‘Sitting on top of a mountain’ gives the image of a single high peak, maybe in the Rockies, and a person sitting on top of it in the open air, looking out for miles on the land. But when I say that he was sitting on top of a mountain I mean something different. If you were to look up at the mountain I’m talking about, from a distance, you would see a large green mound in the midst of other large green mounds. When you’re looking up at it like this you might be inclined to call it a hill among rolling hills. I’ve heard them called great mounds of moss. But if you try walking up the side of one of these great rolling mounds of moss, when you stop to catch your breath for the tenth time, and you see your shirt is soaked through with sweat and there’s still seven miles to go before you hit the top, you too will come around to calling it a mountain. The view from the top is of trees. It’s just more forest up there.
There he sat in a forest, that happened to be situated on top of a mountain. He sat on the highest rock he could find and picked up a pebble from beside him. He tossed it from hand to hand a few times and then aimed for the stump of a tree. He drew back and fired and the pebble popped against the tree stump. He found another pebble, this one slightly larger, and threw it at the same stump, this time missing. That was unacceptable, to miss a stump a mere few feet from his hand, so he tried again. He dug in the dirt and found a perfect pebble, rolled it between his fingers to get the feel of it, gazed intently at the tree stump with his hand cocked by his ear, and fired with a flick of the wrist and a straightening of the elbow. The pebble found its way through the air, flying over fern and rocks and ground, past the tree stump and landing softly in a pile of other pebbles, back where it belonged. Frustrated now he took up a handful of rocks from the dirt and flung one after another at the stump, each one missing. No matter how he tried, he simply could not hit the tree again. And when I say that he could not hit the tree again I mean that I could not hit the tree again, for the man atop the mountain was me.
At the time I thought nothing more of it than I was out of practice. I played baseball when I was a kid and haven’t attempted to throw anything with accuracy since my dreams of being a professional baseball player died. It's no tragedy that those dreams died. Many dreams die. I once dreamed of being a Marine. Those dreams also died thank god1.
My father was kneeling on the bedroom floor not far from his bed.
“Get up,” I said.
He said he was trying.
“Here, take my hand, I’ll help you up.”
He began to fall face first into the frame of the bed and without a glimpse of a thought my open palm extended towards the top of his head. I caught his face.
“Are you okay?” I said with my hand sandwiched between the sweat of his forehead and the bedpost.
“I’m alright,” he said hoisting himself back up.
“See if you can try to grab hold of this so you don’t fall again,” I said with one hand on the bedpost.
He grabbed it and froze. Not because he wanted to, but because he couldn’t do anything else if he tried. We stood there in silence for some time until I suggested lifting him up into bed. He accepted the offer with dying pride. I wedged my arms beneath his and heaved but his hand was firmly fixed round the bedpost, his whole arm stiff.
“You’ve got to let go,” I said yanking at him.
He was staring at his hand holding the bed. “I can’t,” he said.
I put him back down on the ground, propped against my leg, and pried the frame of the bed from his fingers and tried again to heave him up. Eventually we were able to get him lying comfortably on his back and I turned out the light and told him goodnight.
“I know this must be hard for you,” he said, “but I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
“Yep, goodnight dad.”
After missing the tree stump for the tenth time I found myself staring at my hand, and while quantum physics may have killed classical determinism, I can tell you for certain that I had no more control over those pebbles than anything else had.
When I say that ‘I threw a pebble’ I draw a picture that I don’t mean to draw. What I mean is that a pebble flew through the air that once was in my hand in a way that there is no pebble or hand individually but rather one pebble-hand of mass-energy stuck specifically in space-time. The implications of my father’s lack of control over his own body are great. They alone leave me crossed betweens
1. I do not believe in god. The tragedy is Parkinson’s disease.
Simon Turkel is presently (2012) a student of Creative Writing and Philosophy at Oberlin College. He hopes to see more of you soon.