I hate failing.
This fact struck me as I sat down in the snow over the weekend, finally convinced that climbing this damn mountain wasn’t going to happen. If I have a goal, I do it, no matter what type of injury or long lasting mental scars I keep from the completion.
Most people do, but it seems to be something that drives me insane, like baby seat laws to Brittany Spears, I just can’t cope with it.
It probably has to do with having people disappointed in me, but that can’t be the only factor. Failing isn’t anything new to me, I never grew tall enough to be given a real chance at playing basketball, I never aced my SATs and choose my dream college and I never made it to state in an individual event. In fact, I remember the first time failure destroyed me publically.
I was in Junior High, sitting next to a girl who I found completely cute. We were in the same math class and “somehow” ended up sitting next to each other. We had earlier taken a test, on geometry or some shit that I’d never need, and I was sure I did just fine on it. In fact, my lowest grade had been a B, and that was because I skipped a few questions because I grew bored with the material. The test was being handed back, and around the room I heard the normal groans from the D students. Feeling confident, I whispered something conceited to the cute girl about how easy the test was, and right as she laughed at my statement, my paper plummeted to the desk, sending shockwaves like a concussion bomb throughout the class. All on the once virgin white sheet were red marks, tainting its purity for life. The letter grade at the top simply stated the first letter of the word that escaped my shocked lips. An F?? How the F do I get an effing F??
This is what I should have said. It would have made me look manlier and less like a pansy. Instead, this is what happened. The paper hit the desk and I started to blink quickly, moving my hands quickly to the desk, trying to cover the same of the grade like the day Eve realized her bresticles were showing after eating the apple. My hands, as much as my puberty-riddled nights would like to have thought, were not fast enough, and cute girls eyes saw the grade and she snorted back a laugh. That is when the eyes watered more and more quickly. Soon, my face was flooded like a coastal town in Japan, filled with salty water. Deep sobs escaped my mouth, and the more I tried to squash them, the louder they got. I had failed a test, and about that I had failed my first battle at manhood. Taking bad news was not a strong suit at this stage in my life, and has never recovered from this moment.
Later that year, after I figured the fit of tears had long been forgotten, I got up my nerve and asked cute girl to a dance. She laughed at me, I cried again and luckily moved a few years later so I didn’t have to hear about this through graduation. Sure, she was 5’7” and I was 5’1” on a good day, but still, women like guys that looked like elves, right? I did find a date to that dance, and while she was not really cute by anyone’s/ things standards, I did get my first kiss, so that counts as only a half fail, right?
Here is thing about this failure. Without it, I couldn’t have handled half the shit I later dealt with in my life. I mean had you told me at age 30 that the worst shit I’d have to go through would be failing a math test, I’d feel pretty awesome about life. That is the problem with failure. In retrospect, it all seems like a great growing process. During the failure, all you can do is be blinded by the failed goals, dancing in your eyes like the devil sleeping with your grandma. There is nothing you can do about it, just let time pass until the failure doesn’t seem so harsh, or that the lens you are viewing life with cracks and fades and a new reality is set up.
I know that reading about failures can be laboring and all that, but I have a few more examples to really drive this point home. In college, I dated this girl who I swore on everything that I would marry and have a family with. I sacrificed my world for her, maxing out cards and spending all my spare change calling her, writing her and yes, even drawing shitty ass pictures of her to demonstrate my love. Now, on a side note, I used to be a really crappy artist, even worse than now, and I would draw portraits of her. Yeah, it was creepy. Creepy enough in fact, that I was a boom box and a trench coat away from turning into John Cusack. My heart was beyond enlarged for her; in fact, other body parts were much bigger when I was in love with her. It was a match made in Olympia, which is doomed to fail in epic ways. We did well for nearly a year, small fights littering stellar make-up sessions that served as a way to mask more serious problems. I thought things were going well, and I decided to start mentioning a life together, as that was my goal. I wanted to be with this broad for life, but she had a different idea. I remember calling her, once again doing my whole once a week, profession of my undying love when she had the nerve to cut me off mid-sentence. I was shocked, but respectful, because I was brought up in a house where women were respected. She waited a second, making the pause seem like hours before uttering the phrase “ you are just at the bottom of my list of priorities right now, and I don’t think you’ll ever be at the top 10”.
