Time passes as it always does; either too fast in which we beg for it to stop and slow down, dreading what the day, week, month, or year brings us or dreading what we may miss as something grows and changes as it is supposed to, or too slow in which we beg to hasten it, to get through moments too unbearable to stand in mud for. I’m not a keeper of time anymore, for instead of fearing it, I have treated it as a friend, and like a friend I don’t always see it coming except from a few signs- in this case, the changing of the season. The sky is white, plain and thin, like a veil hanging over the bride who wishes to remain hidden for their groom. Little snowflakes dance gently down, licking the streets, the lamp posts, the grungy man in the parka walking his puffy little dog, and eventually me.
My companions jump, started. The woman with the beautiful name swirls around and around, dancing with the snowflakes in a performance of a lifetime. My younger self smiles, clasping the flakes in outstretched hands and wiping it down their face. The fresh coldness seeps into their skin, rinsing, cleansing, repeating.
I silently move away, watching them in their own bubble, their own snow globe, their own wonderland. I begin to write, recording a memory I do not wish to forget, if only because it reflects a decision I wasn’t sure I should make.
There was a day in late winter, a day in which it wasn’t particularly strange, a day in which everything seemed exhausting. Working was exhausting. Laughing was exhausting. Walking and eating were exhausting. There was an unsatisfactory blandness creeping over me, and soon a dark shadow followed. What was the point of all this? I could hear the snickers, the taunting, the songs:
Over the bridge the woodpecker flies Landing on the head of a child who lies Peck! Peck! Peck! Peck! Peck! Peck! Over and over the woodpecker cries "Stop, oh stop, with all your lies!" Over the bridge the child runs Their feet slipping on a crusty old bun Stolen out of a bit of good fun And dropped and lost, no longer desired The child, instead, went to play with fire Burning the barn down by the corner Of the bridge where the woodpecker flies Knowing all about the child's lies Peck! Peck! Peck! Peck! Peck! Peck! Inside lies a man pale with death "How dare you steal his last breath!" The woodpecker flies After the child full of lies Running, running, running away Out into the middle of a frozen bay Their feet slipping and sliding Their body nearly colliding With all the lies they ever told In the shape of a giant wooden pole Where the woodpecker lands and waits For the child to release their hate In words speaking the truth Of all the things they've done and do Peck! Peck! Peck! Peck! Peck! Peck! The ice begins to go light And the child panics in fright As it finally breaks And a hand comes up and takes The breathe that was stolen from her.
I needed to go, to leave, to run away, if only to escape my head and the swarming thoughts making me so restless. So, of course it meant a trip somewhere far, yet I wanted to be reasonable, to not be superfluous and irresponsible, conserving myself for a future I had not fully planned, a future that changed with uncertainty as ideas changed but knowing there would be a future one day where I would have my own place, designed in my own way and revealing my own flavor, my own character, my own likes and personality despite how bogged down in the mud they can be sometimes.
Where would I go, though? It wasn’t exactly ideal to get on a plane- or rather, a space ship -and just leave all humanity behind for some faraway place stretching the limits of existence. Before calamity struck at the oil- which, to be fair, may be inconvenient, but it is better to pay extra than have to pay my own life, fleeing and escaping with no safe place to hide except perhaps the bordering neighbors, if their noses weren’t so far up their asses to stick me in a cage begging for freedom( even then, I suppose, a cage is better than no life at all)- the option for a opportune, practically elitist escape, was by car.
I grew up being outside, doing anything I could get my hands on- water balloons, a bike, a surf board, a basketball. Skiing was something I was put into, just like karate but unlike karate it lasted much longer. For a while, we would go almost everywhere we could think of-mostly up North and on the East coast, which wasn’t as good as out West, but I didn’t matter to me. I liked going up and down the mountain, sometimes face planting into a pile of snow that felt fresh and cool. Of course, I’d get back up, determine to complete the course again without falling, but tempted regardless to scoop up the snow and throw it in my face. Because winter, like most people if I’m being optimistic rather than cynical, isn’t all bad. Yes, it can be bitter and harsh, remorseless and callous, uncaring, but it can also be gentle and kind, the crispness soothing and welcoming, massaging the cheeks and skin so everything that I carry just suddenly falls away, rolling down the hill in a snowball less destructive than an avalanche.
Of course, it was an expensive hobby. Tickets alone to any resort was a minimum of sixty bucks during the night, seventy and upwards during the day, the average hitting around one thirty. Then there was the equipment: the boots needed to strap yourself to thin pieces of wood that carried you down the mountain, the pants and googles and helmet and gloves to keep you safe and warm, and the pieces of wood themselves, which come in different lengths and thickness, the edges curved or wider depending on your style. It was a lifestyle, that was for sure, and the types of people it usually attracted came from a certain range: money.
