Black Diamond

For those of you skiers who have met and conquered The Beast…

Looking down the slope,
I swallow fear. Then push off–
RUSH; The Beast is slain!

I’m always talking about doing a hard, challenging slope I’ve never done as “slaying the demon/beast.” Perhaps this line of thought is influenced by all the Buffy episodes I’ve been watching. I always face The Beast twice, just to cement my victory. You aren’t skiing right if you don’t occasionally scare yourself… Your skill will increase the more you challenge yourself by flying outside your comfort zone and face The Beast.

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Graduation Day

Top of Expo Lift

My friend Jennifer taught me to ski when I was 15 or 16 (I was in 10th grade). Her family had a condo at Holimont in New York and she invited me up so that she could have a friend to ski with. Skiing was not something I’d ever aspired to do, not even an option on the radar. I’m think back then I only vaguely thought of skiing. Maybe I figured it was just something Olympians did. It never occurred to me that it was something I could or would do. Like figure skating, it seemed an unattainable goal to contemplate. So when Jennifer asked me one morning while we walked the halls of the high school before home room, “Have you ever thought of learning to ski?” I responded honestly that no, I hadn’t.

It’s kind of ironic, looking back, that an activity a friend off-handedly suggest I try has become one of my favorite activities. Especially since I was never formally taught how to ski. At my own insistence, I was pretty much shown how to do a snow plow and sent on my merry way down an intermediate hill with my friend coaching me through my wedged turns. I would have been kindly taught on a bunny hill but as soon as the words “bunny hill” came out of Jennifer’s mouth, I pictured kids and scared adults gathered together on some lame tiny hill and I would have nothing of it. Jennifer was never one for coddling; when I refused the bunny hill, she pretty much shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, okay.”

But I was a teenager and teenagers are damned determined. And stubborn. I’m still that way, so I’m sure I was doubly so as a teenager. Also, teenagers are not too old that they still feel that invincibility of youth. At that point in my life, I hadn’t had any serious injuries to remind me of what pain feels like, nor did I have to pay my own medical bills. I was free as a bird, you might say. We didn’t even ski with helmets back then. I was not fully aware of how dangerous an activity skiing might be. (I guess I never read the back of my lift ticket.)

Exhibition - My first run. Ever.

My first run, as I remember it, was Exhibition. This is a long, steady blue down the front of Holimont by main lodge. I know I fell a dozen times on the way down and in my memory it seems that I took an hour to get down that run. I don’t remember if it really took an hour, but I’m betting that even as slow as those lifts go at Holimont, someone could have skied up and down that slope five times before I got to the bottom. I remember at one point, as I stood up after my umpteeth fall, I panicked at awareness that my entire world was tilted steadily downward. I knew the only way off that slope was to ski down. I was scared out of my mind at points. But ever determined.

When I finally did make it down, instead of changing my mind and heading for that bunny hill, I shouted, “Again!” And up we went. Never once did I set ski on a bunny hill throughout my beginning days as a skier. I eventually did make it to some beginner runs, but none of them were the real learning hill. I know my ski instructor friends cringe at this story. Despite the fact that I took a long time to learn how to actually ski correctly, and I still have some pretty bad habits I’m working to break, I’m proud of humble beginnings as a skier. I can say that by the end of my first weekend skiing with Jennifer, I could mostly stay on my feet. I was what they used to call “snow-plowing” and everyone could see I was a beginner, but I was having fun. And that’s what skiing is all about.

We used to buy the junior tickets, even though we were above the age for junior tickets, which were $15 back then. At that age, before I started working, it was sure a chore to save and then spend $30 for two days of lift tickets. But I did it every time I had the opportunity. It was always worth every penny.

Exhibition: The word that changed my life.

I don’t know what it is about attaching two waxed boards to your feet and sliding yourself down increasingly difficult hills covered with snow, but I’ve loved it from the moment I first started doing it. It’s like a more complicated form of sled riding. Adult play, I call it nowadays, even though there are often more young people skiing on a given day than people my age. It is an activity that makes me feel like a kid again. I’m exhilarated by the cold air in my lungs, the wind in my face as I move, the sound of the skis swooshing in the snow, the world speeding by before my eyes, the slope getting smaller and smaller as I finish the run. I love the fact that just when I’ve mastered one skill, there’s always another challenge to attempt–steeper hills, moguls, different kinds of snow. There’s always harder resorts and different beauty to behold. Skiing has made me welcome winter with open arms.

