[Originally published in the Black Swan Cultural Magazine]
Ten thousand feet in the air, I crumpled like a tin can. My knees hit the ground, my vision squeezed into white light, and I caught myself on my palms, heaving on the side of the mountain.
“It’s okay,” Vamsee said from behind me. “It’s okay, it’s natural, it’s okay.”
I met Vamsee yesterday afternoon. At the time, I’d been sipping crystal wine and dangling my legs over the porch. Now I was splayed at his feet and barfing.
He pulled my hood over my ears. It had fallen down when I pitched forward to puke.
“Your ears,” he said. “It’s cold – your ears. You are okay?”
Wave after wave of sick tore through me. He’d packed lunch for us – cheese sandwiches, bananas, nuts. When we’d reached the top, he handed me the food and asked me how I was feeling.
Dizzy. Cold. Exhausted. Wild and alive and extremely nauseous.
I had choked down the food and said I was fine.
Now his food made a roaring reappearance.
“I’m sorry,” I gasped, trying to blow the view. “God, I’m sorry, I’m sorry –”
“Why are you apologizing?”
“I’m sorry –”
Tears and snot and vomit. Not enough oxygen in the air. Shaking, all over.
“It’s elevation sickness,” said Vamsee. “It’s normal, it’s okay. You are okay?”
More vomit. White foaming gushes of it.
“Okay, that is quite a lot,” he said.
“I’m sorry. God, I’m sorry, this is so gross, I’m sorry–”
I’d never vomited in front of someone before. It was the ultimate vulnerability, the ugliest way someone else could see you.
“Don’t look,” I said.
“It’s okay,” he said, “it’s okay.”
He helped me to my feet when I was done, this man I barely knew, and he offered me his water.
“No,” I said, “no, no, I’m not putting my barfy mouth on –”
“It’s okay,” he said.
I shook my head and took out my own water bottle. Empty. I pretended to drink it anyway. Then I dug around in my bag for the Korean mint another hostel-mate had given me. It was a green sphere that tasted like charred apples.
“I’m fine,” I said. “It’s so much better now that it’s out.”
“Good,” said Vamsee. “That’s good. The elevation here, it is hard on the body.”
We still had a three-hour hike back down the mountain. My ears were ringing.
“I can keep going now,” I said.
“You are sure?”
“Yeah. I’m good now. I just needed to get it out.”
I tried to hang onto my body, to stay hitched in my skin and wrapped around my bones. We started walking again.
The Alps towered around us like jagged bones. Tangled weeds swayed by the path side. Vamsee paused every few minutes, turning around to ask if I needed to rest.
“I’m okay,” I said, again and again. “I’m good now.”
The world felt dreamy, sputtering, like my vision lagged a split second behind. I followed the wavering red backpack in front of me, casting aching eyes to the mountains. Thinking, the Alps were the child star of mountains. Young, ruthless, famed. These mountains didn’t care. They knew they were gorgeous, they knew you didn’t belong here, and they knew they didn’t owe you shit. That’s why I liked them. There was something enchanting about their grand indifference.
I stopped at odd intervals, staring into the frozen peaks, heart buckling in my chest. Thinking, this was the type of beauty that could destroy you. This was the type of beauty that should destroy you.
We walked. And walked. And walked.
Vamsee told me about India – the caste system, the science classes that were taught in English. We clambered over rocky hills and squelched through mud. We said bonjour to passing hikers. I told Vamsee about America – the sprawling south and angry news, the ancient tiny mountains that I came from.
Fog rolled through the valley. It left mist on our noses.
When we finally made it back, I was scraped to the bones. Eroded to my center. It felt like years of me had fallen off my skin.
We sat at the bus stop together. The sun was gentle, the air rich again. Engines coughed down the street.
“You are okay?” Vamsee said again.
I imagined myself as a cup, emptied out. Scrubbed clean, turned over. So much new space to fill.
“I actually really am,” I said.
A woman sat down between us. We grinned at each other over her head.
I was ravenous to rebegin.
yours in haste,
kelsey day is a young award winning poet who grew up in the blue mountains of north carolina. she has received recognition for a collection of short stories, as well as two novels she published at the ages of 11 and 13. today she is studying creative writing in boston, massachusetts.