I went skiing because of French Club. A little trip to Rib Mountain, one afternoon entirely devoted to sailing down the slopes. After I learned how to ski, that is.
The bus ride was the same as for any other field trip. There were about fifty people total - five chaperones, twenty too-cool-for-anyone's, fifteen math problems, and about four people I could actually talk to, who would talk to me back. I spent most of the ride talking with my friend Terri. Terri had been skiing before. Terri knew how to ski. Terri was going to explain it to me on the ride there. It wasn't working. I was getting more nervous. Terri wasn't going to be the one to teach me. She was here with her boyfriend, and she had to teach him. I didn't want to intrude. Enter Helen.
Helen was a math problem. You know those people, you went to school with them. They were the ones who went home straight after school (or after track, it seemed to be the only physical activity they were into) to study. Or maybe practice the piano. They were on the high honor roll. When you think back to high school, these are the people you forget about. All around good, but too boring to really remember. If they dated, it was only among themselves. They were forgettable.
Helen had been on many skiing trips before, but she was patient enough to show me how to put on my skis. She watched me go down the bunny hill for almost an hour before she got bored and suggested that I was ready for the big hills. I was not ready for the big hills, but I had managed to stay upright on my last three trips, so I thought it might not be a bad idea, while I still had my nerve.
We got on the lift, and I dangled my legs in the air as we ascended. It was a pretty day, a day for skiing. The sky was clear and the wind was blowing lightly. I felt embarrassed at my lack of proper ski gear - the old suede jacket I had was not appropriate at all. Everywhere I looked, I saw cool people in bright green and pink aerodynamic suits whizzing past me on the slopes. Helen was dressed in a grey snowsuit. It wasn't very pretty, but it beat my long-johns-under-the-jeans look. I wished I was wearing something sleek and expensive.
When we got to the top of the slope, Helen planted her poles in the snow and watched me maneuver myself off of the lift. I toddled my way over to her, terrified of slipping down the gigantic hill we were on. She smiled at me, asked, "Are you ready?" and without waiting for an answer, she pushed off. She was all red hair and grey suit disappearing quickly into the distance. Jesus. I was going to have to do this.
I waited until she was out of sight and then pushed myself off. I got about fifty yards down before I somersault to a stop. I lay there, panting, scared that I might have broken something. Praying I broke something, so I could stop skiing and maybe get some free cocoa or something before I went home. I always did think breaking an ankle would be romantic. I thought about hobbling around the hallways to classes on crutches, a cute boy offering to carry my books for me. I went through a mental checklist of limbs. Damn, they were still there, and fully functional. I fell over three times trying to right myself, but then I was off again.
Another fifty yards down, I fell flat on my butt. I didn't bother with the checklist this time, I knew I was alright. This trip wasn't going at all like I had hoped. And I had so wanted to be a ski bunny. Sigh. Up we go. I only got halfway to my feet before I started moving again, in a squat.
It wasn't so bad, really, as long as I kept close to the ground. I could do this! I was skiing! I thought of inventing a new Olympic event - squat skiing. I dreamed about the pedestal, what I would say. Maybe I'd get to take Robby to Disneyworld. This was fun, actually, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd thou... Down I went again. Flat on my back this time, and I don't know how I managed that from a squat, but I did. Typical. I lay there in the snow and thought about my life.
About five minutes later, when I was finally getting up the nerve to try again, someone skied up to me with a whoosh! Good god, it was a boy. A boy in fancy ski gear. A boy who asked me how I was doing. A boy who wanted to help me get down. This was my fantasy, without even a broken ankle, and here I was, making angry faces at him. How dare he try to help me? Couldn't he see I was completely capable? Ok, so I was flat on my back in the snow, but I was just about to get going again.
I so didn't want him to see my squat-skiing. All of a sudden, it seemed less like the new Olympic sport, and more like something a little girl would do. Something this older boy would not find cute at all. I laughed at myself a little, and encouraged him to keep going, but he wouldn't leave. I resigned myself to letting him see me down the hill, and climbed up into my squat again. After three missed tries, I finally got moving.
He didn't laugh, I'll give him that much. He smiled a lot, and I can't account for what he was doing while he sailed on ahead of me, but when he was stopped and waiting for me to catch up with him, he was only giving me a nice smile. He had a very nice smile. The butterflies in my stomach weren't helping me ski any better, so I tried to ignore him.
We made it down the hill. He watched me take off my skis and corrected me when I poked my pole in the wrong place. He was very nice, actually. I couldn't believe this was actually happening to me. He asked me to sit with him on the deck.
The lodge was built like a log cabin, with rooms inside completely surrounded in glass, where you could sit and sip hot cocoa and watch the skiers making their way downhill. On the outside, they had built a deck where you could do the same thing without taking off your layers of skiing apparel.
I agreed to take a break with him, and sat down at a picnic table bench. He sat on the other end of it, and we made small talk for a few minutes before his friends showed up. Then I shut up. He lit up a cigarette and offered me one. I was horrified, but I think I kept my cool as I refused. I was only 14! That wasn't something catholic grade school had prepared me for, being offered smokes from a cute boy who saved you from a mountain wasn't part of the "peer pressure" scheme. I had never before in my whole life wished I was a smoker, but I did at that moment.
We sat there for almost a half hour, him and his friends chatting about all things skiing and me listening in like an intruder, eating up everything they had to say. They were all so cool, so much older. They smoked. They talked about music and bands and the shows they had seen. They talked about skiing and the girls they had met that day. They were cool. They had a handle on things. I listened to everything they said. Eventually, I had to go, and said goodbye to the nice one who'd almost rescued me.
I met up with the French Club and loaded on the bus. We drove home.
The year was 1995, I was fourteen, and I never asked him his name.