This week at rock climbing class there were no ropes and harnesses, no tall walls, no fear of heights. Fear of falling? Yes. But for the most part it was exhilaration and not fear that I felt. Boulders. This post is all about boulders.
But this is not where I really want to start this post. Rock climbing class starts at 7:00 pm, I want to start at around 5:30.
Every Wednesday before our class, Kamel picks me up from work and we drive to a neighborhood near the rock gym and have dinner before heading over to change our clothes and begin doing unimaginable physical feats. As you do. This Wednesday, week 2, I sat across from Kamel at restaurant and hated him. We were angry at each other. He wasn’t listening to me, I was nagging him, he wasn’t getting it, I was pushing every button he had. I wanted to throw every plate in the restaurant at him. I wanted to chuck his food across the room. But instead we sat, not speaking, not looking at each other, sometimes eating and sometimes checking our phones. I would have torn the restaurant down around us I was so angry. But instead we smoldered. I was not going to look at him, I was not going to make one move that even looked like giving in. This was a battle of wills, and we all know who wins those battles. (Ok, it’s not always me… but this time it was going to be.)
He had no reason to be mad at me! I hadn’t done anything! He was the one who was insensitive, who snapped at me in public when I offered him the rest of my soup, who was brushing off my feelings! His anger was unfounded … even though I had needled at him, had been unforgiving and difficult, openly grumpy from the minute I got in the car, and ridiculously indecisive about dinner. I was being more than frustrating, and he was being a jerk.
We didn’t talk from the moment they brought our main dishes to the table until we had paid, left, and walked a few blocks from the restaurant. And even then we weren’t done being angry. But, it was while sitting across from a sullen Kamel at dinner that I had this moment, this ridiculously married moment.
I saw him. The way he held his mouth, the way he looked down at the table kind of sideways, the way his chin fell. I saw all of this and I could have told you without seeing him at all before or speaking with him at all before, having no interaction with him at all before this moment that he was pissed. And I thought, “Holy shit. I know this man so well, have seen his face so many times, that even when he’s trying to hide it, I can read him like a book.”
I realized that I knew secrets about Kamel that other people don’t know. And that this is family, this knowing is what makes you family deep down inside yourself. And I couldn’t help but grin. Like a big, giant grin while staring at Kamel. I was still mad at him, still hated him, still wanted to bring the world down around us, but I also loved him and felt a deep connection to him all at the same time. He looked up at me, saw me grinning like an idiot, did a small double take and asked, “What?” I said, “Nothing.” And then we continued hating each other.
We didn’t want to go to rock climbing class. We wanted to fight and hate each other more. We didn’t want our grumpiness, our epic battle, to be interrupted. We didn’t want to have to be in public as annoyed grumbling people. But we also had enough shame to know we couldn’t just not show up. So we went. He kissed me on the head before we each went into the locker rooms to change.
Bouldering is a physical experience. More physical than using ropes. You scramble up rock ledges, you shift your weight to give you an advantage, you balance on tiny shards of rock. You have faith that you’re going to make it to the top even if it doesn’t feel like you will sometimes.
Sometimes it took the encouragement of the instructor telling me, “Reach up with your left hand, right above you.”
“I can’t,” I said.
“Yes you can, yes you can,” she said back.
I would leap up, push and reach and thrust my left arm up. My right arm burning, my tippy toes balancing on a half inch of shard. And sometimes I would catch it, sometimes my fingers would lock into place and I would pull myself up another half a foot. My right arm would get some releif while my left one took its turn to scream in protest.
And sometimes I would miss and fall. And one time I scraped my knee.
When I finished I felt so accomplished. I had done things I never would have imagined ever being able to do. Can you understand that feeling? Not in the “Wow, that was awesome!” way. It was bigger. I saw a wall, and thought, “No.” And did it anyway. I stared up at ledges and grips and holds and felt every muscle, every muscle, in my forearms, my shoulders, and my back screaming at me to stop, that I was going to fall, that I wasn’t going to make it, that I needed to quit right then, and I wouldn’t. I would reach up, pull up, and lift myself up. Not always to the top, not always where I wanted to make it to, but always better than I thought I could.
I am in awe of what the human body can do. I am in awe of what we are capable of.
When we left Kamel and I were all better.
“Did you see that? That was amazing!”
“I’m not going to be able to move tomorrow.”
“My arms are like jello. My hands are burning.”
“Take the water bottle, it makes them feel better.”
“Do you have the keys?”
We came home, took a shower, and marveled at how exhausted we were, at what we had done. We didn’t talk about being angry because it was stupid. I was hungry and Kamel was clueless. We were tired and impatient. There will be other fights, most likely about the same things. Other silent dinners, but few and far between. Boulders we can’t climb up without some encouragement. And even with encouragement, we’ll probably have the battle wounds to prove we did something difficult, something not everyone succeeds at, something that not everyone thinks is worth the work or the pain or the falling down and the trying again.
But I think boulders are exceptionally exhilarating.