I don’t know when I had fallen asleep, or for that matter fallen into a cryogenic freezer which has taken me to a point in the future, because when I wake up I’m surrounded by walls of ice and rock.
” What did you do?” I roar at the driver. They jump, startled by my course abruptness, the pen and postcard flinging themselves across Darth Vader.
” Uh, well, I may have taken a wrong turn… or twelve,” they swallow, recovering swiftly.
“Well, I suppose there is nothing we can do about it now,” I sigh as I rub my eyes, sleep still stinging me and making it difficult to see clearly. ” Since you got us here, why don’t you fill up the tank and I’ll get us a room. I might as well tell you what happened when I went to Colorado for the last time.”
“The last time? You mean you never went back? What happened?”
Oh, something happened alright, something that would prevent traveling from happening for a long time. But there was no point in scaring myself- not yet. I shrug and throw them twenty bucks and another postcard. Then I saunter into the hotel, preparing the words I needed to say over and over in my head, a never ending carousel.
The room is large, but other then that unremarkable; the plain walls are just as unadorned as any other room, with the exception of a Matisse painting hanging above the closet. I throw myself onto the double bed, my old bones sinking happily into the softness, and close my eyes, my mind drifting back to those days so fresh, so undefined as to roam like animals, abiding by our own rules and own unspoken stipulations- which was mostly: don’t be a supreme butthead.
I was picked up at Denver airport in a red land rover, although it took me awhile to find it because of the numerous levels and expansiveness that I still underestimated. Once I was inside, however, I found to my surprise Wanderlust accompanied by Sweet Tea. My comfort level dropped slightly as my self assurance drained and was refilled by inferiority. I dreaded the moment that inevitable came: the Great Disconnect. A void which spread wider and wider as I drifted further and further, the Great Disconnect brought about a terrible loneliness that struck like ice and transformed me into a lamp that was occasionally looked at but never anything more. Still, I shook away the dread, not wanting to disrupt the birthday weekend with a black cloud looming, ready to strike and burn anything- innocent or guilt- to the ground.
After a night resting in Denver as far away from the cataclysmic snoring that was Wanderlust’s trademark, we drive off once more- with the comatose, altitude sick, and perpetually drunk Drunken Musketeer- towards the mountains where fresh snow awaited us. The car stacked with enough supplies to last through five winters( well, maybe one because we tend to inhale everything like a vacuum, although surprisingly our plans for a big breakfast went to waste in favor for more chocolate cake), our only stop was the rental shop to pick up skis that would be used for only one run.
For once, there was no need to stop; staying in one place surrounded by tall snow capped mountains with roaming buffalo was all I needed, which caused me to pause. Could I live here? Often I have roamed like the buffalo, sniffing new places and new things despite a hesitance, but I have always come back to the familiar. Could I- or should I- break away from the familiar and cross into a new world which would be shaped and molded however I wanted? The indecision shivered, pulling my leash and yanking me away from a terrifying yet exhilarating idea. I resisted the tug, however, it kept creeping back: the exhilaration would fade, and the change would no longer be temporarily but rather permanent.
A land so white with Mountains so tall The villages hide from The naked eye And from a man who Is not quite a man But something more that Terrifies The villages and their children, Their dogs and their cats. The man who is not quite a man But rather something more Crawls through the white, The mountains The ice Until he comes to a frozen Mouth and Slides, slides, slides Down a frozen hole And finds others who are Something more Waiting and smiling Laughing and playing Behind doors closed To the terrifying world.
The door to the hotel creaks open. Legs shuffle across the carpet, and I hear an “Ow!” as they slam their knee against the television stand. Abruptly they switch on the lights, and a violent stream of brightness forces my lids to pop open in shock.
“Are you sleeping still?” they ask incredulously, their young brain still hardwired with endless amounts of energy. I suppose I am too, despite old age trying to stop my bones, my muscles, my limbs, from going faster than a snap. Yet I am tired. The tiredness comes from the weight shackling me to the earth and I think I am ready to be released from it.
“Come, sit down and rest. I still have more to tell you.”
The cabin we rented was gorgeous; it was a two level, modernized affair with a little nostalgia thrown in between. For instance, we abused the record player with vinyls of Taylor Swift and The Doors. Downstairs we stretched out in the mud room, taking turns playing Mario Cart, which inevitably turned aggressive but in a way that made me forget the looming cloud that brought the Great Disconnect. In fact, despite a few threats, the Great Disconnect was unable to pull me apart.
