The Quiet Warrior
It was the sort of day when the heat dulled the color of living things and the brightness of the sun made everything a little more gray. Clothing on most people was minimal and nothing held still on the bright side of any shade line. The birds panted while bathing in pools and if any person had the courage to venture outside their air-conditioned home, outside the city, to the hills where you might be spared a few degrees, they’d find it was too hot and fruitless for the rattlers and lizards to hunt. But it was here in the hills where a quiet warrior was summiting a red mountain on this August afternoon.
She lived downtown in a small third-story apartment with a window-unit cooler in her living room. It never really got comfortable inside for her this time of year. Then again, she was never really comfortable at all. Her life thus far had been a fight: for love, for freedom, for purpose. She was the kind of person who wasn’t fully equipped for life as defined by the status quo; her skin color wasn’t right, neither was her sexuality, nor her abilities. Her parents had left her with her greatest disability, an unnerving and unending sense of being nothing more than an empty vessel, incapable of being loved.
She fought hard in her life to love others so that they would never feel as she did. She was a middle school teacher and a mentor. Many of the businesses downtown knew her because if she wasn’t asking for student internship opportunities around The Container Park she was helping with homework over a smoothie at The Bronze Café in The Center. In what little free time she had, she taught computer literacy classes at The Shade Tree to women, many of whom were painfully similar to her own mother.
All of these experiences in this life were coming together in downtown Las Vegas, this small part of a big city of growth and change, and most days she felt like she was home. But the city and her life shared heartbreak along with successes.
As she climbed the mountain, she stomped each step with a fury; she was working hard, but her sweat was swallowed by the sun the moment it rose from her skin. She was angry at the world because it unfairly took one of her students. A young boy had died spontaneously and without apparent reason. He just collapsed while skateboarding. One moment he was there, the next he wasn’t. He was a good boy—kind and determined, smart and generous. She spent a lot of time with him: reviewing math, talking about college and believing the future. He was the eldest of four siblings and they all looked up to him. His parents were confident they’d get to see the first in their family go to college.
A sub was called into her classroom today because she couldn’t fathom being there, she needed to be alone, she needed to hurt and she needed to understand. So into the red hills she went with one bottle of water and a burning desire to never return until she figured it out. Her time in Las Vegas had been an existential quest to prove many things, the most important being that life was worth living and progress worth fighting for. When she found out the boy died, her paradigm was shattered. He was her first connection, her first graduating senior, her first with college plans, her first walking proof that she was a mentor in the right place, doing the right thing.
The water bottle she brought was empty and she was nearing the summit. When she reached the top, she paused and looked around. In the distance was her city, radiating under the blazing sun. She stood over a cliff, where the red rocks faded into the white light.
Here she pondered all the questions that pounded in the front of her head. Time disappeared and she was lost inside herself. As she gazed into the small valley below, she saw a sagebrush lizard panting then running, panting then running. For a moment, her thoughts were silenced and she drew a long breath. Putting the bottle to her lips again, she found a few more drops of water and turned to hike back down the mountain. She pushed forward powerfully against the heat.
Amelia Pond is Nevada native who works and writes in downtown Las Vegas. She spends her free time exploring the Mojave and the world via bare feet and cargo ships. You can read her real-life adventures on medium.com/@ameliaraepond