Continued from here.
“It’s going to be a tough ride today,” Mark said, leaning against the beat-up blue Landrover that had somehow gotten us there in one piece. I looked up at the tall mass of whirling snow.
“She’s not in a good mood, that’s for sure, but the cover on the top right below Goat looks a lot better then it did last week,” he continued, tracing a line in the air down the side of the peak with his finger.
I tilted my head and followed his tracing finger with my eyes, nodded, and gestured toward the opposite side of the mountain. It was frigid cold in the parking lot that morning, but the sun was making good headway and by mid afternoon the cliffs facing towards the sunny side would be mush.
“We’ll probably have deeper runs in the crevice by the river on the far right side. The tree cover there isn’t quite so thick.”
“That’s a good thought. We can try both.”
I turned towards the car to put my gear on. Our ski boots were lined up neatly side-by-side next to the air vents, our bags both organized by layer. This was the only situation when I was ever organized, and Mark was, thankfully, the same way.
He had fallen into my life like I’d fallen off the ledge of the frozen waterfall at the bottom of Kitchen Wall three months before. The day we met in the ski patroller’s hut, he’d offered to drive me home. I had refused. He had asked me if I could call someone to pick me up, since I couldn’t drive home with a concussion. I had told him there was no one to call. He offered to walk me to my car. That offer, at least, I had accepted, although I had refused to let him carry any of my gear. It wasn’t till I got outside and realized I couldn’t remember where I’d parked that I grudgingly allowed him to drive me home.
Our relationship started before either of us had our feet solidly under us. We were two weeks in when he started leaving his toothbrush at my place, a detail that would normally drive me into a panic attack, but for some reason I couldn’t help but let it slide. At four weeks he had essentially moved in. I rationalized this in my head as a side effect of my house being much closer to the mountain than his was, but I knew it was more then that when five in, I casually mentioned that I hadn’t spoken with my mother in seven years, a detail I’d never told anyone else about.
My faithful pup Elvis, a five year old SPCA mutt, would come out of the house like a bat out of hell whenever Mark pulled up in his deathtrap old car, barking an accusation that quickly turned into surrender when Mark shouted out his familiar “Atta boy!”. The dog took to flopping over on the ground at Mark’s feet, his tail flicking the snow from side to side like he was making a snow angel, long legs peddling the air. Nine times out of ten Mark came inside with wet patches on his knees from kneeling down to rub Elvis’s downy stomach, and my dog would bound in behind him with a high step, somehow able to walk with all four feet off the ground at once, and burrow between my legs to make sure that I was covered in snow, too.
“Hey lady,” Mark always greeted me, wrapping his arms around me, and we’d stand there until the chill from outside had drained out of his skin, my warm hands cupping his cold cheeks and our lips pressed fiercely together.
He was a natural storyteller with a voice like maple syrup over snow and at 28 he had already done most of the things on my bucket list. Mark told me once he’d watched the sunrise from the top of the Great Wall of China, that he’d sat on the steep steps and waited as the sun lit up the surrounding mountains. He told me that he’d eaten the best sandwich he’d ever had in the rainforest in Puerto Rico while hiking to some famous waterfalls, that he’d skied the French Alps in college with his friends and snuck wine back over with him because he had been under the age limit. When his words ran dry, he’d pull me into bed and we’d make love until poor Elvis was scratching at the door, howling right along with us.
When we lay together in bed, I’d inspect the various scars on his body and listen to his stories of how they’d gotten there, and I’d think to myself that I’d finally found someone who wouldn’t hold me back, who understood what it was to throw yourself into the air without any guarantee you were going to land. He surprised me, then, when I asked him to come scout the cliff under the Kitchen Wall with me and he declined.
“Isn’t that the ledge that’s put you in the hospital three times the past two years? Broken helmet cliff? The tree cover on the bottom is too thick and even if you could get all the way down to the head wall without breaking something, there’s never going to be enough snow to stick the landing. There’s no way.”
“There’s got to be a way.”
“Why can’t you let it go, Susan?”
“It’s not a question of letting it go,” I’d replied, defensively.
“Tell me,” he said quietly.
“It’s just something I have to do,” I said, and for the first time I realized it was true.
“I can’t really explain why.”
He was quiet for a long moment.
“You never talk about your past,” Mark said, and I blinked.
“What?” I asked.
“No, really. At Christmas when I went home you stayed here. You didn’t get any phone calls from any of them on your birthday or anything.”
“It’s not important.”
“Tell me,” he said, and I don’t know if it was because of how he’d asked me or because his eyes were like warm hot chocolate, but I started talking and couldn’t stop. I told him about how my parents got divorced and my mother married three more times after, how I went to live with my grandfather because my father travelled for work and ended up moving to California with his new family. How I wasn’t there the day my Papa died, and how badly that ate me up inside. How there were so many things that I wanted to do with my life that some days I felt I was running and some days I was stuck standing still.
“Susan,” he said when my words ran dry, “you don’t have to try so damn hard all the time. You don’t need to ski that cliff. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore. I’m right here.”
I started to cry, and Elvis bounded in from the next room, jumped on to the bed and let out one long, mournful wail, and my sobs turned into laughter and he held me tighter then anyone ever had before.