The sunrise touches the Cadillac Cliffs of Acadia first in October. Tabitha and I scramble up the rocks, racing to the top just minutes before dawn breaks. She is nimble and much faster than me, summiting the distance with ease. Mom and Dad had waved us ahead, preferring a more leisurely stroll.
“Come on Ney-ney! We’re gonna miss it!” I am huffing and puffing behind her and my legs begin to shake with effort. Nearly there, Tabitha grabs my arm and yanks me up to the ledge and we collapse in a heap with our heads towards the sky.
A white-hot bead of light spreads to a line across the horizon. The granite glows pink as the sun smooths over the rocks, warming our bodies and our hair mixed black. Tabitha looks over at me and laughs, her face bathed in sunlight.
Happy Graduation, Tabs.
Oct 10, 2018 – Day 1
My phone just buzzed. Guess what? “Travel Alert!! Frontier flight 169 leaving from JFK Airport is delayed. Departure now estimated at 18:35.”
Six hours. Delayed SIX HOURS. The universe is conspiring against me, Tabs. Seriously, it doesn’t want me to go on this trip.
I could barely sleep last night pacing back and forth straight paranoid that I forgot to pack something … tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, sunscreen, wet wipes, sunglasses, camelback, harness, shoes, slings, ATC, belay gloves, tape, salve, the list goes on.
I need to watch some more YouTube survival videos on primitive camping. Like there are NO amenities in Utah … I seriously can’t remember what mom and dad did for the year that we were there. Did they manage to squeeze everything into the Dodge? Probably. I wouldn’t be surprised …
Maybe I should have let Ma pack me that multitiered Thunderbunny lunch thermos with that pink chopsticks. That would get me off to a good start. Especially since these planes don’t serve food anymore … can you believe that? A four-hour flight with no drinks or snacks. NOT EVEN WATER.
Maybe you’re lucky you’ll never have to experience the new era of straight garbage airlines where the amenities are about as extensive as a dog park with a hydrant to piss on, and a bin where you can dump your shit (but wait, you have to pick it up first—self-service).
My phone just buzzed again. Bye for now.
I finally made it to Denver. It’s 11:45 pm mountain time, or 1:45 am in my body.
I just left this rental car shithole. “Dave” was trying to sell me on renting an SUV (something about the hills on I-70 or whatnot). I know he’s just doing his job, but he was such a tool, spouting off special offers and turbo-blast capacity or whatever, and I had to refuse three times and insist on the original spaceship hybrid I reserved and prepaid for. Finally, he backed down and wrote on my contract: “advised four-wheel drive; customer refused.”
I rolled my eyes so hard, grabbed my receipt and swung around, accidentally bumping the barrier with my daypack. The retractable strap whipped back, knocked the stand over and made the loudest ‘CLUNK’ sound on the marble ground. Everyone swiveled around and looked at me. Oh god. I decided to play it cool and inch away slowly … since I couldn’t even bend over to pick up the stand because my daypack was so heavy that if I leaned forward, the weight would have essentially made me fall onto my face.
I was never quite athletic like you. But hey, whatever.
Oct 11, 2018 – Day 2
6:45 am sis! I was flying down I-70 in a snowstorm and the spaceship was skidding all over the place; ice chips were flying! But don’t worry, I can handle it. I’m being safe. I’ve pulled over onto a rest stop ironically named “NO NAME REST AREA” to clean off the sensors since they kept beeping at me (the cars have eyes!). The mountains are pretty breathtaking out here.
I’m sad that I can’t remember much of these mountains from all those times we drove through Colorado for your weekend comps, BUT, I remember quite vividly when you used to poke and antagonize me on all those car rides … and Mom would start yelling and Dad would turn red in the face and get all silent and scary. And it would always go something like, “Renee! Stop bothering your sister. Bie nao! Tabitha! Finish your assignment. Focus!”
They never believed me when I said you started it. You always started it. What a butthead.
