The Downhill Trio

It couldn’t have come at a better time: the last day of work before Christmas break. I had been dreading the onset of the holiday season for months, ever since my wife left me for reasons I still don’t fully understand.

“I don’t love you anymore.”

That was the only reason she gave. I guess that’s as good a reason as any. But specifics would have been nice – especially since it seemed to come so out of the blue.

Deep down, despite all the doubts, second-guessing and flat-out denial, I knew the real reason she was leaving me: I’m boring. Plain yogurt boring. And in all probability, she decided it was time for some fruit on the bottom.

The weeks leading up to Christmas were rough, despite the fact that I was staying busy. After much hesitation, I finally decided to deck my halls, coming to the conclusion that it would be therapeutic to decorate the house in an effort to simultaneously move on and keep things status quo. In reality, decorating had had the reverse effect, turning my house (which I decertified as a “home” after she left) into a gallery of ghosts of Christmas past everywhere I turned.

I had recently put my house up for sale. In fact, my agent was the one who suggested that decorating my house would make the house look more attractive to potential buyers. As far as I was concerned, I couldn’t sell it fast enough. As long I remained living there, it felt like I was living on the set of a play in which I had once co-starred in, but now sat empty behind closed curtains until the crew tore it down in anticipation of the next show.

***

I received an invite halfway through the day to meet up with some co-workers at our favorite watering hole. The day dragged on, but eventually the last period finally ended and I quickly packed up my stuff, keeping my fingers crossed that a student wouldn’t come in expecting a Christmas miracle in the form of private tutoring. I finished packing my bags, waited another minute to feign some level of professionalism – something that had taken a major nose dive ever since she left.

I headed to the bar. I was the last to arrive. In fact, not only was everyone already there, but they were already on their second drink.

Minutes after I arrived, Adriana – a young, attractive, but mildly intimidating French teacher that I barely knew – popped a question:

“Does anybody want to join me on a ski trip to Canada for a couple of days?”

Melody – a history teacher who I knew even less than Adriana – joined in.

“When?”

Like Adriana, Melody was also very cute, but in more of a punk rock, snowboarder sort of way, contrasting with Adriana’s more straight-laced and conservative business demeanor.

“Leaving on the 21st. Coming back the 23rd,” Adriana explained.

“Sure. Why not?” Melody said.

“Anybody else?” Adriana asked. Nobody else showed an interest.

“Jimmy?” Adriana asked, looking me square in the eye.

“I, don’t know…,” I characteristically mumbled, offering every possible excuse I could find: cost, timing, no skis, no helmet, Christmas shopping left to do, etc.

“Do you have a passport?” Adriana asked.

“Yes.”

“Then you’re all set. That’s all you really need.”
I knew right then and there I didn’t have a choice. I was going skiing, whether I liked it or not. I figured at this point, I had nothing to lose. Sure, I was already broke. So what harm could a little more broke do? Besides, I could simultaneously kill two birds with one stone by doing something completely spontaneous and keeping me from having to be home alone during the holidays.

And just like that, I was set to embark on a road trip, newly single, to a ski resort with two beautiful women that I barely knew. It was every man’s dream.

Thanks to a flakey GPS that apparently lost its marbles, combined with scattered snow flurries, what should have been a four-hour drive to Blue Mountain, Ontario turned into a seven hour one. Adriana was irritated because it was going to cut into her nighttime runs on the slopes. Melody was irritated with Adriana for being so irritated. And I was taking it all in stride, just happy to be away from the ghost that was once my home.

Despite these hiccups, during the course of our journey, three strangers morphed into friends. We quickly learned how much we had in common and how much we didn’t, soon realizing that this trip couldn’t have come at a better time. When it was all said and done, we began the trip as strangers. By the time we pulled into the parking lot of the resort, we were the best of friends.

We got out of the car, stretched out our stiff legs, then proceeded to unload the car. Melody reached for her bag, but I kindly grabbed it for her.

“Allow me.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course.”

Adriana took this as an open invitation and handed me an even bigger bag than Melody’s, along with some other items until I was completed loaded with luggage and ski gear.

“I think that about does it,” Adriana said, before briskly heading to the entrance as I lumbered across the parking lot. Seeing that I was struggling, Melody took it upon herself to take some of the load off me.

“I’m good,” I stated.

“No reason why I can’t help,” Melody said.

“He can carry it,” Adriana said. “It’s good for him.”

“So can I,” Melody made clear, adding “Are you always this bossy?”

“Yes.”

“And you wonder why you’re single?”

“Thanks for the reminder.”

We had already entered the bickering stage of our budding friendship.

As we passed through the door of the lodge, I managed to get Adriana’s skis stuck in the doorframe. I made a spectacle of myself as I tried to get unstuck. Once again, Melody came to my aid.

At the check-out counter, Adriana’s true colors reared their ugly head once again.

“I specifically requested a room with two beds,” Adriana told the clerk, seething with anger.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. But the most we can offer is a single bed,” the clerk said. This statement instantly grabbed my attention as I imagined the possibilities.

“That is not what I requested.”

“I understand, but we are fully booked.”

“That’s not my problem.”

Melody and I looked at each other in embarrassment, wishing nothing more than to disassociate from Queen Adriana at once.

“I’m very sorry. But what would you like me to do? We can’t ask our other guests to leave their room.”

“If they made their reservations after me you can.”

“I’m afraid we can’t do that.”

“I would like to speak to your manager.”

“I am the manager.”

Adriana realized she was fighting a losing battle and waved the white flag. At it turned out, the room had a pullout bed, which had been the story of my life on family vacations. For the first 17 years of my life, my two sisters always shared a bed and I would get the pullout. Only, these weren’t my sisters and I was still getting the pullout nonetheless. Life always finds a way of coming full circle.

