The sun wakes me up; with a grumpy, groggy groan, I push my arms free of the sleep that has locked them into place. The cap goes to the ground and I scratch my head with both hands until the dirt of the last day is free from the shaggy blonde. I place a canteen of water on the embers and wait for it to boil as I wash my face and hands. I put the flask away and make coffee in the canteen. I am aware of where I am at, as well as where I want to be in the next few hours. The summit is close, as I knew it was last night. I am still not sure why I just didn’t go to the top, but then again I am sure that something distracted me. My thoughts run through the marathon of what transpired inside my own head from the night before. No shit, a map helps, no shit, that compasses will point north (for the most part) and no shit, I will make the summit in less than a few hours.
Where I am at, and where I am going, or am I where it thought I would be, are interesting diversions from a few much more simpler questions. Namely, am I where I should be? The simple answer to that question is, yes, I am exactly where I should be. With ease and grace, I go thought the motions of being in the wood line, of living off of nothing. There is confidence in my movements, and where there is none, I will fake it until I have earned it. I have done the same for my occupation for the last decade that it is natural to act with confidence before it has been earned by time and trials.
Where else could I be, well I dream daily of all of the places I could be. This morning and the cup of coffee in my hand are no different; I have visions of the oceans, of cities, of a life with more stability. And these dreams and visions are nice, I have reason to believe the grass is greener on the other side. I have the same reasons to believe this that others use to attend mass. So I keep dreaming, and imaging all of the other things that I could want. Yet when I am in a stack and the door is in front of me, and it is my voice that I hear in the head set “Breach, Breach, Breach,” followed by the concussion of the flex charge, I know. When my Team Sergeant turns and looks in my eyes and gives me a thumbs up, I know. When I am covered in dirt and sweat, and I have dropped my kit and am sitting at a computer typing out the reports and my Junior Charlie brings me a beer, I know. I know that I am exactly where I should be at this moment and time.
Maybe when I was ten, or fifteen or a freshman in college I might have thought that I would be somewhere else, that I would be in a power suit and married. That with my family is where I would spend my thirtieth birthday. That maybe I would be mature enough to have forgiven those whom have trespassed against me. That I would be stable, that I could be looked upon as a model citizen of this nation, a rule follower that left his personal revolution behind in his mid twenties. That, however is just not where I am at, and I would not trade any of those things for the life that I have lived. Regrets are as hot and as painful as the burning coals that burnt my hand pulling boiling water from the flames.
I have regrets and I still have dreams, I have those that I wish would apologize to me, and those that I should forgive. Yet a quirky mix of stubbornness, laziness, and anger have kept me from these things. I know this much and about this much only, I have moved past the point of being able to lay out a plan, or create a map, I cannot change who I am now today. Those choices are gone. I cannot wake up tomorrow and say today I will be a fireman and a husband, or a banker and a father. I must live with the reality that I am soldier, that I am a rule breaker, that I have faults, and that I am alone for most of my time.
I know as well that each day is mine to make, and though I belong where I find myself, I have the ability to change directions, to make a new course, that I can slowly move towards new ends. Though, the very nature of the person that I am, the values that I hold dear, will bind me toward certain ends. That the obligations of my past must and will direct the course of my immediate future. The path is before me and the pines keep me on course, the water will quench my thirst, and my legs will push me up the hill. All of this is possible and is happening, though I am not physically trapped upon the trail, the trail is taking me where I am headed. The path has been chosen over the course of a thousand moments. And I am here and in the now as I place my hands on the rocks, pulling me up towards the pinnacle.
As I stand upon the top of the peak, I look around and smile. As I have said, the ocean would be nice, the money of being a banker would be comfortable, the companionship of a woman would be soothing, yet here I am, exhilarated and exhausted. I am where I thought I would be just a few short days ago when I decided to climb this mountain. The pressure and stress, the exertion that I have placed into any moment must be so much as to clear my head and allow me to live in the sublime seconds. I am where I belong; more importantly, I am where I have paid the price to be. I am who I am, not who I wished that I would be, nor who I dreamt I would become, I am more, I am real. As I sit down on the rocks and pull my water from my bag, I know that I have become something that I am proud of, that I am where I am proud to be. It is these moments that alleviate all of the anguish and pain of my failings, of being alone late at night, of not being who and what I thought, of all my faults, and for a brief moment that I will chase after to find again, I am at peace.
