Chapter 2 – The Prophet (2.6 to 2.10)

2.6 – Edna Young

Brigham “Brig” Young VIII was born in the summer of 1980, the second child but first-born son of the Youngs. Brig’s sister, Brenda, was two years older than he. As the first-born son, Brig was first in line to inherit the massive wealth the Youngs had accumulated throughout the decades. But something often overlooked was that he also inherited the equally massive responsibility of being Brigham Young.

Brig and his sister were close growing up and enjoyed a Norman Rockwellian childhood. As Brig entered high school, it appeared as though he were on the same successful course that his father had so easily navigated, doing well in athletics and academics. Although their father had been mostly absent while the Young children grew up, their mother Edna more than made up for it. She was a stay-at-home mom who adored her children, and with the help of a host of maids, personal assistants, drivers, bodyguards, and other employees befitting the ridiculously wealthy, she kept the estate running and the children grounded while VII was off expanding the Young empire.

However, in early December 1995, Brig’s world was ripped apart when Edna died in a car accident. She was the only other passenger in the BMW driven by one of VII’s friends. There were rumors of an affair, but VII was able to keep the scandal contained.

2.7 – Boarding

Brig moved back to his spot on the airport floor and sat down with his back to the wall. He could feel the eyes of his fellow passengers on him as he pretended to study the information on his boarding pass. Other church members, or Salt Lake City residents, surely recognized him, or at least his name, and wondered how this wretch of a man could be the direct descendant of one of the most beloved leaders in Mormon church history. Others, perhaps less familiar with the church, might have wondered what relation this guy might have with Brigham Young University, and still, others might have questioned how a bum had found the money, or earned the mileage, to upgrade to business class.

Brig didn’t care. He just prayed that nobody sat next to him on the flight to San Francisco. However, judging by the number of people in the waiting area, that wasn’t likely. Consequently, Brig lowered his expectations to just hoping that his neighbor would be a quiet, uninterested fellow traveler that would let him fly to San Francisco in peace.

Brig checked his cell phone to see if he had received any new text messages. Nothing. He dialed his voice mail, entered the password, and learned that he had “no new messages.” Brig wasn’t surprised, but it still depressed him. His family hated him. He no longer had any genuine friends. His secret life as a drug addict limited his “friendships” to those who wanted to sell him drugs, and those who wished to use the drugs with him. He had convinced himself that he didn’t care that nobody cared, and he was going to make everyone sorry that they hadn’t treated him better, particularly his father. The only person he had hoped to hear from was his ex-girlfriend, and he hadn’t heard from her since the day she left him several weeks ago.

“We are ready to begin boarding United Flight 5223 with service to San Francisco,” announced the gate attendant. “First and business class passengers, those traveling with infants, and those that may require additional assistance are welcome to board.” She scanned the crowd. Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber were nowhere to be seen. “In a few minutes, we will begin general boarding. Please show your boarding pass and government ID to the gate agent as you proceed through the boarding gate.”

Brig rose to his feet and made his way through the gawking crowd to the line that had formed for pre-boarding. He kept his eyes pointed to the floor, careful not to make eye contact with any of the other passengers to avoid conversation.

He fell in line behind a young couple traveling with several children. The smallest, an infant, slept quietly on the mother’s shoulder. The father was busy collapsing the tandem stroller, and weakly admonished the three older children to “quit playing” and “hand the nice lady the tickets.” Please don’t let them sit by me Brig silently prayed. He liked kids. Had once hoped to have ones of his own, but at this stage of his life, he couldn’t imagine himself married with children. He couldn’t even take care of himself.

The father, who was about Brig’s age, was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved dress shirt. Although non-Mormons may not have noticed, Brig could see the subtle outline of the man’s temple garments, or Mormon underwear, underneath his shirt. Adult Mormons found worthy to enter and attend sacred services in Mormon temples were required to wear “garments,” special underwear as part of their faith. It was only recently, after meeting Happy, that he stopped pretending to be a Mormon and discontinued wearing the sacred skivvies.