Over the last two years, I’ve experienced noticeable improvement with my skiing. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve become a regular skier. As a result, my skill level has kicked up a notch. I’ve also had to admit my failings and take a few lessons to help make it possible for my improvement to continue. During these times, I’ve momentarily felt myself sliding backwards a little as I struggled to commit to muscle memory a new set of movements. But it’s all been for the good because things people have been trying to tell me to do for years are suddenly starting to make sense. I’m feeling more stable and more confident on my skis. I’m starting to enjoy skiing even more now as I push myself to ski slopes I previously feared. I never thought I would ever reach the point where I could comfortably do black diamond runs. But last year I started attacking them. And now I’m conquering many of them here in the east–sometimes fearfully. I’m actually starting to like steep. Even when it’s a little scary…

It’s only fitting that now at the crux of my metamorphosis to the level of an advanced skier that I returned to ski Holimont yesterday. It’s not the first time I’ve been back; I have skied there twice in the last five years. But I only ever skied one black diamond run there–Wild Turkey when I was there last year and I did it somewhat fearfully. When I signed up for this mid-week trip with the Fagowees back in January, I knew that this time I was ready to take on the black diamond runs.

Coincidentally, when I got on the bus for trip, I recognized one of the trip leaders. I didn’t realize at first why I knew him. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Then pieces started to fall into place. Someone on the bus remarked that this person’s family had (or once had) a condo at Holimont. I did a double-take at the name on the information sheet for the trip. Then it hit me–this man was Jennifer’s uncle. I wrote her a quick message on Facebook with my BlackBerry to confirm because I was too cowardly to ask the guy if he was her uncle. I felt kind of stupid… so much time had passed… what if I was wrong? It wasn’t until three beers on the bus ride home that I worked up the bravery to reintroduce myself. About an hour later, Jennifer wrote me back on Facebook. Too late for me to introduce myself without sounding stupid, but oh well. Probably if she had told me, I wouldn’t have said anything. The suspense was killing me and I had to find out.

Anyway, I was on a mission yesterday. Despite having gone on a bus trip with Fagowees specifically to meet like-minded skiers, I decided to head off on my own for the day because I didn’t want to be peer-pressured into doing a run I wasn’t feeling secure about. Not that this happens to me often, but I will admit that I feel like I eat a lot of humble pie when I trek back off the top of a slope because I’m too afraid to go down it. I didn’t want anyone to see me have any emotional breakdowns, like I’m wont to have if I find myself on ice or in the middle of a slope that scares the crap out of me. Needless to say, not knowing what was ahead of me because I’d never even been in the black diamond area before, I wanted to go off on my own so that I could have my panic attacks in private. So after getting suited up quickly, I waited in line with a few other early birds, and was on the very first chair when the Expo lift opened.

To be honest, only the anticipation of the unknown caused my heart to flutter most of the day. My first run (where I made the very first tracks in the groomed snow) was down Meadow, a blue run that I remember as being more difficult, often icy, and pretty much the last stop before all the black diamond runs. I like to start my day on a blue run to remind my legs how to move like a skier. The conditions were much better than expected–grooming packed snow that cut like better when the edges of my skis pushed against it. It wasn’t the softest stuff. In fact, the bumpy groomed surface made a kind of weird noise as my skis cut across it. But it wasn’t ice. My confidence increased.

Meadow Lift (I think)

On my next run, I cut eastward, sweeping by the familiar condos on the aptly-named Condo Line run, and caught the Cascade lift to begin my black diamond experience. Part of me thought I should do another run on Meadow, but I heard my friend Janet’s voice in the back of my head, “You should do the black diamond runs early while your legs are fresh.” True that. No use prolonging the inevitable.

My first run was down Irish Whiskey. It was generally narrow but it went through the woods so I liked it. Again, no ice, and it was steepest at the end where I didn’t even hesitate to follow through with the finish. I then proceeded further left, tackling Wild Turkey, Sunrise, and Twisty Christy. (I skipped Cascade at first because I generally don’t like to do runs that go beneath the lifts, especially when out of my element, because not only do they tend to be icy, but you have people sitting overhead with nothing better to do than watch you and make commentary if you screw up.) Of these, I really enjoyed Sunrise and Twisty Christy.

My run down Twisty Christy brought me to a path where I could either head to the Grear lift or continue back to the Cascade lift to try basically the same runs I’d just done. But my mark was–nervously–Greer because it seemed it would be the steepest of all the runs in this area, if not the whole resort (though I found out later Punch Bowl is actually harder). I knew if I could handle Greer, a world of confidence and possibility would unfold for me for the rest of the day.

