I’m writing a book

With all this ‘free’ time I’ve decided to finally take control and do something with my life, so here it is, I’m writing a book.

Here is an excerpt-

It blooms beneath the snow and weathers the storms that rage through the mountains. Edelweiss, a small white flower growing high in the Alps, is a symbol of strength to Austrians. The name, derived from the German word Edel for noble, and Weiss for white, is a pure and virtuous plant that coats the rocky-grey landscape, like snowflakes, high in the clouds. And although you cannot pick this protected blossom of snow, so clean and bright, I hum in my head, the symbol of strength, courage, and even true love brings a smile to my face as I scale the slippery slope of jagged rock and ice. I feel completely present, the kind of enchantment that only unspoiled nature can create. It demands your full attention because a miscalculation in climbing can break the thin line between life and death.

The last time I felt this present was when I was thirteen years old. Unlike the magic of the mountains and its fresh wafts of freedom that caress my skin, I’m sitting in a dimly lit stale hospice room. Please, God, heal my dad, I silently tumble the words repeatedly to the sky. Tears stream down my mother’s face, cracked with apprehension, as she holds my dad’s hand while he hungers for his last breaths of air. A couple of church friends stoop around his bed, with oxygen tubes curled around, in disbelief. He exhales, “I love you,” to my mother before closing his faded blue eyes that once sparkled with so much enthusiasm for life. Father then falls into unconsciousness and silence.

My dad, Des, lived his life mirroring the previous generation of family members. William Thomas passed down noble traits from a well-respected British family to his eldest daughter Maisie and son Des that were both born in Durban, South Africa. They learned to care, laugh, and live life with courage, bravery, grace, and a sense of adventure. But everyone has their mountains to climb. My father could sense a person’s vulnerability. This compassion was born from several painful experiences. During his final months, he etched the happy and traumatic memories of his life on whatever paper he could find and then tucked the pages away in an orange folder to hopefully be strung together in a book someday. He wrote.

My mom Alice came rushing in and took dad, laid him down on the couch and said, “Don’t worry, I’m just going to call the doctor.” She didn’t have a phone, so quickly went next door and asked the woman there to call for an ambulance and a doctor. My mother knew it was severe. 

She hurried back to her husband’s side and held him in her arms. She prayed to God, “please spare him.” My dad muffled something about a pain in his head.

When the ambulance came, they wrapped an oxygen mask around his face. He vomited and then died in my mother’s arms. She cried and cried. In the ambulance, they managed to revive him for a few minutes, but by the time they got to the hospital, he was gone. 

I was outside when my brother-in-law Jimmy Good sat me down and said, “Son, I’ve got bad news to tell you. Your father has died. Now you must be a man.”

My twelfth birthday was just a few days away when my dad had a stroke caused by high blood pressure. It came as a shattering blow to what was a happy family. Dad kept saying a few days before that he must get everything in order, sort his legal documents, just in case. I had the best parents a boy could ever wish for in their life.

I believe everyone experiences a ‘before’ and ‘after’ at some point in their life. I compare it to the sudden spike on a flatline that measures the heartbeat. The after is so shocking or surprising that we are forever changed. This before and after happened a few times in my father’s life, my mother’s life, and then mine. I’m around the same age as my father when the figures that stoop around his bed blur out and I touch his cold and foreign hand to say “goodbye.”

Just like William, Des had accomplished budgets, legal documents, including giving each one of us – his wife and two daughters – for Christmas a final farewell letter to remember him. I’ve treasured this letter, all these years. I trace the calligraphy with my finger, the beautiful but shaky letters forming each word, penned by a frail hand.

My dearest Desiree,

I love you with all my heart. My darling daughter, thank you for working hard during the year. For your violin and schoolwork, you did so well this year. We just love you. We pray God will always bless you and protect you always. You’re a lovely daughter, and I am so proud of you. You are beautiful and very talented. 

Always remember, I love you and will always love you. You are a very special daughter.

All my love forever, your dad always.

Love dad x

Throughout my life, I’ve been fascinated with hands. My father had stubby callused fingers with little broken clamshell nails, moulded from hard work. I used to tease him because of his hardened hands, but behind the mask of mockery was an admiration. You can tell a lot about a person from their hands, confidence, insecurities, what they do for work, how they keep themselves, the strength, length, or limpness of a handshake.

My dad had a sharp mind and quick, assertive hands. He trained the South African police in self-defence after earning the highest rank of a black belt in karate. He mastered being a financial planner, before changing careers and becoming an engineer where he got to put his hands and mind to work. But it was in this last job before we immigrated to the Isle of Man in the year 1994, where he contracted asbestos-related lung cancer. Years later the tumours came out and slowly devoured his sculpted body, he tried to conceal the suffering to his family, so we wouldn’t worry.

