting out of the earth take her by surprise. Yesterday’s arrival happened by the cover of night. She had no idea where they had landed. It’s magnificent, and the the coziness of her sleeping bag competes with a desire to be the first one up.
Make that second one up.
Thinking himself unseen, Django scrambles up the first platform of the rocks in the distance and holds his hands victoriously above his head. The low clouds sweep across him, and he is gone. For Delilah, it is a surreal moment of staggering beauty.
After breakfast, part of the group makes the decision to climb to the peak of the harrowing rock tower. Eight boys, two dads and Delilah.
The first part of this journey is light and joyful. But about halfway up the terrain changes, and one of the fathers gives a speech to the assemblage of boys.
It has something to do with thinking through the consequences of one’s actions in the face of the physical challenge they are about to brave. “Determine your move before you make it,” is one of the lines. “It’s how we are all going to keep ourselves safe.”
Delilah attempts to get her mind around that. But then they are led to a rim around which they will have to skirt, with a drop that would spill brains and splinter bones, and she quickly forgets everything she’s ever known.
At the head of the pack, Django edges along the thin bridge before Delilah can stop him, and she holds back a scream only because of an instinct that it might disrupt his balance.
She covers her eyes with her hands.
“This is terrifying!” she whispers, emotionally-fraught.
“Sit down for a moment,” a dad instructs. “Locate your center of gravity.”
Directions such as these are completely foreign to Delilah, but she sits, takes a deep breath, and fights off thoughts of Django plummeting to the ground.
When all of the boys are safely across, the dad crouches down next to her.
“As of right now, you have a notion of your own limits,” he begins.
“That notion really wants to expand.”
Delilah smiles. She likes that.
“It really does?” she wants to know.
“So, so much.”
And somehow, the worst part is over.
The last leg of the journey. The summit of the crag is accessible by a steep, narrow channel. The group ascends it by wedging their backs against one side and slowly maneuvering their hands and feet up the other.
Django is the third up. He gives a warcry at the top and then shouts down to anyone, “Wait until you see this! You’re gonna love it!”
A 360-degree panorama of endless horizon.
Once atop, Delilah does a slow turn.
Catches sight of her son, in all of his exuberance.
And a dad, who steps forward to give him a congratulatory pat on the back.
A result of this visual, Delilah suddenly notices the painful unbuckling of a tight, helpless feeling between her ribs.
A feeling that has been there since Django was born.
And perhaps even longer.
* * *