Thankfully, Greer doesn’t have a lift running over it, so I knew I could afford to take my time if need be. At the top, I was awed by the sweeping view of Ellicottville below. Sometimes getting perspective on how high I am can undermine my confidence. I tried not to take it in too much on that first run. A man I’d spoken to on the first lift up from the lodge that morning, to whom I’d revealed my intention to do all these black diamonds for my first time ever, came by just as I was standing over the edge of the run.

“Have you tried this one yet?” he asked chipperly. I told him no. “Well, this is one of the steepest,” he confirmed. With a smile, he added, “You’ll like it.”

I started down tentatively as I always do on a run I’ve never done before–one where I haven’t sent a braver friend down to report to me on the conditions first. My eyes seemed to assess that it was certainly steeper than the runs I’d done before it, but as I started making my concentrated turns, all the while repeating to myself the techniques I’d learned from a ski lesson last week, I started to realize that the hill wasn’t anything more than I could handle, that I’d done something that steep before, and I found my comfort zone. I skied the rest of the way down carefully but comfortably. Whew!

And then, of course, I took it again. Two times is what makes the run count as conquered to me–it cements the fact that I did the run. Because I’m usually a lot less fearful on the second run, I can enjoy it more and appreciate every moment. This time, I stopped to snap a picture of the view.

Top of Greer revealing Ellicottville.

Sometimes skiers, when having a good time, shout, “Whoo-hoo!” to express the glee they feel. I had several whoo-hoo moments yesterday. The bad part about not skiing with someone else was that I couldn’t share the moment anyone. I could shout “whoo-hoo”–and I did–to acknowledge the absolute exhilaration of accomplishment with other strangers, who I’m sure understood my excitement, but the moment was absent of the friend who had taught me to ski all those years ago. If only she could see me now… (and she can’t at the moment since she lives in North Carolina). All too late I learned to ski the kinds of runs she could do when she was much younger than me. Oh the fun we would have had!

I stayed in the Greer-Cascade area, eventually doing all the runs, even Early Bird and Cascade which both go under lifts. Early Bird was like many runs beneath lifts–too narrow for comfort so I only did it once. The wider Cascade was interesting, but somehow not as much fun as Twisty Christy and Sunset.

The only thing I had left to do was the dreaded Punch Bowl, known to locals as Headwall. (Jennifer and everyone else I knew back then called it Headwall; in fact, I overhead someone yesterday call it that as they headed over to ski it.) Really, it’s a short, steep but wide hill that goes beneath the Plum Creek lift. The Plum Creek lift appears to only run on weekends for I’ve never seen it run on the week days when non-members are allowed to ski. Since Plum Creek is actually the lift we could take when skiing right from the condo, as a teen, I witness the steepness from an aerial view from the above many times before. Not to mention, I quaked at the story Jennifer used to tell me of riding on her uncle’s shoulders as he skied down it to get to her ski which had fallen off on the lift. I always thought there was no way, no how I was riding on anyone’s shoulders as they skied down any hill, let alone what looked to me then as a gaping wall true to its name.

With my advanced skier eyes, though, Punch Bowl seemed a lot less intimidating than it once did. From the bottom of the slope looking up as I passed the area on my way back from the Cascade lift, I thought with a new found brashness, “Yeah, I can totally do that.”

Nothing from the bottom every looks as steep as it does from the top. As I stood right before the top, I had a few moments of panic where I thought for sure I was going to side-step back up to the safety of the path that cuts over the top back to some easy trails down. I took a breath and I repeated, “You can do it.” I was thankful no one was around to see me quake.

I started down. I don’t know if I what I was feeling was left over from the beginner skier in me who could only snow-plow down a hill, but it definitely seemed steeper than Greer. I stopped once in the middle of the slope to get my bearings. This is usually a bad move because pausing mid-slope tends to freak you out more because you have time to notice just how steep the thing you’re descending is. A young guy came swooshing down across the other side of the slope and I started right back up again, telling myself that it was only a few more turns before I too was done with the slope. When I made it to the bottom, I let out a triumphant cheer. Ha! Conquered. So, true to form, I of course took another run down it to make it really count.

