My knee twisted, crackled, and I crumpled onto the iron rock. The pain shot into my joint.
“Are you going to be ok?” Thomosina asked. The half dozen people around me stared in sympathy. None of them had spotted. It was my second day of a planned four week climbing trip in Hueco Tanks, Texas. It would be my last day climbing. I should have asked for a spot on See Spot Run (V6).
I was unsure how I should respond to Thomasina’s question. What was my long time friend looking for? Did she want an actual answer or was she looking for reassurance? In the future sense- yes- I would be ok. It’s not like I fell a hundred feet climbing without a rope, and even if I had, I would be “ok.” But did my knee hurt? Did I just drive 1200 miles to tear a ligament? Did I need surgery, insurance, or the money to afford both? Did I think I was ok?
“I’ll be ok.” I tried to reassure her but I didn’t know myself. I stood up gingerly, testing the uncertain strength of my knee. I could walk but it hurt. I wished I had something to support me. I hobbled around grabbing my climbing shoes. I walked slowly and painfully to the parking lot and Max’s van. I laid on his foam and plywood bed, propped my leg on a duffle bag of his camera gear, and swallowed some Vicodin. I would be ok- in the future sense. At the moment, there was no future sense; there was just pain in my knee. Max and Thomasina, my climbing partners, would be out bouldering the rest of the day. I wanted to fester in the desert.
I’m not sure why he came up to me. Perhaps, he saw a man unable to move, someone who couldn’t leave when he talked. He stood next to the open door of the Toyota Previa while I shifted, trying to find a comfortable place to rest my rapidly swelling knee. Chris would be 18 and “a real man” the next day. He wore a ribbed white tank top, a wife-beater, and a pair of jean shorts that barely hung above his crotch. That’s what real men wear in El Paso. I told him I hurt my knee and wasn’t climbing. Then he talked to my blank face.
“I don’t feel like climbing either,” he chained smoked three cigarettes. Smoking is a socially acceptable form of suicide and Chris wanted to speed up the process. Wrought with the clichés of an angst ridden 17 year old, the sterotype of the bad kid in the after school special, Chris talked about the three different juvenile detention centers he’d been to, about the bruises he got from foster care homes, and about how horrible his life was.
“I met a man with cancer the other day.” His cheeks ballooned like he was going to exhale more Marlboro Light smoke. Nothing significant escaped his lips. It was like he was faking a burp. “I told him I would trade lives with him in a moment. I don’t care if I die in two months. The only thing I live for is mi hermana.” All he wanted was to buy her a guitar and a pony. Growing up, his family didn’t love him. They never said, “Mijo we love you,” or “Chris, you are special.” There wasn’t much love in the Texas desert. He couldn’t let his little princess live the same way.
That’s when he started crying. That’s when I started texting. I asked a friend in town if she would grab me a knee brace on her way back from El Paso. I punched the keys into my phone and stared over the Verizon wireless “sending” signal. A tear drop flowed from his right eye and down his chin. He didn’t wipe it. Another stream of water fell down the left side of his face. He didn’t wipe that off either. The reception was poor; I couldn’t receive any signals. The tears reminded me that I needed ice for my knee. I texted my friend again. Sitting around crying about my problems wouldn’t fix them. I needed to be active about my healing, get some help, and get things going. The messages were starting to go through.
At 4pm, an hour and a half after he began talking, he said, “Now, I am going to go climbing.” He faked burped again. He seemed to feel better. I was jealous- I wanted to go climbing. My knee hurt worse than when he had shown up. It would be awhile before I could climb. I did what I could to help the healing- I let go of the feelings I had, I relaxed my mind, and I waited. Healing is a slow process.