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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

The Green Room

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 6/20/2024
Posted: 4/14/2006
Page Views: 7507
Topics: #AlienAbductions #GrandCanyon
How I failed to commit suicide.
Dangling over Grand Canyon

Eyes blurring, I stumbled to a side canyon and sat heavily on a cliff some two hundred feet above a dry wash. I sobbed and sobbed. It was so weird. I wasn't in love with David. I barely even knew David. But this wasn't about David. It was about the Universe, that is, God, and me. I had challenged God, and God had now basically told me to fuck myself.

I now had to fulfill my end of the challenge.

I looked below, past the feet dangling over the cliff edge. Two hundred feet isn't all that far, but it would probably do the trick. The rocks below were hard and jagged. I would fall 32 feet the first second, 64 the next, and hit during the third. Three seconds. It wouldn't last all that long.

Life is a game, I thought, and truly believe. But I'm not having any fun playing it. And it was true. Every day since Steve had dumped me had been a pain-filled test of endurance until the next. I was enduring, but I wasn't living. I wanted out.

On the other hand, I mused, I had paid for two-and-a-half weeks for two people. With David gone, I was already screwed out of one of those weeks. There were lots of other cliffs, some higher. I could wait a few more days. After all, I did love Grand Canyon; and while I was still suffering from heartbreak, it wasn't quite as bad in Grand Canyon as it had been in New Hampshire.

So, I dragged myself back to camp, red-eyed and miserable. The other passengers each took turns coming up to me to express their sadness at David's unexpected departure. Even the doctor's young son was sorry to see him go. "It was like having Diana Ross right here!" he told me.

Robby didn't say anything; he didn't have to. He'd just broken up with his girlfriend, Cathy, and I knew he was miserable, too. But he said it was his decision to end it. David's being injured in a rapid was not anyone's choice.

About half the passengers were new, joining us the previous day, having hiked down Bright Angel trail. Among them were an older man and his son-in-law. Gerry owned a toy company and Barry, his son-in-law, managed it. The two were best friends and had happily left their wives to take care of the company while the men rafted Grand Canyon.

Barry was cool. Gerry was another matter. How they got along at all amazed me since they were so different. Gerry was a fundamentalist Christian, the kind that's compelled to preach to people who'd prefer he didn't. Gerry's method was clever. He'd ask a loaded question, presumably to obtain an answer. But it didn't matter what the answer was; he would then reply, "Interesting. But here's what the Bible has to say about that…" and then he'd be off and running, and his victim, who had just offered their opinion—because they'd been asked—would be forced to listen, just to be polite.

Bible thumper in Grand Canyon

For example, he approached Celeste, a very liberated lady who owned her own restaurant and had just sent her ex-boyfriend Eric packing, because, as she explained, "We aren't better together than we are individually."

"So…Celeste," Gerry asked, conversationally, "what do you think of abortion?"

To which she replied, "If you don't want one, don't have one."

"Interesting," Gerry replied, the irony of her reply completely lost on him. "But here's what the Bible has to say about that…"

As he hit person after person, asking each a loaded question custom-tailored to that person's lifestyle or beliefs or job or whatever button he could find, it appeared inevitable that he was going to go to town on me. I just didn't know what angle he'd pick. Would he rehash that old saw about the "sin of Sodom" being homosexuality? (It wasn't; that was lack of hospitality.) Would he bring up the "abomination" of lying with another man? (It's also an "abomination" to eat shrimp or wear mixed-fiber cloth, like cotton/polyester blends; but the fundamentalists conveniently ignore that part.)

So, one day, when I heard him hiking behind me, and he said, "So…Paul…what do you think about gay marriage?" I knew it was my turn. I answered, "I think any couple that loves each other should be able to marry if they wish to do so."

"Interesting. Now, here's what the Bible says about that. According to the Bible, marriage is intended for procreation only. It's a sin to marry if you don't intend to have children."