Perhaps that isn’t fair of me to say; snobbery can work both ways- the rich looking down at the poor, and the poor looking down at the rich, thinking they are heartless monsters. In some cases, they are, as in the case of the young white girl skiing down the mountain with the equivalent of the confederate flag on her back( and she could do it; there was not a single minority in sight on this West Virginia mountain), but in other cases its about a family just wanting others and themselves to have fun. With all the horrible stuff that goes on in the world everyday, it’s nice to have a piece of fun, whatever that may look like, and no one should have the right to take that away.
I decided that I would go back to the place of my childhood, Snowshoe Mountain, and look at it through a fresh perspective. There was no way I could afford staying in the resort, the prices skyrocketing to an amount which seemed reasonable if I was making six figures, and now I wondered how it was that our family managed to stay in one of those places. As a child, I had no idea what was going on and just went along with everything, especially if it was going to be fun. I realize now what I didn’t realize then: it was a one and done trip, and we would not be going back.
I rented a place about forty minutes away in a small, simple town. It was a family run inn, a bed and breakfast that provided a homely feel, although the walls were quite thin. The host was amiable enough, but that’s the thing- hosts are typically amiable if requests are kept to a minimum and the guest just keeps to themselves. He did point out a local pizza joint, one of the few establishments- if not only establishments- in town that was a decent spot. I don’t know if he was serious or not, but he said it gets pretty busy on the weekends around town. When the weekend came, it was as empty as a dried out well and as silent as a graveyard. What noise I heard came from the barking dogs that yapped as I passed them, walking to see what the town had to offer. Perhaps it was judgmental of me to believe so, but I thought because it was a small town all it had to offer was a small mind.
I was surprised to find an opera house across from a quite ostentatious bank. Few buildings were given care and devotion; most, including the three churches found within three blocks( a testament to how devoutly religious small towns tended to be, keeping their exposure to different ideas to a minimum while also maintaining a strong presence) were a little run down, the paint either chipped or peeled off in patches, and the windows smokey, if not downright boarded up. Yet the opera house and bank were given a priority, as well as a few shops along the main stretch in order to attract appeal. It wasn’t a big opera house, and it was attached near a consignment and antique shop, but it was enough to allow a performance, mostly of history, but the stage out back indicated some more creative opportunities. I wondered how creative people were allowed to be- but perhaps that was my fear and pessimism talking. Regardless, it was best to just smile and play along, put on a mask everyone could agree with, especially those whose atmosphere screamed ” If you try to argue, I will double down instead of listen.” That atmosphere tended to include men with thick, long beards, a hard face with deep lines made from working in the sun, and a strident laughter.
But I came with a purpose, and besides eating, I didn’t linger too long, bringing with me as always a book for distraction and a way to keep me in the background. Each day was more or less the same: I woke, I ate something, then I drove to the mountain, trying my best to avoid the herds of those I knew I didn’t belong with, which probably wasn’t fair to think, the reverse snobbery and cynicism driving me to make judgements, although I would say there were two exceptions: the nice older gentleman and his relative companion, and the group of energetic twenty-somethings having a good time tailgating in the parking lot. With the latter, they were having unapologetic, unabashed fun, and there was something amusing, if not downright freeing, watching them bask in a moment where all the hate and horrors of the world were gone, replaced by smiles and a lightlessness that made them float like a feather before being pinned down by a rock again.
As for the older man, I experienced a rare gift of riding the lift with him twice. Normally, that wouldn’t happen because the odds were slim with that many people and how frequently the same slope, same direction, and same purpose was shared. But the lift was a double edge sword: it was either the best experience or the worst experience. The older man I got to learn parts of his story, the young man and his son I got to watch a bonding moment( a moment so charming and innocent, yet the best part was when the son asked what fireball was and the dad responded he’d learn about it later), the older woman I got to learn where the best places to go were and what other places I should go to while I still can, and the silence of having a lift to myself I got to learn to have more patience, to watch the sky dip from blue to gold, and reflect on past choices to try to correct from. Nature truly is a place to be contemplative, to think without the chaotic muddle of every day getting in the way.