The long walk to our room did nothing to ease Adriana’s stress level. She was still fuming as we entered our room. Melody pulled back the curtain to reveal a steaming hot tub (matching the steam coming out of Adriana’s ears) beneath the backdrop of an illuminated mountain. My attention immediately zoomed in on the hot tub; the girls’ attention aimed at the slopes.

Once we settled in, Adriana and Melody headed for a nighttime run on the slopes, leaving me to my own devices – which for a novice skier, meant walking around the cozy, holiday-decorated Bavarian village, feeling completely out of place. It was one of those moments when one asks oneself: What am I doing here? This question applied on many levels. A year ago at this time, I was preparing for Christmas with my wife – probably wrapping presents while watching A Charlie Brown Christmas for the third time. Cut to one year later. I’m divorced … I’m at a ski resort … with two attractive women … in Canada. There are some things you just can’t predict, no matter how much one tries. This was definitely one of them.

After wandering aimlessly around the resort’s fairy tale village, I realized that I was not adequately dressed for the weather, so I wandered into the cozy and familiar confines of Starbucks. Sweaty, stinky skiers and snowboarders, tired after a long day on the slopes (but aware that the night was still young) gathered to award themselves with expensive mochas and lattes, fancy Frappuccinos, and exotic teas. Compared to everyone else, who earned their drink following a long, strenuous day, I felt like an imposter, but that didn’t stop me from ordering a large mocha (er, grande) well-aware that it would give me gas, momentarily forgetting I was sharing a room with two attractive women.

The floor of the Starbucks had a puddle of water caused from melted snow one to two inches deep. It wasn’t the coziest of Starbucks, but it served its purpose. I found an empty table in the corner, sat down and pulled out a book that I needed to read over break in order to teach it for the first time. However, I was like an infant drawn to the myriad of colorful, bright snow jackets and attractive snow bunnies that were coming and going with their skinny asses and skinny lattes.

When I finished my coffee, I decided to head back to the room, where I would await Adriana and Melody, who were probably flying down a hill at this very moment, while I was wondering once again what I was doing here in the first place. It was right then that my mocha-fueled gas set in. And naturally, it was at that exact moment when Adriana and Melody walked in.

“Did somebody slaughter a cow in here?” Melody asked upon entry.

“What?” I asked, pretending not to know what they were talking about.

“Did you fart, or did you shit?” Adriana asked.

I realized feigning innocence was next to impossible and admitted to my crime. After all, admitting to a fart wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as admitting to a bad shit.

“Anybody up for the hot tub?” Adriana asked, both changing the subject and looking for a way out the room I just turned into a contamination zone. My eyes immediately widened at this suggestion: a hot tub with two attractive women. You couldn’t script a better opening to a porno! Of course, the miniscule chance for a sexual miracle was eradicated by the fumes pouring out of my body. But the fantasy remained.

“I’ll bring the wine,” Melody said.

We agreed that the logical thing would be for me to change in the bathroom, to give the girls privacy. And of course, the entire time, all I could think about was the fact that there were two hot naked women on the other side of the bathroom door. The reminder that one dorky, hairy dude was on the other side brought everything back to reality.

When we were all ready, we headed out to the frigid outdoors and I immediately wondered what in the hell I was doing in nothing but a t-shirt and swimsuit in late December … in Canada.

As we approached the empty hot tub, I was astonished at the sheer size of it. It was more like a medium-sized swimming pool – a hot water oasis in a snow desert. Steam swirled into the air, creating an other-worldly feel. It brought to mind the grotto at the Playboy Mansion.

I watched Adriana and Melody disrobe, revealing sexy bikinis. They noticed I was watching and I awkwardly looked away, but not before noticing that they were also cold. As they climbed into the tub, I began to reluctantly disrobe – partially due to my insecurity regarding body image issues (magnified by the presence of attractive women), but also out of fear of exposing my flesh to the cold, Canadian December air. I momentarily considered leaving my t-shirt on for these two reasons combined, then thought the better of it. As I awkwardly removed my t-shirt, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the sensation of cold air. A few seconds later, I was quickly reminded why we bundle up in the winter to begin with.

As I turned to set my shirt down, Melody exclaimed:

“Nice buttstache!”

I knew exactly what she meant the moment she said it. Adriana did not.

“Nice what?” she asked.

“A moustache above his ass. Look!” she said, pointing at the tuff of hair on my lower back. Adriana laughed. I was already self-conscious about what I always regarded as a random growth of hair on my lower back. Despite being on my lower back, it was too low to be considered back hair, so it was more or less an extension of my butt hair, lost in a no man’s land, in search of an identity until one was found in Melody’s perfect, succinct description: “Buttstache.”

With that now out of the way, I proceeded to join Adriana and Melody, weaseling my way in-between them. My intentions couldn’t have been more blatantly obvious. It occurred to me that this was quite likely the closest I would ever get to Hugh Hefner’s status.

Melody opened the wine and poured it into three flimsy, plastic cups she grabbed from our room. They were already wilting from the heat of the tub.

When I received my wine, I immediately proceeded to spill some into the tub.

“Hey, that’s good wine you’re wasting!” Adriana said, as Melody raised her glass for a toast.

“To new friends,” Melody said.

As we lightly “clinked” our cups, I wondered if it was possible for the heat to actually cause the plastic to melt into one another. It wasn’t.

“So, Jimmy. If you don’t mind my asking, what exactly happened to your marriage anyway?” Adriana bluntly asked.

“It ended.”

“Can you elaborate?” Adriana followed up like an inquisitive news reporter.

“Maybe he doesn’t want to,” Melody chimed in.

“No, it’s cool, I said, going on to explain how “once upon a time two people fell in love. One person changed (her) and expected the other to change with her (me) and when I was unable to change, what began as a fairy tale ended in a nightmare that I haven’t woken up from yet.”

