Suicide Slope: A Metaphor, by Shane Thelen

            The trek out to Suicide Slope is a grueling one.  We have made the journey a dozen times knowing full well what awaited us.  This time as we hiked, we talked.  Sometimes about the past; sometimes about the future.  I never was very good at dwelling on the present, instead looking towards the next adventure, almost forgetting the current one.  You see, even the walk to our destination is filled with ups and downs; the journey to our adventure taking just as much out of us as the end result would.

            About ten years ago, my friend feared for his life.  A battle with a serious illness could have left him a corpse.  It would seem that this gave impetus to his future self.  This condition is what pushed him forward when none of us could.  This man, a mere child at the time, never wept about the uncertainty of his life; never feared; never worried.  The day to day struggles seemed to pale in comparison with what he was fighting but because he never focused on the ailment, never gave it power, it freed him as only a pure lack of fear can.

            We walk along, the wind burning our faces, the ice particles in the air stinging and scratching their signatures into our exposed flesh.  Towing the sleds behind us, we march resolutely down the third steepest hill that we will deal with this day.  Slipping and occasionally falling into the knee-deep snow gives us time for laughter, time to reflect.  We pause and catch our icy, wind-driven breath before we go on.  In the distance, through the blizzard, we can make out the raging, cragged peak we will assault.  The trees moan in the crisp, howling air, branches cracking and snapping to our left and our right.

            In high school, he wasn’t a great student or even an attentive one.  We spent many days playing hooky and going hiking and fishing instead of preparing for a future that we hadn’t signed up for.  It was about this time that this person in question met his foil . . . in the form of a girlfriend.  L. was insightful, and she could see the brains in this underweight, fragile little kid.  She glowed about his good qualities, but was never slow to criticize his failings.  In her, he caught a glimpse of redemption in his future.  She nagged him incessantly, feeling that he was throwing away the many wonderful chances he was being given to become more than he was.  He resented her for those same expectations; he didn’t know how long he would live.

            As time wore on, the fights grew worse.  It was never one-sided; she punched, and kicked, and slapped him and he gave it right back.  There was no animosity at the end, not evening a true parting of ways.  Rather, there was the tacit though unspoken acknowledgment that each had affected the other in their own manner and neither would be the same.

            We see a field mouse scamper through the snow in the field just ahead and below us.  To the west, a solitary ray of sun creeps from beneath a veneer of thick, gunmetal-gray clouds.  Like a groundhog seeing its shadow, this beacon of spring days soon to come appears but then quickly takes leave, sneaking back into its lair.  We reflect for a moment on how all of this has come about.  How we know to come here for the thrill of sliding head first down a dangerously steep slope; a journey which will end in glorious triumph or painful tragedy.  How do we know that this thing we do will, in fact, make the best memories regardless of the outcome of this day?

            After his breakup, my friend spent a lot of his time with temp agencies.  A hard worker, he had many jobs he enjoyed but few that would last for more than a week.  After two and a half years of bouncing around the workforce, he landed a gig with a standards and testing facility.  If you have a lock on your front door, there’s a good chance that the original has passed through his hands.  Picked, smashed, frozen, destroyed.  Sent back, re-imagined, re-engineered, re-sent, re-tested.  Taken apart, put back together, and given a seal of approval.  A stirring metaphor for his life.

            After hiking a quarter mile up the dreaded Suicide Slope, we gaze at creation from its peak.  Our lives exist in a kind of quantum flux, precariously perched on the aether with nothing on all sides and empty space both forward and backward from this moment.  I sigh, a sign that my body is content with our journey.  Our adrenal glands have yet to be emptied so we sight down the runway leading to the ravine that will provide a sweet though temporary release once the bottom is reached.

            My friend currently lives in a nice place in a nice city.  His dreams now evolve with the rest of his life.  This may seem like a game of catch-up to some, but he views it differently.  When pressed, he sighs and says, “I like where I’m at.  You can’t get to where you’re going if you don’t like where you’re at.”  This is another example of his day to day philosophy.  You need to focus on being content in the now before you can worry about where you’re going and if you’re ever going to get there.

            We pause at the top of the Slope, neither of us saying a word.  The blizzard has long since relaxed its frozen grip, and the quiet stillness of the world is now reborn.  A deep breath, another sigh, and it’s time to ride hell-bent for snow.  We take turns, and I consider it an honor to watch him go first.  Down the slope, over the ice jump we recently installed at the halfway point, and now to the tricky part–the turn.  Although the Slope looks steep, it is not this that threatens our bodies nor chills our souls.  At the bottom there is a hairpin turn which none of us have made yet.  Instead, for those doomed to failure, there lies a twisted, gnarly patch of thorny brambles at the base of the hill.

            Generally opting for survival and maintaining all of our limbs intact, we’ve made it a practice to jump clear of the sled just before reaching the menacing patch of spikes and pain.  But this day, something is different.  I see him glide down, loft over the small jump and land with an explosion of snow.  He is still sliding at breakneck speed when I lose sight of him at the bottom.  Steeling my nerves against this haphazard attempt on my life, I sit Indian-style on my sled and push off.

            I veer to the left and just miss the jump; by doing so, my speed increases exponentially.  Racing down the Slope, the wind deafening me, I see the end in sight.  A sharp, ice-coated curve veers up in front of me.  I slide and then push all my weight to the back left of the hideous hell-wrought contraption beneath me.  The icy snow makes a grating, crunching sound as I pass over it, and in one instant I clear the curve.  I find that the trail here makes a 90 degree bend and leads straight up another, steeper Slope. 

            But I am not a lone explorer. I see my friend sitting there, gazing up at the next challenge.  Our eyes meet and in the same instant we smile.  Neither of us has ever made it this far.  No one has seen what we now behold.  By waiting to conquer the curve before we go on, we have realized a new sense of exploration and wonder at what lies ahead, and for the second time this day the sun rises in the east.

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