I didn’t need an alarm clock that morning-Everest basecamp was humming early. Everyone was anxious to hit the road. Unlike my usual self, I hadn’t packed yet because I wasn’t ready. Packing for my return home was meant to be four weeks away. Knowing that if I waited until the morning and was forced to rush through the process I wouldn’t have time to feel the full weight of what was happening. Where do I even begin?
The inside of my tent looked as though a bomb had detonated inside of it. While I was stuck up at Camp 2, the area in which my teams’ tents lay at basecamp became a new helicopter pad for the rescues that would ensue. Due to the high winds from the helicopters, my tent was intentionally flattened and my once neat and organized home was a disaster. I didn’t care. They could have given every single item I had in that tent away to help someone else and I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. It might have been easier that way, then I wouldn’t have to put each piece of my life away into two bags and relive the effects of the last few days. I started off sluggishly, folding clothes and contemplating in which bag to put my Girl Scout cookies. I stepped outside my tent to see everyone else’s progress. My teammates were done. The guides looked at me with compassion but impatiently, wondering what the hell I was doing in there. They were ready to take the tents down so they could get a jump-start on their journey home. I was disappointed in myself for being selfish with the time. Instead of neatly folding my clothes, I erratically crammed stuff wherever it would fit. I wanted my friends to get home.
The mood at breakfast was fascinating. You could feel the excitement, sadness, frustration, and gratitude. The long walk home would begin, stopping in the villages we had stayed at on our trek in, only this time we would be sleeping in tents the entire way. The infrastructure couldn’t be trusted, especially with the recurring aftershocks, so tents it would be. We had food, water, and shelter. We were fine. Not everyone saw it that way. When challenged with disaster, people experience completely different emotions. Some can’t help but think about their families, loved ones and themselves. Others might contemplate how they can assist strangers and not look at their internal needs. Neither way is right or wrong, better or worse…it’s just how the human brain processes life under the command of adrenaline. Some individuals found security in contacting their nations embassy to get evacuated. Others were willing to pay just about anything to return home. Few wanted to leave the team all together to head down valley on their own voyage. Everyone desired something entirely different. When confronted with the want to be rescued question, I was speechless. “Why?” I thought. The idea made me uncomfortable. In the middle of a natural disaster area my first thought was, “I don’t need to be rescued.” Perhaps I was trying to convince myself that I was no longer in danger or maybe that’s how I truly felt. I was alive and healthy and I, unlike most of my teammates, didn’t have a family of my own to return to. Yes, of course I couldn’t wait to see my parents, brothers and friends, but I’m not married and I don’t have kids. I didn’t need to be rescued.
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” – Maya Angelou
With the packing finished and breakfast done I needed to address a few more things. Calling home would be first. Cell service was scarce but there was one particular area where you could stand awkwardly and get a good enough connection. My mother answered the phone and fumbled as usual to get me on speakerphone so Dad could listen. The sound of their voices filled my eyes with tears. My voice quivered and words strained to come out. “I’m coming home. We’re walking out today but I’m not sure when I’m going to get out of Nepal,” was all I could spit out. They asked what was wrong and why was I crying. I couldn’t muster up the words to explain. I could hardly breathe. There’s just something about hearing your parents voices when you’ve had a really shitty day that even if you were keeping it together, makes tears an instant response. My mother responded, “It’s okay Kimmybear, Everest will be there next year, it’s not going anywhere.” My dad chimed in, “It might be a little bit taller, but it will be there next year.” What parents give their blessings for their child, who dodged death, to return to the mountain that seems so angry? Mine do. That’s a love I suppose you can only comprehend when you’re a parent. I hit the jackpot with them and I feel incredibly fortunate to have parents that support and love me unconditionally, no matter how silly or dangerous my journey in life takes me.
Internet was scarce, but I had heard there was one place at basecamp you could get slow service. For $25 an hour, it was time to read my email. I wasn’t prepared for the hour that would follow and how hard it would hit me. My email loaded slowly, 678 emails. I couldn’t bring myself to open a single one. Maybe Facebook would be easier? I waited patiently as it loaded. I was overwhelmed with emotion. Reading the written words from home hit me like a freight train. Within a split second I could hardly read through the tears. It was as if I was reading my own eulogy. I’m not dead, I kept thinking to myself. Messages of love, worry, anger, encouragement, well-wishes and so much more from family, friends and complete strangers flooded my world. The words: fighter, proud, friend, safe, worried, home, grateful, prayers, tribe, interview, strength, check-in, next year, sister, peace, and love flashed before my eyes. I recognized I was not on this journey alone but that I have had thousands of people right there with me, cheering me on.
“Life is a long journey and you don’t always know the way. Your path has been laid out for you, you just haven’t walked on it long enough.” –Chad Fleischer
Personally, I have always correlated tears with being a sign of weakness. From a young age, I decided that I wouldn’t let people see my sadness, no matter how upset I would get behind closed doors. On that day, before I left basecamp, I suppressed my emotions deep down where no one could find them. I refused to let anyone know the pain I was feeling, even though I’m certain they felt the same. Thankful for sunglasses and baseball hats, I concealed my red swollen eyes and returned to my team.
It was time to leave. I put my headphones in and began to walk quickly. My entire being craved to run out of the valley as quickly as possible, but of course we had to walk. I didn’t want the chance to look over my shoulder and see what I was walking away from. I kept my head down, and for the first time the entire trip, I kept to myself. I never took my camera out. I never looked back. I didn’t cry. I didn’t have the energy. One foot in front of the other, I marched quietly with my thoughts. Maybe I did need to be rescued, just not by a helicopter.