The rest of the day was less stressful and more fun. I found that I also enjoyed a few other black diamond runs that were interspersed amidst the blue runs: Razerback, Downspout and Fall Line. I did all of these multiple times as they were much easier than any of the other blacks and therefore felt like a relief. I also did manage to go down some old familiars: Snowbird and the ever so beloved Exhibition. I am sorry to say that I never went further than Exhibition, for I felt that I’d probably feel disappointed by Sunset, the long green I used to love. At the end of the day, it seemed like too much work to get myself over to a green run that I’d probably only want to do once before returning to the intermediate blue runs. The only black by Sunset is the terrain park, which is far more interesting to snowboarders than to me. I’m not at the half pipe or high jump stage of my skiing career yet. (And, yes, I said yet because part of me thinks jumping might be kind of fun…)

Downspout: A fun black among blues

It was a fun, full day, despite my anti-social mood. I feel as though going to Holimont and conquering all those black diamond runs in my old haunt has really brought me full circle with my skiing past. I’ve finally graduated. It’s only taken me 18 years. The diploma is in my hands and it’s now on to the higher education of advanced skiing. Whoo-hoo, indeed!

And to celebrate, I give you this new ski-ku as my commencement speech:

Skis etch lines in snow
Trailing small “s”‘s behind
Proof that I skied here.

And, by the way, I think I will be joining the Fagowees Ski Club. They hooked up speakers in bus, playing music off someone’s iPod, and people were dancing in the aisles of the bus the whole way home. I sat in the back of the bus with the “bad” folks. Them’s my kind of people!

Also. They promised me a spot on the shot ski at the next meeting. (The shot ski contains five shot glasses and five people line up next to it and simultaneously take a shot off the ski.) Graduation has not matured me enough to give up the partying…

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Crazy

Has a break up ever made you flip your gourd and become someone so unlike yourself that you lose control of your actions? Have you ever stood outside yourself, watching this behavior but been utterly unable to stop yourself from indulging the madness? Love can turn sane people crazy. Even in a breakup where you know you’re better off without the other person… Even after several months when you think you’re over it…

Crazy. You make me
Act in ways I’d never schemed.
Love’s bitter anger.

At the same time, your sane side feels horrible while knowing you’re out of control.

Regrets. I’m sorry.
We were a really bad fit.
We tried. We failed. Vexed.

Maybe insanity comes to cover the injuries to your heart–a way to tell yourself you don’t really care, to prevent yourself from getting hurt again. Widowhood can be similar to a breakup in this way as you do lose touch with sanity for awhile and act in unexpected ways. But I know that’s not an excuse for bad behavior. And there’s always a level part of me trying to grab the reins on my angry reactionary part. Sometimes the angry side wins. The level-headed side wins most often. It’s just that everyone remembers crazy.

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Acting, faking, and believing

When my husband returned from a business trip, he often brought me some little gift. They were all very thoughtful nick-knacks—things he thought I would like or that reminded him of me. On one such occasion, he bought me back this small sculpture of a rock that bore the inscription “Act as though it were impossible to fail.”

Probably since the moment I graduated from high school, I’ve been confused by what I wanted to do with my life. I suppose this is not an uncommon situation for most young people. I guess the real issue with me has always been that I know what I want to do with my life—to become a novelist–but that dream is nearly impossible. My fears of failure on something I love so intensely have held me back on it forever.

But above and beyond that particular quest in my life, Mike lived through a huge period of transition for me. I was very young when he met me, lost in that period of life between childhood and adulthood which was further confused by still living at home with my parents. Mike, six and a half years older than me, already had a lot of things about himself figured out (and he hadn’t lived with either of his parents since he was 18). He had definite plans for his future, such as his desire to return to school to either study law or physics, and he dreamed of coaching high school pole vaulting. At the stage of life I knew him in, he was much more grounded than me, much more confident. Mike knew when he decided to shoot for something, nothing would stop him from meeting his goal. I’m sure he had fears; he just never allowed himself to become controlled by his fears.

I think sometimes he was frustrated by my fickle behavior towards my career. I would come up with new ideas about what to do with my life and then cancel them out before I’d even explored them much. I’d worry myself into non-movement. Much like I still do today. I think that Mike realized talents within me that I was too hard on myself to see. This gift from Mike was his way of saying that he believed in me. It was meant to cheer me on in my endless quest for happiness.

I admit that I haven’t thought about that rock much over the last several years even though it sits on my desk still. Once in a while when working on my bills or screwing around on the internet, I notice it there and I smile because it reminds me of Mike. But the true intent of the words rarely sink beyond the surface of my thoughts. And when I do stop to ponder the reason he gave me that rock in the first place, I feel guilty. Here I am, ten or so years later, still going along in much the same way as he left me—even more so, in fact, because losing him made me feel even less motivated to work on long-term projects.

