3:07. I drag covers, swing legs, sit upright, settle a bobbing fetus, land, dress, collect. I’ll regret not doing this. I lift our sleeping daughter to my shoulder, and summon you with diaper bag.
We exit a hotel room into a full, still parking lot. The warm air, like silk, slides onto my vessel-laden surfaces; my lungs are my forest, glistening.
Inhale, exhale. Nothing freezes. What a treat.
After half an hour along the coast’s dark cliffs, we are at her base—the famous Haleakala. We can reach out and touch her, but the goal is always the summit, hours away still. The winding ascent begins.
“Keep your focus on the horizon,” Dad encouraged from the driver’s seat on summer trips in the Getaway Van, my head in a barf bag. But there is no horizon; only two headlights facing upwards on a winding road, flat black all around us.
Everything is up to me:
- Find and stay accountable to adventure before we leave the island
- Ensure unborn baby’s healthy growth
- Ensure its older sister eats enough. Sleeps enough.
- Keep the car on the road
- Don’t let a suspicious glance turn love to doubt
83….57. The thermometer on the dash drops with every switchback. Toes are numb from adrenaline and the cooling air under my floor mat. My foot is slow to touch the gas, then the break. Hardened lava tightens the lane stretching diagonally upwards, then turns on a hairpin, stretches, then turns on a hairpin. Darkness falls deep down a cliff on the passenger side of the car. Nausea takes a seat.
I don’t remember warnings to “Stay Out” or “Route Has Not Been Tested on Pregnant Mothers”, but I might have missed it at the dark entrance to this spiral into the sky. I envision a collapsing placenta. Oxygen seeps from my blood. The air thins and thins, and I gulp and gulp to feed the baby. My nerves fire into a head of cotton. I slow the car, thinking it will acclimatize this ride. Should we turn back? Bugs in the headlights could be falling stars.
“What is that fog?” I ask.
“Clouds,” you say.
Surely, the top is near.
Climb. Climb. I lighten my foot on the pedal, and loosen my grip on the steering wheel. My head takes flight; in the back seat, Camilla’s heavy breath grounds me. My only human duty, to keep my children alive, is shaped like a loud hum in my ears.
No! Not just yet. I renew focus on the road.
A sign signals the end of the road. We are in a parking lot in a galaxy we can almost touch. Mountain tips poke through the clouds at our feet, and we make the last ascent on foot to a hut dedicated to watching all that happens 10 023 feet above the surface of the Pacific.
A purple skiff lifts darkness off the clouds, hushing voices until it gives way to tall, diagonal rays of yellow drawn from a widening red and orange horizon, and, after 60 breaths and another galaxy shift, excited chatter rises like a standing ovation for the ball of fire and its breaking of day.