Part One: Mollie
It's been four years. Each February I return and when the mountain fog clears I see that the valley is much safer. Each year it is a new list of incorrect priorities and a weekend-consuming fear. I never do anything new and I never say anything special and everything about the pain is ordinary, like an anniversary I know is coming and I don't do anything to make it better but doing the same thing every time continues to make it worse. No new person makes it better, because my focus remains the same. It is a focus that makes me long for the valley, forget this beautiful mountain, and my tears flow freely without question.
But you have not seen those tears, and you do not travel that mountain path as I have. Your focus has been clear, your innocence gives me a renewed sense of adventure. And since Brian is in a sour mood, you go with me, leading my unsure steps, to the top of the foreboding mountain. We pass the small mounds of snow on the path that a boy once told me looked like gravestones in the moon shadow, and I try not to remember that fear when we have reached the top and I stare down the great slope. You do not see my fear or feel my anxiety through the rubber tube, you do not allow nervousness or hesitance and we sit down and start sliding without warning. My eyes are closed and I am afraid and you do not hear me because I am silent. The tube makes a whooshing sound beneath us and our bodies are rearranged and my tailbone slides against the aggravating ice. We spin around and I open my eyes and songs about eagles start filling my head as the hill fades into the afternoon sunlight. The trees are a welcome blur and we hit something and we're flying and I'm shouting.
I'm laughing. I'm laughing your name and I'm stuck in the soft drift at the bottom of the hill and I'm hysterical. My scarf is in my face. I try to move and I can't stand up and I can't find you. I can hear you somewhere. Then I open my eyes again and see you somewhere up the hill, laughing back at me with snow in your hair and the sun on your freckled face, catching the green in your eyes. Later we will not talk about how much fun we had. Because when it stops, and the ride is over, all you end up with is a boot full of snow. Brian shakes his head at my simplicity.
Part Two: Nathan
You make a promise, you keep it, you take something of mine every time you look me in the eye. Brian lies again but I can see a gleam of something closing in on us when he says that he just changed his mind. You also do not know my fear. So when the snow freezes over, you smile at me and we climb with them in the evening to the top of the mountain. Stumbling on the slippery slope to the peak between footholds made by previous climbers, between the trees that creak in the cold and I get nervous when I start telling this story. I tell you at the top that we're going to go backwards and I start to shake when I think about it.
It's cold now and we start sliding. Swiftly and swerving, sliding and skimming the jumps in the slope. I can feel the earth slip away beneath me and I lean into you. We're not even half way down and we hit something and I don't remember what happens next. There is a dark void in the space between sky and floor, where I black out. Joe tells us later that we rotated each other in the air, you tell me that you held me before we left the tube and you spread out your arms to save me. Jake says he told us to go limp and I did a good job, he says you landed on me and I think that's when I woke up. My cheek hit the ice and I think I'm smiling and I cover my face with both hands and roll down the icy hill into eternity. When I stop my head is aching and I lay there for awhile with my scarf in my face.
Someone helps me up and I sit down on the edge of the run. I don't know where to hurt and when to smile, asking what I hit and how's my face. You touch my bruised lips and the scrape on my forehead, the shocked tears on my face. I smile and say that I'm going again tomorrow, and Jake laughs. I remind myself that I cannot be afraid this year and I tell him that in the face of adversity, I will close my eyes and cringe, but my legs will keep running towards it.
When we walk down the hill you put your arms around me to keep me steady and when we get back inside I lay down on the couch that should have called me home hours earlier, before I decided not to be afraid, before my sense of adventure kicked in and I loved you again. Everyone is asking if I'm alright and I just want to sleep. My head is on Mollie's lap and she is stroking my hair, and Joe tells the story because he's the only one who remembers. You smile at me a lot. I say I rolled, "forever and ever and ever" and Joe says, "Amen."
Part Three: Brian
It's ten o'clock. We're exhausted, drinking some soda that tastes like a mountain trail, and they say that there's going to be a night run. Four years I've been coming and hear of the run and I watch the run but this year I know, and the run beckons me into the frigid darkness. When I said I wanted to go again, I was only half conscious, but I'm serious now. Nathan's sore from our flight the day before and doesn't want to go up but you say you'll finally keep your promise. The night spins into a whirling blizzard of laughter and new jokes as we put on our boots and hats and gloves and climb up through the dark with one flashlight for ten people. The woods are cold, I can't see the path, and my head hurts, and Dustin takes a picture of me when I walk out from the trees, under the one hanging light to illuminate the fools sliding down the hill on their tubes.
Together we stumble upward, walking again in holes made by others that ventured to the mountain's peak, keeping steady with the hardening snow and the thought of just one more journey downward before we are called home. You sit down in the tube and I see that you are sideways. When it starts sideways it will slide backwards and yet I say nothing. You ask me if I am sure and the look on your face is screaming danger but I pretend to not care and I sit down.
With a word we are sliding, within an instant we are facing the top of the hill, backwards as predicted. You tell me later that your mind was racing at a thousand miles a second. I am full of fear, waiting for the slight jump in the snow. We hit small bumps, and I say maybe that was it, or maybe this one. Fear turns to terror when I realize how swiftly we are approaching the real thing. This time I do not reach for you and I do not close my eyes. There is tension. We hit the jump and I do not black out. I go limp, and for a moment I am calm. I fly through the air, touching you once, my eyes closed, and my vision flashes with splotches of green and yellow and purple as the left side of my head collides with the frozen hill. I cover my face too late and roll at all angles, my legs flailing around the ice and my body turning towards the other side of the run, like a rag doll thrown carelessly down a great staircase of snow.
When I stop on the other side I don't open my eyes. There are voices everywhere and I can't feel you and I can't touch you but everyone is touching me and I can't breathe. My chest shakes as I attempt to exhale and my head feels like it's being filled with lead, poured in through my closed eyelids. There's a tightening feeling in my chest and something throbbing in my neck and everyone is touching me and I can't breathe. Something in my nose crackles when I try to scrunch up my numbing face. Everyone is touching me and someone wants me to open my eyes and there are tears on my face and the colors flashing make me go mad behind my eyelids and I just want to sleep. I can hear you saying you hurt your knee and the Columbian boy is touching my shoulder and they're trying to get me to open my eyes.
I open them and I'm crying breathlessly and I can't see you and the Columbian boy's eyes are brilliant under the night sky. Everyone is touching me and talking to me like a child and trying to get me to sit up and I want to stand up by myself just stop touching me and let me stand up by myself. The hill spins around me and I seem to hover outside my body there as they lead me up the hill and the girl from Colorado that no one knows is pressing the swollen spot on my head and I can't see you and I can't touch you and I need you to tell me how awesome it was.
Later we will sit like old and broken statues on the long drive home and we will sing in weary voices. You will tell me that it was like a car accident at 35 miles and hour, you will say that we could have died. While I'm falling asleep, Mollie is standing up on the bus and falling over when it swerves, Nathan is breaking a promise and telling a lie, and I am happy to have spent one year nearly dying twice because it is a far journey from three past years of wishing simply to die. In my head I am still rolling forever and ever amen, I am still running blindly into the face of adversity