There’s a photo of your cousin, Adam, on the bench in the foyer. Early mornings, we sit on the bench and double knot Converse sneakers and thread waxed laces into bows on dress shoes. Each morning, the photo gets pushed further and further to the left edge of the bench.
“We should really remember to give that back to Nathan,” we echo down the adjoining hallway or out the front door as we race to respective cars, always forgetting to do just that.
The picture, stuck on the bench: Adam left alone, frozen in a glossy 5” by 7” frame atop Grouse Mountain. His snowy white chest is flushed a patchy rosy pink from hiking, a sweaty t-shirt is draped loosely across his right shoulder, like a badge of honour. It shouts to the world, WE DID THE DAMN THING –THIS IS TRIUMPH HANGING OFF MY SHOULDER SWEATY AND SHINY WITH YOUTH AND EXURSCION. The glare from the Summer sun blocks out half the mountain top view behind him, leaving Adam superimposed against a hazy downtown scape. This fact however, remains unknown to him, a permanent grin caught forever in postcard proportions. One hand on his hip, the other unsure of what to do, freckle faced, squinty eyed and wearing athletic shorts embossed with his alum university and a hole near the crotch he never fixed.
This is Adam at twenty-three.
Just months ago, he earned his wings. When asked why he became a helicopter pilot Adam preferred to answer, “I like the view.” If he had a drink in his he would pause for dramatic effect, take a sip, tilt said drink, and reply with a wink. (He only added the wink if he was around women).
He did like the view. He liked pushing through the thick cloud and breaking into clear sky – it was like poking your finger against tight cellophane until it bursts apart. He liked watching the patchwork quilt of Earth below him as he flew over farm sections and rectangle plots. Watching the stitching of railway tracks and freeways intersect each other and form the industrial seams that led into suburbia. He did like all that, but it often made him feel small and ubiquitous, it was too much responsibility watching all those lives below. It was too unnerving to watch all those human lives carrying on underneath him, going about their daily lives, forgetting the milk and losing their keys.
What he really loved; was knowing.
Knowing exactly where everything was and how he fit into it all. He knew precisely what every gauge did and how they worked. He knew exactly how his hands fit on the steering wheel, his calloused fingers folding around it and resting in their respective divots at the back. Each meticulous detail was accounted for, each whir of the propeller measurable in distance and movement, chopping through the sky in large sweeps. The unknown was suddenly known in altitude and a magnetic compass – knowledge found in the approaching horizon and mountain dotted skyline.
Adam was on holiday when he came to visit you. He had a few weeks to soak in the west coast sun and plant his feet on the ground, before taking off again. In the picture, you’re standing next to him, baseball cap turned backwards, the straps of your backpack cutting into sunburnt shoulders, your shoes and socks tossed aside to reveal ghostly white feet. You’re pointing at something out of frame, not really paying attention. Not really knowing that it would be the last time you see Adam.
It was a routine flight. That’s what they’ll say to you after it happens. As if this phrasing will justify the helicopter accident robbing twenty-three years of life. As if the fact that it was routine will mask the fact that everything else is not.
“We should really remember to get that photo back to Nathan!” I yell as I head out the door today.
But we never do.
Come September, when the leaves begin to blush and the trees shed their weight, it will still be Summer with Adam on our bench in the foyer.