I was crushed, destroyed, melted down like Chernobyl, needing years to recover. I had no weapon in my arsenal to deal with this defeat, but eventually I a radiation suit to wear publically. I discovered humor could mask my true emotions and pain, allowing people to see me laugh at failing make the hurt private and propped up my self-worth in their eyes. A good friend of mine says she lives by the whole “fake it till you make it” way off life, and this is how I coped. The end of that relationship made me see that beauty in life is fleeting, and that no matter what you see and respect in this world, someone else will find it ugly and horrible and make it their life long goal to destroy it. Humor in these situations makes the devastation of a beautiful event bearable, if only publically. Humor became my way out of painful situations, which is human nature. Think about it, how often do you hear people laugh at a memorial service? It isn’t just because we celebrate life; it is because we as humans have a hard time admitting failure and sadness.
This is a long build up to me sitting in the snow, feeling just as rejected as when my girl decided she no longer wanted me as a husband. I was empty and hollow, sitting on our couch in our apartment, and here I was, sitting waist deep in snow, miles away from the lower trailhead, feeling like I was not good enough to meet the most basic of goals. In my marriage, I wanted to be a breadwinner, a good husband and someone who was dependable. I was none of these. On this mountain, I wanted to be a leader, a trailblazer and a man who could summit the peaks, taking claim back over his life as well as nature. The snow was cold on my legs, but not as cold as the blood flowing through my heart. It a song could have been played at that exact moment on repeat until I cried, it would have been “Cold as ice” by Foreigner. This mountain, just like my Ex was cold blooded, and didn’t care about allowing me to meet my goals. The mountain was willing to sacrifice my love and my goals. I sat there for minutes, feeling as dejected as Nicole Brown’s family after OJ got off. My partners in the skirmish seemed fine with the lack of summiting, but I was acting prissy, moody and generally in a foul mood.
All I could think was here I am, a hiking guide, and I couldn’t even summit a mountain in the middle of the winter. I couldn’t even get our Asses to the trailhead, thanks to feet and feet of snow. I blamed myself, feeling the same level of frustration, as when I was sure I aced a math test, only to find out I couldn’t do it. I mean, hell, I still fail at geometry, so will I fail at leading people up mountains in the snow? I worry about this, but luckily, my friend’s saw how upset and full of rage at my failure I was and suggest we go do something fun.
As we walked back to the car, I post-holed in silence, feeling the weight of my failure pushing my legs deeper in the snow with each step. I got in the car, drove to the Olympic National Park and slowly meandered to Staircase rapids, snapping pictures off as if they were bullets at geometry problems and failed climbs. Soon, I was a million miles away from the mountain and its rocks of failure, instead enjoying nature for what it was. The park was like the fat girl at the dance. Sure, it would have been awesome to grinding myself up something sexy and white, but instead I had fun going deep in Mother Nature, taking sexy pictures of her around every corner. It wasn’t a homerun, but reaching second base really helped alleviate my spirits. Dipping my appendages in her chilly moist run off made me smile, as it had been years since the fear had worn off for sheer satisfaction.
The day’s failures lingered with me all night, and still are with me now, but recalling the random, exciting and silly times I experienced instead more than makes up for the lack of peaking my mountain. Sure, it would have been great to stand at the summit, ice axe in hand, yelling for the world to submit to my power and awesomeness, but instead we went a different direction. We travelled to where I had no expectations, and allowed my shame and fear of failure to fade away like Hanson’s music career, leaving only a few notes and memories to smile and laugh at. My lens has been shifted, and while I while get to the top of this mountain soon, I realize that success is fleeting, and what counts is how I make each day. I can choose to hide from the images of the devil and my family members, or embrace the fact that it is all in my head, and I shall someday have the last laugh at that image, the girl from my math class, my ex-wife, my college sweetie and even the mountain. The peak is only a day trip away and failing this weekend will only make me appreciate the hard work I will do to reach the top of the mountain and my life.
I’m going keep on climbing and get to the top of these mountains and this life. When you hear yelling and see me in the distance, ice axe in hand, remember that without failure, I wouldn’t be yelling with such zeal that the gods above would smile and know I earned this shit.
Douglas Scott…out and on top soon