I hadn't, of course, known what question he would ask, or how he would use the Bible to justify his opinion. Fortunately, my own angel was standing by and put the right words in my mouth: "Oh. So, you're saying Mary and Joseph committed a sin when they married."

"What?" he spluttered.

"Well, Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, according to the story. And most Christians believe she remained a virgin all her life. So, obviously, she and Joseph didn't intend to have children by each other. According to your interpretation of the Bible, then, that marriage was a sin."

That was the last Bible question Gerry asked anyone the rest of the trip.

Another couple who joined us at Bright Angel were Keith and Janet, a pair of lawyers who were nice enough but had, as near as I could determine, absolutely no sense of humor. They also lacked physical coordination, evidenced by an inability to clamber over even small rocks. They both slipped getting into the raft.

Elves' Chasm

A highlight of the week was Elves' Chasm. This is a spot in a side canyon that features a twelve foot waterfall, with a grotto behind it. You can swim around the torrent, then climb up the mossy rocks behind it to a sort of platform where you can stick your hand in the rushing water, then push off into it. After a little drop of about six feet, the waterfall hurls you around and spits you to the side. You can do it again and again. I did.

Robby, knowing how I love water diversions, had thoughtfully added this to our itinerary to help me get my mind off David. I dropped with the waterfall over and over, long after the other passengers had given up and were laying themselves out in the sun to dry. Robby himself showed up after about forty minutes with Keith and Janet, who'd had trouble navigating the boulders that made up the "path" to Elves' Chasm. Robby asked me to please show Keith and Janet the grotto behind the falls.

Swimming, I led them to it and then waited for them to climb ahead of me. I could see why it had taken them so long to get here; they were as uncoordinated as an armload of marbles and I had to steady them as they slipped and slid over the mossy rocks.

As they climbed, there was a change in the light. Puzzled, I looked past the waterfall. The sky, which had been a brilliant blue, was now black. A storm was moving in.

Storm over Elves Chasm

Storms are dangerous when you're in any canyon. The most dangerous kinds are the ones you can't see. It can be raining on the rim of the Canyon, many miles away, or have rained hours ago and stopped. The rainwater gathers and flows, unimpeded, down side canyons towards the river. In fact, that's what created the side canyons. The result is a flash flood, which carries with it anything it encounters: trees, rocks, boulders…or people.

The fact that a storm cloud was overhead suggested strongly that a flash flood was possible. Robby knew it too, of course. I had heard his flash flood speech before and knew what he was telling the passengers outside: "Everyone, pick up your things quickly and let's get back to the boats. When you get there, get in the nearest boat. Don't worry about getting in the same boat you were in earlier. We'll sort out your things, later."

Of course, Keith and Janet didn't hear him at all; they weren't aware of any danger other than their slipping on the moss. Robby waded as close to the waterfall as he could, and called, "Paul, we're leaving now. Get Keith and Janet and let's go."

I knew that panicking clumsy Keith and Janet would benefit no one, so I said, "Okay, we'll be out in a moment."

"Now," Robby hissed urgently.

"I do understand," I called with emphasis, hoping he understood me. "We'll be out in a moment." I jammed my arms up to the elbow in the lawyers' butts, trying to push them onto the platform. They sat with their legs dangling over the edge, touching the falling water with their hands.

"How nice," Janet said agreeably. "How do we get down?"

"Well, you just drop into the fall and let it take you," I explained.

Keith and Janet exchanged looks. "We couldn't possibly," said Keith. "We don't like falling."

"We don't like falling," Janet confirmed. "We're afraid of falling."

"Well," I said, reaching out, "Grand Canyon is about learning to face your fears!" and I pushed them into the cascade, which was already starting to include streaks of brown. I immediately dove after them.

They were quite indignant when they emerged from the water spluttering and splashing; but Robby gathered them up ahead of him and practically ran them to the boats. There was only one raft left when we got there, and I jumped in with them. They were still shouting angrily at me—how dare I push them! Did I know who I was dealing with?—while I helped Robby untie the raft and push it off.

