A dark tale of a mistake and devastating consequences (1/2004)
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, just twelve months later, Edgar knew better. Now, as he sat alone in his dark apartment eating tuna fish from the can for the fourth night in a row, he knew why they called that horrible place, “Devil’s Slide.”
Six years earlier, Edgar’s only daughter, Alyssa, gave birth to his first and only grandchild, Thomas. Edgar waited patiently for his tiny grandson to grow, for his bones to lengthen, for his muscles to develop, for his courage to grow. Finally, Thomas was six years old and ready to go hiking in the mountains.
On that fateful day, Thomas’s father Jonathan was away on a business trip. An important client had called and complained; Jonathan was on a plane later that day. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
With Jonathan away, Alyssa decided to visit her parents. It would be a nice opportunity to spend time with her mother, Margaret, while her dad played with Thomas.
“I think I’ll take Thomas on a hike,” Edgar said.
“Just be careful,” Margaret said to her husband.
‘Remember, he’s only six years old,” said Alyssa protectively.
“Uh-huh. Uh-huh,” Edgar offered. These women were so cautious, he felt. And even Jonathan, the boy’s father, was a white-collar pansy. The man was a decent enough son-in-law, but was someone who sat behind a desk all day and it showed. He was soft, and Edgar didn’t want his grandson to turn out the same way.
“Want to go for a hike, Thomas?”
“No thanks, Grandpa. I want to play computer games.”
Edgar sighed. He really needed to assert himself to counteract the influence of the boy’s sedentary parents.
“Come on. It’ll be fun.”
Thomas declined again. “I want to get to level ten, Grandpa,” he said.
Grandpa persisted. Thomas relented.
“Okay, bye honey. Bye Alyssa,” Edgar said as he led his reluctant grandson toward the door. “We’ll be back by dinner.”
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, just twelve months later, Edgar knew better. Then, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to try a climb that he’d wanted to try for quite a while.
The first hour of their ascent went fine. The slope of the hillside was gradual, and Thomas seemed to enjoy himself. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy throwing rocks down the hill and watching them bound downward until he could not see them anymore.
The second hour of the climb was harder. Thomas had clearly had enough and began whining that he wanted to go home.
“Just a little further, Thomas,” his insistent grandfather urged.
“I want to go home, Grandpa.”
“I know, I know,” Edgar said impatiently. “All we have is a couple hundred feet until we get to the summit.”
Thomas didn’t understand what “a couple hundred feet” meant, or what a “summit” was. All he knew was that he was cold and hungry and tired.
Edgar’s long strides covered the remaining distance easily. His desire to reach his goal took hold of him, as it always did. Especially when it came to climbing, his single mindedness was perhaps his most defining characteristic.
Edgar looked down and saw that Thomas had lost his footing, and had slid down a few feet. He seemed to have managed to regain his balance. He was crying, his eyes welled up with tears.
“Come on, Thomas,” Edgar encouraged from two hundred feet above. “You can do it.”
“I wanna go home, Grandpa. Please, Grandpa, I want to go home.”
Edgar stewed. He really needed to have a talking to with Alyssa and Jonathan. The boy was in serious need of a backbone infusion.
“You can do it,” Edgar called out again. He needed to help the boy overcome his fears. To help Thomas see how by overcoming one’s fears, one can accomplish feats previously believed to be impossible.
Thomas was sobbing. Heaving, wracking cries made their way up to a grandfather with a very different notion of “help” than that of one terrified young boy.
Then Thomas slid again.
Edgar watched as his only grandson skidded along the rocky hillside for fifty feet, then, after his foot caught on a small bush, fall backward, head over heels, until he was out of sight. Just like that, Thomas was gone.
The entire time, the boy cried out, “Help me, Grandpa! Help me, Grandpa!”
Stunned and in shock, Edgar couldn’t believe what had just happened. Surely his eyes had played tricks on him. Surely it was all a dream or a joke.
But it wasn’t. And Edgar wept.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, just twelve months later, Edgar sat alone, a hollow shell of his former self. Margaret had divorced him a month after that horrible day. It took her a month because that’s how long she cried for her lost grandson.
Margaret died five months after the divorce, six months after Thomas’s death. It was as if her body just gave up once the beacon of light in her life had been extinguished.
Alyssa had disowned her father. She didn’t wait, like her mother. She told him that very evening, when he’d finally staggered back home to bear the bad news. She grieved for six months until her mother took her life, then grieved for six more months after that. Then, with the help of a bottle of Valium, she ended her pain. She decided it was finally time to find out if she would ever see her magnificent son in an after life or not.
Jonathan returned from his business trip upon hearing the devastating news. After staying curled up in bed for most of the next few months, he was fired by a compassionate yet ultimately business-minded boss. His anger at his father-in-law was palpable. But he inappropriately, however understandably, began to direct his anger at Alyssa as well. His resentment, added to the already difficult situation, begat a cold war between them, and months of silence.
Months later, when Alyssa killed herself, Jonathan snapped.
Now, without his beloved wife and remarkable son, Jonathan was rudderless, lost. Already long out of work, Jonathan soon burned through his savings. Long before the bank foreclosed on the house, Jonathan was committed to the Shady Oak Sanitarium.
He was treated for severe depression for over ten years.
At long last, he was able to fully and properly grieve for his wife and son. The doctors helped him control his anger towards his father-in-law; his rage softened to anger, which eventually became manageable. His suicidal depression lightened to depression, which lightened to oppressive sadness, which eventually became bearable.
Ten years later, trying to rebuild some kind of life for himself, Jonathan walked past an old homeless man. The man looked like Edward, the man responsible for taking his son – and his entire family – down Devil’s Slide.
Jonathan walked passed the man and did not look back.