I drank it with you, that blast of sensory overload. High fructose corn syrup, chemically-induced hazelnut flavor, and partially hydrogenated soybean oil for creamer. But oh, it was the most delicious coffee, because it was with you.
Nervous systems charged, we drove to the trailhead, hacked through the briars, and descended into the silky-damp of the cave. As we went deeper, it got darker. The only light was your headlamp. You turned it off at one point, impish, to see if I would freak out, but somehow it made the dark more velvety. My anxiety did not kick in. This part of earth’s womb is always warm yet cool, perpetually 57 degrees. Change is slow here. I touched rocks worn soft by years of dripping water, becoming slowly coated with mud, silky-smooth as clay slip. Colorless, eyeless salamanders darted under us as they sensed our hugeness. I felt in my eardrums some rustling overhead, maybe bats.
You turned the lamp back on and we went forward. We came to a bottleneck so narrow that it might tear parts of me off. I was afraid I would be trapped forever. I froze. My blood beat in my ears and my chest felt glued together. But you scoffed and cajoled and pulled me through with your wiry strength. On the other side of the squeeze, the cave opened out again, and we sat on the cave floor, trembling, covered with rose-petal soft mud. Breathing. We turned off the lamp again and sat watching glowworms, winking here and there, visible only if you waited still long enough.
The water dripped patiently into pools not growing in size. I illusioned the stalagmites growing the slightest bit as we were standing there. This dripping was not chinese water torture, but a painless, sweet process distilling the calcium into its next location. The wetness here was the cleanest I’d smelled, since stinky bacteria seem to prefer a bit of light in their darkness. In one of the ponds glided a perfectly white eyeless creature. An eel? A fish? It was slightly pearlescent and beautiful for no reason, as even its mate could not see its beauty.
Then we got up and moved foward until we reached the tightest of tight spots, our goal, the inner sanctum. We knew it because people had marked it; this was where the grand cave paintings were, ancient masterpieces (or graffiti) still unmolested by modern graffiti. We’d heard of it but no one so far had managed to get a good photo. It seemed like sacrilege to try to photograph it. Like you had to make the journey to earn the privilege to see it, then burn the image onto your mind, no cheats allowed.
But the opening.
I could not fit through that birth canal. My boobs would not fit. My ass would not fit. My heart constricted in sorrow. I choke-joked that you should take your narrow lil T and A on through that hole, and I’d wait here.
Laughing, you squeezed through the hole. My darkness was complete.
You screamed and I was unprepared because I was supposed to be the scared one but you were the one afraid of snakes. I was the one who wasn’t afraid of snakes. Why wasn’t I afraid of snakes? I was scared of everything else, of all the things you were brave about. NO FAIR NO FAIR NO FAIR
You were panicking and the snakes might be biting you and all I could think was NO! I AM SUPPOSED TO BE THE ONE WHO GETS TO PANIC!
I had to get through that hole even if it tore pieces of me off.
I wrestled with the earth then and she gave a little but I gave more and I knew I would bleed but I had to get through and and I knew somehow that she wouldn’t take all my blood and that she would let me back out
Then I saw you, your face a mask of panic, lit strangely by the headlamp, and my heart filled with something. Light slowly glinted off the shiny backs of the beautiful tangled swarm of serpents. Somehow I picked you up out of the nest of snakes and held you tight like a child, listening to your crazed heartbeat, and time slowed to a crawl.
When time started back up, the snakes slithered rapidly away in all directions.
We breathed. The sun trickled golden through tree roots and cracks above us, dappled patterns illuminating the inner sanctum.