We headed to Squaw Valley to spend quality time maiming ourselves. "You'll like it," my friend told me, pulling goggles and sunscreen from her bag. I hadn't remembered to bring anything.
Gear-less didn't translate to burden-free. I'd had a breakup the night before. "It's mostly me," he'd said, holding my hand as rain snuck through my car's faulty convertible top. "Right now I just can't give the everyday effort that a relationship takes."
We arrived at Squaw, a borrowed hat jammed on my head and an ancient green overcoat doing its damnedest to keep me warm. I watched as I was fitted for a waterproof bib, measured for ski boots, and tagged with my day pass for the slopes. I felt external to it all, as if the resort's staff had somehow taken over my body and left the rest to explode out into the cold.
"When I first met you," he said, "you were the perfect person. You're literary, you're smart, you're funny. I can't believe no one's ever told you that."
I waited in line with a hundred other bundled-up revelers. They all seemed so gung-ho and happy. This is fun, I told myself. Lighten up.
"I don't want to lose you," he said. The rain fell harder, muffling his words.
The cable car arrived to bring us up the mountain's sheer face. Its rocking told me how much of life lies beyond our control. The line could've snapped in an instant and there was nothing I could do about it.
"I don't want to lose you," he said. "I don't. But I can't return your affections."
There were nine other beginners in our group, including an eight-year-old who glared at the mountain between tearbursts. Reluctantly I strapped on my skis. Kid, I thought, I know just how you feel.
Within five minutes she was laughing, hopping her feet into a pie wedge. I was the one who couldn't adjust.
"I've told you everything about me," he said. "You know more than most people. I could spend an entire weekend with you, just watching movies and talking and hanging out at that little neighborhood cafe."
When the group started down a slight hill, I watched them go. I knew I couldn't keep up. Then my hat blew off and away. Screw ski lessons. I reversed course and tottered back to the lodge. I stumbled through the snow and came within an inch of running into another ski instructor.
"Have you," I asked her as she helped me to stand upright, "ever seen someone have a breakdown up here?"
"Plenty," she answered. "Are you breaking down?"
Fine, he didn't want to lose me. We'd do what we could to make things work.
"A breakdown," I told her, "takes a lot more than this."
About the author:
Allison Landa is an Oakland, Calif.-based writer who is currently earning her MFA in creative writing at St. Mary's College of California. She is also a fiction editor for MARY, the St. Mary's graduate-student journal, as well as the literary editor for the online journal Barcid Homily.
© 2011 Word Riot