Long term projects take up time. For a person who lost their husband so young, time becomes claustrophobic. Having looked into the face of Death, I’ve seen mortality—his, mine, that of all those around me—and I’m afraid of not getting done all the things I’ve wanted to do. Suddenly, everything to me becomes about the moment. I want to be around those I love whenever I have the chance. I want to be free to ski or cycle on any given day the whim takes me. I want to travel to the places I’ve only dreamed of seeing. Thus, the trips to Italy, Germany and Amsterdam in 2005 and 2007. I feel like I can’t wait on these dreams. If I have the time and money, I need to do them now before it’s too late. Now is all we ever have.

That’s one my excuses. The other excuse is that I fear pouring my heart and soul so completely into something only to be knocked down at the end. Failure in something I truly care about is far more painful than failing at something I’m not so passionate about. It’s easier for me to perform in a job I’m not so passionate about because I’ve sacrificed nothing of myself in it. Obviously, right?

When you’re trying to write something you envision as great and publishable, you find yourself constipated by your desire for perfection. You can’t let the words out if every word you’re trying to compose has to be perfect the moment it comes out of your head. Of course, any writer will tell you that it does not have to be perfect when it comes out; it merely has to come out. Once out, you can mold it into something better. But only after you’ve found a stream of consciousness in which to get the words out. You can’t write anything by immediately editing every line you write down or type out. At some point, you just have to let go. Shut off the inner critic. Stop worrying about the end result.

It’s so hard, though, when the end result is something you’ve wanted the most in your whole life. When the end result is your life’s dream, there’s so much pressure. The art dies under pressure. The art is lost in fear. It’s easier to dream about the novel and never try than it is to actually do it and fail. When you’re dreaming, everything is still possible; failure means the possibility of opportunity is forever closed.

Lately I’ve been faced with the reality that others with equal talent to my own are getting their work published. I admit that I’ve felt jealous. A little voice in my heart screams, “You know you are good enough to be published!”  I feel like I’m just letting opportunities pass me by. I am afraid to challenge myself to face my inner demons.

I’ve been trying to surround myself with positive ideas in order to inspire my writing. When I was going through the stuff in boxes while setting up my library (a project I’m sure I’ll go into detail about in a later entry), I came across the framed letter from a favorite writer of Star Trek fiction books–J.M. Dillard. I had written her a praising fan letter when I was a dorky Trek-obsessed teenager (I know you’re asking, what’s changed, right?). She actually responded to me, in person, at the bottom of a form letter that explained to her fans why she didn’t have time to write personal letters. She said:

…I think it’s great that you’re interested in writing. Keep it up! … Your letter certainly showed you’re very talented at putting words together, so maybe some day, I’ll have the opportunity to write you a fan letter!

This letter hung in my bedroom for years, and then in my office in the house I shared with Mike. It’s going back up in my office. I’m going to look at it whenever I’m attempting to write something and I’m pulling my hair because the words won’t come out of my head. I’ll use it–along with the gift rock–to silence the self-ridiculing voice in my head that tells me, always, that I suck. Whenever I think I’m talentless, I’ll look at this letter from an author who didn’t even know me, who only saw some geeky fan girl letter, and determined that I was a good writer.

I know these little tokens of positive thought won’t cause my stories to write themselves. I still need to do all the work. But maybe if I look at them enough, I’ll truly believe what they are saying to me. “Act as though it were impossible to fail” is a mantra I often I find myself repeating at the top of a difficult ski slope or before I’m about to make a hard climb on my bike. It doesn’t endow me with additional energy or bravery or give me power legs; however, it does help me talk myself through something I was scared to do. If you listen to the words–really and truly listen–you can start to believe them. There is power in positive thinking, but it’s a very difficult power to harness at first. To me, it’s like trying to believe in a religion, except this religion is even less material because you’re making it up as you go along. Which is even harder to believe.

I guess I need to shroud my work area with these little reminders from others of their confidence in my abilities. Their words do become my personal prayers. If I keep repeating the words, eventually one day I’ll allow their beliefs in me to become my truth.

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The Last Vacation

To most people, a year is a new experience–forward motion, new memories, new experiences. Those of us who have lost a spouse, each new year is littered with landmines from past–anniversaries, birthdays, holidays we once experienced with the person we loved most. I’ve noticed that as each year passes, a different landmine hits me than did in the previous years and I find myself fixated on that singular memory from that one year in my life that seems any more to be the only one that mattered–my last year with Mike. This year, the landmine that has exploded before me is the memory of the weekend after Valentine’s Day in 2001–the last mini-vacation I ever had with Mike before his death two months later.

