WHEN ANNIE FELL OFF THE MOUNTAIN
When Annie fell off the mountain she didn't make a sound. We were hiking deep in the woods and had stopped at a waterfall. Annie, in typical fashion, decided to scale the nearly horizontal rocks to enjoy the view. After clambering all the way up she stood with shoulders raised, a habit she had, and gazed off the mountain. Blue sky blurred behind her. Water sparkled between her ankles and came out as foam on the other side. I remember how small she looked up against the boulders, this woman who loomed so large in my life at that time. She arched her back and waved - proud of having scrambled all the way to the top, bubbling over with enthusiasm as usual - and knocked her head against a ledge. In thoughtless reflex she jerked away; that's how she lost her balance. Even now, decades later, I can see her slipping off the rocks, her arms flailing, her feet skidding out from under her. She seesawed backward, a gymnast executing an impossible flip, the kind of flip Annie would surely try if she had been a gymnast, as her body pitched high and away from the rocks. She didn't cry out. She just hung there in the brightness that is the air at the edge of a very high cliff.
She would be the first person I knew to die, right before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Then, with Annie's genius to surprise, instead of going over the edge her body somehow bent the other way and she dropped, soundlessly, into the waterfall.
I watched, helpless as usual before Annie, as she coursed down like a ball in a chute, whisking around the ax-edge granite of a hairpin turn. With her hair streaming, her hands protecting, her mouth in a dopey grin of absolute horror, she rode the waterfall all the way down, landing in a splash of silver droplets that glittered like diamonds in her hair.
As she limped back to our tent, she told me that she'd had no idea how far she would fall. "I thought I fell off the mountain," she said, with the same dopey smile, now charming me as effortlessly as everything about Annie charmed me then. "Off the mountain and all the way down. I knew we were hundreds of feet up. I was certain I'd be smashed on the rocks and die, in a gruesome, horrible way."
She had accepted her death. If it was her karma to die, she explained, then it was her karma to die. Only much later, when it ended between us, did she add (standing at my door, arms overloaded with her books and records) that the last thing on earth she saw would have been me, standing on safe ground, and staring up at her in wonder.
I didn't know at the time that Annie was pregnant.