“And look at you now,” Melody said with a wink.

We all laughed. She had a good point.

“I guess things aren’t so bad after all,” I added. And it was then that I noticed that this moment – this very moment – marked the first time that I could honestly say that I had finally moved on. It may have only been a baby step forward, but it was progress, nonetheless.

The three of us sat in silence for a moment, enjoying the moment, sipping red wine and reflecting on our own lives and everything that led to this exact moment, until Melody finally spoke up.

“If I tell you guys something, can you promise not to tell anyone else?”

“What happens in Canada, stays in Canada, right?” Adriana said.

“My husband told me he’s leaving me.”
What?” Adriana asked, shocked. “When?”

“About a month ago.”

Since I knew nothing about Melody – let alone her marriage – I sat back and listened, sympathetic in the shared experience of being left behind by the person you loved more than anything.

“You guys are the perfect couple,” Adriana said.

“That’s what I thought,” Melody said in agreement.

“Why did he leave?”

“He claims he can’t be the person he wants to be with me.”

“What does that mean?”

“His dream of being a musician. He knows I’m supportive, but he feels that he holds himself back too much from really pursuing it, even though I told him he should do whatever it takes.”

Melody finished her wine and poured herself another cup.

“Wow. I’m so sorry. Is there any chance he’ll change his mind?” Adriana asked.

“At first, I thought so. But I’m finally starting to accept the fact that he isn’t. The thing is, I love him too much to beg.”

I took that as my cue to enter into the fray.

“At least you supported him. That’s the most you can do. My wife used to support me. But then she suddenly didn’t. I wish I could tell him how lucky he is.”

Adriana proceeded to put it all into perspective.

“I know this sounds awful, but here I was feeling so sorry for myself for not having anybody to come home to. But then I heard this and I remind myself how great it is to still be single.”

“Good point,” I said.

“In all actuality, despite how it sounds, I’m still a little bit jealous … of both of you.”

”You sure about that?” Melody said.

“I know the grass is always greener on the other side and all of that, but at least you guys know what it’s like to be loved. Some of us are never that lucky.”

“But do you want to be in a relationship,” Melody asked.

“Most of the time, I don’t. But lately, I’ve become more aware of my ticking clock. And feel the urge to do something about it. So deep down …”

“We’re all unhappy,” I finally said, half-jokingly revealing the truth.

“I thought I was happy,” I elaborated. “I thought we both were. Now nothing is the same and I have to redefine what happiness even is. And somehow get to the other side of sadness.”

“The other side of sadness,” Melody echoed. “I like that.

“Kind of like ‘over the rainbow,’” Adriana added.

“Is it just me,” Melody began, “or is this turning into a grown-up The Breakfast Club all of a sudden?”

Adriana and I laughed.

“It’s going to be like we make this awesome connection, learn something about ourselves, but then never make a connection like this again,” Melody said.

“Like summer camp,” Adriana added. We all laughed, because we knew she was right.

And then, as though on cue from an unreleased John Hughes movie, a group of rowdy Russians (two guys and three girls) approached the hot tub, jabbering away in their native tongue. Their “leader” – who we would later come to know as Andrei – carried a large bottle of vodka. He had long, flowing Fabio-esque blonde hair (Fabiov?) and looked as though he could have been the Russian love child of Gerard Depadieu and Chris Farley. And to top it all off, he wore a Speedo designed as a Russian flag.

We watched with wonderment and amusement.

“My ex is from Russia,” I whispered to Adriana and Melody. In other words, the last thing my mind needed at this time was a reminder of my former life.

The Russians entered the tub – with the exception of Andrei – who literally leaped into the tub. They proceeded to pass the bottle of vodka around, each taking enormous swigs.

“Mind if I have some of that?” Melody asked, taking us by surprise.

“Of course,” Andrei said in a thick-accented, almost condescending tone, as though there were only one logical answer to this question.

Andrei passed the bottle to Melody, who took a moderate swig, before passing it on to me.

“Naw, I’m good.”

“Don’t be a pussy,” Melody said, now clearly drunk.

“Vodka and I don’t mix. Especially when combined with red wine.”

“Drink it!” Adriana demanded forcefully, leaving me little choice.

I took the path of least resistance – a baby sip … or as Melody pointed out, a pussy sip.

“Take it like a man!” Adriana commanded.

So I did, at which point I gagged like a child taking cough medicine. Half of my sip ended up in the hot tub.

“Give me that,” Adriana said, grabbing the bottle out of my unworthy hand, which was fine by me. To me, dinking straight vodka is on par with drinking urine – only much more dangerous. I learned this lesson all too well in Russia. I wasn’t about to re-learn it here in Canada. I’ll stick to beer, eh?

Adriana passed the bottle back to Andrei.

“Thanks,” Adriana said.

“My pleasure,” Andrei said with a flirtatious wink, proceeding to take a long, masculine swig without so much of a blink of the eye. And then, suddenly, without warning, Andrei emerged from the hot tub, ran full speed, and barrel rolled into the snow. His bikinied comrades followed suit. I watched with stunned disbelief. From my experience, I knew Russians were tough … and thick-skinned. But I didn’t think their skin was immune from frostbite. Yet, here they were, frolicking half-naked in the snow. Andrei alternated kissing both girls. It resembled something out of a Swedish porn.

Andrei then motioned toward Adriana and Melody. They accepted at once, without hesitation. Was Andrei a sorcerer?, I wondered to myself. There could be no other explanation. I watched as they joined the melee and proceeded to make snow angels. I kept waiting for Andrei to kiss them, too, thus confirming my suspicions of sorcery. But even drunk, snow angel-making Russians know their limits.