Sadly, this weekend also marks the death of my grandma E whose funeral I missed because I was gone on said vacation with Mike. This was back in the days when I had the decency and desire to actually shut off my cell phone. Which is what we had done that weekend because we didn’t want to be bothered by the outside world on what was our romantic get-away. We didn’t want to be found and, unfortunately, it worked all too well. We never found out my grandma died until we got back and the wake and funeral were all said in done. I always look on that event–my grandma dying–as an ominous premonition of my future. I’ll never forget Mike touching my shoulder as I cried, pulling me into an embrace, and saying, “Sweetie, it’s not your fault. Sometimes these things happen without warning.” Those words still haunt me to the chilly depths of my soul. It was as if he were giving me an important message. Looking back on the incident, I almost feel as if his words were meant to comfort me in the inevitable future. Did he know he was going to die young? Sometimes, with some of the wise planning he did, I have to wonder.

I wouldn’t say Mike and I were people who particularly put much stock in the Hallmark holidays. However, at the same time, we liked any excuse to celebrate our love. And, as I’ve admitted numerous times before, we were hopeless romantics. So on that year we decided we’d take a long weekend and go to Holiday Valley for skiing. I arranged the whole thing, picking our overnight accommodations since Mike was out of town, as usual with his job. We ended up staying at a bed and breakfast–which was always Mike’s preference since he spent 80% of his life in hotel rooms–somewhere near Jamestown. I have no clue where this b&b is anymore… But, to our extreme delight, it turned out to be an A-frame… Our dream was to someday build an A-frame house in the mountains of Colorado and live there.

There were two other young couples staying in the b&b while we were there. I remember conversing with them at breakfast each morning. They were skiers too, but we didn’t really connect all that well. Still, you knew by the tone of the group that everyone was there for the same reason–to spend the “holiday” skiing with our loved ones.

Mike and I skied quite a bit the entire time we were there, putting in close to 8 hours on the slopes (with a few breaks, of course) all three days that we skied. It was like we were both supercharged with energy from our youth. This period of my life marked one of the high moments in my skiing “career” as I have tended to drop skiing for years at a time and then pick it back up again, and since Mike also enjoyed skiing, I was back to a frequent level. So I was a lot braver than I’ve been in the more recent years. We would take runs down slopes, go through trees and take some air on moguls, laughing heartily the whole time. Like kids.

Mike was–like every former boyfriend/lover I’ve been with–a more aggressive and skilled skier than me. So he was constantly getting ahead of me. But he always stopped and waited for me to catch up which was different than anyone I’d ever skied with. I always felt like he was skiing simply to be with me, that we could have been anywhere else in the world for all he cared, that he just wanted to be out doing something fun with me. I loved that he waited for me. There was no competition between us in any sport that we did. We always drove at the same pace even when he was better than me (which was in most things that we did).

We were gross in love. In the lift lines, we kissed each other–pecks on the lips–and held hands, embraced, touched. Always touching. We probably annoyed the hell out of everyone else there. To me, the rest of the world dissolved around us. We were together and every minute of that trip seemed to last a life time, even in my memory.

We spent a lot of time in the Tannenbaum area of Holiday Valley. Because of this, every time I ski in that area, I’m haunted by the ghosts of a very young version of me and Mike, skiing without a care in the world, in those young days before the world as I knew it began to unravel slowly at the seams. It’s amazing that I can even bear to ski at Holiday Valley anymore. However, there’s also something warming about those memories. In a way, I feel as though I’m embraced by Mike as I ski our old haunt. Even though the memory of skiing around Tannenbaum throbs in my limbs like a dull, constant ache. It hurts and heals at the same time.

While we rested in the lodge during breaks, Mike and I fantasized about living in Colorado and having a time share condo in Frisco so that we could be close to all the big resorts. We dreamed of living somewhere near Denver–we needed our city life–but having a time share or our own condo to which we could retreat on the weekends for skiing. It was one of those moments that I always remember as looking forward into a seemingly endless future. I believed we could make anything happen. It was just within our grasp, right?

