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> Somebody to lean on
Cat Riley
Posted: February 04, 2019 12:38 am

SCW Advanced Member

Group: Members
Posts: 45
Member No.: 353
Joined: April 09, 2018

Pine Creek Canyon is an established two and a half mile hiking trail near the south western end of the Red Rock Canyon national park; a 308 square mile conservation park 30 minutes west of Las Vegas so named for the coloring of the outcrops of Aztec Sandstone, the iron oxide contained within rusting from exposure to the elements leading to red, orange and brown colored rocks. The hue is exacerbated by the relentless onslaught of sunlight which persists on this typically mild winter day with a mere handful of scattered, willowy stratus clouds dissipating in the high pressure air, refusing to offer shade to the sun weary site seekers.

“You put on your sunscreen, right?” The sun baked clay soil provides a firm surface for hikers to explore the open desert mouth of the path beginning their trek past a smattering of stubby cacti, dead branches, tumble weeds and well-cooked rocks, some of which have been ground into gravel that crunches beneath Christian Underwood’s brown leather hiking boots. Reaching over to his companion he slaps at the transparent beach bag stuffed with bottles of water, towels, chips and of course sun screen. Cat Riley nods walking silently alongside him, her attention spanning the jagged cliffs in the distance, darting to the ground every few steps, wary of the threat of rattle snakes. Through a sidelong glance he notices the white sleeves of her billowy Metallica tee shirt rolled up to her shoulders; a scene that causes him to stop, clutching her by the shoulder where he takes the sleeves and rolls them down, covering the length of her pale arm. “For the last time kitty cat, keep your sleeves down. You don’t want to get cooked”.

“But I’m wearing sun screen”, she protests, trying to wrangle her arm from his persistent grasp. “SPF 100, I’m not going to get burned”.

“No way girlie, you have some of the most sensitive skin I have ever seen and I don’t want to spend the day with a lobster, now keep your sleeves down, and keep the visor on your baseball cap facing forward”.

With a sigh she relents, turning the black and silver Oakland Raiders cap around and the pair resumes their walk with Christian casting a downward gaze to his would be ward ensuring that she followed his instructions to wear blue jeans and actual hiking boots. Grunting in satisfaction he rears his head back up scanning the trail ahead of them as they approach the old Wilson Family homestead site. The mud brick ruins of the former home have become dilapidated over time from continued exposure to the elements and no maintenance leaving little more than a hard dirt floor foundation with a patches of green Russian Thistle, having yet to break off into the better known tumbleweeds spotting the tanned ground surrounded by walls standing no more than three feet at their highest point. Reaching into Cat’s bag Christian retrieves a bottle of water and plops down on top of the wall remains for a sip.

Nearby, past a disjointed row of ferns and Juniper trees a few hundred feet away the trickling of water can be heard just beyond where the land slopes down leading to the Pine creek wash. Although only five to six feet at its widest and no more than a foot deep the flowing water, cradled by large, wind-sheered boulders bring with it thick, lush vegetation and provides a stark contrast to the barren onset of the trail. A small flock of birds chatter in the tree tops, warning the others about the visitors, their squawks piercing the still air as Cat takes a seat next to him and fishes in the bag for her own bottle.

The water, purchased at a convenience store on the drive up is no longer cold but not yet warm and provides a relief to their parched throats, courtesy of the dust particles kicked up by the previous days’ windy conditions. Smacking her lips Cat replaces the cap onto the one liter bottle of Aquafina and stashes it back into the bag as Christian rises back to his feet, electing to carry his own as they resume their walk. The ground becomes softer the further along the trail they explore and starts to crumble airily beneath their boots. Looking ahead Cat spies a small, dust colored rodent no larger than a well fed mouse scurrying between bushes, disappearing from sight as quickly as it was recognized.

“Are you sure those things aren’t dangerous”? She asks with a tepid gesture towards the dried bushes, unsure of the inclinations of the local wildlife. Questions pepper her mind sprinkling in among the black and white granules of thought; are they aggressive, dangerous or even rabid? She presses apprehensively against her friend for added security.

“They’re more scared of you than you are of them”, he responds in a light, reassuring tone, and placing his hand comfortingly on her back. “Just mind your own business and they’ll leave you alone”.

“That’s good”, a grateful sigh whistles softly between contracted lips, “Because I really don’t have anything that I want to talk to them about”.

“That reminds me..,” he continues through a brief snicker. “Have you noticed any improvement since you started taking the medicine”?

“It’s hard to say,” she replies shrugging her sinewy shoulders with uncertainty, her blonde mane shaking from side to side. “These last few days have been so relaxed. Nothing has happened that would give me a clue”.

