The climb back up was ahead of me, and I thought to myself:
Self: You can do it. You walk. You go to Curves. You try not to eat bowls of ice-cream late at night. You really aren't in bad shape for a fifty-six old, retired English teacher.
But I looked up at all those steps -- straight up -- with little resting platforms and thought again:
Self: How hard can it be? You just walked down them. It made your knees ache a little. You can do it. Besides, what goes down, must come up.
David: Let's go. Let's get started.
Me: Okay, I'll follow you.
So, I climbed the first set of twenty steps.
Me: David? Yo. This is harder than I thought.
David: Just keep going. Don't stop.
Me: Don't stop. Not gonna happen. Slow down.
So I counted the next set of steps. 1 to 32.
Me: I'm not gonna make it -- I just climbed fifty steps, and I can't breathe.
David: If you're talking, you're breathing. Come on.
*breathes in, breathes out* (times 50)
I climbed some more.
Self: Nope, not gonna make it. I'm gonna die here. Step 74 of the Tallulah Gorge North Rim walk. I can't do it. What was I thinking? I had no idea this would be so difficult. I mean, people do this all the time. People in worst shape that me --- maybe? Maybe not?
*slaps self in head*
Self: Neener, neener.. oh, I walk three miles a day. Oh, I go to Curves. I'm in good shape. Only not. Only not. Not preparing me for climbing 500 steps on the steepest climb in the freakin' world. OMG, I think I am gonna die. Yep. I'm gonna die. I can't believe I'm gonna die while going for a walk.
Me: David, I am gonna rest here. Really.
David: Okay, but not for long. It's hot.
Me: Oh, it's hot. I hadn't notice. I was trying to keep my heart from bursting out of my chest.
David: Quit talking. Save your energy.
Self: I wonder if thinking uses energy?
I rested a bit, and then counted the next set of steps. 34?
Self: What's with 34? Is that some kind of code for just enough steps to kill somebody?
I rested again on a platform. This one had a seat.
Me: Good place for a seat. I think I would just rather throw myself from the steps here and get it over with.
David: You'll make it. Don't be ridiculous.
Me: Uh. I'm not being ridiculous. I think I am dying. I'm breathing like a bull -- what's the word? I can't think. I'm delusional. I was thinking I could walk up as good as walking down. I'm seeing little white dots. They're floating.
David: Be quiet. Focus.
Me: No, really. I think this is what people mean when they use the term "her lungs exploded."
David: What? Lungs exploded?
Me: I can't think. Look. Kiss the cats good-bye for me.
David: Get up.
So we walked up some more steps. I could see the suspension bridge in the distance.
Self: Wait. Distance? The suspension bridge is half way. I'm gonna kill Paul and Angie. Oh, you're in good shape. You can make it. Argh. No Christmas gifts for them. No more birthday money. No more calls. No more bagels for breakfast. I'm gonna die. Right here. Folks will say -- whatever happened to Gillham? She died at Tallulah Falls -- she went down, but disappeared. Folks say her lungs exploded... bam. Deader than dead.
David: Come on. There's the bridge.
So, I count more. More. More.
I huff. I puff. I huff more. I puff more.
Self: I see trees. Water. Little dots. Is that heaven? Doves? Mist? Do I smell popcorn?
David: Let's get across the bridge, and then you can rest.
Me: Rest. Yes. Rest.
We pass a couple on the bridge, looking off in the distance as if this is the most romantic spot in the world. They gaze at each other -- at the view. I stare straight ahead -- longing for the other side where I can rest. Rest.
David: Stop here, but just for a minute.
Me: I'm not kidding. I don't think I can make it.
Self: Let's see. Who would they send to rescue me? Those whimpy park workers who are like sixty years old? What are they gonna do -- fret with me? Oh no, they will call 911 and send in the paramedics -- of couple of pimply-faced nineteen-years old who will carry me out? They can't carry me out -- they're not pack mules. I'll need air rescue -- a helicopter, a harness, news cameras. Will my insurance cover this?
*dreams of air rescue*
David: Snap out of it. Let's take some more stairs.
Me: *cries* I can't do it, David. Just let me die. *cries*
David: Come on.
So we go up some more -- I count 23 before I think of just sitting on stair 24. My heart racing, my head, light, sweat pouring from every pore, and I think ... OMG, I think I am gonna faint.
Me: Uh, David?
Me: I think I am gonna faint. I'm not kidding.
David: Not on the steps. No fainting on the steps. Come up to this resting platform.
Me: 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30.
Self: Wait. There's a bench. I think I'm hallucinating. I'm gonna get to sit.
*brain lifts up, up, and away*
Self: Ah. Bench.
David: You all right?
Self: I wonder if this will make the news? I wonder what the air rescue people will look like? I'd like a cool blond with the muscles of Sly Stallone circa 1980 and the accent of Jason Statham. I hate that I am all sweaty....
David: Let's go.
Me: I can't. You have got to wait a few more minutes.
David: The longer you wait -- the worse it will be?
Me: Who writes your material?
*dreams of never moving again*
David: Here we go. Only three more sets. We're almost there.
And I do make it, but seriously, I didn't think I would.
*slaps Angie and Paul*
*slaps self in the head*
As we rest at the top where the sign says, "Strenuous walk.. blah, blah, blah" -- a middle-aged couple are standing and taking in the view.
David: You guys want me to take your picture?
The Man Tourist hands sweaty David his camera
I'm heaving on the overlook bench. Objects are spinning in my head -- mostly white ones with feathers.
Man tourist: You guys been running?
David: No, we just went to the bottom of the gorge.
Man tourist: Really?
David: Yeah, it's not that bad.
I'm huffing on the bench. Head down. Can't breathe. Trying to believe that I can make it to the parking lot -- then to the car -- then to air and water -- and a house with no stairs.
Man tourist: I don't know. Honey, what do you think?
She has on Birkenstocks.
Female tourist: I don't know. [she glances at me as I search for oxygen] She doesn't look so good.
I shake my head no. More things slosh around in my brain -- these are duller, kind of gray.
David: Aww. You can do it. No big deal.
I shake my head no.
David takes their picture, and they head for the stairs.
Me: Are you crazy? Did you see what happened to me? I can't believe you told those two it was no big deal. Yep, they'll be on the local news -- in the Clayton Tribune .. and they'll come looking for you to blame. You. Only you.
When we get back to the parking lot and the car, I sit in the front seat like a survivor of a disaster, disoriented, incoherent, delusional, and on the brink of losing my breakfast. Cars pull in around me, young-people hop out, eager to see the sights, and stomp off to walk the gorge.
I wonder what they thought as they saw this "victim," dazed and drooling in the front seat of a Volvo and waiting to die. When I get back to the house, I have to be treated like the stereotypical female in a Victorian novel --- cool compress to the forehead, a cool room, and a do not disturb sign on the door knob.
I think the Greek name for this is hubris.
Man, it was just stupid. S-T-O-O-P-I-D.