Summer, 2002. The Eagles were playing their farewell concert tour in smaller cities across the country, which is the only way Little Rock would have had that big of a concert. I decided to buy my parents tickets to the concert – a joint gift encompassing Mom’s Birthday (April), Mother’s Day (May), Father’s Day (June), and Dad’s Birthday (September). I wanted to go, too, but tickets were $98 a piece. I simply couldn’t afford it.
The concert was July 2. I had been kicking myself all day for not buying myself a ticket to the concert, price be damned. It was The Eagles Last Tour! I would never have a chance to see them again! Dumb, dumb, dumb. My friend “Marissa” asked me if I wanted to try rock climbing, and I agreed. We would be meeting another friend of ours, “Don”, at a nearby “mountain” on the west side of town. We hiked up the trail, and found several other people at the small wall setting up to climb. Don knew most of them, including “Luke”.
Luke was…calm. Mellow. Patient. Nice. He seemed only too happy to teach us, show us how to tie knots and belay and climb and set up ropes. He patiently went over things again and again. He was strong, competent. Patient. I know I keep repeating that word, but that’s still the overall image I have of him. He was always so patient with others, so much more than he was with himself. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We spent several hours climbing, the Arkansas summer evening providing us with sunlight until 9pm. As dusk set, Luke and I walked up to the top of the climbing wall to take down the topropes. We stood, watching the last rays of the sun drop over the next ridge. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said. And I felt so peaceful standing there, in nature, next to a kind person, and I felt the first bits of attraction.
My friend Marissa and I were hooked. On the way home, we talked about how much fun we had had, and how nice Matt was, and how much we had learned. We had already taken Luke up on his offer to meet him the next evening, to climb again. Marissa expressed her attraction to Luke in one way or another, perhaps a “He’s really cute” or some such phrase. I agreed. Being the kind of person I was then (am still?), I determined that she was interested, and she had “Dibs.” If he liked her, I would have no problem with that. He had certainly shown no preferential treatment towards either of us, and for all we knew he could have a girlfriend, but regardless, she had expressed interest, and I didn’t feel the need to fight her for him.
We started spending every night after work climbing. I lost fingernails. My hands were torn up, and I started to get calluses. I had bruises, on my knees, elbows, thighs. I loved every single moment of it. When Luke asked if we wanted to do a weekend trip to Northwest Arkansas, Marissa and I jumped at the chance. A whole weekend of climbing – we couldn’t wait. And it was great. It was the first of many weekend trips. We were both hooked.
At one point, maybe the second week of our after work climbs, a group of us decided to go grab a bite to eat and a margarita after climbing. We went to a local Mexican restaurant and sat on the patio, enjoying the warm night and the cold margaritas. We paid our tabs and went out to the parking lot. Marissa and Luke and I stood out by our cars for a long time, talking. Finally, Marissa left, leaving Luke and I by ourselves.
I don’t know when the flirting began, maybe it had been going on for a week. I don’t know who stepped closer first. But we kissed, and I had a moment of triumph that I am still not very proud of. I had beat Marissa. Luke wanted me, not her. I was a competitive female when it came to dating, evidently.
One night, we were in his apartment, having dinner, and we got into a tickling fight. When we were exhausted from laughing so hard, he said he loved me. I didn’t think he meant to, and so I was going to act like I hadn’t heard him, but I changed my mind and called him on it. I looked him in the eye. “What did you say?” He had sobered, and he repeated it. So this is what this feels like, I thought.
Luke and I were inseparable. I think my coworkers think that he beat me, because I came in every Monday covered in fresh bruises and scratches, but they were all from climbing, and hiking through heavy brush. My dad, at one point during a happy hour, remarked, “I’ve never seen you this happy before.” And I was. I was incandescent. I glowed. I walked around with a huge smile on my face and felt like I was about to burst from the happiness.
“We need to talk.”
Luke had gotten a job offer in Denver. A dream job for him. He didn’t like Little Rock, the job paid a lot more than what he was making, and he had always dreamed of living in Colorado. It was just after Christmas. He took the job.
