MOUNTAINS & RAINBOWS
by Matthew Vesely
I stepped over a root crawling along the forest floor, one of the bigger roots, one of the roots that stemmed off into smaller roots that crawled farther along before digging into the dirt.
I stepped again. Every press of my boots, every haul of my pack, every breath into the cool fall atmosphere slowed me down. Maybe my mother was right, I thought. Maybe climbing this high was a mistake.
“Jimmy!” I heard.
I tilted my head forward. Farther up he stood, his body against the trees and his head against the morning sky, his feet in the resting clouds along the mountainside. He waved me to meet him. I readjusted my pack, stretch out my back, and pushed my feet to meet him.
Pride: Year 1
“Don’t go chasing after rainbows,” Mom told me.
I sat at her kitchen table. She was cooking when I stopped by after the parade. She commented on my highlighter, which was all the rage with all the gays. She knew that too, walking out onto her balcony and looking down on the festivities, the Philly Gay Men’s Choir, the Drag royalty, the dancers, colors, floats, and charisma.
When I moved to the middle of the country after college, Mom decided a house to herself in the Germantown suburbs was too much empty space, too many echoes rippled through the rooms when she stirred her morning coffee. The house got her a nice sum of money, enough to not worry about rent in the city for years. She was sixty-two and joked with me that it would probably last the rest of her life, a form of short-term retirement.
My partner, Noah, and I moved to Colorado for his deployment. I figured finding work as a writer out in the middle of nowhere was still possible; all that mattered was our proximity being more satisfactory with us both in Colorado rather than half the country apart. We came back every summer for Pride and stayed with Mom in her small three room apartment, sleeping in her living room and joining the festivities during the week. I always told her not to cook for us – Mom, Noah taught me how to make plenty of meals at the base – but she insisted every time.
“Do you know how much take out I’ve had this year?” she asked. “Give me this reason to make something again. It may not be that good though.”
“It’ll be great,” I assured her. Noah was still out visiting old friends and drinking for once since it’s the first time in a year he’s been out of the base’s sight. “I applied to the program.”
Mom stopped stirring. She tapped the wooden spoon against the side of the pot and placed the damp head on a napkin. She turned, asking me from the counter, “the one in California?”
“LA,” I told her.
“That’s far from Colorado.”
I swallowed and nodded.
“Noah can’t transfer, can he?”
I shook my head.
“Hm.” My mother turned back, picked up the spoon, and continued stirring. “I hope you do what makes you happy. Just don’t go chasing after rainbows. They fade quicker than you expect.”
The steady fire flickered the shadows along the dusk trees surrounding us. Noah and I sat on opposite sides of the fire. I draw arches in the dirt with a stick I had found for firewood. The embers floated past Noah’s face as he watched them disappear into the night sky.
“Anything good up there?” I asked.
“It’s supposed to rain tonight.” He lowered his gaze to me. “Did you bring a tent in that bag?”
I shook my head.
“A shame.” Noah smiled. “We’ll just cuddle under tree branches.”
“Closely,” I added.
“For warmth, of course.”
“Are we really talking about cuddling?” I asked.
“Straight to the point, are you?”
“To the point, but not straight.”
Noah stood and looked again to where the embers were fading. “You’re beautiful,” he told me, and it made me turn my head back to my drawings to smile. “But not like the embers. You’re beautiful like the stars. Too bad they’re so far gone, but I’ll never stop looking at you.”
“Are you trying to be a poet?” I asked.
“I’m trying to make sure you write about me when you go away.”
“Who said I was going away?”
Noah shrugged and took his face away from the stars. “Can I sit with you?”
“You haven’t in a while.”
“Can I now?”
So he sat beside me with his military-built arm around mine. I turned and caressed the stubble on his cheek. “I’ll always write about you.”
Noah frowned and drifted his face away from my hand. “Writers are very unfair, you know. You can be with people even after you leave them. Writing is a powerful tool.”
I shook my head. “But I can’t kiss you.”
He took my head in his hands. “That’s a lie. Yes you can.” His lips placed themselves on mine, his nose rubbed against mine, his eyes closed while mine opened.
Pride: Year 2
My hands shook, but I quietly closed the door behind me, slipping into Mom’s apartment while she slept in the next room. The click of the door echoed past me into the darkness. Rainbows occupied every street, confetti littered the sidewalks, and glitter stained the eyelids of every young and beautiful gay in the celebration, but inside of the apartment was neglected into silence, darkness spread out in every corner.
“Jimmy?” a call broke through from the other room.
“I’m back, Mom.”
I stepped into her bedroom, where she lay on her back in the center of a king-sized bed. The nightlight in the corner gave a navy tint to the room. “Were you asleep?”
She shook her head. “Where’s Noah?”
My eyes sank. “He still out.”
“Why aren’t you with him?”
My neck sank too. “We got into an argument. It wasn’t a fight, really, just…you know, it’s hard when we haven’t seen each other in so long and…we’re just different.”