Flash Flood

The other rafts were upstream; this was the only one that had been tied to the downstream side of Elves' Creek. Robby rowed frantically. Suddenly there was a roar that out-shouted the river itself, as a wall of black water, punctuated with trees and boulders, slammed out of that little side canyon and into the river, creating a swell that carried us until we were well out of sight of the others. Robby brought us into an eddy and we waited in the rain for the flood to subside so the other rafts could join us.

Keith and Janet, silenced by the flood, looked at me. "Did you know that was going to happen?" Keith asked.

"Uh," I hesitated, "what answer won't get me sued?"

"You saved our lives," Janet said in a surprised tone. I don't think she ever thought she'd be in a situation where that would be possible.

Flash Flood

Janet and Keith's telling the other passengers how I had "saved their lives" didn't stop Gerry from making occasional, thinly veiled comments about my supposedly misdeveloped manhood. They were usually made when I was in earshot but not part of the conversation. The person he was speaking with invariably became embarrassed, sometimes coming to my defense but usually standing aghast that anyone could be so openly bigoted at the end of the 20th century.

It continued till the day we hiked Deer Creek. This was the very cliff I had decided, in advance, I would jump off. It was 700 feet above the creek itself, a sheer cliff on which the path was no more than a foot wide in most places, and less here and there. I figured it would look like an accident. That way, my family and friends would be spared the pain of knowing I had killed myself.

Deer Creek Narrows

Walking away from the rafts, the path doesn't look so terrifying. The view from that angle includes a wider section of the path beyond a curve. Still, there were people who needed assistance from the boatmen. Gerry was chatting with Barry, and, having the view of the path and walls beyond, I don't think he really realized he was so far above the creek. We hiked the whole five miles and, as usual on these hikes, straggled back in ones and twos.

I timed it so that I was far ahead or behind anyone when I got to the cliff. Gerry was the only person in sight, and he was far enough ahead of me that I thought he'd be well around the corner when it was time for me to step off the edge.

My breath was shallow and bitter. "Okay, God," I thought angrily. "You may be powerful enough to make my life miserable, but You can't force me to live it." I felt a grim exultation in the victory that would soon be mine. I wasn't despondent, just miserable and hurting and tired. 32 feet the first second, 64 the next, 96 the next…a falling body on Earth gains 32 feet per second for each second of fall. It would take a little over six seconds to hit, but I'd be dead for sure when I smashed against the bottom. Not much mess, maybe not much even to bring home. There'd be no problems like lifelong paralysis or plastic surgery to contend with. This would be the proverbial it. And then, eventually, I would get another life. Say, Gerry, I thought, wryly, Do you know in how many places the Bible talks about reincarnation?

Except, Gerry was still ahead of me, not moving. He was standing on the cliff, with his back to the wall, eyes wide with terror.

He was whimpering. Seriously.

I ran up to him. "Gerry, what is it? Are you all right?"

He couldn't speak. I'd seen that look before, on David, the day we took our first hike. Gerry was having an attack of acrophobia. I touched his shoulders, which only made him shrink more tightly into the wall.

Below the trail, was another, even more narrow lip on the cliff edge, maybe three inches wide—wide enough for the toes of my Tevas. I stepped lightly onto the lip, immediately in front of Gerry, my heels suspended 700 feet above the creek. "Look," I said. "You can't fall. I'm in front of you and the cliff wall is behind you. Isn't that right?" He nodded weakly. "Okay, I'm going to walk with you. You can keep your hands on the wall, and I'm right with you, right in front of you. You can't fall, right? C'mon, one step. One sideways step, okay? You can do it!" And step by tortuous step, we edged back toward the river and the safety of the rafts.

When we had finally gotten past the narrow portion of the cliff path, Gerry collapsed onto the trail, sitting huddled, arms around his knees. He shook with muffled sobs. I put my arm around his shoulders and waited for him to calm down.

"I don't know what came over me," he said. "I've never been afraid of heights before."