“Honey, it’s not too late to turn back. You can still spend the weekend with us. These are times you should spend with family …” Mom’s voice cracked through the car’s speakers.
Timecheck: 3:15 pm. Shit. I was going to be late. The kick-off meeting was scheduled for 4:00 pm and I was still about an hour out from the campground.
“Uh, I gotta go Mom. I’m about to lose signal.”
“Hai … why you want to go all by yourself? Is it safe there?”
“It’s fine mom, there will be other women there.”
“Well, okay …, s … krrhhhh … ksshhhh, s … call—”
“Mom, you’re breaking up.”
“kshhh—g, no—, you don’t have the body for climbing. Your sis—, w—shhh … g … kssssh?”
“Um, I really can’t hear you, Mom. I have to go. I just wanted to let you know that I’m okay …”
“ … ”
“Love you, Mom.”
Oct 12, 2018 – Day 3
Just taking a few minutes to myself in the tent. It’s chilly so I’ve sausaged myself into the sleeping bag. I hope I’m not coming off as antisocial to the other women. They gave us this whole pep talk about how these climbing clinics are to make women more self-sufficient. The lady in charge—her name is Kitty, and she has this beautiful southern accent, like you hear in the movies—all smooth and mellow like rounded wood. Each sentence she punctuated with an “um” but with her drawl, it was almost romantic.
We had to go around and talk about our goals for the week. I wasn’t sure what to say. All the other women talked about wanting to learn specific hand jams, foot placements, placing gear. When it got to me, all I could think of was
I want to be less afraid.
And when I said that I felt a little ashamed, so I looked down at my hands and I could feel Kitty’s eyes on me. I was never brave like you.
While we were sitting around the picnic table, the sun began to set and the temperature dropped 20 degrees in minutes. I started shivering and had to borrow a puffy jacket from our second guide, Dawn. Dawn like the rising sun, pronounced “D-waughn.” How can I describe Dawn? She’s 40, silly, dirty, boyish hair flecked with grey, goofy, cool, and says “right on” a lot. Athlete next door type.
Dawn gave us a talk about “leave no trace” and self-care. The gist was: don’t step on the plants, don’t pee on the plants, don’t poop in the desert. Pick up “micro-trash.” The ecosystem is more fragile than you think. Don’t holler or cheer too loudly during climbs. Drive slowly in the campsite so you don’t blow dust into some poor camper’s morning coffee. Don’t be an asshole. Stay tucked in to keep warm. Tell us what you need; we’re not your parents. Breakfast is at 7:00 am.
Then Kitty chimed in “Ummm, and please don’t forget if you post any photos on social media to make sure to tag us with the pound sign, ChicksClimbing.”
The guides didn’t make a fire so we sat in the dark eating a cold meal illuminated by headlamps like a ragtag group of coal miners. It’s monsoon season in Utah and so the air was damp. I didn’t realize the desert could be so wet.
Love you, miss you.
Oct 13, 2018 – Day 4
First day on the rock. I can’t quite emphasize to you how terrible I am at crack climbing. They split us into two groups: intermediate and novice. The newbies went with Dawn, which includes me, obviously, two already-friends from Portland, and a chick from Colorado. The Portland ladies were alpinists with generic white-lady names and they kept talking about “third wave” coffee—whatever that means. The Colorado chick seems cool.
We made gloves out of tape to protect the backs of our hands. Dawn demonstrated how to turn your foot sideways, jam it into the rock, twist and stand on it. She tied in to lead and place gear. We all fell silent watching her … her movements were clean, efficient, quiet. Her body attuned to the angles of the cracks as she hinged her hips left to right placing feet. She has these killer arms and powerful calves and moves with such grace. I was in awe.
Suffice to say, Dawn made the climbing look a lot easier than it actually is … she neglected to mention how jamming and twisting your foot in the crack cause blinding pain as you squish all the tiny bones in your toes.
