I’m so tired sometimes, like I’ve seen it all, lived it all, before. Twice. Maybe three times. And I’ve always been one to just drift with the current, I think, as it has never made much sense to put so terribly much effort into trying to build something, trying to control the result, while intimately knowing time and ruin will have their way with me regardless.
Despite this, I do believe I accidentally bred well. From what little I can tell, I nullified the curse of my own bloodline in giving Django some of his father’s DNA. So, go me. Go biologic impulse. I’m elated to discover that some blind-sample testing is so naturally favorable.
While also waiting for the lightning that I’ve expected to strike since Django was conceived. I notice the perversion of it more lately. Remembering, for example, that I bothered to tell no one of the pregnancy on the assumption that I would not be lucky enough to give birth to an actual living thing.
And yet, here we are, some infinitude later, unbelievably alive. Not just one, but both of us. What were the chances? Already I feel as if we beat the odds. Already the safe half-light of every waking day is one more that I didn’t expect to be gifted.
Which is putting too much stock in impermanence, perhaps.
Or perhaps just the right amount?
Either way, I’m incapable of navigating the future because I can’t properly costume myself. I haven’t the perception that I’ll be occupying it.
So when dear sweet Django, borderline 16, suggests a week-long trip into deepest darkest mountains, the goal being an unreachable summit, I just shrug. Climb into the passenger seat. Pass him the keys.
The piece that I forget here is that Django has not lived all of my years. He is not world-weary in any of the ways I might be. He is young and green and endlessly pure in his youth, his exuberance. The splendor of his life lies, with any extension of good fortune, ahead of him.
Which is really just a long way of saying that he doesn’t anticipate my going along with his perilous mountain climbing proposal. He expects that I, like the good mother I really ought to be, will say something about safety, about limits, about planning.
But because I don’t, and he’s always going to be one level of cool ahead of me, he shows no sign of his surprise as he takes his place behind the wheel.
Behaving unknowingly like the grandfather he never met, he drives the entire way, using the interstate at top speed to get as far from home as he can, then choosing the most isolated routes imaginable. Over harrowing dirt road passes that drop down into heavily shadowed forests which whisper, “Pssst. Guess what? Grimm had it right, all along.”
My son plays at being a man. In many ways he just came in like that. With this exclusive knowledge, with this inherent sense of direction. But he’s only just now really reaching an age where where he gets to express himself across such wide parameters.
I wonder if he recognizes that I delight in him. That I’m observing him, in my own slow and lazy way, believing that I’m not really going to catch a glimpse of his true character unless it’s peripheral.
Although not observing all that well, apparently, because there are little signs of doubt that I don’t catch and should. Because I am insensitive? Because I am more hardened than the mother of such innocence should be? How and why did that happen?
“Are you okay?” Django asks, the first night in the wild, waking me.
The mountain air is thin, is cold, and I’ve been dreaming of the demons inside me.
I laugh, embarrassed. “I was having a nightmare,” I tell him. “Was I screaming? It was nothing. I’m so sorry. Go back to sleep.”
I’m still the parent, even though the dream scared me.
“What were you dreaming?” Django wants to know.
It’s pitch black in the tent, which is tiny and which I carried in on my back.
“It was silly,” I try to reassure. “I’ll tell you in the morning.”
Django is quiet. The moon surfaces from behind some clouds and slinks eerily across the thin fabric of our tent.
“Did you dream you were falling off the mountain?” Django queries, tentatively.
Historically, I have a fear of heights. I hate that Django is aware of this, that he once caught my fingernails clawing through the dirty seat of a ferris wheel with a phony smile plastered on my face.
“That mountain should be scared of me,” I attempt. “My summit is going to be epic.”
I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s honestly the least of my worries, tangible obstacles being so much less daunting than psychological.
“What if you die?” he wants to know.
We never speak like that to each other. It’s a poor excuse, but I think this is why I don’t understand that he’s expressing an actual concern.
“We’ve all gotta go some time,” I respond. “It wouldn’t be a bad way to go.”
This leads to private and colossal thoughts of my sister, who is dying a long and slow and inconceivably barbaric death. To further thoughts of my father, whose main artery was severed in a car accident. To my brother’s girlfriend, who drove head-on into a brick wall.
These stories are loud. Sometimes, they keep me up nights. And I’m trying so hard to keep them quiet, I don’t notice that there are other stories are being told that night in our tent.
“I didn’t sleep at all last night,” Django tells me next morning. We’re reorganizing our frame packs for the long ascent which will bring us to within two thousand vertical feet of our final destination.
“On y va?” I ask, because French is one of the little games we play.
By day’s end we’ll reach an alpine lake whose iridescent green-blue will transcend every other color my eyes have dared to love. There will be wildflowers en masse. I will be breathless and reborn in the surprising knowledge that life has a secret warehouse of beauty entirely for those that think they will never experience things anew.
Meanwhile, Django will suffer a long day of worry and further inhabit his own panorama of sorrow.
Stupid me. How could I think that my son would be immune to my constant musings on mortality?
In the middle of the night, he’ll speak.
“Hey, are you awake?” he’ll ask.
“I am,” I’ll respond, all blooming vitality.
Django will reach out this sweet hand and hold mine in his, like those hundreds of bygone days of his childhood, when he was faced with uncertainty and I was his mountain.
“Delilah, I don’t want you to die,” he’ll say.
And just like that, certain of life’s secrets will reveal themselves.