It just didn’t make sense to me at the time. The words didn’t match with the whirlwind month we spent wrapped up in each other. It hit me like gravity reversing. In retrospect, her words could not be clearer, “We have different values, Andy. I like lavish things, and you… well, you…”
Yeah, what is it about me? How did I give that much of myself, to someone that valued possessions more than passion? I am, after all, the son of generations of coal miners, the first Munas not to have toiled under the earth. I am the child that for the first 10 years of my life shared a single bedroom with two other siblings. I am the employee that hasn’t asked for a raise in 10 years. I am the adult that knows that I don’t need much, because I have so much more than those that came before me.
And as it all came apart in my hands, I was searching for an answer, a reason that could delay the inevitable. Only one explanation made sense. This relationship contained that impossible to define feeling that causes a temporary blindness to the compromises you make for love. I flailed for words in front of her, “I have been chasing this feeling my whole life, and I don’t want to stop now.” But it was too late. No sooner had I said the words, I knew how hollow they felt. I looked down at the empty cup in front of me and was left wondering why I chase that feeling with abandon.
Right after this experience, a group of friends were sitting around drinking whiskey, reminiscing about how we met. In the middle of explaining the legend of how we came to be, my best friend said, “Andy is our labrador!” It really hit home for everyone, because we all started laughing uncontrollably. I was happy to play the part, as I always have been: a youthful exuberance that is never in need of a cup of coffee. But I now felt the thornier side of being a labrador. My easy exuberance is built on what I give and not what I get. I have prioritized what I mean to others more than what they mean to me. On the heels of rejection, this pronouncement was bitterly but appropriately timed.
At the close of the weekend, as I drove away from everyone, the labrador label stung. Not because it was applied to me, but because it was true. So do I give up the part of me that allows my heart to be owned, as a labrador is owned, maybe sacrificing some of that youthful exuberance? I’m not sure of the answer, but putting my faith in shifting sands has me searching for solid ground. I want to put my faith in something that can remain a fixed point in my mind no matter the space between.
In the aftermath, I have floated through people’s lives with an earnestness that endears one minute and fades into the background the next. I can’t deny who I am, and I continue to give so freely of myself. But I am quick to retreat for fear of the capricious whims of someone that you dare to hold dear. I have retreated back into the unchanging monoliths that both terrify and move me, the mountains.
On a recent trip to Colorado, I had my sights set on a traverse of the Maroon Bells. It was certainly something within my capability but just on the edge of what was reasonable. The Maroon Bells have earned a haunting moniker, The Deadly Bells, for how many lives they have claimed through the years. The traverse between the South and North peaks would involve many exposed sections that would often require technical climbing without a rope. After finding a partner, I committed to the plan while my stomach churned. I found a park bench in downtown Aspen and tried to focus on a bit of reading. Adding to my lack of focus, a pair of beautiful eyes overlooking and tending an outdoor bar caught my attention. Setting my churning stomach and reading aside, I walked up and introduced myself. As the night went on, I bragged about my plans to anyone that would listen, partly to ease my own mind, and partly because I reveled in the attention from this beautiful bartender. With my resolve temporarily steeled, I bid my lovely new acquaintance a good night, promising to return the next evening.
The pre dawn sight of the immense Maroon Bells sent shivers down my spine the next morning. Every foot of elevation gained sent my head further into stupor, and by the time we had reached the first summit I felt properly woozy with a big decision looming: to commit to the most exposed and technical parts of the climb or to retread our path for a long walk back to the car. We had come so far and backing down did not seem like an option despite my exhaustion and lightheadedness. Once the commitment to the traverse was made, every inch of rock held my undivided attention. Would this hold break loose? How far would that fall be? Could I reach that handhold? For the next two hours, these decisions held my life delicately. So great was the weight of these two hours that when I clawed my way onto the second summit, I shed a few tears of relief after finding myself a solitary corner of that high and lonesome peak. I briefly had cellular service and sent out a few messages to let people know we were safe. One message I sent was to my friend who had labeled me the labrador, “Just traversed the Maroon Bells. Overcome with emotion. One of the more meaningful climbs I have done. Standing on the North summit now. Love you man.”
The descent was not going to be without it’s hazards, but my mind was at ease and wandered back to Aspen and back to the beautiful girl tending the outdoor bar. At my feet was a pile of rocks, most of which were the classic maroon color of the giant sedimentary monoliths we sat upon. I grabbed a handful of rocks and inspected one that glistened in the afternoon sun. The rock had a stripe of the namesake maroon but contained a bright and luminescent green quartzite deposit that made it sparkle with an intensity that set it apart from the others. I was pleased with my selection and pocketed the handful of rocks and rejoined my companion for the long walk down to the car.
As the sun set, I made my way back into civilization. After the pre dawn terror, the weight of two hours of full consequence, and the emotional final summit, the faces of the tourists in the parking lot and the bourgeoisie in Aspen appeared to me as aliens. They could have no idea what I had seen and felt that day. I stumbled through the brick paved sidewalks of Aspen until I found her at the bar. Her eyes lit up and she exclaimed with a smile, “You made it! I was starting to worry about you!” I returned her greeting with a bedraggled smile of my own and downplayed the experience to satisfy my own bravado. Someone at the bar offered to buy me a drink, and when she brought it over, I felt around in my pocket and pulled out the handful of rocks, “I brought you something from up there.” Again, she gave me the smile that is everything a Labrador needs, and she asked, “Which one should I take?” I reached down to the pile and flipped over the maroon and sparkling green stone that had caught my attention on the summit earlier that day. She let me set it in her palm, holding it as delicately as I held my life during the traverse of The Deadly Bells.
We talked into the evening and I stuck around as she closed up her bar. Her and I spent the early morning hours running all over town, bar to bar, acting like high school kids. I was exuberant from my recent climb and to be in the presence of someone who felt equally exuberant with a zest for simple things in life. We revelled until I was too exhausted to continue. My earnestness was beginning to fade and I felt the desire to retreat for fear of daring to care too much. It was easier to leave and maybe never see her again. As I said goodnight, my mind retreated back to the summit where I had collected her rock. I imagined that lonely peak where I had sat earlier that day. I know that I can always return to that place in my mind, and there the summit will be, full of terror and accomplishment. But where will that beautiful maroon and shining green stone that I collected from that place be?
Authored by Andy Munas
2 thoughts on “The Labrador”
No matter what you or anyone else labels you, your heart is many times more complex and beautiful than any singular notion. You make me proud to call you my son and I know M-O-M would feel the same. You have a great gift of words and introspection. It’s not about having the answers but the ability and courage to look inside for them. I love you more every day, Jowe.
Thanks Dad-o, just learning by example 🙂