"Grand Canyon is about facing your fears," I said. "You've probably never been on a 700 foot cliff before, either." And, now that we were past the cliff my chance to jump off it was blown. I knew exactly why Gerry had been hit by a sudden and unexpected attack of acrophobia—my spirit guides working with his. But I would still have my way. The Universe wasn't going to stop me that easily.

At least Gerry stopped making references to my masculinity. He seemed more embarrassed than anything else, but I kept his secret and I think he appreciated that, in his own way.

But now that I had come so far, I decided to wait one more day day before killing myself, because I had a chance— finally!—to do something I'd wanted to do for years.

Before I made the first trip to Grand Canyon, I read up on it and found that there is a thing called "The Green Room," a special, sacred place that few people visit because of the difficulty of reaching it. On the first day of the trip, Robby tells the passengers: "You could raft Grand Canyon a hundred times and not see everything. I haven't seen everything. So, if there's anything special you want to see, let me know and I'll try to include it." On my first trip, the one that started with a helicopter landing at Whitmore Wash, I responded, "I want to go to the Green Room."

He shook his head. "Sorry, we've already passed it," he said.

So, on my next trip, when I was rafting the whole Canyon, I told him, again, "The Green Room."

"Sure," he responded this time. So I looked forward eagerly to the day we got there. Except, we never did. On the last day, when we were deflating the rafts, I asked, "What happened to the Green Room?"

"Oh," he said innocently, "You didn't go? We were there…!"

As I spoke with other boatmen, I discovered that, for some reason, they all fear the Green Room. I mean, they are terrified of it. One boatman told me he'd heard the travertine walls of the tunnel leading to it had thickened through the years, making the tunnel so small a person would get stuck and drown. Another told me it was against company policy to go, or even tell a passenger of its existence.

When my third trip ended without my getting to the Green Room (I hiked out of the Canyon at Bright Angel Creek), I knew something was up. Robby, so cooperative in everything else, had a technique. He'd agree to go, then just not do it. There was so much to do, that I suppose he figured we'd forget about it. I didn't know the Canyon well enough to know exactly where the Green Room was; I relied on him to tell me and he wouldn't.

Canyon, by Michael P. Ghiglieri.

So, in preparation for this year's trip, I had re-read the book I originally studied. I learned the Green Room was in Beaver Falls, the final waterfall on Havasu Creek before the Colorado.

"Tomorrow is Havasu Creek," I reminded Robby the night before. "Now, I want to see the Green Room. I know you're afraid of it for some reason, and you don't want the other passengers to go. Fine. I won't say a word about it to anyone. But, Robby, I'm going."

Robby grinned. "Good for you," he said. "Enjoy it. Beaver Falls. Five mile hike."

The next day, Robby gave his usual speech regarding Havasu Creek and the day's hike. "Today we're hiking one of the most exquisite parts of the Canyon," he said. "Havasu Creek is a very special place. We're going to hike all the way to Beaver Falls, which is a twenty-foot waterfall about five miles up-creek. If you hike all that way, what will you see? You'll see your feet." Everyone laughed. "Look up every now and then," he advised earnestly. "And, if you see a spot that speaks to you, stop there. The whole creek is beautiful, but there's no spot that's more beautiful than another, so you won't be missing anything. This is a hike for you to find yourself, to connect with the Canyon. When you find a glade that is right for you, stop. Hang out. Eat your bag lunch. We'll come and get you on the way back. No one will be left behind."

He then assigned two boatmen, Sam and Gray, to lead and trail the hikers, respectively.

Havasu Creek on the way to Beaver Falls

I clung to Sam, determined to get to Beaver Falls as soon as possible. But I did glance around every now and then. Travertine is a mineral composed primarily of calcium, and the water of Havasu Creek is laden with it. That's why the water has an unearthly bluish-green color. In fact, havasu is a Native American word meaning "blue-green water". In ages past, the water ran higher than it does now. And so, Havasu Canyon, formed by the erosion of the creek, has walls of ancient travertine. Though no longer white due to age, they still look like they were made of melted Styrofoam. The floor of the creek itself is pure white, with hundreds of minor cascades formed from the travertine's depositing itself on and around every rock and branch and bit of debris that happens to fall into the water.