The father was finally able to herd his family onto the airplane. Brig stepped forward and handed the “nice lady” his ticket. It was the same woman that had processed his upgrade and given him his business class tickets. Brig noticed now that the name on her badge said “Tina.”

“I knew I would see you again. Why don’t you join me? I’ll buy you a companion ticket and you can fly to Hong Kong with me,” Brig flirted.

“Oh wow. That’s a wonderful offer, but since this flight is full, and I have this job…” the gate agent said sarcastically as she took Brig’s SLC to SFO boarding pass. She tore off the stub and handed the rest of the boarding pass back to Brig.

“It’s only a matter of time now,” Brig continued. “I had a vision while I slept, and the Lord told me you are to be my next wife – my tenth! Come, woman! Obey or suffer eternal damnation!”

“That’s really weird,” Tina said with sincerity. “Enjoy your flight, Mr. Young.”

“Ah. You’re no fun. I guess the mile-high thang is out of the question?”

“Excuse me?” She knew what the “mile high thang” was, and it shocked her that this customer thought he could speak to her this way.

Uh-oh, she’s getting pissed, Brig thought to himself. He must’ve crossed that line people without senses of humor are always referring to. Should he abort or press on? He mistakenly chose the latter.

“It’s alright darlin’. I’ve been a certified member of the Mile High Club since 1998. I’m sure I can get you in. I’d love to be your sponsor.”

“Careful Mr. Young,” Tina raised her eyebrows menacingly and warned Brig, “I don’t care how many frequent flyer miles you have. I will not let you talk to me that way, and I will have you taken off of this flight by security if I have to.”

“Well, that escalated quickly.”

“Not another word!” Tina warned.

“Fuck ya’ then, ya’ fat twat!” Brig said. Fortunately, it was to himself.

2.8 – Journaling

August 8th, 1988

Dear Diary,

Today is my birthday! Happy Birthday to me! I am eight years old. Mother and father gave me a new bike. It’s red. It’s a Schwinn. I love it! I rode it all over the place today. I also got a real football. Brenda gave me this new journal. Grandma and Grandpa Pierce gave me a new set of scriptures because on Sunday I will be baptized. After they baptize you, all your sins are washed away and the bad things you do really start to count as sins, so I need to do all my bad stuff before then! Ha-ha.

Father called me to wish me a Happy Birthday. He is in a place called Hamburg. It’s in Germany. Father told me hamburgers were invented there. He was just kidding. He told me we would celebrate my birthday a second time when he gets home.

I’m tired. Goodnight.

Before there was Facebook, people wrote the events of their lives in diaries or journals. Mormons have always invested in keeping journals. Their scriptures, the Bible, and the Book of Mormon are journals of men believed by many to have been prophets of God. In a speech entitled “The Angels May Quote From It,” Spencer Kimball, the Latter-Day Saints’ twelfth President, and Prophet, directed the church’s membership to “Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions, and your testimonies.”

Eight-year-old Brigham Young closed his journal, capped his pen, and placed the book back in its secret hiding spot under his mattress. He slipped off of his bed and onto his knees, said his prayers, and got back into bed. He had already washed his face and brushed his teeth, and after a few minutes, his mother ducked her head in to say goodnight and switched off the light. Brig was still a little afraid of the dark, but today he felt closer to being a man. He didn’t need the R2-D2 Star Wars night light for comfort anymore. But he was glad it was there.

Brig’s childhood had been comfortable, uncomplicated, and uneventful. He loved his mom, dad, sister, grandma, grandpa, God, Jesus, and his dog, not necessarily in that order. “Briggy,” as his mom called him, was precocious, loving, respectful, and if we’re honest, slightly spoiled. But how could he not be?