“Not even on twitter”?

“Not even twitter”, she states firmly. “Effie Bingham even gave me this really cute ring that she picked up in Mexico..,” pausing to show off the silver coated ring depicting a tiny cat wrapped as a loop around her finger she sighs and continues, “I love it, isn’t it cute”?

Glancing at the ring, glistening in the sunlight Christian nods; being a cat fancier himself he appreciates the object but more importantly the gesture. “It is”, he agrees but not wanting to get off track he quickly swerves back into his intended direction. “Just give it a bit of time, that sertraline she put you on worked wonders for me, so I’m sure it will help you too”.

“You..,” Stopping in her tracks she glares in astonishment at the man beside her, putting two and two together. “You have anxiety too”?

“Mmmhmm”, he confirms with a grunting nod. “You’re not alone kitty cat; I know exactly what you’re going through”.

“I… I..,” caught completely by surprise she stammers, her mind tripping over competing thoughts and scrambling to right itself. “But how”? Shaking her head in disbelief she continues to stutter and stumble until eventually pumping the brakes. “I had no idea, what happened”?

Steadily moving onward they soon find themselves at a junction connecting with two additional trails. Veering to the right Christian selects a trail known on maps as the Pine Creek Canyon Trail which snakes through moderately thick Juniper woodland vegetation at a gentle grade though the map pulled from Cat’s bag advises care be taken as there are a few short, steep sections lined with thistle and juniper and the footing can be slightly rocky and difficult for those with disabilities given its twisting nature and climbing grades encountered periodically throughout. Stopping at the top of one such grade he exhales thoughtfully and twists the white plastic cap off of his bottle of water.

“I suppose I was a lot like you when I was younger”, he begins in between sips. “I felt fine throughout most of my childhood but along came a catalyst that triggered the avalanche. Your catalyst was named Crystal Zdunich, mine was named Raymond Underwood, and he happens to be my father”. Tucking the bottle into the back pocket of his Wrangler jeans he walks on, taking slow, easy steps to ensure that his companion has no difficulty keeping up as the pair works their way down into a shallow ravine. “I was young, around your age maybe a little younger and had made up my mind to come out about my sexuality to my parents and introduce them to Scotty”. Drawing a breath he starts up the next grade, and they carefully work their way around a short series of prickly tumble weeds and cactus; their steps are slow and sure, mindful of the numerous loose rocks littering the well beaten path. “Let me tell you, that was probably the toughest decision of my life. I wasn’t worried too much about my mother, but my dad was a hard-nosed ex-marine, a stern disciplinarian and very old school and that scared the crap out of me. But after some coaxing from my friend Selena, as well as Geno and Scott I decided to go through with it”. Safely in the ravine the two find themselves on even ground which gives Cat the opportunity to walk alongside her friend shoulder to shoulder. “My fears were justified because all hell broke loose that day”.

Being social animals human beings have a tendency to pry and search for common ground with one another, something to relate to that not only stimulates conversation but builds bonds as well. Typically such ground tends to only be surface deep like a mutual hobby or favorite sport or band but every so often an unexpected connection appears like a fossil washed ashore by the tide, ready to be discovered and shared. Since discovering Cat’s skeleton having washed up the young man had become inundated by the memories of his own harrowing voyage flooding his thoughts; not only was he able to relate, he was able to – more importantly – empathize and became determined to throw her a life preserver.

“I’m sorry”, she mutters apologetically, feeling pangs of guilt over having reopened old wounds.

“It’s alright kitty cat”, he drapes a reassuring arm over her shoulder, pulling her in close. “Time heals all wounds”.

“So what happened then after that”? She asks, lifting her gaze to him, her expression lapping in genuine interest.

“Like I thought, my mother was accepting but my dad essentially disowned me. He blew his stack like I had never seen before. He raised enough hell that I had a nervous breakdown, a lot like yours. I don’t think I had ever cried so much in my life. I became depressed and withdrew into myself”, he continues as they approach another short grade leading out of the ravine, kicking a softball sized rock out of Cat’s path allowing her to remain at his side unencumbered. “I didn’t want anything to do with anybody for a while and even thought of killing myself. I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t want to eat and I didn’t even shower. I just stayed in my room with the lights turned off crying all day. It was the worst time of my life”.

“How did you get through it”? She queries subconsciously leaning against him as he spins the tale, her head now resting on his taut shoulders as they walk along.