I don’t know if he asked or I offered, but suddenly I was moving to Denver, too. We searched online for a place to live, comparing prices and reviews of apartment complexes and areas of town. We packed up a U-Haul, hooked up his truck to it, and drove to Denver.
I remember driving across Kansas, thinking how pretty the golden fields looked at sunrise, loving the single tree in the middle of a field.
Eight hours later, I was begging him to get us the hell out of Kansas.
We crossed the state line. “Welcome to Colorful Colorado!” I looked around. Colorful?
“Denver – 13 miles.”
I looked around. I could barely make out the mountains on the horizon. It still looked like we were in Kansas. I didn’t understand. I had always thought Denver was in the middle of the mountains. I didn’t know that it was “the lawn chair to the Rockies.” Luke always teased that I got tears in my eyes, looking around at the brown, barren land 13 miles east of Denver. I don’t know, maybe he’s right. Maybe I knew, then, that my life would become brown, barren, desolate.
Our apartment, however, was a wonderful surprise. We were in Lakewood, almost to Golden, and we had a beautiful, unobstructed view of the foothills. My dad happened to be in town on business, so he and an associate of his helped us unload the U-Haul. We unhooked Luke’s pickup truck and drove back to Little Rock – he still had a week of work left, and I had several weeks.
“Little Rock – 13 miles.”
I was driving. It was dark, maybe 7pm, and traffic heading into town was pretty heavy. Luke was asleep in the passenger seat. I was exhausted, but we were almost home. I was in the left lane, doing 70mph in a long line of cars, passing another long line of cars in the right lane. I noticed, in the right lane up ahead, a pickup truck with a bunch of furniture in the back. More people moving. As I watched, a bookcase (or was it an entertainment center?) floated up, caught on the wind, and flew out of the truck.
It’s funny what happens in those situations – it’s like time moves really slow. Or maybe it just goes to prove how fast and unconsciously the brain can work. I assessed my exit routes in a millisecond – there were none. A grassy ditch to my left, cars to my right. There was a line of cars in front of me. If I slammed on my brakes, we’d get rear ended and cause a pileup behind us. My foot came up off the gas. I saw brake lights flicker in front of me, saw the car ahead swerve onto the narrow shoulder and back into the lane. I watched the furniture as it slowly descended. I must have made some kind of noise, because suddenly Luke was fully alert, sitting fully upright and leaning forward, yelling, “Oh, shit!” as he saw what was happening. The furniture hit the road directly in front of the truck, maybe two feet in front, and bounced back up, hitting the underside of the front bumper, the engine block. I was finally able to brake, pull over into the grassy median, followed by several other cars, as more cars pulled off to the right. In all, about ten cars pulled over because they had been hit with debris. I came to a stop, somehow remembering to put the clutch in, put it in neutral, and put the emergency brake on.
And then I fell apart. Shaking, crying, unable to breathe. Adrenaline is funny.
It took a week to get the truck fixed. It needed a new boot, and Luke put four new tires on, at a cost of about $250/ea. He drove back to Denver by himself, while I stayed in Little Rock. I can’t remember why I had several weeks of work left, but I did.
When you get onto I-70 in Kansas, it is perhaps the longest, straightest piece of interstate you will ever find. On the west side of the state, there is a curve in the road. It comes out at Colby. At two am, Luke fell asleep at the wheel, lost control of the truck, and flipped twelve times. The large exit sign stopped him from flipping a thirteenth.
Amazingly, he walked away. He was covered in glass, and his body would secrete slivers of it for the next year. His worst injury was a torn rotator cuff. The truck was totaled. I saw pictures of it later. The entire passenger side was crushed. If I had been in it, I’d have been dead.