He went to school where he always did well. He attended church every Sunday and took part in other church-sponsored social functions throughout the week. Brig was born into the wealthiest and most influential family in Utah. He was the only son of an only son, in a long line of firstborn sons. He was the progeny of a man millions revered and believed to be a spokesperson for God. Eight-year-old Brig did not yet comprehend the daunting pressure and responsibility of being the eighth Brigham Young and fell quickly into the untroubled sleep of a child.

2.9 – John Wayne

Brig occupied a window seat on the right side, towards the front, of the Boeing 767. No one had yet taken the aisle seat next to him, and he remained hopeful that no one would, though they had already announced that the flight was full. Business-class on this leg of the trip was not a big deal. A slightly bigger, slightly more comfortable seat, with extra legroom and a lower bathroom-to-passenger ratio.

Brigham Young International owned a 2015 Gulfstream 650, and as the North America Regional Sales Manager, his father occasionally let Brig use it. Now that was traveling in style, Brig reminisced. He was not likely to enjoy that kind of luxury ever again. In fact, this business class transport to Hong Kong would likely be his last taste of extravagance. The thought depressed him.

Brig looked around to see if anyone was watching him before opening his backpack and fishing out an orange prescription bottle of oxycodone. He had secured a little over two-hundred pills for the road. Before losing his job and his inheritance, getting drugs had never been a problem. He had a long list of sketchy “doctors” and white-collar drug dealers that fought amongst themselves to supply him. Brig always paid top dollar, rarely asked for credit, and everyone knew he wasn’t a cop.

He tapped out three pills to help get him through this leg of his long trip to Hong Kong. His tolerance for opioids had grown annoyingly strong, but he estimated three 60mg tablets should do the trick. If he fell asleep, which he hoped he would, the flight attendant would wake him when they reached SFO. He didn’t want to be so out of it that he missed his flight to Hong Kong.

The economy class passengers now started to file onto the airplane, and still, nobody had claimed the seat next to him. There were eight business class seats, and only two of them remained unoccupied. Brig leaned against the window and looked out at the men loading the bags onto the airplane. The sound of a newspaper flopping onto the seat next to him, broke his stupor. A large man wearing a cowboy hat was struggling to force his “carry-on” into the overhead compartment above their seats.

Great! Brig thought. John mother-fuckin’ Wayne!

2.10 – Therapy

December 25th, 1995

Dear Mom,

I can’t do this without you. I can’t! Everybody says how you’re in heaven now, in a “better place,” but why now? I need you here far more than God does, I’m sure of it.

The psychiatrist says to “write stuff down,””get it out of my head,, “it’ll make me feel better.” Blah, blah, blah. But it doesn’t. Nothing makes me feel better. I’m angry…at God, at Dad, at everyone. I feel empty…I feel like throwing up.

What happened? Nobody will tell me anything but that you were in a horrible car accident. I couldn’t even see you one more time…your casket was closed. Dad said it would be better to remember you the way you were. I guess the wreck must have messed up your face, but I still wanted to see you and touch you once more. I hope you weren’t in any pain.

Please talk to me. Or at least let me know that you’re listening. Can you? I’ve prayed every night, hoping that you, or someone, or something, will let me know you’re still around.

But I’m not feeling anything.

That 1995 Christmas journal entry was the last Brig would make for several months. He was devastated by his mother’s death. It was the first time he had questioned the existence of God and his faith. It wouldn’t be the last. Brig’s father, hardly involved in the children’s parenting anyway, turned over all childcare duties to nannies and willing grandparents, which seemed to work out fine for Brenda, but Brig struggled. Where Brig used to be friendly and outgoing, he was now sullen and withdrawn.