“Hey, Jimmy!” Adriana called out. “Join us!”

“I’m good,” I said. I really was. There was nothing appealing about rolling around in the snow in my swimsuit. Then again, neither was riding a 200 foot roller coaster when I was 10 years old, but I ended up becoming a convert for life. This thought + wine + baby sip of vodka + four hot chicks – one drunk Russian dude = why the hell not? So I climbed out of the tub and dove into the snow, where I was greeted with drunken applause. I was surprised at how good it felt! It wasn’t cold at all. The warmth of the hot tub, combined with my body hair, made me realize how much in common I had with a polar bear after all – a comparison I never thought would be apt, but suddenly was.

A few seconds later, I was reminded once again of my humanity. I was not a polar bear. I was a human being. And human beings weren’t meant to lie in the snow in nothing but a swimsuit for very long. So we all high-tailed it back to the hot tub. How the rest of them stayed out as long as they did, I have no clue. Little did I know that the most unpleasant part of the whole experience was re-entry into the tub. It stung. Like a motherfucking bee. Yet, I was the only one who seemed to be feeling it – at least outwardly, creating yet another opportunity for Adriana and Melody to get on my case about my lack of masculinity. Story of my life and presumably partially why my ex left me in the first place. But I digress.

After we finished off the bottle of wine (and in the case of Adriana and Melody – half of Andrei’s vodka), we headed back to the room, ordered a pizza, then went to sleep. It was my last night as a ski virgin.

***

Following breakfast, we headed to the ski rental station, where I got geared up for my first time on the slopes, nearly taking out passerby with my skis as I headed out of the station. I had a lot to learn. The moment I painfully slipped into my ski boots, I wondered if this was all some sort of cosmic mistake … or joke. I had no more business skiing than I did, say, Formula One driving. Yet, here I was, in the driver’s seat of my skis.

Once I was hoisted into my skis, I looked like a toddler attempting to take its first steps … only, this toddler was blind. And had one leg. Or perhaps, no feet at all. With the help of Adriana and Melody, I eventually got the hang of it, but my ankles hurt like hell. My struggle to simply walk in my skis did little to boost my confidence as to how I would do on a slope.

The girls guided me toward the bunny hill, arms flanking me on both sides like a scene out of The Green Mile. But instead of a large, magical black man with healing powers, it was, well, me: dorky, scrawny white guy on his way to a self-imposed execution.

When we reached the bunny hill, I turned even whiter … with fear.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s bigger than I thought.”

“Are you serious? It’s a bunny hill! Even two-year-olds can handle this!” Adriana exclaimed.

“What were you expecting?” Melody chimed in. “Gopher mounds?”

I decided to save face.

“I can handle it,” I said, with all the bravado I could muster. “It’s just that I pictured it a little smaller.”

“It’s practically inverted!” Adriana said, rubbing it in even further.

As they continued pushing me toward impending doom, Andrei and his harem walked by, snowboards in hand.

Andrei winked at Adriana and Melody, before looking at me with a smug grin: “Your friend. He like new born baby.”

I pretended that I didn’t hear him, as Adriana and Melody laughed. Sensing that my feelings were hurt, Melody stopped, but Adriana kept snickering at me as Andrei and his lady comrades continued on, presumably en route to a much more glorious hill. For some reason, I envisioned each one of the Russian babes sitting on one of Andrei’s shoulders as he skied down the hill.

“Can I just go sledding instead?” I asked, completely serious.

“Absolutely not,” Adriana said. Melody simply rolled her eyes. “We’re going to teach you all you need to know. And by the time the day is through, you will be a skier.”

Adriana and Melody proceeded to indeed teach me everything I needed to know: how to bend my knees, how to angle my body, how to turn, and most importantly – how to stop. As it turned out, they had both surpassed my beginning skill level by the time they were three.

After my preliminary lesson was complete, I was ready to meet my maker. Adriana and Melody promised to help me through my first couple of runs before they headed to the “big people hills.” They led me to the base of the bunny hill, where a small line of mostly children and their parents waited in front of a conveyor belt that ran alongside the hill at a slight angle.

“Where’s the ski-lift?” I naively asked.

“There is no ski-lift on a bunny hill,” Adriana explained. This discovery was my first (of many) disappointments that day. In fact, the ski-lift was one of the things I was most looking for. It had always seemed fun and interesting to me, not to mention the safest part of skiing.

“You need to try the next hill to ride one of those,” Melody explained,

“Would that be the rabbit hill?” I joked.

Adriana and Melody both looked at me, confused.

“The what?” Adriana asked.

“The rabbit hill. I just assumed that the next logical progression from a bunny hill was a rabbit hill.”

“You’re an odd duck,” Melody said in reply. Adriana simply rolled her eyes again. I was beginning to wonder whether she had some sort of strange nervous tick. There was no doubting that. More importantly, I now had motivation to master the bunny hill as quickly as possible so I could move onto the ski-lift. It would be my trophy.

Our turn to climb aboard the conveyor belt finally arrived. Adriana climbed on first, followed by me, then Melody. This way, I would have protection on both sides of me – protection that was needed from the moment I climbed on board. I momentarily lost my balance, nearly stumbling to the ground, but Melody was there to catch me.

“Just make sure you keep your feet parallel so you don’t trip over your own skis,” she instructed. Mentally, this made perfect sense. Physically, it was a much more difficult task.

“Maybe he isn’t ready for this,” Adriana said.

“He is,” Melody said, coming to my defense. “He’ll be fine.” I sort of agreed more with Adriana on this matter.

As we approached the top of the hill, I felt my anxiety growing – not so much about the hill itself, but rather stepping off the conveyor belt. I didn’t really know what to do. I have the same issue with escalators – but at least with escalators, my feet are not attached to long, slippery sticks. This was worse. Much worse.

