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Sisyphus

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 16:19 -- jljeg

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Albert Camus

 

His hands were bleeding, his palms, and he thought he might have broken a finger.

Oh well.

It never felt nice, falling from grace, but it normally stung only internally,

only on the inside, knowing you’d failed. And you shrugged it off, 

reached into your chalk bag, started up again.

But this had been a bad fall. He’d been so close.

Some twenty-odd feet off the ground, dangling over those mats inviting and smooth and

flowing like a lazy river, like starting over, like the futility of beginning again. 

Suspended in the heavens by the hand of no God but by will, 

will and determination and hard work and the good ache 

that fills you up after you’ve let yourself down.

He’d wanted it, maybe more than he’d ever wanted anything.

It was in his reach, he just had to go get it. And he had, he’d touched it.

He just hadn’t held on, he couldn’t,

he wasn’t strong enough, and both of his hands had scraped slowly 

over its rough-hewn surface as his left pinky snagged 

against a screw jutting out of the wall, bending it at an unnatural angle,

and he collapsed, landed on his knees and then his wrists, the jolt making him shake with adrenaline as he bled over the untainted mats. 

He stood up again, 

looked for gauze, grinned in pain. 

There was at least another hour until the gym closed, 

and he’d be damned if he didn’t get it on his next go.

 

They were inseparable. They told each other as much.

They’d been sitting on the grass, a park in Athens, the mediterranean summer sun

more comforting than suffocating, giving them both a gentle, loving sunburn about the neck,

splitting a plate of halva, luxuriating in the way the sugar lingered on their tongues,

grateful for a moment of relative peace and quiet 

in the no-privacy confines of a summer teen tour. 

They’d been talking all day, joking and jeering and laughing,

living every moment before they split off to different high schools

as though it were their last together, though it wasn’t,

it definitely wasn’t, they were inseparable, they were too good of friends,

and besides, they were neighbors. It’d be easy to stay in touch.

Easy.

But just in case, there were going to enjoy the sun and the grass and 

the sooty texture of too much sugar, together, for just a little longer.

A cool breeze whipped through the nearby treetops, left their branches quaking,

trunks shaking on their roots, trembling in awe, a cacophony of whirring and rustling

hurtling down towards them now, where they lay, 

so grounded, shirt stained, pulling out blades of grass by the fistful.

They’d finished the halva. It was time to go.

 

They sat next to each other on the flight home. He had the window seat,

savored the feeling of weightlessness, lift-off, rising

above the clouds as the sea beneath them receded into a blue band

of blurry light. They both went for the arm rest, hand

smacking against hand, and he couldn’t help but marvel at how rough

the smooth skin felt beneath his calloused fingers. He’d forgotten what smooth felt like.

He continued to forget as the in-flight travel channel filled him up with bright colors,

loud noises, shots of vibrant and flavorful food, and forgot some more as sleep 

made it all fade to black; the ultimate equalizer.

His friend’s name was Zev. That much he would never forget.

 

Twelve hours and a connection in Berlin later,

the plane swooped down onto the runway at O’Hare

and the pilot droned about it being two in the afternoon

central or some such and the temperature was sixty-four

degrees and it was partly cloudy and thank you so much

for choosing Aegean Airlines, have a nice day. He

was supposed to be feeling something about all this.

He knew that. There was an emotion that went with saying good-bye

to your best friend for life, hopefully (probably) just a see-you-later,

but still. And Zev was certainly feeling it, you could tell, even though

he was making a half-assed attempt to play it cool.

It was destroying Zev, a little, like he’d given a piece of himself away,

expected something in return, was sorely disappointed.

It hurt to watch, stung. He had to fix it.

He couldn’t just let Zev stand there. He had to say something.

Fun trip, he said. Zev nodded. Bummer it’s over, he said. Zev nodded.

I’ll,  uh, I’ll see you? It wasn’t supposed to be a question, but it came out like one.

Zev nodded, said goodbye, said he had a blast in Athens, said they’d definitely hang out, said he’d be in touch, said you should come to my place on Sunday, said they could watch the game together, said school wouldn’t change a thing, said he would dominate fantasy football this year,

said he saw his parents, said he had to go, said goodbye again. 

Let himself be whisked away, flanked by two tall strangers, and

he was alone.

His phone buzzed in his pocket. Dad.

He’d be there in fifteen minutes; bad traffic, sorry I’m late.

 

Dad, he asked, can you just take me straight to the gym?

I haven’t climbed in two weeks, and I just, I need to get back at it.

Are you sure? Mom and your brother and I haven’t seen y-

Just for an hour or two? I’ll be back for dinner. I promise.

Dad sighed, deeply, begrudgingly consented.

Shoes and chalk are in the trunk, Dad said.

Thanks, he said, and dodged every question about the trip thrown

his way for the next twenty minutes, until they pulled up

to Apex, and he ran out of the car and threw on his shoes, 

said bye somewhere in there, and was on the wall in less than fifteen minutes.