Brig went from being an A student to one that did just enough. He stopped attending church services on Sundays and eventually stopped going to any church activities at all. It didn’t happen all at once, and his grandparents, who were now the primary caregivers, hoped it was just a phase, but they weren’t capable of guiding Brig through those difficult teenage years. Brig needed his father. When Brig’s father eventually learned of his son’s rebelliousness, his reaction was to take something Brig valued away from him, such as his transportation. VII had given Brig a brand new green Range Rover for his 16th birthday – Brig’s first birthday without his mother. Tempers flared, tantrums were thrown, guilt trips were taken, and within a few days the Range Rover was returned to Brig, as VII had urgent business in some faraway place and didn’t have the time, or the endurance, to maintain the discipline his son needed. It was a pattern of behavior that would serve as the foundation of their relationship for the next two decades. Brig learned that VII rarely followed through on his threats. Whether it was because VII didn’t have time and couldn’t be bothered, or because he felt guilty about not being a good father, Brig didn’t know and didn’t care, as long as he got what he wanted.

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Brig and James sipped tea as Tommy rested in a Gamow bag nearby. This wasn’t the first time the village doctor had treated HAPE and had quickly constructed the portable hyperbaric chamber that Tommy was now resting comfortably inside.  

It was evening time at the Rongbuk monastery, and the storm that had raged in the morning had lessened considerably. The doctor was optimistic that they could move Tommy to a more hospitable altitude and location for a man in his condition in the morning. The weather forecast prophesied as much.

“So what are you going to do now?” James asked Brig.

“The first thing is to make sure that Tommy gets better and see that he makes it safely back to Hong Kong. Then find out if I’m going to be a father. It’s probably just another con.”

“Can I assume that killing yourself is now off of the table?”

“It’s still an option,” Brig joked, “but it has fallen a few lines down on my Things to Do list.”

“Glad to hear it,” James said sincerely.

Suicide was always an option. How close had he come?  Fifteen minutes? Thirty minutes? He had had little time to think about the events that had transpired, but for now, he was sincere when he told James that death was no longer a priority. He had to see how this baby thing played out. It was entirely possible that this was just another attempt by Tommy and Happy to get more of his money. Earlier, he had phoned Happy to see where her head was at. She wanted an abortion and told Brig that it would already have been done if Tommy had not convinced her to wait. There was definitely some extortion going on, but if there was a possibility of being a father, Brig was all in.

Pat had returned the items that Brig had left in his room earlier that day. His iPhone was now fully charged and receiving a strong signal. Brig scrolled through the rash of messages from Tommy begging him to reconsider. Even Happy had sent several texts revealing she was temporarily pregnant with his child. Perhaps most surprising was the flurry of messages he received from his father and sister. In a last desperate attempt to stop Brig from killing himself, Happy had phoned Brig’s father and given him Brig’s telephone number. For most of the last twenty-four hours, VII and Brenda had sent messages every half hour, begging Brig not to kill himself and to come home. Brig sent back a simple text telling them he was okay, that he had reconsidered, and that they would talk soon.

He supposed it would take days, perhaps months, to come to terms with the idea he would be a father. He would need proof that the baby was his, but resting comfortably next to a fire, sipping tea, and talking it over with James, he realized that life was about hope. Things may not get better, in fact sometimes they got worse, but as long as he was able to imagine a scenario in which things got better, he could go on. This was a new insight for him. Over the last couple of months, his singular purpose, his hope, had been to die on Mount Everest. Now he had new hope, a new Everest. He would be a father. The Brigham Young bloodline would continue.

The End….for now…

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The Death Zone – Chapter 11.14

“Fuck it! I’m dying here,” Brig yelled into the storm. He closed his eyes and waited for hypothermia to set in. Snow had already begun covering his body when Brig thought he heard a motor. He blinked his eyes open and saw three distinct lights moving towards him.   Brig remembered reading stories of people that described how they had died and seen themselves floating above their dead bodies, and something about a bright light. Was he supposed to move towards, or away from the light? Brig wasn’t certain, and impulsively stood and yelled at the lights, “Mother! I’m over here!”   

The sound of the motor, or motors, grew closer. Was God coming to usher him to heaven on a motorcycle? Or was it Satan, come to drag him to hell on Harley? He hoped it was the former, but thought the Devil was more likely to be riding a motorcycle on the slopes of Everest.