I saw the glade I had planted myself in on my previous trip, taking Robby at his word, not realizing that this creek was the location of the Green Room. Someone else claimed it. Others dropped out as we continued, content to relax in the sunshine and commune with their very own bit of Grand Canyon in private reverie.

Finally, of the passengers only Celeste and Barry and I remained. Gray caught up with us, and I explained that I intended to go to the Green Room, and would Sam and Gray please point the way to me?

Sam and Gray looked at each other and then at me. "I've never been there," Sam admitted. "Me, neither," echoed Gray. Damn Robby! He had intentionally sent me to Beaver Falls with, probably, the only two boatmen on the trip who had never been to the Green Room! If I was going to find it, I would have to find it on my own.

I told Celeste and Barry what the Green Room was, and why I wanted to see it. Celeste wasn't interested (she was having an affair with Gray, begun the day after she sent Eric up Bright Angel Trail without her) and Barry thought it might be cool but I should try it first.

Beaver Falls

The first hurdle was to get behind the waterfall. There were travertine columns blocking either side of the water which spilled in a shimmering curtain, so the only way to get behind the water was to punch through it. But I couldn't see what was on the other side. It might be pointy rocks. The wall might be close behind the water, or far behind it. The water was falling hard enough that I couldn't get through tentatively. I had to push through with all my might.

It was very scary. But finally, remembering that I intended to kill myself, anyway, I climbed partway up a travertine curtain and hurled myself at the wall of water.

That first try, the water spit me out immediately. The second try also failed. I realized I was holding back because, in spite of my resolve, I was afraid of being hurt by whatever dangers might be hiding behind that shimmering wall of water. Determined, I put the fear behind me and punched through.

There was plenty of room, and there were no jagged rocks. The water was calm, though the roar of the falling water was deafening. As I caught my breath, I recalled the book's description of this place. It hadn't mentioned anything about it being dangerous to get through the waterfall. I realized I should have just trusted the author.

Behind Beaver Falls

The next step was to find the tunnel opening, which was five feet underwater, on the wall behind the falls. I dove underwater, taking care to not get caught in the current and be drawn out into the open water again. The opening was easy to see; it was about five feet in diameter and ominously black. I returned to the surface for air.

Swimming into the tunnel would definitely be the scariest part. I couldn't remember how far one had to go before getting to the Green Room, though I remembered it was a distance I could easily cover. But, how far? I finally decided I would swim for a count of fifteen; and, if I hadn't gotten to the end yet, I would turn around. That would commit me to only thirty seconds, and I can easily hold my breath for more than sixty.

Drowning was not on my list of ways to die.

I hyperventilated, then dove again and swam into that great yawn of a mouth in the wall. One…two…three… I had not yet reached eight, when the tunnel abruptly arched upward. I knew to rise slowly, with my hands protecting the top of my head. There is a stalactite poised directly over the opening that will nail any unwary visitor who emerges from the water too quickly.

All the while, underwater, the roar of the waterfall was a constant companion. But, the moment my ears cleared the water—there was sudden, and absolute, silence.

Cave fern

The Green Room is a little grotto, a gap in the travertine behind the waterfall. It gets its name from the color of daylight filtered through the blue-green water, faintly illuminating it. Ferns grow in there, and there is a special, eerie, sacred feel to the space. It's like being in a tiny cathedral all your own. It's like being in the womb of the Earth Mother.

I floated there, suspended in a blue green twilight, weightless, hovering in time as well as space. I still hurt from losing Steve; I still was pissed at losing David. But I was also triumphant at finally getting to the Green Room and wished I could just remain here forever.

