When I was in high school I chased a boy who chased a girl out to Colorado. He was tall and firm and thickly built with shoulder length wavy hair and he always carried around a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions and he smoked pot and he played football and he graduated and moved out to Colorado to be a cowboy. We’d “gone out” a few times and even though I knew there were “other girls,” I thought I was special. I could make him laugh and I would remind him of that as soon as I got out to Colorado. Until I found myself on a ski hill for the first time in my life with Hot Cowboy and Ski Girl who was all Scandinavian come hither; sun-burnished skin and glossy blond hair and electrifying blue eyes and pouty lips and long slim colt-like legs. These were not humans. These were Super Humans and they had their super human limbs wrapped around one another and before I could think of something funny to say to win him back, she gracefully swooshed away and he swooshed after her down the powdery slope with utter abandon. I tumbled and slid and cried all the way to the bottom and swore I’d never ski or love again.
Fast forward many years later after I’d way gotten over Colorado Boy (I mean what a player, and I’d heard he’d gotten pudgy and was selling insurance or something like that), and my smart, funny, handsome, athletic husband-to-be and I had recently moved to New Hampshire. One night he said something like: “You ski, don’t you?” And I guess because I thought “don’t you” implied I do, I said: “Of course. I skied Colorado.” And then I prayed that skiing would cease to exist the world over. Or least in New Hampshire.
Which isn’t exactly what happened. What happened was, that winter, my husband-to-be invited two of his best friend’s from his high school ski team up to New Hampshire for a ski weekend.
We rode the ski lift up past the bunny hill, past the blue squares, past the first set of black diamonds, all the way up to the double black diamond slope called TREACHEROUS. And I fell face first off the lift and then barely inched my way over to the top of the run and glanced over the death-defying cliff and turned to my husband-to-be and said, “I can’t do this.” And he said, “Oh come on just do it,” And then he and his Olympic Ski Pals swooshed away. And I stood there sick out of my mind, wondering who invented this ski thing. Why anyone would willingly strap long slippery things on the bottom of their feet and throw themselves down the side of an icy mountain. I tried to will the entire concept away. And when that didn’t work, I took a leap of faith and swooshed after them and tripped over my skis and fell and rolled and slid and fell some more and rolled and rolled and eventually ended up in a patch of woods. I lifted my head in time to see my skis skiing themselves down the hill without me. I stood up and brushed myself off and walked the rest of the way down the mountain, sideways.
At the bottom of the slope, I reached into my pocket for the keys to the car, thinking I would go get the packed lunch we left in the car and meet everyone in the lodge and my zipper was down and my pocket was empty.
By then my husband-to-be was right up next to me. “What took you so long? Are you okay?”
“I fell and I lost my skis but I’m okay.”
“We can rent you another pair,” he said.
“No. I’m done skiing for the day. But I need to tell you that I lost the keys to the car.”
“You what? Are you kidding? How could you do that?
“I don’t know… how could you have brought me here and left me at the top of that trail when I can’t ski?”
“You told me you could ski.”
“And you believed me? Couldn’t you tell I was petrified?”
“Why would you lie to me?”
“Because… because I thought you wanted me… to be someone who could ski…”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said and stormed away.
Somehow we made it home that day and down the aisle six months later and I didn’t ski again until our second child was three and she begged me to take her for the free ski lessons at the slope nearby and I reluctantly took lessons alongside her. And now I can ski. Only the blue squares and never without fear and never with abandon.
I always thought this story was about my husband pressuring me to lie to him because he knew how ski and I didn’t and abandoning me on a double black diamond and then not being empathetic when I lost the keys and making me fearful of skiing. So that even after learning how to ski, I never really learned. That’s how it played out in my mind and in our marriage all these years.
But as I write this I realize that my pretending to know how to ski wasn’t about my husband at all. It was something old and shallow I’d dragged into our marriage. It was about me wanting to be a girl I wasn’t and trying to impress a boy who never was or ever would be mine.
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