The worst part, however, were listening to some of the most awful people, watching their venom drip from poisonous lips, and begging the lift to get me off as quick as possible. I also begged that I would never end up like them- the girl with the racist flag most notably. As for the others, I knew we shared nothing in common, and my own oddity stuck out starkly in comparison. I know I should not compare myself to other people, but sometimes its hard when I’m the only frog in a room full of lizards. Sometimes, I wish there were more frogs- others who also didn’t have that experience of growing up reflected in so many coming of age movies. For once, I’d love to see a character who didn’t do drugs or drink, or hook up with people, or socialize. For once, I’d love to see the character hop around on their own, choosing the shelter of the outdoor over the chaotic messiness brought on by all those things a person was supposed to have. Because I was reminded once again of the things I was lacking, the things that I was supposed to do to make me like everyone else. I know I don’t want to be like everyone else, but being weird can be lonely. My loneliness was reflected in the fact that nearly everyone on the slope was here with at least one other person. I was by myself, alone but achingly lonely.
In the silver tree the lone dove cries With a voice too dry Too stringy Too unpleasant to cling to And the wild doves fly Away from the silver tree and the one that cries Their voice imperfect, a little cracked Yet they sing with all the might in their little back Smaller than the others, too small To be ever seen by those flying tall In the silver tree the lone dove waits On a branch made to carry One or two more Lonely doves With a voice too dry Too stringy Only pleasant to cling to Because it is their own Not like those clones Flying together, too much alike And too afraid to strike Their own chords In the silver tree the lone dove hops From branch to branch Kicking flecks of snow like an avalanche They fall, fall, fall down To the bottom Touching the head of a little lone opossum Lost on its own Looking for a new home Because their voice is too dry, Too stringy Too unpleasant to cling to By those who prefer one note Instead of two From the silver tree the lone dove hops Down, down, down to the Snow covered ground Where the opossum picks A handful of sticks Building a new home Where they would live all alone Except for the dove Who smiles and cries And begs the opossum not to be shy For lost in the woods away from the rest They were two creatures in need of a guest And they build side by side Their voices not too dry Nor too stringy Just different enough To be so much alike.
Except I wasn’t truly alone. I had the mountains, which for all its beauty was surrounded by some ugly folks. It’s ironic how those bred in the city tend to have a better understanding of acceptance than those bred in the country, in a area where there was so much beauty, although I suppose the city has its own unique beauty, depending which part of the person it reaches. I understand this tendency has to do with a lack of originality; the city has creative outlets where the country has a sameness, a ruggedness, that hardly changes. There may also be a lack of educational opportunity and resources, but all I know is as someone who hates change as part of their disability, there are able-bodied folks who hate change worse than I do.
The air was crisp and fresh, the snow decent. I had to hike around a bit, the slopes were spread out between three separate terrains, all of which worked in the opposite of what I was expecting, that was to get back to the parking lot or lodge to rest I had to take the lift up. If I didn’t get back over in time before they closed, I either had to take a shuttle back or else hike. Of course this happened, which wasn’t the worse thing that could have happened( I did accidentally leave behind my credit card at the local pizza joint for a day and a night before getting it back, I did witness some three guys search the slope for their missing phone, and I did witness a deer sprint across the slope, nearly toppling over unsuspecting riders which definitely would have made it a bad day). Already exhausted from burning my legs out on one of the most adrenaline fulfilling slopes, I burned them even more hiking a quarter of a mile back to the car that awaited me. Again, it was worth it. Later, my body would ache, but it was a good ache. It was the ache of a fresh release.
There was one slope I couldn’t get enough of, one slope that made me feel so alive, so free; there was one slope that made me forget about the bad in the world and remember the good. Shay’s Revenge. Of course, it was a double black, or extremely advanced slope, and those slopes usually were the ones that stayed with me. Typically they were emptied, devoid of the crowd of bodies that liked to take things slow. I wanted the challenge, the speed, the crisp, cold wind rushing behind my back, making me fly like a bird. I suppose that would be my superpower, if I could have one. Flight. I want to fly, and not in some contraption, although it would realistically have to do. It’s funny, how often I wish to fly and it never crossed my mind to become a pilot, and perhaps its because, alongside other aspects of life, I’m worried about crashing and falling, unable to get back up and start again.
That’s the hard thing about a career: seems like I’m supposed to pick one and stick with it because changing to another seems too daunting, more daunting than going down a steep, icy slope with nothing to stop me but my own legs. But then I’m left with a never ending question: what am I doing with my life? On the slope, it was easy to figure it out; if I fall, I get back up and run the slope again until I don’t fall. Off the slope, however, I’m too afraid to make a move and I don’t rush, preferring to be like those hesitate skiers questioning whether they should make the jump down something looking pretty icy. What if I don’t succeed? Is there any going back to where it was safer? As someone who has been lacking a sense of safety for a long time, I clung to it, only going down when I know I’ll be fine. I know I’ll be fine going down the mountain, but I don’t know if I’ll be fine if I make a big move, a big change, a break from the safe and the comfortable.
