The title for this post comes from the subject of an email my mum sent to Exotic India Travel Planners in Delhi on Friday confirming she wired payment for services rendered. The poor things have probably about had it with the two of us, to be honest. We’re such control freaks we’ve gone over everything they’ve sent us about a kajillion times trying to make sure it’s exactly what we want.
But it’s all settled now and me and my mother are hopping on a plane today bound for India! Well, first to Nepal for a week long trek through the Helambu region and THEN off to India just in time for a Thanksgiving curry.
I’ve been in a bit of a panic about it for the past week really, but it had less to do with the fact I hadn’t started packing yet and way more to do with what happened the last time we went to Nepal.
It all started in 2008, when, as I’ve mentioned before, my mum trekked the Annapurna Circuit for her 70th birthday. She came back from that trip and all she could talk about was going back. Of course I volunteered to go with her.
So we went back the next year in the fall of 2009. The picture above was taken of us three days into the trek just a couple hours before everything went horribly pear shaped. In this picture I am about as happy as I’ve ever been- with my mum, trekking through those incredible mountains, far far away from anything and everything… And oh man, those MOUNTAINS! Those mountains… I felt like I was five years old again…
This photo was taken later that afternoon after my mother fell off a four foot drop followed by a fifteen foot tumble down a steep incline only to narrowly escape going off a twenty foot sheer cliff into the river below. The only reason she escaped the fall off the cliff is because our guide, Pemba, leapt down the four foot drop, jumped over her hurtling body and braced himself against a stone at cliff’s edge to catch her before she went over.
Here is Pemba and our friend David administering first aid to her on the hillside. David and I trekked ahead of mum and Pemba so I missed the actual fall. The first I heard about it was when two young trekkers caught up with us on the trail to tell me my “mother fell.”
From that moment until the moment I finally slept about 24 hours later everything was in slow motion. It was a nightmare without the option to wake up. You may remember that was the year Natasha Richards died of a brain injury sustained in a fall while skiing. All that long, long day my mind shuttled back and forth between Natasha Richards and a CHiPS episode from childhood where Ponch and the blond guy stood accused of moving an accident victim who subsequently suffered complete paralysis. So I was totally terrified that my mum was either going to be paralyzed or keel over suddenly from a brain aneurism.
My mum, of course, was annoyingly cheerful about it all. Cheerful is not the right word. She was incredibly disappointed, but, as she said later to me, she knew she “was fine.” And, being possessed of an irrepressibly curious and good humored nature she was alternately interested, impressed, and bemused by everything that happened next and how everyone dealt with it. Here she is just after the incident having just instructed me to take pictures for posterity.
When I say, “everything that happened next,” I mean a lot of things, including a helicopter air lift from a river bed and arriving in Kathmandu on the last day of Dashain when everyone had the day off and the hospital was understaffed but celebratory and a broken gurney kept tilting dramatically backwards, leaving my mother with her head one foot off from the ground and her feet four feet higher.
Or how about when I told the nurse my mum had to pee and she sent us outside, gurney and all, with a bed pan so my mum could do her business away from the waiting room. Why outside the main entrance with people walking in and out and past was preferable to the waiting room we never did work out but by that point, almost twenty-four hours after the fall we were past caring. In that moment and our sleep deprived state all we could do was laugh and laugh. My mum had a hard time peeing she was laughing so hard.
But all that came after. First we had to get my mother down the hill to shelter for the night, as dusk was almost upon us. In order to get her down the hill Ngima and Dawa took turns carrying her in a basket the locals use to cart wood. I wish I had a better picture of that darned basket, but we wouldn’t have any pictures at all if my mum hadn’t been so insistent that I keep taking pictures. “Wonder, take my picture!!” She hissed at me, laughing and wisecracking as Dawa and Ngima shifted under her weight.
She had everyone but me and Pemba in stitches. If I hadn’t been so worried about Ponch and the blond guy on that CHiPS episode I might even remember what it was she said that had Ngima laughing so hard in the picture above.
But I don’t. I don’t remember. I was so mad at her for making me take pictures when she was about to die and how was I going to explain to my brother that I’d been taking pictures of it all instead of doing something useful.
Weeks before we left I dreamt we hiked across a sand bar at low tide and up a rocky, algae covered cliff to see the view. From our vantage point we could see for miles in every direction. It was beautiful. But when we saw the tide coming in we knew it was time to go. My mother turned abruptly and jumped off, sliding all the way to the bottom rapidly. Once there she turned back and looked up at me impatiently.
“Come on, honey!” She hollered up at me, “we have to go!”
I felt scared. It was too steep. Her face softened. “Don’t worry, it’s easy,” she said. “You can do it!”
So I did. I stepped off that impossibly tall and slimy hill and slid down after her, though not so gracefully. Reaching the bottom I felt relieved, exhilarated, inspired. Like I could do anything. Waking up I took it as a good augury of our trip, and of the way my mother has always been just a little bit ahead of me, encouraging me on.