It turned out to be neither of them. Brig was not dead and watched as three snowmobiles charged up the hill, tracking him down. Brig slowly realized he was being rescued, and thought, “Why didn’t anybody tell me they had snowmobiles?”  Then, remembering where he was and why he was there, Brig hurried to hide behind the rocks, hoping he hadn’t been seen. He moved slowly in his bulky climbing gear, like a bundled-up toddler making his way outside to play in the snow.

The snowmobiles pulled up to his gravesite and came to a stop as Brig struggled to scale the waist-high wall. A figure that had been sitting on the back of the lead vehicle, leaped off and ran effortlessly toward Brig.

“Brig!” he heard the form yell. “It’s me. Jesus!”

Awkwardly straddling the pile of rocks, Brig stopped and turned around, confused. “Jesus?”

The apparition grabbed Brig by the shoulders, pulled him down off the rocks, and steadied him.

“Brig! It’s me, James.”

Brig was suddenly angry. “God damn it, James. Go away!  You know why I’m here!”

“Brig, I know. But Tommy’s here, too. You need to hear what he has to tell you.”

“Tommy’s with you?” Brig asked.  James pointed towards one of the other figures that had been riding on the back of a snowmobile. A man roughly the size of Tommy struggled to get up from his seat and fell to his knees. The driver of the snowmobile rushed to assist him.

“Hurry! He’s not doing well.” James prodded.

Brig’s shoulders slumped, realizing he had run out of options.  He obviously couldn’t run. He had tried that already. He apparently couldn’t die. Everest was supposed to have taken care of that and failed.  

Brig allowed James to tow him to the bent figure he said was Tommy. The man was coughing violently, not unlike Brig had experienced earlier. Brig knelt down and looked at the man’s face.  He could see the resemblance, but it wasn’t Tommy. This man was thinner, older, and weaker than the man he knew as Tommy.

“James. There’s been some mistake. This isn’t T….” Brig began, but was interrupted by the man as he ceased coughing long enough to blurt out his name.

“Brig!” The man’s entire body shook as he fought to suppress the coughing. The snowmobile drivers had joined them and were pointing nervously at the ground. Small flecks of blood sprayed the white snow where the man had been coughing.

Brig bent down again and reached for the man’s shoulder. “Tommy?”  

“Brig, you must listen to me!” The poor lighting and his diminished form had made it difficult for Brig to identify him, but the deep, commanding sound of Tommy’s voice was unmistakable.     “Tommy! What the fuck are you thinking!?” Brig had never seen it before, but Brig had read enough about Everest to recognize the symptoms of HAPE. “I begged you not to follow me.”

“Brig. Stop talking!” Tommy commanded in a voice louder than seemed possible. Blood-tinged sputum frothed at the corners of his mouth. “You have to return to Hong Kong! Happy’s pregnant. With your son!”

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The Death Zone – Chapter 11.13

Brig awoke from an uninterrupted sleep feeling better than he had in months. Due to the altitude, it was difficult to breathe, but Brig felt energized and eager to be on his way. Another cruel irony, Brig grinned and prepared himself for his final act. He sat up and turned on the light next to his bed, swinging his long skinny legs out from beneath the covers and setting his feet on the cold cement floor. Since the room didn’t have a clock and his phone was dead, he had no way of knowing what time it was. It was pitch black outside with no sign of dawn. He guessed it was still early morning.

“It’s December 4th. What am I waiting for?” Brig grew somber, and his energy dipped as he remembered his mother, and what had happened to her twenty-two years ago.

He looked up and spoke towards the ceiling, “See you soon Mom.” He paused and listened, hoping for a sign that she was with him, but if she was, Brig wasn’t feeling it. “Probably getting my new place ready.”

