The Monadnock Roar
But it was worth it. Everyone was bubbling with exhilaration as they gazed below to the trees and farms highlighted by a patchwork of shining waters. We sat on the rocks, staring at our accomplishment and sharing the bread, cheese, and cider we had carried up with us. We stayed past noon. The conversations and laughter were unlike any we had previously experienced. Being on Mt. Monadnock had changed a handful of lives.
It was time to descend. At least that was what half of us were feeling. The other half of us, because they were rested, wanted more. You couldn’t blame them. Nor could you dissuade them. But I sure tried.
It wasn’t the shouting that did it. It was the tears. Eliot’s tears. They began just as he was reaching the crescendo of his speech.
He said he’d never dreamed he’d have the chance to stand atop a mountain, that there would be no way possible that I could ever deny him. Of course, he was right. How could anyone stop a man who had been waiting 48 years to finally reach the summit from which he could spread his wings and begin to fly?
My friend agreed to take half of the group back down to the car and wait. The other half, including my nine-year-old son and myself, continued to ascend. Eliot led the way.
I’ve seen men who were possessed before. I’ve seen them in sport, or work, or argument drive themselves beyond their usual capabilities. But I’ve never seen anyone take it to the extreme that Eliot did. Even my son, energetic and already showing signs of the athlete he would later become, found it difficult keeping up with him. Eliot hardly stumbled, rarely even staggered, and if he did, he somehow found a way to compensate for it and turn it into part of his upward force.
He grunted. He gasped. He sweated profusely. But he kept on climbing. At times he scared the others. More often he scared me. I can remember thinking that I was witnessing some sort of bizarre attempt at suicide, that Eliot was truly trying to kill himself.
When we finally cleared the last round boulder and stood at the top, it was shock. Not for us. We were exhausted and quietly elated. The shock came to the other 50 or so human beings who had ventured up Mt. Monadnock that day. I know I would have been awestruck, probably even frightened, if I had been one of them. It’s not every day that you’re suddenly faced with a 200-pound, hairy man with an enlarged head who is jumping and dancing while shouting Jewish blessings into the air at the top of his lungs, especially on the top of a mountain. But they survived it, and soon they were laughing and smiling right along with him.
No one could blame Eliot for celebrating like that. He had overcome tremendous odds in getting himself to the top of that mountain. When I looked at the black clouds reaching toward us from the western horizon. I knew that those same odds were about to turn on us.
The celebration was over. One by one, we started down the trail, the rapidly approaching storm putting new energy into the legs and arms of everyone — everyone but Eliot.
He could barely move. Whatever adrenaline, whatever spirit, whatever passion had brought him to the top of Mt. Monadnock was now spent. Trembling and clinging to a small crevice between two large boulders, he began to cry.
I told my son to follow the trail and lead the others down to safety. I told him to tell our friend what was happening and to get help. Then I hugged him. While watching my son disappear below, I heard Eliot slump to the ground and begin to sob.
I don’t know how much time went by. I know it was enough to allow the thunder to boom, the lightning to flash, and the rain to begin to fall upon us. There was no mercy, in that storm. It lashed out at the mountain, at us, as if to punish. And it succeeded. Eliot whined and whimpered and drew himself into a helpless little egg whose only purpose was in allowing itself to be crushed.
I probably would have allowed that to happen if it hadn’t been for the one sentence Eliot had spoken since the storm had begun. It sort of squeaked out between the arms he had folded over his head.
“I wish I had never come.”