I get to my feet. The stone feels rough but slightly warm, as nice a comfort as I have come to expect.
Cool air fills my lungs as I take a deep, deliberate breath. I let it out. My shoulders roll back and relax a little. My furrowed brow melts away.
Stepping up to the edge of my shelf of rock, I watch as the black smoke swirls lazily. The sea of darkness stretches away to the horizon and hides all secrets beneath its inky surface.
I can't help but shiver as I remember the icy touch of the smoke against my skin, the choking feeling as it permeated my lungs, the sting of it in my eyes. Painful memories, still raw and present.
Life feels different now, standing up here looking down on the smoke. I can't, quite, place it. I can't identify what is different.
Was it really me that climbed up out of the darkness? Would I be able to tell if it wasn't? Being up here is not what I thought it would be.
It is still lonely. The air is still cold. Did I really expect to find it warm and friendly up here? Had I really been that person?
The struggle... blindly placing one foot in front of the other, trying to make it through the choking smoke without losing too much of myself.
Is that the answer? I lost myself in the darkness?
Yes. I nod slowly, digesting that.
Yes, I lost a lot of myself. I left behind the parts that had to be left behind. What is left is really me, the real me, whatever that means.
I think this means that I have space to rebuild myself stronger than before. There is space to grow again.
Turning my back to the smoke I come to face the mountain once more. It looms, heavy and unchanging, impossible to comprehend while climbing it. Above me, clouds obscure the summit.
With one foot placed in front of the other I resume my journey. I can't help but wonder what is above the clouds but this time, I'm going to enjoy the climb.