And so when my turn came to climb, I spent about a half-hour struggling to stick my fat foot into the crack and subsequently drag myself up the wall with sheer force of will (at essentially two feet off the ground at this point). After countless attempts, I requested to be lowered …
Honestly, T, I wanted to cry when all the other women got up the wall, and I couldn’t even make it up halfway. But I didn’t want to cry in front of them, so I sort of laughed and said “can’t beat the crack!” shrugging my arms. And the other women yelled “great effort! That was a great try!”, which made me want to cry more, remembering how much you hated people cheering a failure because you found it distracting and condescending.
As I untied, Dawn leaned against a boulder nearby: “I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself. Then we’ll talk about your feet.”
It was hard for me to listen to Dawn while fighting my humiliation tears, but eventually, I got myself under control. I tried to channel Ma’s mantra for you: “cool as a cucumber” whenever you got frustrated on a project. I wanted Dawn to like me.
“When you’re on the wall, you wanna jam your foot in as far as you can. Fill the void, I want you all the way in, into your arch almost. Let me see your feet.”
She took my ankle in her hands and demonstrated the rotation at the hip. I tried to keep my gaze fixed on my foot but felt tingles from her strong steady hands and their slow practiced movements. I nodded periodically, while tracing the lines from my Achilles, to her fingers, to her wrists, her forearms, her elbows and shoulders, her long neck. Everything about Dawn was calm and methodical.
She reminds me of you, Tabitha.
Missing you a lot today, Tabs. The tent feels empty with just me.
Remember how Ma and Ba wanted to call you Dorcas? Their crazy obsession with mythology … I’m glad they settled on a better name. Tabitha the beautiful. Tabitha the graceful. Tabitha with the long black hair and bright patterned pants.
Remember how they used to joke that I was adopted? I hated that. We looked so different. You had Ma’s sharp angular nose, fierce eyes, and tiny frame. Supposedly I looked like NaiNai—not really a flattering comparison since she’s old and quite fat, but at least she has a soft sweet face.
Baby Renee, Re-ney-ney, Chubby Ney-Ney, Re-ney-ney just wants to be like her big sister Tabitha … You only ever called me Renee when you were straight mad at me.
I don’t go by nicknames anymore now. I already look so young for my age (chubby cheeks for the win) that a cutesy nickname would just put me over the edge, not that anyone takes an “administrative assistant” seriously anyway. Believe it or not, when I got the Canonical job, mom said to me “are you volunteer?” and dad said, “why not apply for Executive job?”
I’ve started to sign off my emails with a “Renee N.” I think it looks quite grown up. It also saves me the trouble of teaching people how to say “Nguyen” properly or having to listen to people complain about how impossibly non-phonetic it is. No one knows how to use the back of their mouth to speak. I can only imagine how annoyed you got during comp announcements— “Next up, a seasoned young climber from Queens, NY, third year competing in the USAC Bouldering Youth Nationals, we have … Tabitha! … Nuh-gah-yen! …”
And you step forward, hands chalked, mouth set in a line of determination and eyes fixed above, immune to anything and anyone but the problem that presents itself to you. The cheers were deafening but you never seemed to hear them. Always calm, slow, deliberate, ever-graceful …
hands chalked, mouth set in a line of determination, and eyes fixed above.
October 16, 2018 – Day 5
Dawn is concerned because I don’t seem to be improving. It’s been three full days of instruction (an eternity in rock-climber-guide time) and I have yet to absorb any technique.
Any vertical progress I make is determined by my sheer force of will, the friction of my ass on the wall and Lisa, my generous belayer from Colorado secretly giving me boosts. I spend twice as long hanging on the wall as anyone else, but still can’t summit. My fingertips are blistered, my knees and forearms are black and blue. I am the youngest one there. Some of these women are in their sixties for god’s sake.
Why can’t I do this, Tabitha? What is wrong with me?
