The mountain beside us combusted. What was just minutes ago lush, green and full of life suddenly exploded. Neon red glowed like the cherry end of a cigarette. Just like that. Smoke rose from the tip of the peak. Everyone stopped to watch this piece of the earth fall.
It seemed to go unsaid that all of us hiking on the same path, winding up the mountain, our minds all at least touched the surface of the same brain wave, followed the same thought pattern. The instants that make our lives are fleeting. Every breath, precious. We must keep trekking towards the top.
Our toes were blistered from the three-hour up and downhill battle. But we yearned to find comfort in the depths of drawing out the day. Keeping it alive.
That night, we watched the full moon beam down upon Hollywood. The helicopters, with all of their efforts, had put out the fire in the hills. The news, at this point, was old. No one would remember the loss but those of us who were touched by the view of a neighboring mountain, those of us who still carried it’s ashes amidst the strands of our hair. Yet, the soft glow of the moon illuminated the city and the view from the rooftop shed light on the ways of the world. The cyclic nature of the universe–of fire and ash, of day and night, birth and death.
The world would be born again by daybreak. But while the stars were made visible by the dark blanket covering the night sky, we danced. And the music, it spoke to me. It always does. But there was something different about the vibrations, the voices, the notes, the chords amplified by microphones that echoed amongst bodies, walls and empty liquor glasses in a place so close to the mountain that escaped tragedy just hours before. Houses and lives left unscathed. Perspectives were shifted. Newness reverberated through my veins. I’ll begin again, I told myself.
We didn’t sleep until the morning. There was too much left to relish. The night held secrets she only whispered if you kept her company.
In the morning, the coffee dressed with powdered milk tasted like dish soap. It reminded me of how much I wanted to go back. The sweet sounds of the night before lingered.
Walking around the city, reminiscing on thoughts of old comforts no longer brought me peace. Even the sober mind trips, as the great world spins. I let it take me where it would. That night, no longer sober, on a rollercoaster ride drunk on wine I watched the ocean from up top. The earth and I rolled on, in waves. The possibilities of beauty were endless.
A day later, I’d see the sky again, this time with red eyes. I could hear the engines roar in the vacuum of the plane. The night was young on the West side but my eyes were heavy from the thoughts weighing in my mind. A young guy in his early 40s sat beside me. Row 25. A lucky number I had picked out a month prior to the departure. The man mentioned the heat as he began to sweat. I agreed with him that it was hot. All of the bodies moving around in the cave of the aircraft, the friction, the paranoia. People were strange. They eyed each other up and down, scanned one another for anything amiss, hoping the passenger assigned to the seat beside them would miss their flight so they could ride through the night alone.
The girl sitting in front of us asked her friend to back up. “You know how I do, girl,” she said with sass as she pulled out an entire tube of Wet Ones. The afro bounced on her head as she wiped the seat, the window and the arm rests profusely and finally sat down in the still moist seat.
“Do you see a stewardess anywhere?” the guy sitting beside me asked. I looked around briefly. “No, I don’t see one,” I told him. “Could you ring the bell?” he asked with panic just before he his face fell into my lap.
At first, I thought he was just a touchy, feely kind of guy. I thought the gesture was a dramatic expression of his body temperature since we had both agreed it was fucking hot. The man in the very back wearing a suit and tie spoke loudly of LA. Xanax poured through his veins as he pulled his eye mask over his head and let it hang like a necklace while he told the lady and her daughter beside him of his business travels, as if they cared. The guy beside me lifted his head only to fall back into the depths of my thighs. I stroked the man’s back innately, as if there was nothing strange about the closeness of strange bodies meeting. I thought of the burning mountain already so far away. The image suddenly disappeared as the stranger convulsed. His head sprung from my knees straight back into the headrest. He stood at an angle, constricted by his already-strapped seatbelt. He had tried to play it safe. His face turned a color somewhere between yellow and purple. “Fuck! Don’t let this plane off the ground,” I thought as I stood up with my arms flaring. The flamboyant flight attendant rolled his eyes at my dramatic gesture. “Another needy bitch on a redeye flight. I’m so over this,” his face read as he walked over and asked if the man convulsing beside me was my husband. “No,” I said. I didn’t even know the dying man’s name.
“If there is a medical doctor onboard, please come to the back of the plane immediately,” the other male steward announced over the intercom. The yellowed stranger came to. “I think I passed out,” he said in a panic. The man on Xanax watched as what was merely entertainment to him unfolded in his viewing distance. He seemed strangely pleased.
I traded places with the only doctor on board. My heart raced. It danced. Life.
In the doctor’s seat, the lady beside me looked at me as if I was going to steal the doctor’s phone and earbuds she had left on the seat as she rushed to do her life’s practice. It saddened me to feel her stare. The contrast of the stranger pouring what could have been his last moments in my lap and the woman filled with distrust wriggled me. I handed the phone to the doctor’s sister sitting across the isle. The passengers in the front of the plane looked at me for answers. I told them what I could as my eyes flooded. I couldn’t help but feel a closeness to this strange man and I begged that he see another day.
The plane trollied the runways allowing other planes to surpass it. The doctor took the man’s pulse as he explained that he has experienced this before. Last time it was in a subway, another place where the circulation of air was constricted. He mentioned something about the lack of circulation in the atmosphere eliminating the blood flow to his legs. The doctor asked the flamboyant flight attendant to make the man a special lemonade with lemons, water and lots of salt and he reached into his lunchbox for the ingredients knowing they didn’t have what he’d need in the confines of the plane. He felt bad for his earlier, evil stare. The doctor and I traded seats again. The stranger rubbed ice cubes over his face. I couldn’t tell if his body was covered in sweat or melted ice.
We both took a sigh of relief. “I hope she doesn’t mind if I put my feet up on her arm rest,” the stranger said to me as he propped his feet up without asking. “I have to keep my legs up so it doesn’t happen again.” The girl with the afro let out a small shriek as she cringed and curled up next to her friend to the left in a state of germaphobic panic. She has no idea it’s a matter of life and death to the man behind her as she continues talking to her half-naked boyfriend on FaceTime, complaining about the man’s feet beside her. “Let me know if you need anything,” I told the stranger beside me as the adrenaline pulsing through my body began to dissipate, taking me into a deep slumber.
The plane finally took off once the stranger filled out an hour’s worth of paper work for American Airlines’ insurance company. He was a 41 year old male. He had a condition. It wasn’t their fault. He wouldn’t sue them. He was just grateful to see another day. He signed off on it.
We went from low to high, West to East, through night until day and in the opposite way we left, we came down from our high to meet the earth once again. As our ears began to pop from the pressure, the stranger beside me took his pulse with the timer on his iPhone. The instants that make our lives are fleeting. Every breath, precious. We must keep trekking towards the top.