At the risk of sounding like a fool, I asked “What do I do once I get to the top?”

“Go down,” Adriana said.

“No, I mean from the conveyor belt.”

“Just keep your skis parallel. It’s fool proof.”

“Well, that’s good,” I said, realizing how much she was probably directing “fool proof” at me.

Of course, nothing is ever as easy as advertised. At least, not for me. When we finally reached the top, Adriana effortlessly and somewhat gracefully stepped off. I watched her every move. In fact, I was watching her so carefully, I didn’t take into account that due to the skis, the process of getting off the conveyor belt actually begins a few feet in front of you. I was completely thrown off guard and panicked, crossing my skis and falling over, which led to Melody falling on top of me, as did a couple of small children after her. I was face down in the snow, struggling to breathe. Suddenly, an alarm sounded and the conveyor belt jerked to a complete stop, allowing ski patrol to clear the human debris that had collected at the top. Most people out of view probably assumed that it was some poor, scared little child that caused this pile of human wreckage – not a fully-grown man. But for everyone who knew me, however, this was not a surprise in any way.

Once everybody was untangled from the pile-up I created, I struggled to get back up on my feet – I mean skis, but not without the help of a brawny ski patroller, who was stoic on the outside, but I knew was probably laughing on the inside.

He patiently helped me down the small slope leading away from the conveyor belt, much like he did with countless children on a daily basis. My arms flailed about like a schoolgirl … or a maniac.

“First time?” he asked, knowingly.

“First time,” I said, dejected, before thanking him for perhaps saving my life.

“Try not to flail your arms,” he said. “It only makes your balance worse.” He then turned custody over to my friends, who led me to the cusp of the hill. I arrived there without incident – a small miracle in itself. Suddenly, I was overcome with an unexpected wave of confidence.

They prepared me for my first solo run, reviewing everything they taught me one last time.

“Remember, knees bent, toes pointed inward,” Melody said.

“Got it,” I said.

“We’ll go first. Watch what we do and then copy us,” Adriana said. Five feet away, proud, but nervous parents prepared their four-year-old in the same manner.

I watched the girls effortlessly go down … looked easy enough. By the same token, I doubted whether I could actually come anywhere close to replicating their form. With trembling nerves, I got into position, counted to three and was on my way. It was a disaster from the moment I took off.

“Bend your knees more!” Melody shouted from the bottom of the hill. I did, crossing my skis in the process and wiping out. A child no older than five or six swooshed past me, giving me a snow job to the face.

After I got over the shock of my tumble, I attempted to get up, but realized I wasn’t prepared for this. I could hear Adriana and Melody laughing at my expense from the bottom of the hill. After several attempts, I finally managed to get back on my feet – both literally and figuratively. Following my small victory, I managed to make it back safely the rest of the way … until I had to stop that is. Unable to exert any control over my skis, I proceeded to plow into the same kid that narrowly avoided hitting me on the hill. The kid flew backwards, his feet literally leaving the ground for a couple of seconds, before landing into the soft snow. He lay there, stunned for a moment, before bursting into tears, clearly in pain. And I felt like the world’s largest asshole. Meanwhile, his parents rushed to his aid. His mother tended to him, while his father stared me down.

“Watch where you’re going, eh?” the boy’s father said, clearly Canadian.

I’m so sorry. I don’t know how to stop.”

“Then maybe you should stay off the slopes.”

He was absolutely right. Fortunately, his son was already back on his feet and eagerly heading back up for another run. I, on the other hand, was not.

Adriana and Melody greeted me.

“Not too bad for your first run,” Melody said. “When I was four, I broke my leg my first time. So it could always be worse.” This did nothing to boost my confidence.

“Ready for another run?” Adriana asked.

“I think I’ve had enough,” I declared.

“You did fine!” Melody said.

“I almost killed a small child!” I said, flailing my arms – and my extension – my ski poles, nearly taking out another child in the process.

“He’ll be okay,” Adriana said. “And so will you. You just have to learn how to stop.”

“I don’t know …,” I said.
“I believe in you,” Melody added.

“Melody believes in you,” Adriana said.

They were right. The second time did go much better. No pile-ups, no falls, no injuries to myself or others, and I even managed to come to a decent stop. The girls decided I was ready to be left to my own devices, so they could actually do some real skiing.

“Remember,” Adriana began as they walked off. “Keep your knees bent. And don’t cross your skis.”

I nodded.

“And don’t take out any small children. Or woodland creatures,” Melody added.

“Got it.”

“You’ll do fine. Just don’t do anything you don’t feel ready for.”

“I don’t see that happening.” And with that, I was all by myself.

I made two more runs down the hill, both of which were near perfection. Full of what could only be false confidence, I decided that I had earned the right to graduate to the next hill – less for the run, and more for the ski-lift.

As I waited in line at the base of the lift, I felt myself becoming more and more nervous as questions began to emerge in my mind. Questions such as: should I get trained for this? How do I get on the lift? How do I get off? What if one of my skis – or both – fall off? What if I drop one of my poles? After all, this was a bit more complicated than the conveyor belt. It actually left the ground. I considered backing out, but I knew I’d regret it. I weighed the regret factor against the risk factor and decided to stay in line, which was actually uncharacteristic of me. Usually, even a small risk was a deal breaker for me.

My turn had finally come. I awkwardly sat on the lift (well, fell into it is more accurate), struggling to secure the safety gate as the lift car began its unexpectedly fast ascent up and above the hill. As I looked past my skies dangling beneath me, I was crippled with complete and utter fear.

The signs posted on the beams certainly didn’t help matters:

MOST FALLS OCCUR WHEN RIDERS REMOVE SAFETY BAR TOO SOON.

