“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Last weekend we took a family hike. It was absolutely gorgeous and required just enough of me physically and mentally that I found myself completely engrossed in the task at hand. We trekked through terrain that alternated between rocky, muddy and icy until we hit the summit of Goodnow Mountain. We had just overcome a bit of doubt that we would ever find the firetower when we saw it.
“There it is, straight ahead,” Sean said to the girls. I could hear the relief in his voice. It was nearly 4 o’clock and the ascent had grown colder and colder. He didn’t want to have to turn back, but he’d been ready to do so to keep us all safe. We scampered the last hundred yards and plopped down for a triumphant picnic. Everyone was chattering and gasping at the view when I took a moment to really look at this landmark we’d been working toward. I knew in theory what a firetower was, but standing at the base of it and suddenly contemplating what it mean to scale the vertical finish line, I balked.
There was no need to go up. We made it to the summit, saw the view, give me my stamp and let me go. Except we weren’t done, the girls were looking up in wonder and every fiber of their little beings screamed, “I get to go up that?! SCORE!” I quickly made myself busy with cleaning up lunch and giving the dog water. “Mom, can we go up now?” Finley asked me. She was squatting in front of me, face flushed from the hike, cheeks chapped from the wind. I sighed, “I don’t know…”
“Please mom? Please can we go?” she asked. I said no, explaining that I just couldn’t do it, that I was too scared. “But I’m not mama. I want to go up there.” her lip began to tremble and I knew tears were coming. Hers and mine. Resigned, I dusted myself off and walked over to the base. I looked up. Damnit. I insisted that she hold my hand as we made our way up.
One flight; I was ok. The second flight Finley started to pull away from me, “Wait up, honey, hold my hand.” We moved up the second flight and then halfway up the third I began to shake. I tried not to look out the cyclone fence, tried not to focus on how open it felt, how high we were and how completely out of control I felt. “C’mon mom,” she said. I moved toward the next flight and the wind took hold of me. It was so strong. I was stuck. My hands were plastered to the step and I couldn’t move up or down. She started to move up and I screamed, “No!”
I couldn’t let her go and I couldn’t move. Something in her softened and she came back to me. She stayed with me as I crawl-slithered back down. I tried to keep myself from getting dizzy and panicky as I moved down. I apologized over and over as I moved. Sean came to me with Avery beside him. “I’m sorry, I can’t,” I said. He moved past shushing me, “It’s ok, babe.” He took Ave up as I took a spot on the massive rock summit. Fin sat beside me and waited. After my fear subsided she told me how much she wished we could go up.
I told her how scared I was and explained that I just couldn’t make it up and that it was ok. “We made it all the way up the mountain, we don’t have to go up there. We did a great thing and that’s enough.” She walked over to the bottom step and sat, looking up wistfully at Sean and Ave. I heard Sean and Ave up top, taking photos, looking out at the spectacle of the sweeping Adirondack view. I thought about how hard the girls had worked to make it up to the top. I considered explaining to people that I made it to the top but never went up the fire tower. I cringed.
I had to go up. I had to do it for Finley, for Briar, but most of all I needed to do it for me. Then I thought, “Amanda, you are out of your f*cking mind. You don’t have to do anything.”
“Ok,” I said.
“Ok, what?” Finley asked.
I swallowed, “Ok, let’s go up.”
She squealed and we moved to the first flight of stairs. “You have to stay with me, though. Ok, Fin?” She nodded, aware that if she wasn’t careful I’d change my mind. I went step by step. I kept my eyes on the step ahead of me and my hands on Finley. Every so often I’d have to tell her to slow down. The fences on either side of us seemed too low to have any hope of stopping us if we fell. “Honey, we could fall,” I got dizzy. I told myself to look at the steps.
As we hit the fifth flight of stairs the wind kicked in again and I think I gasped audibly. Sean called out, “Man? What are you doing?” I laughed violently, “I’m just coming up.” We kept moving, eventually passing Sean and Avery as they moved down the tower. When we got to the opening at the top I moaned. I placed both palms on the floor and literally pulled my body through. Finely started to move toward the windows, which to me, in that moment, looked like wide chasms through which she would fall. “Baby, stay here,” I yelped.
I took a deep breath of air and focused everything I had on a square of ply-wood that kept me from seeing how high we’d climbed. “I just need you to give me a minute and stay with me.” I scooted toward her and we met in a hug. “Here, let me take our picture.” I struggled to hold the phone up. I tried not to let my fear mar her experience. “Isn’t it great that we did it? We made it to the top!” She beamed and then melted into me. We were tired. I snapped a picture and then looked back at the opening. I asked her to stay with me. I went down backwards the whole way.
“Just look at the steps, Man. One, two, just keeping watching the steps.” I told myself. We went through the wind, we went through two, three, four flights of stairs and I caught sight of the rock. She was pulling away from me on the last run of stairs. “Slow,” I called. My feet finally touched the stone floor and I slumped to the ground. I smiled at Fin and then at Briar. I’d done it.
I leaned again the stairs and swiped to the camera on my phone. I flipped to the last picture and stared at the proof that I had moved past my fear and made it to the top.
I shake just looking at it, but instead of just fear, I also feel the rush of having endured the fear to get to the other side.