The trail opens up before me, it had been tighter than expected for the last two miles and eight hundred feet in elevation. It opens up as the trees thin out; I am still below eleven thousand feet, though occasionally I can see the summit nearly five more miles away. I know that I will stop here, I am going to have to back track, the trail has lead me the wrong way. The ridgeline is headed south and the peak is still to my west. I know where I have gone wrong, yet at the same time, have I, the world I look at is as I want to be. The pines smell of the stickiness that are their needles and I breathe it in deeply. A long pull from my water, with the ever present urge to take a pull from the flask, I look at my compass and take stock of what is around me.
I was asked recently “am I where I thought I would be?” Clearly, the most immediate answer as I look along the ridgeline and then back over my shoulder to the summit is, no. No, I am not. Yet at the same time, I am on the mountain, I am moving with strength and ease. The strength of a body and mind prepared for hardships and duress that can be found at these elevations, and the ease of a man comfortable with his surroundings given that the knowledge to handle the problems come readily to him. So, I am exactly where I should be. Though, that is not the question at hand. To be able to answer this question I must first be able to come to grips with where I wanted to be. And for me that is a much harder statement than originally thought.
I have persistently daydreamed my days away. Never have I spent too much time in the here and now, the confines of the rings upon which I have entered have been the only places that have grounded me in the moment. Those rings have had boundaries, ropes, nightmares and even a desert. Within these confines, my adversary or task has taken all other options away from me, other than the here and now. The persistent dreams of the future have always clouded the reality of where I wanted to be. By this I mean, my dreams are without substance and push the limits of both time and space, they are the dreams of the young, of the romantic, of the renaissance. All of this to say that I dreamt that I would be on a slightly less than luxury yacht, sixty feet, huge sails pulling at the wind, and a beautiful traveling companion. This future has no location when it comes to age or money, or how I got there. These dreams can be closely compared to those of slaying dragons, and I have taken down many.
I have wrapped these dreams, as I aged, with glories of the battlefield, of dreams of love and romance, of all the things that a young man should dream of. And yet I sit here and still fail to answer the question at hand. Where did I expect to be? Dreams are never where you expect to be but rather what you wish to be possible. Well I dreamed away my expectations and wondered with ambiguity through choices, pushed by peer pressure, social desires, and need to be something other than what I was at the time. The persistent fight against fear itself. Without specifics, I moved forward from one challenge to the other imagining that with each accomplishment I would be taken farther from the place at hand, that with each success would bring me to new destinations. I continued along this path as I pushed through middle school and then to high school where I dreamed of the ocean and found the army. The path took me to many places that I knew were not for me no matter what potential I showed. Art school and my Olympic prospects where not far enough away for me, and the boyhood fantasy of the glories of war triumphed.
By high school I was unable to fathom a reality that I would find, though the expectation was that I would be at a Military School and on my way to graduation. Though is that a real answer, how far forward must I look for this to be a fair representation of where I thought I would be. One month, a year, three years, I can say that I have ended up exactly where I thought I would be three years ago, and can say with some certainty that I have been correct as long as the picture was within three years. So where did I think I would be. The ephemeral answer would be, successful, married, and happy. Have I been these things, maybe, never, and sometimes would be the associated answers. My success is at the middle levels of the army, those that have worked for me will tell you that I have done well, and those I have worked for will tell you the same, yet the harsher crowd of my peers may not. This crowd of peers has continualy diminished as I have pushed past one test after another leaving me in one of the more elite captain positions in the army. Marriage has been allusive as possible as I find myself struggling to just be happy with the women that I have found. I have come close to this woman, and yet I chose to walk away. I allowed this memory of what I made into perfection to ruin any chance of a successful relationship in the towns where it was possible. Happiness, well, the roller coaster of the cosmic play has been comedic tragedy for me, and I have found humor and happiness in moments, the dull ache of un-fulfillment of the majority and the occasional brief moments of happiness so ephemeral that I have raced around the world looking for it again.
The suns glow has diminished has I finish pulling tight the lines of the poncho that I have strung up between two trees. I look back at the smoldering start of the fire and add some more wood. The flask sits alone before me. The mountain has been no different than my life, my thoughts centered around the summit and never the trail…