Adventures Self Growth

Life Lessons Learned Through Hard Times: A Short Story on Understanding Others

I wrote this story as part of the first version of the book I’m currently writing. Since completely changing the concept, I think it’s a waste of some of my best short stories, so I’ve decided I will start to share them here, on the blog. Please let me know what you guys think! Each story has a moral/lesson learned, and is based on my own real life experience.

Here we go!

I was having the most adventurous year of my life.

I was having the most adventurous year of my life. Before that fall, the furthest I had traveled from home was a few hundred miles for some day drinking and slot machine action – nothing mind-blowing, and certainly nothing that enriched my perspective of the world. But as soon as I stepped off the plane and on to the tarmac of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, I had decided to become a new person – a novaturient, searching for deeper meaning in my otherwise banal existence.

Since that day, I had visited twelve new countries. As I contemplated my travels, I hoisted myself up on to a rusted chairlift that would be carrying me to the top of snowy Mont Salève. I turned and stretched out a helping hand to my travel mates – three girls I had met while studying social sciences at the University of Amsterdam.

It was the first morning of our three-day trip in Geneva, and things were off to a rocky start. Though we all had a deep passion for travel in common, it seemed that little else would have united the four of us and resulted in a cramped stay in a small bed and breakfast at the foothills of the mountain. It was one of the girls, however, that particularly irked me.

Her name was Anastasia, and she came from a wealthy upbringing in the Dutch-dominated Holland, Michigan. I always considered myself a person that gets along well with just about anyone, but something about this blonde, blue-eyed and headstrong woman rubbed me the wrong way. She showed no inclination to want to get any closer to me, either, and so the two of us tried to stay out of each other’s way.

I always considered myself a person that gets along well with just about anyone, but something about this blonde, blue-eyed and headstrong woman rubbed me the wrong way.

“I think we should take the two-hour hike down,” I commented once all four of us were safely situated in the rickety chairlift. It began its slow descent up the 4,000-plus foot elevation.

“You mean, the tourist route? No. We’re taking the four-hour hike,” Anastasia retorted, in a matter-of-fact way that made my insides boil.

“It rained yesterday, and we’re not even wearing hiking shoes,” I replied, looking at our other two companions for support. Neither girl met my eye – they too were powerless to Anastasia’s forceful nature. It was clear to me that the yellow-haired girl’s cushioned lifestyle had led her to believe she had the final word on everything. Things obviously came easily to her. No, Anastasia and I had nothing in common, and once we were back in the Netherlands I would write her off for good, I thought.

An hour later, I found myself sliding down the muddy, steep side of Mont Salève. Defeated, my travel mates and I relented and followed Anastasia to the winding expert-level trail. It began to rain softly a half hour into our trek. The only people we saw were making their way up the mountain, and though none of us spoke French, their hand gestures and panicked looks seemed to issue warnings of continuing any further. But we were here, and I wasn’t about to interject again without any backup – so we continued on, taking stiff baby steps and sliding and often slipping on the wet ground.

Though I wouldn’t voice it aloud, I was terrified.

Though I wouldn’t voice it aloud, I was terrified. I had a vicious fear of heights and my internal dialogue was in high alert as I scanned the precipitous path. I hated myself for my weakness, for not fighting harder to take the safer route down the mountain. I hated Anastasia for her selfishness and total disregard for her companions.

Four tense hours later, we found glorious, solid ground. The sun was beginning to set, and as we walked down a paved road in silence – all none too happy with the other – we searched for a sign to tell us where we were. We reached the outskirts of a small town and found a tavern. One of the other girls, speaking broken French, took the initiative to go in and ask for directions.

She came out of the small wooden bar a few moments later with a pained expression painted across her ivory features.

“We’re in France,” she stated definitively.

“We’re in France,” she stated definitively. She explained that we had somehow ended up on the wrong side of the mountain, and that we had another two-hour down the bluff to return to Switzerland. I looked up at the setting sun and felt a chill sweep my bones – we were going to be hiking down the steep cliff, soaked in mud, during nightfall. Without further conversation, we started walking back towards the tree-covered trail.

Anastasia led the group and walked a bit ahead of us, while the other two girls hung back, struggling through the mud. I felt a raindrop hit my cheek. I looked up to see dark gray rain clouds gathering thickly. Great, I thought, just what we needed.

Suddenly, I heard a loud scraping noise and a pained shriek up ahead. “Anastasia?” I called out, no longer seeing her blonde locks ahead of me. There was no answer. Stumbling through the mud, I quickened my pace and called her name – still, no answer. My heart began to race and a million frightened thoughts raced through my head until I heard low, distressed sobs coming from the thickets ahead.

I discovered Anastasia as the source of the weeping – covered in dirt, sprawled out on the floor, and with scrapes along her arms and knees. I ran to her and took her in my arms, lifting her up with as much force as my petite frame could muster.

“What happened?” I asked, feeling genuine concern for the girl that I could not tolerate only moments earlier.

“I…wanted…to make him proud.”

“I…wanted…to make him proud,” she replied shakily through sobs, her tearstained face quivering, “He wanted me to do this!” “What are you talking about?” I asked, perplexed and worried that the girl may have hit her head during the fall. “My brother,” Anastasia breathed, now tucking her head into my shoulder, “He died…He…took his…” she couldn’t finish the sentence, and gave into a long, low bawl.

Beginning to understand, I felt as though my feelings for her physically shifted. I had misread her, misunderstood her gravely. I never even gave her a chance. I felt another robust rain drop on my cheek, but when I went to wipe it, I realized it was my own tears.

Her sobs quieting, Anastasia looked up at the clouds.

Comprehension washed over me.

“He left me a note, just for me. He told me to not waste any time being afraid, and to be braver than he was,” she confessed, a look of determination returning to her icy, azure eyes. Comprehension washed over me, and everything started to make sense – of course, guided by her brother, she would choose the tougher route. Anastasia wanted to be strong for him because he couldn’t be strong for himself. She wanted to grab life by the horns, because her flesh and blood didn’t think his own life was worth living.

I stood up, regaining composure and pulling her up with me. Dusting ourselves off, we locked eyes. There was a silent understanding between us now, a cathartic climax to a turbulent relationship. We turned towards the menacing, cold and wet path, and set off together – no longer afraid of what’s ahead.

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