Oct 17, 2018 – Day 6
We sat around the campfire tonight and told stories. Kitty brought out a pecan pie and we passed it around, held the pieces in our laps while we ate with our bare hands. The firelight illuminated cheeks and noses and outstretched hands like a grown-up puppet show. I’ve never been surrounded by a group of only women before. It was warm and kind.
They asked me how I got into climbing and I mentioned you. Your name was familiar to a few of them, and there was a vague sort of silence until Kitty said “you know, we do these clinics and we really want to encourage more women climbers of color. We’re working to be more diverse and inclusive.” I nodded along. Portland chimed in with, “yes! In Portland, whenever I see someone at a campsite who’s not white, I’m like ooh! A black climber! Because you see it so rarely, I feel like it’s important to point it out.” I rolled my eyes in the cover of darkness.
Eventually, we got into talking about husbands and boyfriends … Dawn told the story of how she met her husband, Pat—also a climber. Apparently, they were both guides on separate alpine trips and met by chance peeking over a wall at base camp after both groups got snowed in from a storm. Dawn and Pat live in Ouray, CO. Dawn and Pat bought and outfitted a van together. Dawn and Pat are building a house from the ground up. Every time Dawn says Pat’s name, she smiles real wide.
I’ve only ever had one boyfriend: college-cafe-Nick. You never met him, but you’re not missing much. He was blonde and skinny, the nervous anxious type who would quote Walt Whitman and smoke weed every day to deal with human interaction.
I felt confident around him because it was obvious that he thought I was irresistible. He was from New Hampshire so I don’t think he had ever dated anyone “different” from him. Even though he was my first kiss, I felt like an expert because of our “Kissing 101” lessons! Can you believe we did that? Remember how I begged and begged you to teach me how to do it properly so I wouldn’t embarrass myself when I finally got a boyfriend and you told me to bug off and swatted at me until I cried, and then you softened and agreed to show me on a pillow?
“You take this, and you open your mouth and like so …”
And you gave the pillow a long tender kiss, eyes closed and everything. I was so impressed. “Where did you learn that?”
And you sort of shrugged and tossed your hair aside. “I’ve had lots of practice.” You were already 17 and had traveled across the world. I was just a 9-year old nobody.
The fire was starting to die down. The early birds started making their way to their tents and cars.
Daisy from New Mexico, turned to me: “did you have a good day?”
Daisy, Freya’s sacred flower. Daisy had a homey face and a crooked smile that was easy to talk to. “It was really hard,” I said. “I didn’t realize it would be this hard.”
Daisy nodded in agreement. “It’s definitely a whole new set of skills. This is my second time here and I still feel like I have a lot to learn.”
“You were leading today?”
“Sort of. We were learning how to place gear. Kitty kept us on toprope and jumared up to make sure we placed them right.”
“Wow. I couldn’t imagine leading that. I could barely stand up. I felt like my feet were being crushed.”
“Yeah, it’s definitely scary. But the nice part is climbing with a group of women. I feel like men are more competitive and try to outdo each other.”
“I also feel like people underestimate me.” Daisy raised her arms and turned her head left to right like she was examining them herself. “ Like, they look at me and don’t think I can climb anything, because I’m not super athletic looking.”
I smiled, “but you’re strong as hell.”
She smiled. “Yeah, that’s right. Goodnight, Renee. Sleep well.”
The rain came once more. First slowly … tiny droplets formed at the seams of the tent. Then louder, a thundering pour all around. Lightening that illuminated that sky for several seconds and brought white-hot light to the deepest valleys of these canyons. You can’t climb on sandstone for 24 hours after a rainstorm. I breathed a sigh of relief, maybe I wouldn’t have to climb today. Maybe I could go home.
It rained for a week after your accident. I don’t know if you remember that, you were in and out for most of it. Ma and Ba didn’t want you to eat hospital food, so every day Ma would go home and bring dun tang with lotus, goji berries, and black chicken to nurture your healing. Ba never left your side. He took a leave from work—yes, Ba actually took some time off of work for once until you got out of surgery. We all tried to be optimistic. I brought you your patterned pants and grips and bands so you wouldn’t lose your finger strength. Cards and letters flooded in, stacked in a pile unopened. I think you knew in your heart that you would never climb again.
