Someone asks me if I’ve ever fallen on a hike.
The question conjures the sounds my body has made when I’ve lost my footing. A sudden scrape of boots on loose rock, the clash of hiking poles pinging against each other, the grunt from my chest once I realize what’s happening. I remember my last fall on Hunter Mountain. I’m descending on an October day, close to the summit, where the ecology differs from the trail’s first thousand feet. Here mushrooms the color of fog with splotches of pink line the path, and beyond them the damp moss reigns like bright algae, taking over most of the downed wood. Before the fall, I stop to stare at a worm-like creature, covered with white fuzz, making its way on a thin twig. Then, I’m on the ground, my butt wet and poles stiff at my sides, the throb of recently broken veins spreading.
I want to answer with Of course I’ve fallen. It’s like asking if I’ve ever had a falling out with a friend. Haven’t we all? I withhold my gut answer in case it’ll sound too curt, but before I can speak, my almost-response evokes another memory that swoops in hastily and leaves just as fast.
I’m in the country I was born in, before I’ve ever climbed a mountain, when I only understand boots as a fashion choice and not a means to protect the feet. I’m in the parking lot in the town of Durán, Ecuador—after its yearly music festival—staring at my best friend in the back seat of a van as she tells me there’s no space. I’d mentioned weeks before that I needed a ride to our town after the concert. I didn’t merely say Save me a spot. I laid out the plan. I’d be going with some high school friends, but they all lived in the town I went to school in, not in the town I lived in. I asked her to let the driver know I’d pay the roundtrip fee although I was just hitching a ride back home. She assured me she’d spoken with him, but on that night, she snuggles in the back seat next to her boyfriend and tells me it’s not her call. There’s no space she says. I know the Ecuadorian coast is always warm, but in my memory I’m wearing a light sweater and still feel a profound chill.
The van speeds away like bikers would swoop by me on trails in years to come. Panicked, I walk around, calling others with the slim data I have left on my Nokia phone. Then, a familiar face, the son of somebody my father knows. Hi, I’m Victoria, I know you I say. I’ll pay you all the money I have. Just don’t leave me here in this parking lot, I almost say. I get in the truck—a stranger among boys and men. The silence is piercing, as if they know there’s been a recent end to my most profound friendship. As if I would shatter if they ask me more than my name. She left me. She left me. Half an hour later, when only the headlights on the highway light the path, I wonder what would have happened if the man driving didn’t let me fit in between him and another boy in the front seat. I picture myself ambulating in an empty parking lot, hiding in the shadows, waiting for an uncle to make the hour-long trip as I stumble between fear and anger and sadness.
I know what it means to lose touch, even to ghost, but this is my first falling out. We fall out like a fledgling plummets from its nest, we fall out like how the rubbish manages to tumble from the trailhead garbage bin in a harsh wind, we fall out like how a dead tree thumps on dense snow during a storm. She left, continuing on the path in front of me without looking back. We still see each other; that same week she’s in my house. Not because I’ve invited her to talk or because she’s there to apologize. Our families are friends, confidants, kinfolk, and years will pass with us unable to avoid each other. I’m never able to retrace the steps to how it was before, unwilling to make space for her again.
I’ve fallen I answer. I’ve fallen hard.
Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator with an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University. Her work has been featured or is upcoming in Entropy, Bare Life Review, Bending Genres, and more.