Mammoth Flashbacks

“Stars!” Leslie exclaimed as she stepped out of the white SUV and gazed at the indigo sky strewn with glittering lights.

I laughed and pulled my sweater tight to shield off the mountain air.

Leslie’s face transformed from wonderment to joy when she saw me. She ran toward me with her arms outstretched and hugged me hard. I was taken aback by her enthusiasm and thrilled at the same time.

“What has it been? Ten years since we’ve seen each other?” Leslie pulled back so we could get a good look at each other. She had her mother’s brown, close-set eyes and her father’s pinched nose. But that broad, easy smile was her own.

“Your wedding.” I gave her husband Paul a hug. I put my hand on my boyfriend. “This is Joey. Let us show you inside.”

We led them up the stairs to the cabin Joey had built and turned on the lights illuminating the hand-scraped, acacia wood floors, detailed trim work and wood-burning stove.

“It’s beautiful!” Leslie gasped.

I smiled. It warmed my heart to offer AirBnB guests this cozy haven in the Eastern Sierra mountains. I presented Leslie with a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a growler of local beer, “I know Christian Scientists don’t drink, but I was at your wedding…”

“We drank like fishes,” she laughed.

We poured ourselves a drink and swapped stories about our sisters. Our parents had been best friends for 30 years, each had three daughters whom they brought to Christian Science Church every Sunday and spent vacations together skiing Mammoth Mountain. I was the oldest. She was the youngest. We were family bonded through childhood memories and the ever-lasting thread of our parents. I had been the one to tell my mother when Leslie’s mother died. And I called Leslie’s father when my dad died.

Perhaps it was because we had so few recent memories that the weight of adulthood began to slip from my shoulders. Time was unraveling.

The next morning, as the ski lift carried Leslie and I over the pine and hemlock trees, I glanced down at a run at the top of the snow-capped mountain and recalled a day before Leslie was born:

I caught an edge, wobbled and nearly fell when I dismounted the chair lift. I quickly glanced around, so self-conscious at twelve and always wanting to appear and be the best. I looked down the ski run, which resembled a sheer cliff. It was my sister Julia’s idea to come to the top of the mountain.

Bitch, I thought. She’s just trying to show off.

At only a year younger, Julia was a much better skier. She had no fear. I was full of fear. Fear of heights. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of failure. Fear of abandonment. I wished desperately for my mom, who was at the lodge, probably drinking cocoa in front of a warm fire. She was pregnant. I was even embarrassed about that!

Julia pointed her skis down the hill and dropped in, making a few quick turns before looking back up at me.

“You can do this.” Dad said.

But I couldn’t move.

Dad skied over to me. “Just take it really slow and easy. Big wide turns. Remember to keep your skis in a pizza shape.”

I nodded. I angled my skis diagonally to traverse the run in wide arcs. Julia would beat me to the bottom, but at this point, I just wanted to make it to the bottom in one piece. The powder was smooth as glass and too fast. I made it across the slope but when I turned, I forgot to press hard on my downhill ski and instead went hurtling straight down. I screamed. My skis crossed. I went flying in the air, landed in the soft powder and tumbled twenty feet. Cold, wet, snow slid down my pants.  

Dad brought me a pole. Julia found my other pole. I frantically searched for the missing ski in the deep powder. Dad dug through the snow calmly telling me it would be alright. A white mist began to shroud us. We would be in whiteout conditions soon. Bile rose up in my throat. My fingers, toes and nose were frozen.

Then Dad lit a match and brought it close. The small flame was futile to keep me and my sister warm, but in the dancing spark I saw his desperate desire to calm me and it warmed my heart. I looked into his eyes and recognized understanding and acceptance of my fears. That match provided just enough heat to melt my shame and give me courage.

And then I stepped on the ski. Dad pulled it up and helped me into the binding. “You might fall again, Jamie. But, I’ll be right here.”

“I can do it, Dad,”

“I know you can.”

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