“I suppose I was lucky”, they come upon an uprooted bush blocking the path; a large tumbleweed about the size of a small car, like a Beetle lies stoically in the middle of the beaten trail, probably from the recent windstorm Christian muses. Attentively he starts kicking aside the loose, smaller debris surrounding the would-be roadblock. His steps are slow and delicate as he probes the ground for unseen obstacles and satisfied, he extends his hand to Cat and guides her around the dead bush. “I had some truly great friends to help me through it”, he continues unabated, “Scotty, Selena and Geno. But believe me; I really tried their patience through it all. I’m surprised they stuck with me but I am so thankful that they did. Looking back on it I never would have made without them”.

“What did they do”? Matching her stride to his Cat digs the bottle of water from the clear vinyl bag draped over her shoulder and takes a swig. Shoveling the bottle back in she looks up to notice a broad grin beaming across Christian’s tanned face as he begins to laugh at an unearthed memory. “Did I say something funny”? She can’t help but to smile, dusted by his throaty guffaws.

“Kind of..,” he relents, bringing his tone back to an even keel. “Selena and Scotty stayed with me pretty much around the clock. Scotty even tried cooking for me, like I do for you but his cooking makes yours look like Martha Stewarts’. That man – bless his musclebound heart - couldn’t make a ham sandwich without burning the house down. Still, he tried and I love him for it. Geno on the other hand happened to know a young lady who had just finished her Ph.D. thesis in psychology and was looking to build her clientele and suggested that I talk to her. At first I wasn’t interested. I mean, all psychiatrists do is talk, right”? Without waiting for the expected nod of agreement he rolls onward. “Still, after a bit of coaxing from Selena and Scotty I decided to humor him. I didn’t think she could do anything for me other than bore me to death but after talking with her for a while I started to notice that she was picking up on things that I didn’t even mention, sort of like putting a puzzle together going only by the shape of the pieces. It blew my mind how much she knew about me”.

Continuing on through a gully enveloped by water sheared rocks looming high overhead, remnants from the late cretaceous during which the western United States, referred to by archaeologists as the western interior seaway was submerged and likely populated by unknown oceanic life forms. Since then it has given way to dry land as the sea level subsided leaving behind a rich history of fossils and an indelible imprint on the landscape like the rocky cliffs between which they traverse upon approaching another fork in the road which splits off in two directions. Christian, displaying an intimate familiarity with the trail veers to the left passing by another large thistle bush on their right; this time still firmly rooted in the ground. A dozen or so steps are taken in silence before they happen upon a clearing; relatively rock free and flanked by a surprising amount of bract with a backdrop of breezy ferns, junipers and even a small scattering of shade trees, the largest of which still bearing fronds stands high above the rest of the foliage, it’s branches extending in welcome to weary hikers, inviting them to rest. The twosome takes the hardwood up on its offer and settles down at the base underneath the gracious screen.

“So anyway she diagnoses me with depression brought on by anxiety and prescribes some medicine for me”, he continues while popping open his bottle for a chug. “She put me on sertraline, the same stuff you’re on but I didn’t think it would help – in fact I was convinced and I deliberately forgot to take my medicine and even tried to throw it away after a couple weeks when I didn’t notice any improvement, Never mind that I only took maybe three or four doses, I was expecting a miracle and she didn’t deliver. But Scotty found the bottle when taking out the trash one day. The bag split open and he saw the bottle which was mostly full and tore me a new one. He read me the riot act, then Selena acted it out, and then Geno gave me bonus footage. So Scotty got even more involved and took it upon himself to make certain that I took my medication every day”.

“How long did it take for you to see improvement”? Her gaze is sloping down a small, youthful nose towards the hardened soil beneath them and absently she picks up a small rock, casually chucking it down the path while awaiting his reply. She has been on the medicine for barely two weeks now but much like Christian before her Cat has yet to notice any positive changes and seeks an estimate to base her expectations on.

Screwing the cap back onto the bottle and depositing it into the beach bag set down in his companion’s lap he continues, “Well, once Scotty took it upon himself to play nursemaid I’d say it took me maybe..,” a pause ensues allowing his words to be carried along by the gentle breeze which filters in through the small, yet open canyon while he fishes for the lost memory of years gone by. Feeling a nibble by way of an image of a pillow fight with his childhood friend Selena he pulls on the line and reels it in. “It was about six or seven weeks”, he states. “I had this impromptu pillow fight with Selena during a sleepover; it was if something inside of me just clicked and I knew right then that the stuff she gave me was working”.

“Have you had any relapses”? Fearful of another, potentially worse downward spiral she poses the question hoping for the positive while bracing for the negative, keenly aware of the calamity that could befall her upon reaching the bottom of another such experience.

Rising back to his feet Christian dusts himself off and offers a hand to his friend, pulling her up while carefully dissecting the means in which to respond. Given the delicate nature of her condition and having only recently starting her treatment he carefully weighs the words flowing through the canal of care, choosing only the most buoyant terms for a measured reply.