It was enough. It was enough. It was enough to cling to this slab of pseudo-rock

until his muscles begged him to stop, until he could press on,

until everything was burned away in the name of hurt,

until he was forty-five feet in the air under his own power, and he was alive,

so alive, heart pounding, blood pumping, dear lord, make it last, clambering

over a thousand thousand rock faces, clinging to some semblance of order,

to a charge as simple as go up and don’t stop, like it was all that kept him going, because

it was. It was all that kept him going. He didn’t need people. He didn’t need anyone.

He needed this. And seven hours later,

when he heard his dad’s voice yelling for him to come down, we’ve

been waiting for you, he relented, unhappily.
 

Zev texted him for the first time the next day. Hey, it said,

wanna come over later today? Can’t, he replied,

at climbing til late. Cool, he said. Tmrw?
Climbing tmrw too. Long pause. When aren’t you climbing? Zev asked.

Hmm. Tricky question. If it were up to him, the answer would be never.

But he can’t say that, can he? No. He has to get out of this one.

Thursday, he said. Zev replied in under fifteen seconds. 

Great! My place at 4? Sounds good, he answered, all digital smiles.

That wouldn’t work. That couldn’t work.
He couldn’t give it up, not for a day, not for an hour.

He had to come up with something.

 

Mom! I need you!

What is it?
Can you make me a haircut? It’s too long. I feel gross.

Sure. She pulled out her phone, checked the calendar. 

You’re free… Monday? Let’s do that.

No! (too much, tone it down, no suspicion)

I mean, I think I have plans with, uh, with Zev then. 

Can we do Thursday instead?
I’ll check.

Hello? Hi! I was wondering, do you have anything available this Thursday afternoon?
A one and a four-fifteen?
Take the four-fifteen, he said. That way you can drive me after work.

We’ll make an appointment for four-fifteen. Thank you so much!
Buh-bye. 

 

Soooo srry just realized I hav a haircut thurs… 

def make plans some other time tho!

K, Zev said,

 

The second text came the next week.

They hadn’t spoken, and he’d fallen off the face of the earth,

and Zev was wondering what was up,

and do you want to get together soon?

He didn’t, so he didn’t answer.

The third text came the day after.

The fourth the following week.

The fifth waited three, then the six a month.

And they suddenly hadn’t spoken in a quarter of a year.

They’d moved on. Zev had found someone else,

many someones else, and

he’d buried himself in the wall until it was all he could think about,

feel about, focused, obsessed to the exclusion of all else.

They’d moved on. They’d grown up. Zev

had tried, tried to pry him off the wall,

and he’d escaped. He’d done it.

He’d succeeded.

 

The seventh text was the longest.

It didn’t expect a response; it was just there,

the next in a long line of monologues left dangling

in the empty space between phones, between

people. It wasn’t sad. It wasn’t angry. It was melancholy, disappointed.

It was the last cry of a dying friendship.

Hey, it said. I wanted to say something, to you, 

before we never talk to each other again. 

So here goes nothing.

I want to tell you that you were an incredible friend.

I want to tell you that I miss that park, and the sun, and 

all the times that you beat me in Madden. 

I want to tell you that I hope high school works out for you,

that I hope you meet nice people and make real friends.

I want to tell you that I’m rooting for you.

I want to tell you that I’m sorry.

I’m sorry it ended like this.

I’m sorry that you made it end like this.

I’m sorry that I tried.

I’m sorry that I tried so hard, thought you

cared as much as I did, thought you’d pay

me back for all the work I put in.

I’m sorry that you’re alone, and probably lonely,

and probably scared.

I’m sorry that you did this to yourself.

I’m sorry that you’re stuck up there,

clinging to that wall for dear life because it is,

it’s your entire life, waiting for someone to help you down.

I’m sorry that you didn’t accept my help.

I’m sorry that you’re stuck up there, now, forever.

I feel so sorry for you. And I feel sorry for me.

I’m sorry that I have to block this number, because

I can’t handle this anymore.

I’m sorry this is the way it had to be.

I hope you find meaning in it, in that wall.

I hope it makes you happy.

Your friend,

Zev.

He read it, powered off his phone, threw it at the wall.

Then he grabbed his chalk bag and his shoes.

 

His hands were bleeding, his palms, and he thought he might have broken a finger.

Oh well.

It never felt nice, falling from grace, but it normally stung only internally,

only on the inside, knowing you’d failed. And you shrugged it off, 

reached into your chalk bag, fought the wall one more time,

and you fell, and you started up again, and you fell, and you started up again,

and you started up again, and you started up again, and again and again and again,

until an eternity had passed you by, none the wiser.

He smiled, grinned from ear to ear.

Zev had been right.

It did make him happy.

Sisyphus reached into his chalk bag, shook out his arms,

and prepared for another eternal day 

of pushing himself up the mountain,

up and up and up.

 

This poem is about: 
Me

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