There is some funny to this. Included in the covered bed of the truck was my drawer of “pretty panties,” you know, the ones that really aren’t that comfy, but they’re pretty, and you wear them for special occasions? They were littered across the shoulder of the interstate. All the contents of my liquor cabinet were in the truck, prompting the responding officer to sniff, look very sternly at Luke, and ask, “You been drinkin’?” I had a beautiful full lead crystal vase in the box it came in, with absolutely no packing materials around it. It was thrown 70 feet from the truck, the box was torn to shreds, but there wasn’t a scratch on the vase. I still have it – it became a representation of me, still intact, even after going through hell.
Because of the accident, I left work early. My boss understood, and I drove into Denver at 5pm on February 14, 2003. Valentine’s Day. I was starving. We quickly unloaded my car and went to get a bite to eat. Every place we went to had a two hour wait. I was ready to gnaw my own arm off, I was so hungry. Finally, we found a Mexican place with a no wait. Evidently, Mexican food is not romantic enough for Valentine’s Day.
Luke had to have rotator cuff surgery – not a fun surgery for anyone, I know. He had no function in his shoulder for months, so rock climbing was out of the question. That’s when I learned that Luke loved climbing more than me.
He was a complete bear to live with. He was in constant pain, which made him tired and irritable. He couldn’t participate in his favorite sport, the sport he had very specifically moved to Colorado for to be closer to. I realize, now, that I put too much of my happiness on his shoulders. He was working, and I was unemployed. I didn’t know anyone. I spent my days cleaning – I have never had that clean of a house, ever. I pine-sol’d the shower walls daily. Yes, seriously. I cooked dinner every night, very much the housewife, and waited anxiously for Luke to come home. I literally sat at the window every afternoon, waiting to see him drive up. I was so lonely. But when he came home, I was still lonely, and I began to resent him. I had moved to Colorado for him, and he was doing nothing to make me feel like it was worth it.
The patient man I knew was decidedly impatient about his injury. I listened to him moan about his shoulder, the pain, and I tried to be understanding, but I wanted to scream at him, “YOU’RE ALIVE! YOU WALKED AWAY! YOU COULD HAVE DIED!” Finally, one day, I did break down. “You could have died!” I said.
He said he wished he had died.
I lost it on him. All of my patience and understanding flew out the window. “Maybe you should have! What do you care that that you’re still alive? Did you even think about what it would do to me if you had died? What it would do to your parents?”
“At least then they would have the insurance money,” he said, sullen.
It’s really no big surprise that we broke up. We probably would have, anyway, but I always blame the accident. I feel like, if he hadn’t had the accident and been injured, he would have been able to climb, and he would have been happier, and then I would have been happier. And I think all that is true, but I know that, in the end, we wouldn’t have worked out. We were different people.
There’s one memory that stands out that illustrates that. We were up in the mountains, hiking a remote trail, and we got to the top and sat down, staring at the next ridgeline. “Couldn’t you just sit and stare at this all day?” he asked.
I blinked at the view. No. No, I couldn’t. Staring at that ridgeline that day, I was bored out of my mind. It’s a mountain, I said. It doesn’t do anything. There’s no change. There’s no movement, no sound. It’s just…there. Always. Doing nothing.
And I think that, in the end, what attracted me most to him is why we were such different people. His patience allowed him to sit and stare at nothing, in silence.
I’ve discovered that I need the ocean, the constant shushing of the waves, to drown out the noise in my head. I’m not a patient person.
I don’t climb anymore. Oh, I go to the climbing gym every once in a while, but I haven’t been outside since I left Colorado. There’s a level of trust and skill you need to climb with someone, and I don’t know that I’ll ever find that in a climbing partner again. Actually, what’s funny is that it’s that very trust that probably bonded us together in the first place. I literally had to trust him with my life. It’s a lot easier to love someone when you have to trust them, rely on them. It forces a bond you wouldn’t normally have when meeting someone in a social situation.
I still think back to the Luke I met that July evening, that kind, patient, competent man with the calm demeanor. Nothing frazzled him. He was the guy that, when under pressure, took charge calmly and efficiently. It soothed me. Something in me, something I still don’t really understand, responded to that. I still respond to that memory of him. I still love that man. And I hope he’s happy.