I grip the rope tightly with both hands. I look down, eyes moving over my hands and stopping briefly to consider the strange new calluses at the base of my fingers. I look back up and meet the eyes of the rock wall instructor. He stares back at me expectantly, waiting. I know what to do, I know I need to pull the rope down with my left hand and up to the right with my other hand at the same time, then lock the rope in place with a quick downward jerk, then rapidly move my left hand under my right so I can shift my right hand back into place. I’ve practiced the move a dozen times at least in the last ten minutes.
But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a completely new skill for me. The last time I even touched a rock wall was nearly ten years ago at a friend’s birthday party. But now I’m expected to belay? To hold the ropes that act as a safety net protecting the climber from a plunge from the heights?
This is something I never expected myself to do this summer. Never expected myself to be able to do this summer. But here I am, rope in hand.
I’ve come this far, nearly at the end of my first belay certification test. Too far to quit. How will I look to the staff? What will Alison, whose life will soon literally be in my hands once she begins her climb, think if I say I’m not up for it?
But it’s more than that. More than just proving to the people in the room that I can handle it. I want this for myself. I want to realize that yes, I am capable of doing something new, something challenging. Whether it is belaying a fellow climber, asking a complete stranger to take a survey I spent days designing, talking to officials on the phone and in person, or steering a canoe
I hear the scripted words, sounding almost like a challenge: On belay?
I look down at my hands again, smiling as I notice the paper cut from folding surveys next to the calluses. I’ve worked for this.
I look back up, click the carabineer, pull the rope tight.
Belay is on, I say.