“Sometimes to have fun, you have to allow yourself to become untethered to the thing that prevents you from having fun. If you are afraid to enjoy yourself because of the inevitable, then you won’t enjoy yourself.”
“Kind of like the self fulling prophecy,” they say with a scowl. I laugh. I hated that term, a term that seemed to define the undefinable, and the more I resisted the definition, the more defined I made myself to be. A victim of my own stubborn choices which refused to bend.
“Yeah. And I know you may be thinking, how can it be a prophecy if it’s right? Because you made it so. The Great Disconnect is constructed by our own insecurities, which makes it all the more harder to make it disappear when you’ve convinced yourself thoroughly that there is no connection; the land line is forever buzzing with that awful beep.”
The threats of the Great Disconnect were kept at bay most notably because of the tent in the child’s room. I immediately claimed it for myself, hiding away in a fort that provided a respite from people and my own thoughts as I submerged myself into comfortable, child-like whims. Staring at the cloth that made up my own private walls, my thoughts drifted to the family that owned the place. What were they like? They had a sense of style, sure, but there was something else, something more playful and free.
“You know, there is something about traveling and finding a place to stay. Hotels, they lack character. A house, however, tells you more about the people who live there and you get to live in their shadow, knowing them as much as the wind knows the leaves as it brushes by. I know what I said about people, but getting to know the traces could lead to bigger things. In this case, an effusive game night filled with riotous laughter and unfathomable frustration as Catan takes over four hours to play and the eventual victor is someone who has never played the game, causing the experienced and strategic Drunken Musketeer to nearly flip the table.”
“How many people were in that lodge, celebrating Wanderlust?”
” A good twelve or so. Don’t worry, at that point it wasn’t my first rodeo, although the first rodeo was quite a spectacle,” I roll onto my side, getting myself comfortable. ” It can be hard, you know, recovering from the snake bites. Once you have been bitten over and over by the reptile whose thin smile hides those sharp fangs which pounce unexpectedly, you grow a little weary, flinching at the merest movement and afraid to be bitten again. How many bites do you have so far?”
They remain silent, their lips stretching tightly as they turn their back and hunch over the postcard. I’ve struck something; I knew I would. But suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, they begin to sing:
The doe waits It's legs haunched Ready to spring As the click rings through Trees shielding the doe From the thing it feared The most A giant with eyes So like its own Blue and green Yet missing something That makes it Not the same Click, click, click Run, run, run The giant whose eyes Are like theirs Blue and green Yet missing something That makes it not the same Because the doe knows Click, click, click It wants to live Run, run, run While the giant does not Care because they are Not the same
One evening was spent rushing to the pool with ten minutes to spare before closing. We decided last minute to soak ourselves in the hot tub, although because of a rule I have about not showing twice in one day, I rolled up my jeans and dipped my fit in the hotness which wormed its way through my toes and muffled my ears so I couldn’t hear the gibberish floating in the air. Even if I could here, it would have been meaningless; so often I lack the same shared experience that most people seem to have that I cannot latch myself onto those conversations, therefore creating the Great Disconnect. I nodded and smiled along, pretending I knew what was going on while losing myself in the heat, in the dreams popping inside my head like fireworks, each one more exciting than the other. Sometimes Wanderlust would pull me down from the sky with a question, and I would answer it halfheartedly, throwing a dash of vagueness to hide the embarrassment of the truth.
“I was told once that I should smile, even if I have to fake it because it was better than the truth. Sometimes, people are going to give you horrible advice.”
“Are you going to give me horrible advice?”
I shrug. “What kind of advice would you say?”
They look at me, perplexed. “Why did you go on this trip?”
“Because every trip is worth something, whether it’s the physical beauty of the landscape, it’s mountains and valleys painted with crafted strokes that detail the ideal balance of perfection and imperfection. And certain people are worth it, even if there are others you will never see again. And it’s okay not to see them again. The important thing is to meet them, give them a try no matter how uncomfortable.”
I can tell you I was not comfortable meeting the couple at the hot springs. The ease in which they were ingratiated into our group was something I both envied and distasted, although perhaps it was because there wasn’t enough space in the pool and they were taking up spots I wanted. Another rule I have is not sitting on top of people unless absolutely necessary. This was not necessary.