I wedge my “slender violin-playing fingers,” into the rock’s fracture. My heavy backpack rubs against my shoulders and my new Gore-Tex hiking boots squeeze my feet. I feel the blood oozing from my ankles and accumulating in the soles, but there’s no turning back. We’re so far from civilization. My mind fixed on the summit. Climbing peaks and hiking in the wilderness is about perseverance, resilience and optimism—an opportunity to push past limits and grow.

The snow melts under the sun’s rays and creates a slithering of a stream that splashes in one section I must pass. We’re in a small group. Eight or ten climbers. Hurriedly clipping our carabiners into the next layer of cable while scurrying across the rocks like spiders. Frigid water pours onto my face and splashes through the crease of my fleece and down my spine as I cross the mountain stream. My fingers, accustomed to creating chords on four strings that dance like exultant currents in the air, fumble over stainless steel and cable. The water pools in the pockets of my backpack, weighing and weakening my posture. Out here, far from libraries bursting from the seams with books and winding narrow cobbled streets, I feel like Moby Dick riding a bicycle.

“Hurry,” rings a resonate voice with a Canadian lilt.

“I don’t want to get soaked.” Intense ebony eyes crease into a smile as “S” studies me between splashes.

I reattach my carabiner and tug at my climbing harness around a slender waist hidden by an oversized, borrowed blue fleece.

“S” is enormous and powerful. He’s a young guy that’s played hockey for his hometown and bragged about it often. His fingers are dry, cracked in parts, but nimble. S swiftly clips on to the next cable and daringly leans back from the wall of rock with his defined caramel legs, stretched and spread. He catches me with a wink. I blush as I brush aside a string of dripping wet wavy golden hair from my face, and he laughs. He is as far from a frog as a guy could get, and he uses it to his advantage.

Today would have been my high school prom, but I skipped it to attend this one-month expedition in the Tauern and Dachstein mountain ranges. My mother handed me the tickets on my eighteenth birthday in the year 2005. My friend, “D,” a teenager with string beans for legs, asked me to be his prom date in July. We had journeyed through elementary and later high school together, but he longed for a more profound – romantic – connection.

“You know what my favourite colour is, Desiree?” he’d quiz.

“Blue?” seemed like an obvious guess.

“Gold, the colour of your hair,” his voice quickened towards the end as he lost himself for a moment, forgetting the friendship mask he wore. Bluish-grey eyes gazed over each coil lightened by the sun and a shy, but a perfect smile crept across his face.

I squeezed out a suppressed and self-conscious chuckle, unsure of what to say next.

“Will you be my date to the prom?” The words rolled off his tongue like a timbre of warmth, but his focus was scattered and filled with nervous anticipation.

He could picture it already – holding hands, a tingling feeling spreading throughout his entire body as the dry-ice smoke swirled an array of acid greens, blues, hot pinks, and gold over the dancefloor. The music, euphoric, opened a window to seal the perfect night with a kiss from his special girl and – his trail of thoughts is cut like a knife slicing open an old wound on his wrist that’s concealed under the white linen shirt that conforms to the school’s uniform.

“I can’t. I – I’m going to Salzburg, Austria, on an expedition called Upward Bound.” I tried to explain. “I’ll be there a month. My mother has already purchased the flights. I’ll be staying at the base of Tauernhof.”

But half-listening to my explanation, his bottom lip began to quiver, and he bolted like a bullet from the chair, causing it to screech against the tiled floor like a fingernail scratching a chalkboard.

He looked down from his tall, skinny frame into forest-green eyes set appropriately apart from a small ski-sloped nose for one last plea. I flashed a soft rose-bud smile highlighted by dimpled cheeks to reassure him it’s not you, but me. But he swung his body away and darted out the room with feet slapping the tiles like wind-driven rain.

The air is crisp and damp, like fresh rain, when we reach the summit. It leaves a dew on the grey rocks, glistening under the sun. There’s a steel cross or mark of navigation on the top that has a sign pinned to it, which I ask someone to translate from German into English. A woman with wavy brown shoulder-length hair, speckled green eyes and freckles translated the sign, “They came to me from over the mountains.” It’s a beautiful statement. I wonder if it has religious connotations or any other underlying meanings. I always overthink.

Rocky grey mountains endlessly rise against the horizon. Each one topped with snow and lush forests below. Further down are pastoral landscapes trampled only by peaceful grazing cows that are occasionally interrupted by the tinkling of the brass bell around their neck. It’s the first time I’ve ever been so high in my life, a truly transformative experience. All the problems of the world below – D, who for lack of choices took to the prom an ogre of a girl with thinning brown hair and toothpicks for teeth and a character to match, along with the sadness of father, and all the other trivial distractions – are forgotten.

Here, where the colours are brighter, the wind more intense, and everyone feels more alive than ever before, is where we rest and unload our backpacks for lunch. I have a carrot, coarse bread with a small container of meat paste, a pepperoni stick and a small chocolate bar to eat, accompanied by water gathered from a stream earlier on and stored in a canteen that was given to me before the trip.