He had wanted it to be her. The fantasy had been imagined so many times, repeated indefinitely in his head, that the absence of the defining moment was as unacceptable as ripping a page out of a book. The back of his neck radiated heat, calling forth a cool, wet cloth that might provide temporary relief to his discomfort. They say that drinking hot liquid like tea actually serves to cool the body, but the thought of introducing more heat into the system seemed illogical and unsafe to him in that moment.

For all his successes, it was not enough. As a man, he was defined by his cleverness, ample responses when thinking on his feet, the momentary flash in his eye before responding to a challenge, and the mastery that was hidden in the s’s that should have been z’s in his words. It was not enough because the true strength of a man is not in the outside of a perception, but the inner workings, and coming to terms with the self without need for deception.

His heart felt like a tea bag immersed in a stew of hot water. It was filled with aromatic leaves and spice, and one would think they would escape when submersed in the first and last hot liquid that they would ever touch. But the translucent, slightly waxy white bag was a terrible lie. It puffed up like a white pressed shirt filled with air, giving subtle hint to the shadow and shape of the leaves inside, but barely a worthy taste or strength of the hidden potpourri could escape. And so it was submersed a second, a third, and another time, each instance a meek effort to release the pungent smelling spice. But too long in the bath only serves to wrinkle fingertips and diminishes the ability of the soapy water to bubble: the tea bag loses its strength and fades away. Or so we think, because no one really knows what happens to the true composition of the contents inside. But he knew exactly. The same was true of his heart. An external hope, an openness to expressing vulnerability and aching for the chance to send it off like a raft down a creek, and then following through, only served to build up more apprehension should that raft submerge and sink. The concentration of the outside steam was in complete, counter-intuitive opposition to the increase in intensity of that which remained inside. He would immerse himself entirely in just one more experience, a chance to finally give in completely to the surroundings, but each time the water was drank and he left slightly lesser than before.

And so in times like these, he reached for something else in his pack, something that, rationally should counter such a herbal heat. He shouldn’t have drank that soda, but it’s bite was so sharp, so quick and intensely satisfying that it sent his teeth into a painful overdrive that shot up to the roots and climaxed into the most awful and wonderful of cold headaches. It was a shot that gave him a momentary high, and it brought him back to the memory he so yearned for in his time of thirst.

The mountain sky was blue, and then pink and red and purple, a distant painting to emphasize the impressive beast that it framed. He had touched that mountain in close detail. In the bitter cool morning the rock was unforgiving to his pleas and made each reach a calculated and unnerving risk. As it warmed in the rising sun, it promised him nothing but shadows, and greatness always one more peak away, if his bleeding hands could stand it and there was just enough powder left to cover his fingers like a powdered doughnut. At the crest of the day he made the final push, and then the mountain gave him everything, its most fantastic and shattering vulnerabilities all revealed at the sudden realization that there was no more vertical place to be reached and if there was a heaven this was truly it. Surrounding the thin and life-giving air was nothing but space and infinite time, and that is where he lost himself, and found an addictive warmth of awe, humility, and love. It was when the murkiness and stress of everyday life was lifted, to reveal his deepest thoughts and sequestered desires, when he tasted hints of meaning and purpose. And that’s when he saw her. Those dark, compassionate eyes rendered in his soul. She was not bold enough to speak outwardly above the noise of the group, but her affection and concern for him was stronger than the loudest of voices. She gave him hope, filled him with sustenance, and a beautiful sonata that echoed in the crevices of the mountain. Her deepest insecurities, were beautiful to him. His most humanizing imperfections, she eroded away with a single wave of her joyful smile. In the portrait of that mountain was ingrained her presence, and he climbed it relentlessly in his mind looking for her likeness.

The summit was beautiful, but missing the realization of that which he longed for so deeply. He came back to the harsh reality of the evening train. The back of his neck was so hot. How could he be overheating in such a cool air? The car door opened, and he lifted inside his bike, a faithful companion yet disappointingly void in terms of conversation, and never expressing preference for Miso soup or dumplings. An ocean of tired faces lifted their bikes into the same car, and strangers equally monitored the stream looking for friend or companion. It was a long ride, and at every turn of a head with straight, dark hair, he hoped to see those soulful eyes peering out from a head caged in a bike helmet. It was never her. He didn’t ache for yet another conversation about numbers or missing method, but just a companion to render the space around him safe and comforting, to combat the awful taste of too many people marinating in such a tiny space. He certainly did not need her to define him, or to give him focus to his work, but he didn’t want to have to be so outwardly strong, and so caged all of the time. From the mountain to the setting suns that passed by the window day after day, his heart was filled with so much beauty that if he could not share it, he would surely explode.

But in the dawn of the moonlight this evening, he realized that he found his own heart in the mountain. It’s majestic grace, character, and quiet wisdom had and would continue to give him peace. It was an unconditional love; it would not turn him away, it would give him air to counter the things that took it away from him. For so long he had selfishly looked for himself on those cliffs without giving back to the beast that guided his heart. An artist of movement and position, he had painted his story into the ledges time and time again, providing another layer to complement such a majestic portrait.

And so, he brought her to the mountain, a gift to further complement this majestic portrait. The reds, pinks, and blues gave backdrop to not a single, but a group silhouette against the setting sun enveloping the lake. Warmed by a small fire and the sound of chopsticks, the mountain gazed at the creation that it had inspired. The momentary loneliness that comes with the dusk was returned to content, akin to the feeling of companionship that comes with reveling at existing in the same space as someone that you love. It is sometimes lonely to be a mountain, because it is expected to give itself to those that sacrifice themselves. But when the bravest of climbers see its true vulnerability, they bring their experiences to share with it. And the tea, shared by all, was fragrant, full bodied, and finally realized.