On our last evening at the b&b, Mike and I presented each other with gifts. I bought him the movie (VHS tape, DVDs were just coming out and we didn’t have a player) The Thirteenth Floor which he had really enjoyed when we’d rented it a few months earlier. He was elated because we loved a good “thinking” movie. Mike bought me a beautiful amethyst necklace that I still wear with love to this day. He liked me to have nice jewelry and I obliged. He made me feel so beautiful and I felt as though the jewelry accented whatever it was he saw in me. To this day, I still do tend to wear a lot of jewelry because of the emphasis Mike put on it. He brought out my softer, feminine sides. Whenever he showed them to me, I wasn’t angry or ashamed to be called out on my feminine side as I usually am. Somehow he was always able to finesse the feminist in me without insulting her. That was his magic.

We fell asleep pretty easily after all that skiing. I remember falling asleep in his arms. Content. Complete. I cared about nothing more that weekend than being with him. Every time we spent a vacation together, I always felt as though I’d been gone somewhere very restful for months on end. Time stopped. I always came away feeling as though I’d had the best time I’d ever had in my life. I miss that feeling of total careless release.

We returned to Ohio pretty much buzzed on love. The buzz kill came later when, at home, we checked the messages on our answering machine. My parents, multiple times, leaving messages about my grandma E, details about a viewing, the time of the funeral, everything. Details of events we missed in our romantic weekend escape. As we laughed and joked on the slopes off the Tannenbaum lift, my grandma E died and there was a viewing. As we were driving home, there was a funeral. I never got to say goodbye to my grandma E. In a way, though, I was saying goodbye to my husband all weekend and I wouldn’t understand that for months later. Maybe Grandma E knew that where she was and she was happier knowing I was spending the last moments in the sun with my husband.

The sad thing is that my memory of that weekend is blackened by my knowledge of the events that followed. Whenever I think of all the fun Mike and I had in that weekend, my thoughts cannot help but bounce forward to how I felt as I stood in the middle of our bedroom listening in horror to all the messages my parents left on the answering machine. And, of course, Mike’s comforting words ring over and over in dramatic irony because two months later I’d find myself remembering them and repeating them to myself as I tried to work through my intense guilt over not being about to prevent Mike’s death.

It’s not your fault, he always says to me. Only this time, the words mean something completely different. Sometimes these things happen without warning.

Indeed.

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STP & the Blues

I haven’t written in a while because, admittedly, I’ve been wacked upside the head in true Ohio-style by depression. I’m not sure it’s all related to the weather or my level of activity; I’ve been pretty busy running around doing stuff and, when I can, skiing. But as you can tell from my last entry, I’m not fending it off well because my social anxiety, which is usually held at bay by a confidence brought on from endorphins and general exuberance, has returned to pester me into fearful submission. When I’m feeling low, my confidence in every other area of my life plummets and the little things I can usually talk myself through become big, overwhelming things. So, of course, when I’m feeling like this, I also find myself lacking the inspiration or energy to do any writing.

I don’t know what has brought on this spell. I am not really sure it’s related to widowhood or anything like that. I’m just generally bummed. Which might have more to do with the depression I’ve battled generally throughout my life. Or the lack of satisfaction I feel in not loving my career. I guess I just feel tired. I can’t even talk about the book writing venture because I’m doing nothing while bemoaning the desire to have a published work out there. I can blame it on depression or laziness. The fact is, I’m doing nothing. Sometimes it feels as though there aren’t enough hours in a day and I don’t have enough energy to be awake through the hours that we do have. Again: Depression makes you feel hopelessly tired.

Anyway, with the light of summer on my mind, I signed up for the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (STP) last week and I’m currently working out the logistics of the ride. This ride did not come with a cheap registration fee–$95.  Compared to the TOSRV’s $47 registration fee, I experienced a bit of sticker shock there. I guess I expected the fees to be similar as these two rides are of equal length and duration, and maybe on some level I thought since STP is much larger ride of 10,000 participants (as opposed to TOSRV’s “puny” 2,000), it would make the registration fee cheaper. Not so. Things really are more expensive on the West Coast.

Everything, which I take for granted as a service on all the other rides I’ve done, costs money on STP. You want a 5′ space on a gym floor in Centralia, the over night site? It’s $30! This convenience is usually free at any other ride. As I filled out the online registration form, I was asked numerous questions about adding services I would have to pay for. I can’t remember what they all were, but I figured there better alternatives than paying $30 to ship my rental bike back to Seattle after the ride or $10/day for parking at the University of Washington start line. It all would have added up pretty fast.

I paid $15 to have my registration packet mailed to me in June because I imagined I’m going to be frazzled on Thursday and Friday before the ride as I run around Seattle trying to pick up my rental bike, visit people, and try to get on the Pacific Time Zone; running to the downtown REI to pick up my packet during the specified hours just seemed like one more stress.