BE SURE TO LIFT BAR WHEN YOU REACH DESGINATED SIGN.

CAR DOES NOT TURN AROUND

With each passing sign, I grew more and more nervous. I kept my hand on the latch as I waited further instruction to remove it. The signs almost seemed to be taunting me:

NOT YET.

STILL NOT YET.

YOU MAY NOW REMOVE THE SAFETY BAR

As I attempted to unlatch the lock, I accidentally dropped one of my poles and watched it disappear into the snow below. I knew right then and there that it was going to be a long way down.

As my departure point arrived, I slowly disengaged myself from the lift, taking a deep sigh of relief. Although I knew the hardest part was just around the corner, I had at least made it to this point in one piece. I was certain that having only one pole certainly didn’t help matters, but I had the advantage of not really knowing the difference due to my limited experience.

As I turned to face the hill that awaited me, the relief I felt quickly dissipated. The fear magnified with the realization that there was no turning back. The only way back was downhill.

I spent a few minutes trying to locate any courage deep within the recesses of my soul to no avail. After a few minutes of watching one skier go down after another, I did the sign of the cross and let myself go.

Surprisingly, I got off with flying colors. But as I gathered momentum and therefore speed, I realized how much I probably missed that other pole as my arm kept moving as though it had a pole affixed to it. Suddenly, I crossed my skis about half way down the hill and tumbled several hundred feet, head over skis. As much as I would like to blame my stumble on my missing pole, I’m pretty sure the results wouldn’t have much different with no poles, one pole, or two.

When I finally came to a landing, I laid there for a second to make sure I was intact. Miraculously, I was, but any semblance of confidence I had previously acquired was now completely shattered. I remained lying there, struggling to catch my breath, as other skiers continued whizzing past me. A couple of skiers even leaped over me.

I attempted to get back up onto my skis, but the slope of the hill made it impossible, which was probably for the best. I had already tempted fate once. No use doing it again. There was only one choice left: I scooted the rest of the way down on my butt. At one point, I looked down below and noticed several skiers pointing and laughing at me (including little children and a smattering of small woodland creatures). When I finally made it to the bottom of the hill, a ski patrol staffer helped me to my feet. I decided at that exact moment to hang ‘em up for good. My skiing career was over before it had even begun. But, at least I got to ride a ski-lift. And in the end, that’s what mattered most.

***

After I returned my skis, I headed into the village and decided to both reward my accomplishments and drown my sorrowful failures with a cold beer. I sat down at the bar and thanked God that I survived what could have been the end of me.

Just as I was served, an attractive snowboarder sat down next to me and nodded hello. I awkwardly nodded back. Of course, I only assumed she was a snowboarder. She just had that look and demeanor. Our resulting conversation only confirmed my suspicions.

“Vodka and cranberry, please,” she told the bartender. She then turned toward me and must have noticed my dejected posture.

“Rough pow?”

“Huh?” I asked. I had no idea what in the hell she was talking about.

“Powder. Snow. You look like it was one of those days.”

“First time on the slopes. And last time,” I explained.

“Board or skis?

“Skis. It was a disaster.”

“You’re alive, aren’t you? And you’re not in the hospital. Right?”

“Well, when you put it that way,” I said, with a smile. This chick is cool,” I thought to myself. Why in the hell is she talking to me?

“Well, now that you’ve popped your ski cherry, maybe you should give snowboarding a shot.”

“I think I’m going to stick to toboggans.”

“You never know unless you try, right?” she said, as she was served her drink.

“I suppose,” I said.

She held her drink for a toast.

“Cheers.”

“Cheers,” I replied back, as we clinked our glasses.

She reached out her hand.

“Molly.

“Jimmy,” I said, shaking her hand.

“Where are you from?”

“Detroit.”

“Wow. I love Detroit.”

“You’ve been there?” I asked, having my doubts.

“Yeah. I’ve got a friend from there. Been to a few concerts there.”

“Are you Canadian?” I asked, detecting a slight accent.

“Toronto. Are you here alone?” she asked. I assumed she was asking out of fear that I was some sort of freak loner, rather than making a come on. Then again, she was the one who initiated the conversation, so I was really confused, which was par for the course whenever a stranger from the opposite sex willingly started a conversation with me.

Just then, Adriana’s voice rang out.

“There you are!”

Adriana and Melody had returned, paradoxically looking equally exhausted and refreshed and filled with pride and self-confidence – unlike the defeated husk waiting at the bar.

“Hey, guys. How did you know I was in here?” I asked.

“We looked for you at the bunny hill,” Melody explained. “When we didn’t see you there, we had a feeling you were either here…”

“Or the hospital,” Adriana said in all seriousness.

Meanwhile, the snowboarder moved over to give Adriana and Melody space. She seemed disappointed that our conversation was being interrupted, as was I. Meanwhile, Adriana and Melody proceeded to ask how things had gone for me and I gave them every detail, leading up to my decision to never ski again.

“Remember, we were beginners once, too,” Melody said.

“Think about how much progress you made today!” Adriana added. “When you woke up, you didn’t even know to put skis on.”

“I can still barely do that!” I said.

“Stop being so hard on yourself,” Melody said.

“And stop being such a whiny little bitch,” Adriana added for emphasis.

Melody looked at a text and became visibly upset. She slammed her phone down, with tears welling in her yes.

“Is everything okay?” Adriana asked. Melody showed us a text from her husband on her phone. It bluntly stated:

Stop begging. I’m not coming back.  

Adriana and I both looked for words to say, but nothing came to us.

“I’m so, sorry.”

“Yeah, well fuck him!” Melody said in a tearful rage. Adriana put a comforting arm around her. We both knew no words could help her in that moment.

Meanwhile, my new snowboarder friend apparently had heard enough and found another spot to sit. I took a big swig of my beer. The girls must have sensed my frustration.

