While Einar remained anxious to get out and work on the shelter roof, he found himself so full and sleepy after two mugs of Liz’s soup that any such movement would have been a real struggle, even had he not promised to wait for the storm’s ending. Fighting to keep his eyes open, he propped himself against the logs of the shelter wall and watched in a dreamy haze as Will studied and dismantled yet another spruce cone, an unaccustomed warmth creeping through him as his body began putting to use the abundance of soup.
Seemed that he hadn’t been warm—or anything approaching it—for many days, not a situation which normally would have troubled him in the least, but this time, now that the frantic pace of the past several days had slowed and he had a bit of time to catch his breath, something seemed different. Wasn’t the fact that the cold—which had always been his friend and whose company he had all his life enjoyed in ways that few others seemed to understand—now hurt him, ached in his bones, knifed between his ribs and gripped his body in the iron jaws of inertia until sometimes it felt as though he would barely be able to go on moving. This was a change, alright, but not one which disturbed him terribly, and sometimes he even saw it as a welcome thing in that it provided him yet another challenge with which to busy his mind and body.
Trouble was that there seemed no way to shake this chill that had settled in his bones and seemed now to come as much from inside him as from out, even when he tried. And he did try from time to time, because it was something a person ought to be able to do, might urgently need to do, living out as they did, his efforts meeting with less and less success. Even the warmth of the meal was already fading as he sat there, leaving him once more all but immobile with cold. A sure sign, as if he’d needed another one, that he had better be putting some serious effort into getting his body back in line, stronger, perhaps working to add just a bit of padding if he wanted to be of much use around the place. He stretched, shivered, hurried outside to clean his soup mug.
Or, he told himself, could just as well be a sign that you’d better be making more of an effort to get yourself to adapt. You’ve always been able to adapt. Maybe you’ve just gone all soft and lazy and aren’t putting out enough effort, here lately. Eating too much soup. A good long night out in the snow without your parka has always solved that for you in the past, given you some of your endurance and determination back, and ought to cure you of this nonsense, once and for all. Past time to do it. Well. He knew what Liz would say to that, knew he’d have to be awfully insistent if he was to get his night out in the snow anytime soon, but he knew how to be insistent, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
Right. Not a problem. You’ll find a way to make it happen, and most times, it would be exactly what you need, too. Give your mind and body a little challenge, get them to respond, live up to the demands of the moment, and you’ll be on track again. But not now. You know why this is happening, why you seem to be losing ground so fast all of a sudden, and ought to recognize that it can’t be fixed by a night or two out in the snow. It’s not about adaptation anymore. There is no adapting to this. Body can adjust to a huge range of different environmental conditions and situations if a person will give it a chance, push themselves a little and show some persistence, and you’ve had a lot of experience with that, know how well it works. But you might as well face it. There’s just no adapting to being severely emaciated and chronically under-nourished month after month while attempting to live a very active life out in the cold at high altitude. Doesn’t happen. You’re not adapting, you’re dying.
Liz came then, Will fast asleep in the sleeping bag after his own meal, knelt beside him in the snow where he crouched with half-cleaned mug forgotten in one hand, spruce-needle scrubber in the other. She took them from him, finished the washing. “What’s on your mind, Einar? What’s got you so quiet today?”
Tell her? He couldn’t. Not in so many words, not as he’d just gone over it in his mind. “Oh, kind of feeling like I need to go out and sit in the snow for two or three days, without any soup or...anything.”
Her voice was low, quiet. “That’s not going to fix it, you know.”
“Yes. Can’t keep doing this, Liz. Can’t make it work anymore.”
“Don’t keep doing it. Let it go. You’ve got to let it go, this getting-along-on-nothing-but-air. I know you’ve been eating some, but you always go back to that when things start to get difficult. Always. I’ve seen. You can live without it.”
“Don’t know if I can. Don’t really have any other way to…”
“Yes, you can. You have us, and you have your work. A roof to build, traplines to set up and run, life to live. You just need to keep eating. Get back in the habit. It will get better.”
“Feels like…surrender if I try that. Giving up. Giving in. Just because things got too difficult.”
“Just like in the jungle, in that cage, when your captors kept offering you food and water, if only you’d talk to them? That kind of surrender?”
Bowed his head, eyes on the snow at his feet as the tears came, frustration, shame, miserable, feeling trapped, exposed, hating that she’d brought it up. Nodded.
“I know. But it’s not. You never did surrender when you were in that cage, didn’t give an inch. I think you forget that, sometimes. Just like you forget that you’re not in there anymore. Don’t have to be, anyway. You can come out now, if only you’d let yourself. Eating is not surrender. It’s just meeting basic needs that have to be met in order to go on living. And believe me, things will still be plenty difficult, if it’s difficulty you need.”
“Wouldn’t be the same.”
“This is killing you. It’s going to take you away from us. That’s surrender, if you willingly continue down that path. Giving up. Taking the easy way out.”
“Nothing easy about it.”
“No. There isn’t. It’s about the most difficult existence I could imagine, and I’m constantly amazed at how you keep going and make a life for yourself, and for us, despite the difficulty. But in some way, it’s got to be easier for you than the alternative. Than facing life, and all of your memories, without it.”
Couldn’t argue with that one. She had him. “Yeah.” He was really shivering by then, starting to have trouble with words, despite his best efforts. She took him inside, added a few sticks to the fire and set some snow to melt for tea, hopeful, sensing the change in Einar, a willingness which had not been there before, time, perhaps, to start coming home…