I pause just beyond the falls as my eyes adjust to the light. The air inside is thick and moist, making it difficult to breathe. As I begin to move forward again, emotion suddenly overwhelms me, and I feel tears well up from my belly. My throat tightens against the pain. I do not know why I feel so moved. It is as if the pure essence of the cave is to cry.
Taking a few deep breaths, I force myself forward and into the mountain. I do not fear the presence of other people or animals in here. I know we are alone, and we are both safe. Still, I do feel ‘her’ close by, in the space with me. She is crouching somewhere in the dark, somewhere she feels protected. I move carefully to avoid upsetting her. At this moment, she is like a wounded animal. She is extremely vulnerable and may strike without warning. I estimate she would only do this as a last resort and only if she felt genuinely threatened by my presence in the cave. However, I know I must be careful not to present myself in any way she might consider a threat.
Before moving too deep into the cave, I call out, “Amber? I know you’re here, sweetheart. I came to help you and to let you help me. Will you please come out and talk to me?”
A picture fills the room. It is as if someone flipped a switch, transporting me to an underground shipyard. A deep, wide river rages beside me, overcoming the sound of the waterfall. Docks on either side extend along the river bank, following it to where it finally disappears around a distant bend. I stand on the pier to the right of the water, stalled between the cave wall and the raging torrent rushing by me. Looking down, I can see ladders descend from the docks into the black water, but I can’t imagine who would use them on a river flowing this rapidly.
The dock on the other side of the river is much larger, with one or two rooms jetting out above it. Small, wooden steps, maybe four or five in total, climb to a large platform just outside of the entrance to what I assume must be offices. I can’t know for sure. The lights are off inside. Everything is dark beyond the small, square panels of glass cut into the large metal doors currently dividing the deck from the rest of the space.
At the end of the platform, light spills from large bay doors that are open to the top. The light exposes large wooden crates just inside of the doorway and along the edge of the platform. The picture is nearly complete, except there are no people in it. As I stand here, taking in the scene, I wonder if I will need to find a way to cross to the other side. Then, a faint sense of recognition bubbles up from deep within my mind. This place reminds me of something, and though I grasp for it, I cannot grab hold of the memory.
Before I can make too much of my recognition, a woman steps forward, through the large bay doors. She stands backlit at the edge of the platform, not much more than a silhouette as she confidently observes me. Her blonde hair lightly lifts despite the complete absence of a breeze. She wears tight black leather that nearly covers every inch of her skin. It is obvious the suit is both flexible and dense and designed to protect her in battle. Tall black boots and a riding crop complement her ensemble.
She is a powerful, assertive woman and is about to confront my presence in this place when finally it comes to me. So many scenes, from nearly every action-adventure movie I remember watching, suddenly flood my mind. This place would be the home of a nemesis to someone like Bond, or the scene where illegal traffic travels through impossible underground networks. This would be the villainous operation that threatens the safety of the entire planet and life as we know it. It is the place where he will come, to finally save the woman and the day. In the final moments of the movie, he will make everything right. Which of us is the villain, I wonder? Then, I decide it doesn’t matter. I can’t let myself get caught in her stories.
With a simple wave of my hand, I dismiss the picture, and it fades. I find myself once again standing alone in the center of the cave. I remember conversations I’ve had with Heather, stories where Amber became engrossed with the idea of being a secret agent. I think this image of being a heroin helped her feel safe in a world crumbling around her. We both know this is not Mission Impossible. She is merely trying to distract me. Calling out to a hollow cave, I try to appeal to her, “Honey, you don’t need to do that. I just came to talk to you, nothing else.”
Looking around the cave, I’m pretty sure I know which rock she is crouched behind, but I do not approach it. I sit instead, with my legs crossed in the middle of the cave floor.
“It’s O.K,” I say. “I can wait.” And I do. I wait for as long as it takes.
I don’t know how much time passes or if time even happens here, but eventually, she does come out. She climbs from behind her rock, walking toward me as though nothing has happened. She comes and sits directly across from me, mimicking my posture. This is Amber as she found herself the last few months of her life. She is much harder, much more protected than the Amber I met. I can feel her watching me closely, challenging me to make a mistake. If I do, she will pounce, like a lioness upon her prey.
I proceed cautiously, careful not to misstep, both for my protection and for hers.
I don’t look in her eyes as I begin. I look instead to the place where my hands rest in my lap as I begin, “I apologize for following you today. I’m sorry for infringing on your space, but I need your help. In fact, I think we might be able to help each other.”
To this, she finally responds, “There is nothing you would have that could help me.” She is both defiant and defeated. Still, her firm position dares me to disagree.
I do not disagree. Disagreeing will not help. So, I concede and ask for her help instead, “O.K. Well, is there anything else I could offer in trade for your assistance?”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.” At this, she stands; as if to say our conversation is now over.
I do not move.
She stalls. She expected me to leave.
My hackles rise as I feel her agitations increase, but I remain seated, saying, “I will wait.”
Slightly confused, she walks away. She anticipated me forcing help upon her, but I have taken the passive role. I have patience. I will be silent, and she will walk herself to the place where we need to be.
Now, I have asked her for assistance, so she must begin to lose some of her edge. This is how it must be. Amber will not refuse the needs of another. She is not capable of this kind of denial, no matter how confused or agitated she feels. She doesn’t have the upper hand with me, which is disconcerting, but she will not; she cannot deny my request. It is not in her to do so.