Today was the day. After weeks of throbbing pain in my knee, months of having to be careful how I walked, long nights of cursing how long it takes a ligament to heal, months of stretching my leg to get it back to normal — this morning I returned to the place where I'd been injured. After a full year of dreading the moment, it was time to tackle my new and completely rational fear. The time had come to face my terror of getting off a chairlift.
The morning began with the usual last-minute rush as the kids and I raced around the house, getting our gear together, shoving it all two vehicles. We wanted to be at the ski center before the lift began running, and that meant we had to leave by 8 am. My plan was to take a run before my snowboard lesson: I'd already decided that Boy in Black, and not some random instructor, was going to be the person with me when I got off the chairlift for the first time since my injury.
"Hurry up!" I kept yelling at the kids.
"What about my green neck thing?" Shaggy Hair asked. "I can't find it."
"You don't need it, " I told him. "It's pretty warm out."
He looked at me. "But when I wear my green neck thing, I feel invincible."
After finding all manner of missing items, including the green neck gaiter, and yelling at Boy in Black about ten times to wake up, I finally got the half-asleep teenagers out the door and into the vehicles, and we took off, leaving my husband with a quiet albeit messy house to himself. By about 9 am, I had my snowboard strapped to my right foot and was sitting on the chairlift, heading upwards.
Despite the sinking feeling in my stomach, I did take a minute to look at the scene. The mountains in Snowstorm region are gentle mountains, covered with pine trees and hardwoods, with big white swatches that are the ski slopes. The weather was unseasonably warm, and the air felt soft, one of those warm days when you can take your mittens off to adjust your bindings without losing a finger to frostbite. The snow was soft, not icy, and below us, a couple of boarders were hitting the jump on the headwall. It was a perfect day for snowboarding, really, if only I could get off the lift without killing myself.
"I am so scared about this," I said to my oldest son, who was sitting right next to me, his own snowboard dangling from his right foot.
He adjusted his goggles. "Well, it's too late to change your mind."
I kept reviewing aloud what I needed to do. Turn sideways on the metal chair. Get my board down onto the ground. Get my left foot onto the stomp pad. Push off from the chair before it could knock me down. Boy in Black listened patiently, nodded, and didn't say much. He's a pretty laidback personality. This is his eighth year snowboarding, and I knew he could get out of my way no matter which way I slid.
As we approached the ramp, Boy in Black lifted the metal restraining bar, and I tried to turn sideways as much as I could. Of course, I was hampered by the fact that I was wearing heavy outdoor clothes, I was on a metal chair dangling 30 feet above the ground, and I had this long heavy snowboard strapped to my right foot.
And then, the moment came. We approached the ramp. We were close enough that I could even read the clock inside the little hut where the lift operator works.
"Just put your board down and go," Boy in Black said.
And I did it. With my right foot strapped in and my left foot on the stomp pad, I coasted away from the chair lift and stopped in a patch of new snow. When I finally took a breath, I could feel all kinds of adrenaline surging through my bloodstream.
Later this evening, after a full day of boarding, and enough trips up the chair lift that it no longer scared me, I told the dramatic story to First Extra, who doesn't snowboard but had come over to hang out with Boy in Black at the end of the day.
"It was one of the scariest things I've ever done, " I told him.
"Ever?" he said.
"Well, maybe in the top 100 scariest moments."
Then I thought about it some more. "I can remember feeling just a little scared right before Daughter was born — because I'd never had a baby before — but that was different because I wasn't dreading it. This was something I've been dreading for a whole year."
First Extra said in his usual dry way. "Well, having a baby is natural. Jumping off a metal chair with a piece of wood strapped to your foot is not."