He lifted his small pack from the floor and onto his bed. It was beat-up but still as functional as the day he had bought it. He opened the bag and dumped its contents onto the middle of the bed. He then separated the mostly junk into two piles. The first pile was for stuff that still had value. The second pile was for trash. He started the first pile with the iPhone that Happy had given him in Xining. It was cold, black, and dead, having been drained of energy days ago, but with a charge it would be good as new. He would will this to James, who needed an upgrade. There were a few other odds and ends that James might find useful, but the trash pile was much bigger than the value pile. At the last minute, Brig pulled his journal and the worn, dismembered copy of  ”Into Thin Air” from out of the trash and placed them thoughtfully into the other stash, thinking the books might be entertaining to someone, maybe his father.

He returned the remaining Chinese yuan, about ¥2000, and a few other personal items, to his small backpack. He would leave the climbing gear and the Ortovox mountaineering pack also to James. Last, he set the keys to the Jeep next to the iPhone, knowing James would eventually make his way to Rongbuk to retrieve the vehicle, perhaps even today.

At around 3 a.m. Brig exited the Rongbuk monastery. Sunrise was still another four or five hours away, but the town’s few street lights illuminated Zhufeng Road. Stepping out of his room and into the storm, Brig saw that an additional six inches of snow had fallen. The slog to EBC wouldn’t be easy, but it was less than two miles away, and Brig was confident he would make it before sunrise.

It was soon apparent that Brig had underestimated the storm’s strength and overestimated his own. Soon, his pace had slowed to a crawl. Hurricane force winds blew ice in every direction, ravaging and stinging his face, like a million winter wasps. The temperature had fallen to a life stealing -30C, and even at only 17,000 feet the air was so thin he was forced to stop and catch his breath after every four or five steps. Brig’s headlamp offered him little advantage in the blizzard that reduced visibility to next to nothing. He had been out fighting this storm for what he guessed was about an hour, but it could just as well have been three. In this environment, and with his objective so near, time became ethereal and inconsequential.

Brig pushed on. After another few minutes (or was it hours?), Brig’s lonely, exhausted figure stumbled upon a pile of rocks that offered protection from the storm. He sat down heavily, resting his back against the impromptu barricade. He was surprised, and a little disappointed, that he could still see the faint glow of light from what he assumed was the Rongbuk Monastery.

“This is the place!” Brig yelled, laughing hysterically at his inside joke. Thousands of Mormons in Salt Lake City would have understood. The mingling of the freezing air he sucked directly into his lungs collided with the warm air that was already there, causing him to double over, coughing so violently he thought he might die before he had had time to prepare himself. Brig focused on his breathing, forcing himself to relax. Eventually, the coughing ceased, availing him the opportunity to do the things he needed to complete before he could declare victory and check himself out.

 It wasn’t that funny, he thought as the coughing subsided. Brig prepared himself for what came next. He had a few more things that needed doing before he could declare victory and check himself out.

Brig pulled his gloves off of his frozen hands with his teeth. Despite buying the best gloves money could buy, he could barely feel his frozen fingers as he unzipped his coat pocket and retrieved the BYI (Brigham Young International) Hotel’s “Do Not Disturb” sign that he had carried with him from Salt Lake City to display here, at his grave, his final resting spot. A few days ago he had found a length of string in the back of James’ jeep and had fashioned the material into a noose. It was a nice touch, Brig thought, as he tightened it around his neck. He grew frustrated as the sign flapped uncontrollably in the relentless gale. Brig hadn’t counted on the wind. The opposite side of the sign read, “Please Clean My Room,” which didn’t send the same subtle message he wanted his father to receive after his death, and would likely confuse the unfortunate soul who would find his frozen body when climbing season began again in the spring. He rolled a medium-sized rock onto his lap, which he used to pin the placard against his body. The wind still threatened to dislodge it, but Brig hoped that the sign would freeze, right side up, to his parka.

He put his gloves back on awkwardly. His plan had been to position his arms and exposed hands so that they would freeze with Brig forever flipping a double bird, but now decided that that was too crass, even for him. Besides, he was too tired and too cold to care.