Never did I imagine that it actually described a fall she wouldn’t take seriously but that would scare the crap out of me. What good is a prophetic dream if it doesn’t tell you what’s actually going to happen?
The weird thing is I don’t think I processed any of this really at all until last weekend. Knowing we were going back, that we were returning to the scene of the crime caused a rise in anxiety I just couldn’t ignore any longer. Fortunately I have some very good friends who were able to talk me through it. Saturn transiting over my Jupiter in Scorpio which it opposes natally might have forced the issue and maybe even helped a bit too.
I don’t have the date of her fall, unfortunately. Well, I do, but I left it at home. In between the first sentence of this post and the one I’m writing now I got on that plane I told you about and now I’m somewhere far above the Pacific Ocean on the way to Seoul, where we have a 14 hour layover. So I don’t have the date and time on me, all I remember is that Mars squared my Moon and her Sun, which it did for a couple days at the end of that September.
There were some other aspects that afternoon that were less than auspicious, and looking at them beforehand I did say it was likely to be the most difficult day of our journey, but I wasn’t particularly concerned about them. I think I predicted we “might get into an argument, or something,” but assured my mum it would be “just a hiccup.”
That’ll teach me for being an optimist.
This is the view of the cliff Pemba stopped my mum from rolling off. Sorry the picture is so blurry, my mum made me run back to take it when she discovered I hadn’t already and my hands were shaking. You can see the bridge crossing the river, where it connects on the left is about ten feet away away from the rock Pemba braced himself against to prevent her from going over.
I can’t believe it either.
I spent that night giving my mum “consciousness checks” every hour on the hour per the instructions of the emergency medicine specialist who just happened to be staying at the tea house we stopped to have lunch at earlier that day. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.
I know I should be more grateful to Brian, he was so incredibly lovely and great and good about checking my mum out and telling me what to do, but he’s also the one who confirmed my worst fear and told me that in fact, yes, my mum could have an injury that wasn’t apparent and we wouldn’t know anything until we could get get her brain scanned. He was adamant that we keep her head completely still and not move her or jostle her about at all.
My mum, of course, didn’t know how seriously he’d impressed upon me the importance of this task. So she remained jovial later on when when the security guards called in to help her from the ambulance (remember the hospital was understaffed that day) couldn’t figure out how to work the gurney or fix it when it kept tipping her over. She remained calm when the attendee on staff moved her head back and forth to check for mobility. MOBILITY. I managed to keep my tears in check until much later, but it was an effort.
The whole thing was probably much harder on me than on her, oddly. But then I was born in the day and she was born at night. Mars is her friend, not mine. That Mars square was always going to be harder on me than it was on her.
But we made it through to the other side safe and sound. My mum didn’t become paralyzed or have a brain aneurism and she is still with me and game for another try. I need to let go of the fear of losing her and get on with enjoying every second we have left.
After all, nothing lasts forever.
Here is Pemba, the man who saved my mother’s life. He’s also the man who trekked with her for three weeks when she celebrated her 70th birthday trekking the Annapurna Circuit. He was with her when she went over Thorung La Pass at 17,769 feet and and came down the other side of the mountain safe and sound.
Pemba isn’t chatty, he’s Saturnine and taciturn and sure footed and he knows these mountains like the back of his hand. He was the one who wanted to stop for the day at the tea house we had lunch at. He didn’t think we should push it and carry on, but I was so excited and having so much fun and Mama was so happy to see me enjoying her beautiful mountains she didn’t listen to her tiring body and we opted to carry on. We should have listened to him.
We’re hoping he’ll be the one to go with us through the Helambu region next week, but mum is a little concerned he may think she’s too much trouble and decide to sit this one out. Honestly, I think he took Mum’s fall as badly if not worse than I did, but mum and I are clear it wasn’t his fault. My mum suffers from an inner ear problem that makes balancing difficult, we never should have gone out against his recommendation that afternoon. If he comes with us this time we promise to be good!
Anyway, in the picture above he is wearing his Destination Nepal company tee shirt. If you’ve ever wanted to go trekking in Nepal, this is the guide for you. I can guarantee you will be in safe hands. The safest.
And here is my mum at the end of our trip going through her Qi Gong form on the roof of the Tamang’s house in Kathmandu. As you can see, she was fine. She is just fine. We’ll be just fine.
I realized that my fear of my mother dying is linked to a deep reluctance to grow up. It’s horribly selfish of me, I know, especially as I’ve been blessed with such attentive parents who have stayed so healthy and hale for so long, but I really didn’t want it to end. I wanted to be the kid forever and always be able to call my mum if I needed anything.
I see now it’s time to let that go a bit. So I promised my brother that I won’t let anything happen to our mother this time. This time I won’t go ahead on the trail. This time when I follow my mother it will be my privilege to look out for her as she has always looked out for me.
And I will be so grateful for every shared step of that trail.
Sometimes confronting your worst fears is exactly the reminder you need that life in the here and now is precious, and therefore all kinds of wild and wonderful. #saturninscorpiolessons
Namaste, my darlings. Laugh, be free, have adventures. Take risks. Take responsibility. Breathe.