That’s what was so funny- visiting the mountain as a child I didn’t have these big worries, nor did I comprehend how the world worked. I took everyone at face value, so if you smiled, I probably thought you were a good person if I wasn’t wrapped up in another daydream. It was such a simpler time, and I wish I could go back to that innocence, where laughter took up more space than anger. But that isn’t how it works because the world evolves and grows, and we need to evolve and grow with it. If we stay inside the shelter, it doesn’t mean we won’t still get burned when the fire comes- it only means there will be nothing for us to put out the fire because of our refusal.
At the end of my last day on the slope, I stopped for a bite to eat in a little eatery that welcomed bikers. I also got the sense that it didn’t welcome certain type of people if it was known, although at least there was subtlety. But perhaps I was wrong and I was projecting a sense of fear of being different, for the waitress who took my order appeared to be a foreigner, her accent thick and heavy, suggesting somewhere Scandinavian. However, that could be a card, a trick to say ” Hey, we’re not racists, you see, we hire foreigners!” I took my food, then took my seat, watching the water flow down the stream from the window beside me.
As much as I had been eager to get away, I was just as eager to leave, a sense of distrust nagging at me. The Great Disconnect, too, was poking and prodding at me, reminding me that I was living on the wrong planet, that I wasn’t apart of the things I should have been apart of. Only when I was alone, away from the crowds, with nothing but nature between me did I forget all of that. I feel like I’ve always heard a person could either be a city person or a country person. Why was it that these were the only options? I always found myself, no matter what it was, that I was that third option, somewhere in between, but I have yet to travel, to discover a place that is that in between.
How did the saying go? ” You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” I supposed it would be too good to be true to have a place as flowing and free as the mountains with a liberated and unconstrained mindset as well. Or perhaps I have further exploring yet to do, mostly on my own, but hopefully with some good people beside because it can be hard to ski mountains without the equipment.
The drive back was different, not just in route but in contemplation. Most places I go to I’d like to revisit, or if I can’t, I take away something positive from the moment, or try to. This was different; not necessarily negative but rather more neutral, more indifferent. I saw the past, revisited it through different eyes, a more evolved and grown up lens, and now I have no desire to go back. I just want to leave the memory where it was- preserved and untouched and through a child’s not yet developed perception of how the world worked. Sometimes, that is okay to do- take a drive back down memory lane, then keep on driving into a place where better memories are made. That isn’t to say I wasn’t happy during that time; I just didn’t know what true happiness was. Perhaps I still don’t know but I want to find out, and there are some places that I’m never going to find it and West Virginia isn’t one of them- at least not for me. There are certain people drawn into that corner, and if it works for them, it works for them. It’s got to work for somebody, otherwise no one would live there, in those small corners or the massive ones. As much as I want a place for myself, so do others, even if they are the kind that prefer to spread hate for the neighbor instead of love( if only they could take their space to one specific corner, making it easier to spot them out).
Most people I know hate the winter because of the cold; I enjoy it because of the snow, and there was a lot of it while I was there, both in that small town and on the mountain, and was probably the only thing I missed upon leaving. The snow followed me into Virginia, seemingly afraid to leave me as well, for it was a beautiful thing stuck in a beautiful area marred ugly by those who don’t appreciate the beauty in both the ordinary and extraordinary. That’s the impression I received, and it’s an impression that will stick until I’m proven otherwise. I remembered the woman on the lift who was surprised I hadn’t visited the mountain in such a long time, and immediately I received an inkling of a feeling that I shouldn’t elaborate on the why: I was too poor, I lived too far away, I went through a period where I didn’t enjoy traveling or skiing because the darkness took that from me, I was afraid to be judged by the people who I could hear judge others, and so on. I gave a generic reason that satisfied her, and if I can’t be honest with people, I know it’s not the right fit for me. The typical ski crowd- with a few notable exceptions because there is always an exception to every rule- is not my type of crowd, and all I would like is the right fit so I can breathe the fresh air instead of keeping it in until it becomes stale.
Perhaps I am being ridiculous and focusing on all the wrong things. Perhaps I am not seeing the bigger picture of all the wrong things going on. Then again, perhaps I am not seeing all the right things, the good things, like the snow melting on my face, the kindness of a stranger offering to keep me steady as I surf the shuttle bus taking me to the other side of the mountain, or the willingness of a friend to hold me ears tight as the noise threatens to spin me around and around in a distorted reality, the donations distributed to those without books or clothes. There are the right things happening, and there are the right places there for people to find, the trick is just opening the eyes to see the view.
I watch my companions as they themselves study the world around them. There is my younger self still blind to the snowflakes dancing optimistically in swirls, then there is the young woman with the beautiful name too scared to touch, afraid it will bite here. As for me? I am somewhere in between, as I always have been.