This was the black space for all of us. You, learning how to use a chair, crying at the blisters on your palms, weakening legs, and dull constant pain. Ma gave up her life for you. She never sat down to rest for a single moment. Every second, fetching you tea, wrapping a blanket around your legs, smoothing your hair, lifting you into the bath. “Renee, go get Tabitha’s meds. Ney-ney, get your sister her brush. Ney-ney, I don’t have time for your games right now.”
You were so mean to Ma … I know you were angry, but it’s not fair to spread that bitterness to us. We were in pain too. We tried everything. We tried the trials, the herbs, the spiritual healers. We spent a year’s savings to buy flights to Spain … and then we couldn’t even go because you locked yourself in the handicap stall and wouldn’t come out until Ma told me to crawl through the gap and unlock it myself.
I’m sorry Tabitha. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Ma told me I have to do this. And you wouldn’t take my hand. You wouldn’t even look at me. I’m sorry, sister.
Dawn said it’s dry enough to climb. She took us on a long approach to the crag, reminding us to “start slow, and taper off.” She used hiking poles to ascend while the rest of the group teetered left to right with arms outstretched like airplanes to offset the weight of our gear. I was breathing hard from the elevation and stopped several times to steady myself. Dread was building in my chest at the thought of my next climb.
We settled our bags next to a nice French Canadian couple who were climbing in companionable silence. As Colorado took first climb, I offered to belay, and Portland went over to chit chat with the Frenchman.
“So you guys come out here often?” She asked, twirling a daisy chain from two fingers.
I tuned them out and focused on Colorado, who was ascending with ease, one foot on top of the other.
“Nice Lisa!” I called up.
Next to me, Dawn gazed up and nodded approvingly with her hands perched at the hip. “Little speed racer that one!”
Before I knew it, Lisa had sent the climb and gave a hoot of achievement, followed by an, “oh man! That was tiring!” And requested to be lowered. She arrived to a round of high fives.
“You’re up, Renee!” Dawn said, winking at me while pulling the rope through. And my heart fell into my stomach at the thought of failing our teacher once more.
“Yeah, you got this!”
“Go crush it!”
Portland ladies were all smiles, and surprisingly clean after several days of no shower. Lisa laughed when she saw my face— “I think you’ll like this one.”
I laced up my shoes, wiggled on my tape gloves, chalked up. The wall loomed large as I stepped forward. I could see the tiny chalk marks on the wall marking my path along a large crack in the sandstone. Breathe. Focus.
I tied into my figure eight, follow-through, backup knot on the tail. The only way a knot will fail is if it rolls or the tail pulls through. Always dress your knots. Check your harness. Check your belayer. Dawn says just because something has been done for fifty years, doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Always look for ways to be safer.
Lisa: “I’m locked. Climber on top. Climb on!”
Deep breath and I’m on. My foot jammed in the crack. My hand jams were shaky but holding.
“Bring your knee to the midline and step up!” Dawn called beta to me.
I looked at my leg, twisted my foot in the crack, pulled my knee into my center—OW—and stood up! I DID IT.
“Yeah! That’s it! That’s the move. Keep going! Jam that foot in as far as it will go!”
My leg was shaking, but somehow I was clinging on, my hands creating the shape of the sun as my fingers spread wide. I swung my hip to the left to bring my right foot up, rotated at the hip like Dawn showed me and jammed the right foot in. “YES! Twist, hinge, step up.”
“Yeah! There you go!” Portlandia cheered below.
“You got it!’ Said Colorado.
“Go Re-Ney-Ney!” Called Dawn.
At the sound of my old nickname, I startled into a laugh and looked down at the faces below.
“Yeah, keep climbing Re-Ney-Ney!!” Everyone cheered.
And I climbed on.
The sun was so warm on my back.