He had read somewhere that, as a person froze to death, they might engage in a behavior called “paradoxical undressing,” which was when, for some unknown reason, the “freezee” became irrationally hot, stripped down to nothing, and tried to burrow into the smallest place they can find. Brig felt none of that. On the contrary, he felt calm, peaceful and complete. Against all the odds, he had made it to Mount Everest, the rooftop of the world, his final resting place. He was ready. Brig turned his headlamp off and looked down the broken path of snow he had just plowed.  The light he had noticed earlier seemed to be getting brighter and moving towards him. Had he turned himself around and mistakenly walked back towards Rongbuk?  The trek to EBC wasn’t steep, but there was a noticeable rise, and he had definitely been going up.

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The Death Zone – Chapter 11.12

Brig spent the rest of the day, contemplating his life, and writing final messages to the ones he’d loved, and who might think of him when he was gone. He tried turning on his phone, but it was out of battery, and somewhere in his travels he had misplaced his charging cable. No matter. Brig had his journal, and he was confident James would see that it made its way to his Father.

To James he wrote:

Yo Jesus Bro – Thanks for letting me borrow your ride. I made it to Rongbuk, no problem. Obviously. You were a good friend, and I wish you all the best. Brig.

PS: Don’t forget which hand you eat with. 😉

PSS: Would you make sure this journal makes it back to my Father? Thanks!

To his father:

Dear Dad. Please forgive me. I sincerely believe you were a far better father than I was a son. Love Brig.

To his sister:

Big Sis – It’s been a wild ride. I wish things would have worked out differently. You’re going to make an excellent President and CEO someday. Have lots of beautiful children and name one after me. 😉 Your little Brother – Brig.

To Buddha:

My “ride or die.” The last time we saw each other, we had some harsh words. I hope you know that it was the drugs talking. You were the best friend I ever had, and I consider you my brother. You’ve made an excellent life for yourself, and I’m proud of you. I see nothing but joy, happiness, many children, and a long life ahead of you. Love you man. — The Prophet

To Happy:

Hi Gorgeous! I should hate you, but I can’t. I’m done hating. (Except for Chang. I hate Chang, and I hope he burns in hell for eternity!) I know you never would, but just in case, don’t blame yourself for my death. It may sound stupid, but I’m doing this for me.

I’d like to tell you that you’re a good person, but I’m not sure you are. Besides, one thing you’ve taught me is that good and evil are subjective. If you’re evil, then the woman I loved, the only woman I ever wanted to spend my life with, was evil.

Stay bad! Brig

Lastly, he wrote to Tommy:

Tommy – What a crazy time we had, no? Or was that just another day in the life of the Reluctant Scholar? I hope you’re well. I know that you followed me to Lhasa and then Shigatse, and I hope that nothing has happened to you, but this (suicide) was something I had to do, and I suspected that you would try to stop me. I was/am determined to make Everest my tombstone. I need to finish this.

As I wrote to Happy. I should hate you both. But I don’t. The Ho family has done some awful things to me. But you are forgiven, and soon forgotten. Don’t think my suicide had anything to do with you. Killing myself has been in the works long before I met you. I wish you well. Brig

He closed the book and went to set the alarm on his phone for 6 a.m. when he realized he couldn’t use his phone. He considered asking Pat for a wake-up call but had little faith he could make himself understood, nor could he take one more “Welcome!” Brig laughed at himself when he realized how absurd it was to be setting an alarm for his suicide. Brig decided he wasn’t likely to sleep much, anyway.

“See you soon Mom,” Brig said to the empty room and switched off the light.

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The Death Zone – Chapter 11.11

The road to Rongbuk was treacherous, and even the Jeep’s heavily chained tires occasionally had difficulty finding traction. There were several times Brig thought he would have to abandon the vehicle and walk the rest of the distance to the monastery, but each time the jeep dug in, and Brig was able to continue.