“Depression and Anxiety tend to go hand in hand”, he begins, casting the first oar in the water. Taking a breath while the pair resumes their walk he prepares to cast the second oar, “it tends to ebb and flow”, recalling the words of Dr. Stark to him the day of her initial visit he eases it gently in. “It never truly goes away”. Quickly he begins to paddle before she can react to the controlled splash, “The job of the medicine is to regulate it to normal levels. To answer your question”, bracing for potential waves he goes on, “Yes, I have had relapses”. A quick glance to the young woman straggling behind reveals a face lost in an upsurge of thought, an upsurge he attempts to shield her against. “But never so bad, not even close. Ever since starting on that stuff it has always been manageable and never lasts long. It works wonders for me and I’m certain it will do the same for you if you just do as I did and take some personal time and stay away from the crap that upset you in the first place”.

“Do you really think so”? Desperately wanting to believe him she can’t help but to shrink back from the dark, painful memories following Inception III; the feeling of helplessness, the desperate cries for help by a mind too afraid to give voice to its struggles, the fear of failure, and the visceral sense of being lost in a shroud of misery, carefully shielded from others by a ramshackle façade of normalcy, a façade which grew to shield her as well and leaving no recourse but to submit to the throes of despair; throes that would release on a nightly basis as would a dam to avoid flooding. “I’ve never cried so much in my life”, she observes, tearing herself from the sullen reflection. “Every night I cried myself to sleep”.

Allowing her to catch up Christian extends a protective arm around her shoulder and pulls her in close. “I know kitty cat”, he offers a gentle kiss to the side of her head in alleviation. “We heard you and truth be told; I wanted to cry myself seeing you like that. I knew exactly what you were going through and it hurt me too”. Holding onto the youngster he breaks back into stride gently nudging her along. Looking up through hazel lenses he recognizes some of the familiar spots, landmarked into memory over years of steadily beating the same path which inform him that their trip is nearing completion, having come nearly full circle. A feeling of Déjà vu filters in with the wind slowly continuing to pick up steam; reliving his own battles with anxiety and depression, battles fought over the years for which he is grateful of not only winning but for the opportunity to pass along the valuable lessons learned in hopes of helping another; of helping a friend. “It hurt me more than you can imagine”, he offers in a soothing whisper. “The feeling of being lost, the helplessness, your mind churning over the same thing over and over again; something completely beyond your control. It tore at me from the inside out and I so badly wanted to just burst into your room and hold you as tightly as I possibly could, but I felt it best to keep an eye on you and let you cry it out. That helped me a few times”.

“I think what scares me the most is having a relapse, going through it all over again”, she remarks, not wanting to break from the protective embrace of the elder man. Feeling secure in his presence and grasp she latches onto the brass ring of depressive desire and progressively opens up. “The loss of control, watching what I know to be molehills become mountains, to see puddles turn into oceans while being suffocated in my own self-pity. I didn’t know what to do then and I still don’t. If I should fall further than I did last time..,”

Her voice trails off, swallowed into the dark abyss of emotional surrender; an abyss littered with the broken remains of hopes and dreams; once bright futures drawn into an omnivorous black hole of apathetic promise, and their bones being reduced to statistical rubble for future emotive archaeologists to comb over. There can be no escape once passing beyond the event horizon, no hope of salvation with nary a clue left behind save for the odd quantum effect near the point of no return resulting in the occasional leakage.

“I’m scared”.

Stopping abruptly Christian turns the petite blonde to face him, and rests his hands on her nervously bunched shoulders. Reaching up with a steady hand he wipes a tear streaming down the side of her somber face. “Listen to me kitty cat”, he says sternly, tightening his grip just enough to break her free from the talons of torment and draw her glassy blue eyes onto himself. “I’ve been through everything you’re going through now and I’m not about to let anything hurt you. If you ever need somebody to lean on, a shoulder to cry on or just to talk, I am here for you. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing or if the world is on fire I don’t care because you are not alone, we are going to beat this thing together”.

Her gaze brightens from the onset of hope, forcing its way in through a break in the rumbling grey clouds, energizing her and buoyed by the strength of her friend she forces back a sniffle to manage a weak, but reassuring smile. Snatching the ball cap from her head Cat leans in to embrace the rock protruding from the waves allowing her to anchor and safely ride out the storm.

Returning the hug Christian gently rocks her from side to side, stopping only to plant a healing peck on the forehead while stroking her shimmering blonde mane; shielding her from the depraved depths of anguish. Settling her head on his sinewy chest and taking a deep breath she breaks from the embrace, looking up to her champion with renewed hope and murmurs in gratification,

“Thank you”.

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