Before we finally left, we had to wrangle Drunken Musketeer out of the spa area. As wondrous as the heat is for sore and aching bones, it apparently does nothing to soothe the altitude sickness. Pro tip: Know if you can physically stomach the location before making the plan to travel out. Another pro tip: Know the extremities of seasonal change; some winters are much harsher than the summer while some places are just harsher in general. As we drove through the winding roads between mountains which released a cavalcade of avalanches and rock slides, we stopped on a ledge to take pictures. Pictures with the camera are equally as important as pictures with the mind: both keep a record of things that shouldn’t be forgotten but can easily be shoved into the back to make room for other files and boxes. I can say in that moment there was only happiness, and I clung to it as a child clung to a teddy bear.
Up on the mountain, I clung to it even more as a slid into my boots and skis and took the first lift up. It was nice for once sharing it with friends instead of strangers, although with strangers it is just as exciting- or obnoxious depending if you get stuck with a bunch of cringe worthy teenagers whose vocabulary is limited to the likes of “Bro” and “Dude” and manic laughter- because you get to collect new lives, new stories, and new perspectives. You might even fall into pleasant conversation and wish it didn’t end in five minutes and forty seconds, or perhaps its an awkward conversation and you wish that five minutes and forty seconds would pass faster.
“Surprisingly, a lot can happen on a ski lift. Usually I like to keep to myself, all bundled up in a black attire: black pants, black windbreaker, black helmet. I swear, I’ve been mistaken for a little boy on several occasions, which was fantastic because I felt like I could be anyone and it didn’t matter.”
“Perhaps you should have been a mascot,” they say, finally falling onto the soft bed.
“Perhaps I should have been a lot of things. But its hard to tell without someone to guide me.”
Silence breaks the chain binding us together, and it falls loose, hitting the floor with a resounding clang. An unspoken expectation settled in, and I did not want to confront it. What was the point of sending that advertisement out, specifically searching for myself if not to guide them in the way they should have been a long time ago? What folly am I committing?
If only I was back on top of that mountain, the cold licking my cheeks while the snow waited for me to come rushing down, playing a song inside of my head and screaming in jubilation. What better way to release indecision, to set it loose like a bird, then to soar like the bird through powder that could not be found back East? I barreled downhill with controlled speed, spreading my wings out wide so I could fly once I reached a steadier slope. Freedom. Absolute freedom filled my lungs, and alone I could scream, I could be who I wanted to be before it disappeared again, before the Great Disconnect tried to cast its shadow once more. Of course, I was quickly separated from the rest of the group after that first run. Many decided to explore a different face of the mountain while others wanted to get a beer. I wanted to explore and challenge myself. I wanted to be free.
Freedom. What did that truly mean? From the top I look down. I see the expensive lodge: two or three levels with fine bathrooms and even finer food. Lockers to store gear which on average cost a few thousand dollars, if not more. Many of the faces are white. In this context- in the context of many white people- freedom is a privilege. Only the wealthy can afford to do such an elegant activity( as brusque as I treat skiing with my rag tag garments and used gear, many others treat it with the properness of the born elite, the bourgeois) and the wealthy are primarily white. It disgusts me the lack of diversity, but it disgusts me more the economic disparity. But what can I do at the moment? I do what I can and hide inside my shell, inside the mountains.
” I kept myself distracted, releasing everything into the wind and snow, and focusing on taking on double blacks and bowls, some of the most difficult courses. If I can face these difficulties head on, I should be able to face others, no matter how many times I face plant and slide fifty yards in the snow. Because I will get back up, even if its a struggle because forces are trying to pull me down, and go back down to the same lift and do it again and again until I have gotten it right. But again, facing those black diamonds is less scary than facing real life,” I shove the silence aside, repairing the chains and fitting them onto us as bracelets rather than shackles.
They shift in the bed, turning to face me. ” You know, maybe I should go skiing again. It’s been awhile.”
I yawn, the last of my energy finally drained and succumbing once again to sleep’s powerful pull. ” It has been a while. You should since you now know how to drive. I just saved you about a years’ worth of work. You’re welcome.”
With that said, I hear no more from them. Yet wisps of cold smoke wiggle into my mind, breathing in short, succinct bursts: They are drowning. Are you going to let them drown? Is that what you want? Give them all the life floats. All of them.
The wisps disappear as quickly as they come. They are replaced by distorted dreams in which I’m sure to forget come morning.