The storm had lessened significantly in the last hour, but Brig could still only see a few hundred feet through the Jeep’s windshield. He had to be getting close, and indeed a few minutes later the blurred lines of a building gradually came into view as if in a dream. Brig hoped it wasn’t his eyes playing tricks on him.

Brig eased the Jeep to a stop, just in front of what he hoped was a place to stay for his last night on earth. The same single story, Tibetan stone buildings lined the snow-covered roadway. There was nobody in sight. Old rusted out oil drums stood sentry to an ornately adorned red door that caught Brig’s attention. Brig knocked on the door, and a few seconds later a Buddhist monk appeared.

“Welcome! Welcome!” uttered the bald cenobite.

“Thank you,” Brig responded. “Sorry to bother you. Is this a hotel?”

“Welcome! Welcome!” the man repeated. Or was it a woman? Brig couldn’t tell. He named the gender-ambiguous host Pat after the androgynous fictional character on Saturday Night Live. Pat’s English seemed limited to the one word.

“Um. Is…there…anybody…else…here…I…can…speak…to?” Brig asked slowly and extra loudly, hoping the pace, clarity, and volume would help his greeter better understand what he was saying.

“Welcome! Welcome!” the monk replied, equally slowly, and loudly, and pointed to a sign that Brig had failed to notice when he entered.

The sign read, “Welcome to the Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse! Foreigners welcome! We greatly honor your most hospitable visit! May Buddha bless you with safety and happiness!” The room rate was published below. “1 Room/1 Adult/1 Night/¥100.”

Brig reached into his pocket and withdrew his remaining renminbi. He gave his host two red, ¥100 yuan, and thanked Pat again.

“Welcome! Welcome!” Pat repeated, pointing and shuffling back towards the door that they had entered. He assumed he was being shown to his room. Upon exiting the “lobby,” Pat pointed to the right, saying, “Eat! Eat!” miming the action of shoveling food into his/her mouth with his/her hands. Brig nodded that he understood. They moved to another door to their left. Pat stepped aside to let Brig enter.

“Welcome! Welcome!”

“Thank you! Thank you!” Brig stuck his tongue out at Pat, who laughed hysterically, returned the gesture, and closed the door behind her/him as he/she left.

“Thank Buddha,” Brig said aloud as he laid his pack down on one of the ten beds spread throughout the room. There was no sign that any other guest would share the room with him tonight. Thank Buddha twice, Brig thought. Perhaps he would finally get a good night’s sleep. Brig laid down on one of the filthy beds, and though this time he remembered he threw caution to the wind and put his head down on the unprotected dirty pillow.

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The Death Zone – Chapter 11.10

That night Brig slept fitfully, partly because of his partner’s snoring, but also because of the high-altitude. He no longer suffered from headaches, but at this altitude, he struggled even harder for every breath. He couldn’t fathom how some elite climbers were able to summit Everest without oxygen. Freaks of nature. Brig thought respectfully.

At around 4 a.m, while James slept, Brig prepared for his next move. The storm continued to rage and had added another twelve inches of new snow during the night. Brig worried that James would once again try to postpone their ascent to EBC. Brig rose from his bed and dressed as quietly as possible. James had conveniently placed the Jeep’s keys on a table that sat near the room’s exit. Brig withdrew the remaining wads of money from his pack and set them on the table as he picked up the keys. Before opening the door to leave, Brig looked down at the slumbering New Zealander. James had rolled over on to his side, and his snoring had stopped for the moment. Brig sighed and thought how ironic and sad it was that he had developed such a strong friendship with James in such a short time and at this point in his life.

Brig resolutely turned away and prepared to make a run for the Jeep. He knew James would wake up as soon as the door opened, but James would be in his underwear and bare feet, surprised and unprepared to stop Brig from driving away in his Jeep.

“Goodbye James,” Brig whispered as he laid his hand on the doorknob.

“Safe travels my friend,” Brig heard James respond from beneath his covers.

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