There was a stir in the water below me and then a body slid in front of mine. It was Barry. I quickly inserted a hand between his scalp and the stalactite as he rose so he wouldn't crack his skull. He bobbed directly in front of me. There was so little space that our bodies rubbed together from chest to legs. "Wow!" he exclaimed. "This is amazing! No wonder you wanted to see it!" He seemed oblivious to what the proximity of his well-toned body was doing to mine. It was another taunt, I thought. God hurling yet another impossible-to-have man at me. Barry was straight and married. I sighed, "Enjoy," and sank into the water, following the underwater tunnel out and letting the current of the waterfall shove me into the pond below the falls. Barry joined me shortly, and we tried to sell Sam and Gray on visiting the Green Room, but they would have none of it.

When we got back to the river, I stared at Robby for a quarter hour while he rowed. Finally, I said, "I can't believe you sent me to Beaver Falls with the only two boatmen on the river who've never been to the Green Room."

"You found it, didn't you?"

"Yeah, but—"

"Some things, you have to find by yourself," Robby said, calmly guiding the boat with the current.

I chewed on that awhile, then said, "Sam and Gray are terrified of the Green Room. I couldn't even convince them to check it out after Barry and I were in it."

"It's a scary place."

"It was a lot scarier before I went in," I said. "Once I was there, it's nothing. A piece of cake. But I couldn't convince either one of them to try it."

"Maybe they're not afraid of it enough to bother," Robby said.

"What do you mean?"

"'Grand Canyon is about facing your fears.' Isn't that what you're always saying?" I was surprised. I didn't know he'd overheard me. "But maybe it's only the big fears we have to face."

"I wasn't particularly afraid of the Green Room," I said.

"What are you afraid of?" The question was unexpected, and so was the answer I blurted out.

"Being alone." A sob escaped. My eyes welled with tears. Robby let go of one oar and quietly put his hand on my shoulder. The other two passengers, oblivious to this moment between Robby and me, were dozing in the back of the raft. Suddenly I knew that Robby ached as much for Cathy as I did for Steve. Even though Robby had said he'd been the one to end it. Cathy wasn't right for him, as David (or, for that matter, Steve) wasn't right for me. But it still hurt.

And that, I realized, was my greatest fear: The fear of being alone, of not having anyone to share my heart with. Not having anyone to share the world with. To go to sleep alone every night for the rest of my life, to wake up alone every remaining morning.

So, how did I plan to face my fear? By not facing it…by killing myself, so I wouldn't have to.

Except, as a person who understands the principles of reincarnation, I knew that any un-faced fears would simply have to be faced in another lifetime. Or another…or another. If I didn't deal with this now, in this lifetime, I would live a life alone…and another…and another, until I finally mastered the fear.

A life alone. Endless years. Bleak, sad, lonely years. Maybe. Maybe, once I dealt with it, the issue itself would go away and Mr. Right would come along. I realized that, as long as I needed that to happen, I would not have yet dealt with it.

Mr. Right could only come along when I could take him or leave him.

Celeste was wrong. She thought she had to be better in a couple than she was alone. But I now realized that a healthy couple is exactly as good together as they are separately. Neither should be a partial person. Each is complete. When being together satisfies a need, it isn't healthy. A healthy relationship exists for the joy of itself, not because it is needed.

"When we row through a rapid," Robby observed, "We don't fight the current. You can't. No one could fight this river and live."

I looked over the water, calm at this section but also flowing inexorably.

"We can see where the current is going, though," he continued. "We can influence, somewhat, our path. We are going downstream, for sure—but we can move a little to the left, a little to the right. If we change our path early enough, we can avoid getting trapped in a hole or capsizing. But we can never go backwards, and we can't completely avoid going through the rapids. Once you're on this river, you're committed to it. To all of it. And isn't the same true of life?"

Going with the flow.

The river flowed on and so did Robby and I. Each of us was alone, together, and there was no end in sight. There was nothing to do but go with the current. To allow what happens, to happen; without censoring or struggling or regretting. To trust that the Universe had some plan for me, even though I didn't know what it was. To allow that plan to unfold in its own time, in its own way.

And, with that realization, I felt the ache in my heart begin to heal…maybe…just a little.