“Re-ney-ney is the off-width queen!” Portland’s voice pierced through the desert sky as we walked back to camp.
I cringed but grinned nonetheless. The sun was low in the sky and the temperature dropping swiftly. A windstorm was coming tonight. I breathed onto my blackened hands to try and warm them.
We ran into Daisy, who had dragged her sleeping pad outside of the tent to do some stretches. She had one barefoot and one still in the hiking shoe as she reached for the tips of her toes. “I know it looks silly,” she said, “but I wanted to be social.”
I laughed and dropped my things down to join her. We stretched companionably for a few minutes while the others moseyed off to their tents. We compared flowering bruises on our knees and elbows, darkening spots on the wrists and forearms, as though we had gone and returned from our own kind of war.
“I love how dirty your hands are,” Daisy exclaimed, cradling them. We laughed at the likeness, both our palms lined with residual adhesive, swollen fingers and nails caked in dirt and grime.
On the horizon, the sun set the rocks ablaze in the final moments of dusk.
“Graduation Ceremony, 5:00 pm! In the big tent!” Kitty called out to the group.
A windstorm was coming so I was frantically folding up my tent and tarp. My plan was to sleep in the car tonight so I would be shielded from the elements.
It reminded me of camp—well, T and I never went to camp—so I guess it was my perception of what camp would be like as a grown-up based on popular movies. So we sat around a circle all bundled up in our hats, gloves and puffy coats and Kitty talked about what it means to be a woman in the climbing world and how she was proud of what each and every one of us accomplished this week. Then we each went around and shared a high and low from the week.
“Daisy led her first 5.9 today!” Kitty exclaimed.
“Amaaaazing!” I beamed at her, and she grinned.
“Re-Ney-Ney crushed it!” Portland cheers.
“Oh stop,” I laugh, “I just learned how to actually use the crack.”
“Lisa was a beast on that 5.11 off-width! She was just flying up there.”
Dawn and Kitty went around passing out certificates that they had signed and shared a few words about what we each had accomplished. Portland was bringing on the waterworks and I kept swallowing to stop myself from getting teary-eyed.
Finally, Dawn turned to me: “And last but not least … Re-Ney-Ney!”
I looked up at her from under the brim of my knit hat, holding back a grin.
“It’s a tough run for you, Renee, especially in the beginning. But you never let it get you down.”
Under Dawn’s gaze, my face felt hot. To my right, Colorado tapped my elbow with hers and gave me an encouraging nod as Dawn continued.
“You know how some people get all whiny and upset if they don’t get something right away? Nope, you never did that. You were 100% positive the entire time and always gave it your best shot even when it was really challenging … I am just really impressed with your attitude and effort, Renee … AND I gotta say, the chick I saw climbing today was like a totally different person. You were using all kinds of techniques you learned and making all the moves that you had never done before.”
She put her gloved hand over her chest: “I am so proud of you.” And then she smiled real wide.
“Oh, and my favorite moment from today? When you were halfway up the wall checking out the features, and then you just shrugged, looked down, and said ‘ehhh, I’m just gonna climb the crack!’ So the award for MOST IMPROVED goes to … Renee Nguyen!”
I laugh and stand up for my certificate. Dawn gives me a big hug.
I think Tabs would have been proud.
“Daisy!” I touched her arm, “before we all leave, I just wanted to say how amazing it was that you led today. It’s so scary—I’m so proud of you.”
“Aw thanks, Renee. I actually took a fall while I was leading, too. It was so scary.”
“Oh my god, yes, that’s terrifying! And awesome that you did that.”
Daisy’s eyes were shining with tears. “It’s hard because when I fall, I cry. And I don’t like to cry in front of people.”
“I get that. I cry too, Daisy. It’s scary. That’s real, no one can deny that. It means a lot to fall and keep on climbing. No one should ever make you feel bad about crying.”
“You’re right, Renee. Thank you.”
