they pay to kiss your feet

since there's no one else around, we let our hair grow long and forget all we used to know. then our skin gets thicker from living out in the snow.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hard to believe for me, even, but this story is true.

The first time I went skiing, I was in the French-speaking part of Canada surrounded by French-speaking ski instructors and chair lift operators and standing beside a mostly French-speaking pen pal who I hardly knew. I was in fifth grade and my glasses were fogging up and my legs were unsteady and I got down the bunny hill by rolling, not by skiing. I could hardly even manage the rope tow.

But despite my recklessness, the ski instructor decided it was time for my entire fifth grade class to brave the chairlift and the mountain.

First, you have to understand that I was entirely out of my comfort zone in every imaginable way. For starters, I was in Canada. My parents were still in Missouri. I dealt with horrible bouts of separation anxiety throughout my early, less formidable years and this stuff about being thousands of miles away wasn’t quite the ticket to pure mental stability.

Then there’s the fact that I hated my pen pal. And I mean HATED. My catholic, private grade school with a French name was sister schools to an institution of the same name in Quebec. We began writing our pen pals in third grade with the idea that in fifth grade we would meet. Each month, we’d anticipate the arrival of a bundle of new pen pal letters and, best of all, presents. Yes, presents. Only, I was the only kid who regularly received little more than a scribbled note and a yearbook photo. All of my friend and classmates got diaries and puffy stickers and trapper keepers from their pen pals. They also got photos of their pen pal’s summer homes and mountain homes and fast cars. I got the short end of the stick. I know now, of course, that gifts and riches weren’t what should have mattered, but I was 10, and when you’re 10, that stuff is what, unfortunately, makes the difference.

So, I’m standing there getting ready to get on the chair lift with my pen pal that I hate, a ski instructor that I can’t understand, and a pair of glasses that cover half my face and are all foggy and I was scared. For good reason. Getting off the chair lift wasn’t a matter of grace, it was a matter of survival. I just kind of fell out of the chair and rolled a little bit until the angry skiers behind me shoved me out of the way. I then attempted to ski down the mountain, only after 30 minutes of getting 30 feet and falling 30 times, I took my skis off and began the long trek of walking down the mountain. Needless to say, I was three hours late for lunch. And let me point out again that I was in fifth grade! Why was no one supervising me?

Later, I tried the chair lift again. Only this time, I noticed the sign that read “ICI,” which means “here” in French. Only, I was so discombobulated and delirious that I read it as “ICE” and even though there was none, I slipped, fell and stayed on the ground until the chair lift came right on by and hit me in the head. The French-speaking chair lift operator mumbled something to me in French and then stopped the entire system so that I could stand up, push my glasses back onto my nose and take my seat on what I had begun to think of as the ride to death.

For the sake of a good story, I wish the story got worse, but that’s about the worst of it. After my head-banging incident, the ski instructor realized I needed some more instructing. And after an hour and a half session, I was able to make it down the mountain. Despite my success, the chair lift guy remembered me (how could he forget???) and stopped the lift, again, so that I could get on without nearly losing my life.

By the end of the ski trip, I still hated my pen pal, but I loved to ski. In one month, I will brave the slopes again, for only the third time since that strange introduction to the sport. Only this time, I will be with my friends and my husband and very much in America.


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