Number One stretched his short legs out beneath the table, tearing his Naan into ragged trapezoids on his plate. His gray eyes were set in his head like a fennec fox’s and they would not leave mine in peace for a moment. Eighteen, stupid, I buried my self-consciousness beneath a mouthful of milk balls and a curtain of dirty blonde hair — this guy was the first man I’d ever dated, after all.
“So, uh,” he said, after a few moments of Bollywood music-laced silence and strangled swallows from my side of the table, “do you rock climb?”
Yes, if going three times in your entire life on a fake wall and thinking it was just okay counted, I said, choking down what was left in my cup. You should try climbing on real walls, he suggested. I’d love to go with you, I spewed before the invitation was offered. He was the first man I’d ever dated, after all.
I would be a liar if I said I hadn’t casually glanced through his profile pictures on Facebook before lunch. Blond hair in a wave at his forehead, jawline Paul Wesley sharp, body sprawled across one enormous cliff after another — his page was like a travel brochure for rock-loving hippies. Hot rock-loving hippies. And when I looked at myself in the mirror afterward, I thought, How the crap did this happen? Still don’t know.
After that date, I waited for him to call again like he said he would but never did, and I shouldn’t have been surprised. He was the first man I’d ever dated, after all. Number Two, Number Three, Number Four, and Number Five followed in fairly rapid succession, numbered because, whether we dated or not, each of them left ripples. They were (and are) all different. One was married to his music and his long board, another to books and philosophy. Those two broke my heart a little and I broke another’s. The last is still being figured out.
But threaded through the lives of all five of them are rocks and mountains. The love of turning the palms of your hands into chalk-covered valleys. Feeling the veins and the insides of a limestone cliff and crawling against its pulse. Sitting on top of the world where the breezes are sweeter and the work worthwhile. These things are what they have given me, what I decided to pursue the minute Number One put down his Naan and taught me about climbing in that little corner of Tandoori Oven.
Nowadays, I spend my evenings dancing. I don purple Cinderella slippers, hoist 60 meters of blue Petzl rope over my shoulder, and waltz until the sun blinks away. If I’m lucky, I get to watch it with battered legs tucked against my chest and a whole canyon spilling out beneath me.
I guess you could say I’ve fallen in love.