“Oh, we’re sorry,” said Adriana. “Did we ruin your date?”

“I’m sure it was nothing, anyway,” I said, hoping to somehow cross paths with her again. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Meanwhile, Melody remained visibly shaken. Adriana ordered Melody a drink, knowing that it was our mission to keep her distracted. I could certainly relate to that. And despite my disaster on the slopes, at least this trip was keeping my mind off of reality.

“I’m sure it was nothing, anyway.”

“You should have said something!”

“Seriously, it’s no big deal. I’m sure it would have ended up like any other attempt I’ve made.”

“Well, it got you married once, didn’t it?”

“Not really. We fell in love through writing. That much I can do. It’s easier than talking. Besides, you can see how that turned out.”

“You really are a dork, aren’t you?” Adriana said teasingly. I laughed at her brutal honesty.

“You know what we’re going to do tonight?” Melody said, suddenly in high spirits.

“Sleep?” I responded.

“No. We’re going to go out, get drunk, and have a great time. That’s what we’re here for, right?”

“Sounds good to me!” Adriana said.

“I concur!” I said.

“’Concur?’” Adriana said, making fun of me. “Really?”

“First round on me!” I said, diverting attention away from my dorky choice of words. “Might as well get this party started.”

When we got our drinks, I held up my glass for a toast: “To the Downhill Trio.” We clinked glasses. We now had a name for ourselves.

***

After our round of drinks, we headed back to our room to shower and get ready for the evening’s festivities. None of us in our wildest dreams ever could have imagined how it would have turned out.

Following dinner and drinks at one of the restaurants in the village, we headed to a club, where a DJ spun old school. It had a nice, hip vibe, despite the fact that we were the only customers in there.

“Wow, this place is hopping,” I said, sarcastically.

“It’s still early,” Adriana said. She had a point. It was barely even ten. And even if nobody else came, it wouldn’t have mattered. We were bound and determined to have fun no matter what. Nothing could stop the Downhill Trio. Not at this point, anyway.

We sat down at the bar.

“What can I get you guys?” the bartender asked.

“Do you have Absinthe?” Melody asked, completely out of left field.

“Absinthe?!” Adriana asked.

“Why not?

“We certainly do,” the bartender said. “We’ve had an unopened bottle ever since we opened.”

“The real stuff?” Melody asked.

“Absolutely.”

“Okay, then let’s open that bad boy!” Melody demanded.

“Are you sure about this?” Adriana asked.

“I am. Are you guys in?”

“Have you ever had it before?” Adriana asked cautiously.

“No.”

They both turned to me.

“Nope.”

“Well, I have,” Adriana said. “In France.”

“Of course you have,” I said.

“Well, this is Canada. Close enough. The time has come to lose my virginity to the Green Fairy. Are you guys in … or out?”

Reluctantly, Adriana and I gave in. At this point, I felt like I had nothing to lose. If I had survived the slopes, I could survive Absinthe. It couldn’t be much different than vodka, right? Turns out I knew even less about Absinthe, than I did skiing.

The bartender prepared our shots, complete with spoon, sugar cube and lighter. It was as close to doing heroin as I would ever get.

“To tonight,” Melody said, holding up her shot. “And to the green fairy.” Then we downed it. It burned like hell.

“It’s like varnish!” I proclaimed.

“Would you like another?” the bartender asked.

“I don’t know …,” I said.

“Come on. One more. We only live once,” Melody said.

“Exactly,” I retorted.

“Yes, three more!” Melody commanded the bartender, leaving us little choice. The good news was, the second shot somehow went down much more smoothly than the first.

We downed the shots. We were now beyond toasts. The effect was felt immediately.

“Okay, I’m good now,” Melody said, nodding her head to the music.

“Next round on me,” Adriana said. And so we drank. And kicked it old school on the dance floor. At one point, I was turned into a human sandwich (not an Absinthe-inspired hallucination), but as the night would continue to teach me, the effect of Absinthe on one’s actions and memories is immeasurable.

“Hey, look who’s here,” Adriana said, pointing toward the door. It was Andrei and his entourage. I swear, they were walking in slo-mo. Even Andrei’s long, blonde locks fluttered in slo-mo by some substantiated breeze.

“Now it’s a party,” Melody said.

Recognizing us, Andrei nodded, then proceeded to the bar, where his comrades ordered shots of vodka with a chaser of beer.

Andrei separated from his group to join us on the dance floor, singing along and bobbing his head like one of the dancers in Charlie Brown Christmas. His white button down was completely unbuttoned, with his gut hanging out at the bottom. He wore loafers with no socks.

“Look at him!” Melody said. “He’s awesome!”

He most certainly was. It was his complete indifference to whether or not that he was cool that made him so cool. He was like a hipster who was too hip to even know what a hipster was.

Melody, fueled by Absinthe, headed over to Andrei and danced along with him. Meanwhile, Adriana started dancing with Andrei’s buddy, who introduced himself as Sergei. I remained on the sidelines, until one of the hot Russian girls – seemingly jealous – approached me and started dancing with me. I got the sense that this was a regular occurrence. She wore a short, leopard-print skirt and an overabundance of make-up. She would have looked even more attractive if she didn’t try so hard. She spoke with a thick accent, so comprehension was difficult – especially when Vanilla Ice is being spun.

From what I gathered, here is how the conversation went:

“You are American, yes?”

“Full-blooded,” I responded.

“What does this mean, full blooded,” she asked.

“Born in the U.S.A.”

“Like Springsteen song. He is Jew, no?”

“A Jew? I have no idea,” I said in response to her seeming non-sequitor.

“Where are you from,” I asked.

“Russia. Full-blooded.”

“You mean red-blooded?” I joked.