Mom pushed against her pillow. “Help me up.”
I walked to the side of her bed and held one hand to hers and the other to her back. When I pushed her up a bit she winced. “Not there, baby.”
I apologized and let her pull herself up with the support of my arms. She placed her feet on the floor as a child dips their toe into the swimming pool. She winced again while pulling herself to standing .
“Okay, I’m fine, thank you.”
“Are you sure.”
“Let’s sit in the kitchen. Make some tea.”
Mom groaned the entire way down into her chair at the table, but when she stayed still with a mug in hand, blowing at the steam over the outer rim, she looked as young as years prior. “Is the program worth it?” she asked.
“It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed,” I told her. “Every day I wake up and have a place to write and people to share it with and teachers to guide me.” I shook my head. “I couldn’t dream of something better.”
I spun the tea around in my mug, a vortex. “I wasn’t doing anything for myself at the base.”
Mom placed her tea down – she hadn’t taken a sip – and extended her hand across the table, moving her fingers as much as she could to beckon my own. I slid my fingers under hers.
“You have to find your roots,” she told me. “Do you think California will last forever?”
I shrugged. “Mom, I’m really enjoying myself.”
She nodded, “Noah is a wonderful person.”
“I don’t disagree.”
“And he’s still with you.”
“Do you think he should be.”
“I think you should be together.”
“It’s just not possible.”
“Then maybe you have to sacrifice,” she told me. “Maybe you’re going too far into the sky.”
The apartment door opened with the sound of thick crinkling paper.
“He’s your root,” she told me.
I woke the next morning in dry dirt under the branches, the base of a tree as my bark crested pillow. I turned away from the never-ending coalition of trees that faded into grey mist, and sat up facing the other, the small clearing and my bag beside a soaked pile of firewood.
The roots had unwoven from around me. Night was cold, and I woke with goosebumps. Perhaps I could sleep again and wake a different way. I could not, so I ignored the hold the roots no longer had on me, only the feeling like a limb that had been amputated, and stood, and picked up my bag, and continued up the mountain.
It steepened beyond the clearing, it curved up and took longer for me to go anywhere without taking a calculated step or else tumbling down from the weight on my back. Climbing a mountain is like a puzzle, you just have to try things, except you only have so long to climb the mountain and everyone climbs the mountain at their own pace, so sometimes your expected to wait for people, or else you’ll be climbing the mountain alone, and that’s supposed to feel terrible, climbing a mountain alone.
I reached and pulled up onto the edge of the highest rock, rolling onto the top with what little bit of strength I had. I wiped sweat from my forehead and felt the late morning sun on my eyelids. When I opened my eyes, the sky was so blue, so clear, so empty, except a rainbow leading higher.
I slid out of my backpack and adjusted my coat. The rainbow stemmed from the peak’s edge, arching up, red orange yellow green baby indigo violet into the blue. I step onto the color.
Orange smeared onto my left hand as indigo did on my right. As I slid my feet up farther, a stretch of color swooshed together below me, blending and mixing like a child’s paint set or a painter’s palette. Color dripped and dropped off the bow, but I was careful not to slip, and soon the arch began to curve into less of an angle, and when I was finally able to stop at the top, I laid my stomach into the colors and painted my face with green.
PRIDE: YEAR 3
Maybe it’s a trick of time, or maybe it’s a trick of age, or maybe both are one and the same, but the color seemed dimmer outside, and Mom’s apartment, which I had been staying in for months, was grey even though it truly must have been closer to darkness, dim enough at all times so it wouldn’t hurt Mom’s eyes, evocating excruciating headaches for which the nurses gave her higher levels of IV medicine.
I sat on a stool by her bed while she slept. The machines had gotten bigger every few weeks, and now they were as tall as me, looming over her on the opposite side of the bed, opposing my presence.
“Hey, mom?” I asked.
She was asleep. She stayed asleep.
“Hey, mom?” Beep…beep…beep. “Mom, I love you.” Beep…beep. “Remember when dad died,” beep, “and you told me one day I’d be just as sad,” beep, “when the man I loved died?
“That’s the biggest honor, to love someone that much.” Beep…beep…beep.
“I left my root, Mom.” Beep…beep…beep.
“Do you think I have enough time, Mom?”
Never try to climb a rainbow, because you’ll never have the time or strength to climb back down. I sat with my legs laid out along the smeared trail I’d pulled myself up with, my hands stretched behind me.
My fingers began to sink into the green and yellow like they were playdough. The colors beneath my feet were dimming, paler, then greener – the green of the fields at the bottom of the mountain. I sank into the dimming colors until they faded out and there was no bottom to hit in the sky and I was falling.
About the Author:
Matthew Vesely is a blossoming writer who thinks far too much about too big of concepts. A recent graduate of Rowan University with two degrees in Writing Arts & Theatre, he currently resides in New Jersey with his family. He will defend New Jersey with my life. He currently works writing for an agency, also writing for the theatre, music, and literary worlds. @matthewvesely on Instagram.