I knew you’d been here. Not when I first stepped onto the dingy, gray tiles blanketing the green mermaid’s lair at the airport café. Nor when the women behind me raved, a little too early in the morning, how “she loved my sandals” which I’m sure I found wandering discount shoe aisles years before.
No, it happened as I waited in line for my latte, hoping to lift the early morning fog clouding my brain. Without warning, an avalanche of emotion swept over me as I realized you’d been here. You were here the morning you left. Inhaling deeply, I steadied myself, hoping to stave off the tears forming in the recesses of my eyes.
Images of you flashed quickly, like slides in Dad’s old projector. Pictures of you grinning at family gatherings, relaxing by a campfire, anchored to the side of a mountain wearing your signature blue parka, and painfully, at your beautiful wedding that was too recent to reconcile.
Dave, I’ve been to this airport cafe many times since we lost you, and I don’t recall ever being affected. Why now?
Was it the tall, broad-shouldered man ahead in line? His profile so familiar, I tried to glimpse his face, but oblivious caffeine-starved travelers relentlessly blocked my view. His sandy blond hair and royal blue jacket struck me as I arrived, like a whisper, reminding me that you should be here too.
I often wonder what you were thinking as you waited for your flight to South America that morning. Were you reflecting on how miraculous it was our whole family came together for Dad’s 80th birthday the night before or were you already visualizing your Andean glacier and methodically calculating the route?
Sitting next to you at dinner the night before your fated trip, I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d ever see you alive.
I considered asking everyone to toast to your safety, on the highest peak in South America no less, but I did not. I also remember thinking we should say a prayer, but again, I regret I did not say a word.
Would it have made a difference? Now, I’ll never know.
It was Dad’s special day, and I remembered reading somewhere that it’s inappropriate to praise someone at another’s celebration. Today, with the wisdom of a few years since your passing, I think with regret, what a sad, foolish rule to have actually followed.
Regret, there it is again. I regret all my thoughts left unsaid to you. I regret not calling or texting you after I realized you’d slipped from the party without announcing your departure. I assume you didn’t want to steal Dad’s spotlight. Were you following the same silly rules?
Dave, I’m so sorry. I intended to keep in touch, to leave you a voicemail, to text you, but sadly, I did not. Not on that morning, or at any time during your expedition.
I inexplicably did not wish you well, tell you I love you, or even text the truth, that I was feeling uneasy about this summit bid.
What stopped me from reaching out to you this time?
I can still pull up our old text messages before your expedition to Russia.
On May 27th at 11:05 a.m., I wished you well on your attempt to summit Mt. Elbrus, and you texted back, “Thanks. At JFK now. Next stop, Moscow.”
Nine days later, on June 5th at 2:20 p.m., I texted, “Sending you love, are you stateside yet?”
“Yes,” you responded, “Having beers at JFK. Arrive in PDX tonight. Love you too.”
A few days after you flew out of Portland to start acclimating to higher altitudes, I “liked” your progress on Facebook as you careened down Bolivia’s “Most Dangerous Road in the World.” Prophetically nicknamed the Death Road, the sick irony is not lost on anyone who loved you.
I was relieved to hear you’d landed safely in Mendoza, Argentina. I even cheered your group’s safe arrival at Mt. Aconcagua’s 16,000-foot base camp. I worried about you, but I never reached out and sent you a message.
Boarding the plane with my double-tall nonfat latte in hand, I’m grateful the seat next to me is empty as an impending storm gathers on the windows of my eyes.
Dave, I don’t know why we didn’t connect when it mattered most. But today, sitting in seat 6A, I’m finally sending you a message, “I love you, and I can’t wait to hear about your journey. You are deeply missed and forever in our hearts. Love forever, Lisa.”
Lisa’s brother, Dave, succumbed to high altitude sickness at approximately 21,500′, on the Polish Direct Route just below the summit of Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina. December 29th, 2012.
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