Apparently, the absorbent registration fee does include a “souvenir jacket.” I am hoping this is a cycling jacket I can actually use and not some lame cheapo jacket that I can add to my collection of unworn souvenir jackets from various other places I’ve been. (The MS 150 in Toledo always has the lamest clothing gifts for their fund-raising prizes. I won’t even get into the “wind jacket” I got two years ago thinking it was something else… it turned out to be one of those noisy crinkly shirts college jock boys wear.)

In lieu of the expensive registration fee, I elected not to buy the jersey even though I’d originally planned on getting one. I decided I’d rather spend the same $70 on that Team Estrogen “She Loves Hills” jersey, even though I’ve not yet doled out the cash to actually buy it. Maybe in a few months when it gets closer to cycling season. That would probably be a cool jersey to wear at STP.

I’m still working out what I’m going to do about lodging at the halfway point. I was originally going to camp at Centralia College since it’s free. But the only tent I own is huge (remember: I discovered some holes in my smaller one while on XOBA as I found myself floating on my air mattress the first night it rained). I could buy a new tent (Lord knows I probably need a smaller one), but either way, lugging a tent just takes up room in my limited luggage–luggage, by the way, that the airlines are now charging you for. $30 is more than I want to spend for the “pleasure” of a 5′ space on the gym floor. Considering that I didn’t want to stay on a gym floor for free on XOBA, and was in fact tortured the one night I did it in Loudonville, I’m opting for an alternative.

I just printed out rider’s manual and I’m going to peruse the other pay options. I originally felt uncomfortable about the option to stay at a private residence, but for just a little more money and a nice warm private shower, I’m starting to think it’s the best deal. There’s also some churches and organizations offering showers with towels at their facilities complete with dinner and breakfast. Hmmm… That sounds a little better than scrounging on my own.

This trip is full of planning. Once the ride is over, I plan to spend the night in Portland because I know how tired I am after a 100 mile ride. Then, on the following Monday I’d like to go to some place in the Willamette Valley and stay a few days, sampling wine and such. If I hang on to my rental bike, maybe I’ll want to do a little more riding the area. I don’t know what else I’ll feel like wandering off to, or how feasible any of it is, but it’d be nice to see the coast again, too. But I don’t want to go too crazy. I want this trip to be relaxing too. I’ll need a rental car for a few days too.

I plan to head back to Seattle the following Thursday. I want to take the train that goes between the two cities. That sounds like a lot of fun. How often does a person get a chance to travel by train? Not many Mid-Westerners, that’s for sure. Two more nights of a hotel and I fly out on the following Saturday. It should be a fun, full trip. But just the thought of all the planning–of getting everything in order–is stressing me out. I like to be spontaneous like the next gal, but when I’m traveling on my own like this, I like to have some plan laid out so that I’m not left wandering the countryside trying to find a hotel. Relaxing for me is having enough ducks lined up that I have an outline of a plan. But I don’t have every hour laid out… Just going by days here. As far as I see it, the most important thing is having a roof over your head established; then, you can go do whatever strikes your mood!

I do like the Pacific Northwest. So I’m sure I’ll have lots of great scenery to enjoy, pictures to take, and places to explore. I’m looking forward to meeting up with the friends I have in Seattle. It should be a good time. I’ll feel much better once I’ve got more of the plans solidified, though… I guess I’m not really the type of person to fly somewhere and just go where the wind takes me. So I’m not really that spontaneous.

At least planning for Seattle keeps my mind busy. The depression is not completely shutting me down. I’ve got a lot of little tasks to do. I’m working on the room in my house that will be my library. I’m making progress on that. I need to write the route for ABC’s Memorial Day Ride so that I can pass it on to the person who is running the short ride. I’m re-routing the ride to a new destination. I’m still running the Adopt-a-Highway Cleanup for ABC as well, which I’ve scheduled for the weekend after TOSRV. These things seem far away, but time moves so fast and soon all of it will come to pass. It’s never to early to plan, plan, plan. I want everything to work out great. I feel pressure in not disappointing people. It’s so hard to lead sometimes…

Write, write, write. I need to focus and write. Need to write out of the fog in my brain that depression casts.

(NOTE: I ran spelling check on this entry and was put off by all the grammatical items this check tried to call me out on. Every time a grammar check is run on one of my documents, I feel like a writing dunce. Not a good feeling when I’m in this state, I tell you!)

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