We embraced. And I wiped my eyes. “You know, I think that I’ve always felt like I never had the right body, or I’ve never been brave enough to be really great at something.”
“I feel like that too sometimes. All these really ugly voices in your head telling you that you’re not good enough …”
“Right, exactly. It’s awful.” I nudged the earth with my boot and Daisy turned her gaze downwards as well. Our toes faced one another just a few inches away.
“I meant to say to you before, Renee … I’m … I’m so sorry about your sister.”
Tears formed along the corners of my eyes and dripped to the ground.
“Tabitha Nguyen, right? I saw her once at a comp outside Santa Fe. She was such an amazing climber …”
My chest ached at the sound of her name.
“You two look alike, you know? It’s not noticeable right away but seeing the way you carry yourself, and how determined you are … I think it’s really beautiful for you to be here right now, learning a new type of climbing and becoming stronger. It’s like you’re honoring her memory.”
I let out a weepy sigh-laugh. “Yeah, she would have gotten a kick out of how bad I am at climbing the crack,” I said, wiping my nose with my sleeve.
“I think we’re all bad at climbing the crack, Renee.”
I giggled. “So true,” I said. “Hey, by the way, you actually pronounced my last name right. Most people can’t say it the right way.”
“Oh whew, that’s a relief.” And Daisy smiled her crooked smile. I wanted to reach over and take her hand.
“I wish we could have spent more time together.”
Oct 18, 2018 – Day 7
I’m back to some sort of civilization close to Moab. We had one last breakfast as a group before heading off in different directions. It was a quiet meal. The campsite felt sparse and the coffee a bit gritty. Under the morning light, I looked at all the bare faces and marveled at how little I knew about each of their lives. I wondered how long before we would forget this place, how long we could hold onto this feeling we made together …
Hopefully, I’ll get these in the mail before I board my plane. Where shall I send them this time? Seneca Rocks maybe? Squamish? Or perhaps back to the big walls and endless cracks at Indian Creek? Somewhere you would feel infinite …
You know, when I finally got a signal, all I wanted to do was call you and hear your voice …
I’m not angry with you.
One quick stop before getting on the road to Denver. The plan is to dip into City Market to refuel, grab snacks and stamps—in and out—but instead, I spend about 20 minutes washing my hands under the warm water in the restrooms. It feels SO GOOD.
I catch myself staring at my reflection in the mirror, because—well I’m just realizing—I hadn’t seen myself in 10 days.
My hair is seized into an impenetrable web … chapped lips, ruddy cheeks, dirt-smudged along the brow. My eyes are darker … burnt black, unyielding.
I smile at her.
Queens Tribune, November 14, 2007
Youth Climbing Prodigy from Queens dies at 22
Former professional youth climber and Queens native, Tabitha Nguyen passed away suddenly on November 13 at the age of 22. Tabitha was a pillar of the youth climbing community, placing 3rd in the 2001 Youth Bouldering Championships until a tragic accident in 2005 ended her climbing career.
Tabitha is survived by her parents, Duc and Lina Nguyen and her younger sister, Renee Nguyen. Friends and family are invited to the Memorial Service, which will take place on Wednesday at 12:00 Noon at the William R. May Funeral Home in 354 N. Candor Rd. Queens, NY. In lieu of flowers, donations to the National Alliance on Mental Illness of NYC (NAMI-NYC 505 Eighth Avenue, Suite 1103 New York, NY 10018) or the Fountain House (425 West 47th Street New York, NY 10036) would be appreciated.
This is a fictional story that was inspired by my experience at an all women’s ChicksClimbing Clinic in Indian Creek, UT in October 2018.
If you liked this video, we think you’ll also enjoy:
- “I Will Climb, Too” — A Story on Mentorship and Responsible Climbing
- Essay: The Dharma of Dirtbag — Five Principles of Rock Climbing & Buddhism
- Essay: Postscript Climbers — the “Weenies” of Climbing
- Mothers Have it Hardest: Audio Interview with Kyle Dempster and His Mom