“I do not understand,” she said.

“What do you do in America?

“I’m a teacher.”

“Oh,” she said with utter resentment and disappointment, before walking away. Did that just happen? I thought to myself. It had.

I decided to sit back down and eavesdrop on Andrei flirting with Melody.

“You are most beautiful woman. Like American newscaster. Or model. Or actress,” he said, not only bringing on the cheese … but melting it.

“Thank you,” Melody said, flattered. “But I’m married.”

“That should not matter. Let’s have some fun.”

Meanwhile, the girl who was disgusted with my livelihood approached them, clearly jealous of Andrei’s inattention to her. I wondered if she still would have been jealous if she knew Melody was only a teacher.

“Why are you wet?” she asked Melody with disdain.

“Excuse me?”

“Wet. With sweat. Like that of pig in heat.” True, Melody had a thin layer of sweat on her face from dancing, but by no means was it was anything that would warrant disgust.

The girl looked at Melody’s hands.

“You have hands like man.”

“Excuse me?” Melody said, half-pissed and half-confused that such a conversation was taking place.

But this little Russian bitch was relentless. “I said you have hands like man. And your ring. It is small. When I get engaged, it will be big one.”

“Get out of here you filthy slut,” Andrei scolded her in Russian, attempting to put her in her place. She responded by slapping him in the face, then turning back to face Melody.

“Try not to get wet,” the hot Russian said. “It is not good look.”

Sensing Melody’s anger, Andrei tried to smooth things over diplomatically.

“She is jealous bitch. It is very hard for one woman to accept that all women want me. I need smoke. You come with me outside.”

“Are you asking me? Or telling me?” Melody asked, simultaneously annoyed and intrigued.

“I ask. And tell at same time. That is how good I am,” Andrei said with a smirk.

Melody looked at me for guidance, exuding vulnerability. I gave her a look of doubt for even considering it. But she went out anyway. I walked over to Adriana, who was still dancing with Sergei and explained what had just happened.

“Should I go out there?” I asked.

“She’s a big girl. She can handle her business.”

“She’s drunk,” I reminded her. “And married.”

“She’ll be fine. Let’s dance.” So we did, but after a couple of minutes, I decided to check on our missing comrade.

When I arrived outside, Andrei had Melody cornered against the building. She was trying to squirm free, but Andrei wouldn’t have it.

There is a time in every man’s life when he must step up to defend a lady’s honor. My moment had come, as did my inner Crispin Glover from Back to the Future.

“Hey you,” I began. “Get your damn hands off her.”
Andrei turned around just in time for me to punch him squarely in the jaw. Melody shrieked as Andrei fell to the ground, writhing in pain, his butt dangling in the snow like a white spare tire. Adriana came out just in time to witness the aftermath.

“Okay, we should go,” I said, cradling my meat hook.

As we quickly got the hell out of there, Melody channeled her inner Cameron from Ferris Bueller:

“You’re my hero,” Melody said, meaning it.

“What in the hell happened?” Adriana asked.

“He asked me to come back to his room with him. I told him no. But he kept insisting. Enter Jimmy the bad ass.”

“I was just doing what any friend would do.”

“But we just met,” Melody said. “That’s pretty impressive.”

“I have my moments,” I said in full swagger mode. She was right. For one moment, I was a bad ass. There was no moment prior to that that could compare, nor could I foresee something like this ever happening again.

***

We returned to our room. Adriana and Melody immediately flopped themselves onto the bed, buzzing from a cocktail of Absinthe and my bad-assedness.

“As sucky as that was,” Melody began. “I have to admit that it felt good to get attention and feel wanted again.

I almost forgot what it felt like. But most importantly, Jimmy, I owe you a huge thank you. I was such an ignoramus for going out there with him alone.”

Adriana pulled out a bottle of wine and poured us all a cup. We silently took a sip, well beyond the need for a toast. She then pulled out a box of fancy truffles.

“Truffles anyone?”

Melody and I each grabbed one enthusiastically, but just as were about to place them in our mouth, Adriana yelled “Stop!”

“What the hell?” Melody asked.

“If you’re going to eat my truffles, you have to eat them the right way. These are special.”

“What’s the right way?” I naively asked.

“You have to savor them. These aren’t Hershey’s Kisses. This is expensive shit. And you have to respect it. You have to let it melt in your mouth. You don’t bite it. You don’t suck it. You let it melt.”

Adriana demonstrated. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to be seductive in a dominatrix sort of way, but it sure looked it.

“Understand?” she asked.

“You got to be kidding me,“ Melody said.

“No. I’m not. It’s a French thing,” Adriana said.

“But you’re not French,” Melody reminded her.

“No. But I teach it. Just like I just taught you guys.”

Melody and I proceeded to eat our truffle in the manner in which we were taught. I slowly put my tongue up to it, mocking Adriana. Melody laughed.

“It’s not funny,” Adriana said.

“I’m respecting the truffle!” I protested.

“It’s not a clit,” she said.

“You would know,” Melody retorted as the three of us continued to savor our truffle, not so much out of respect for the fine delicacy in our mouths, but out of fear of what Adriana would do to us if we ate it like a normal person.

“I’ve had dreams like this” I added.

“About eating truffles?” Melody asked.

“Nothing. Nevermind,” I said, quickly covering up my tracks.

“No. Elaborate,” Adriana demanded.

“I was only kidding.”

“About what?” Adriana asked.

“He means a threesome,” Melody said, getting straight to the point, despite my denial.

“What? Are you serious?”

“No?” Melody said, seemingly disappointed.

“That’s not what I meant at all,” I said, realizing it was no use.

“Have you ever had one before?” Melody asked.

“No,” I replied.

“Neither have I,” Melody said, turning toward Adriana. “What about you?”

Adriana paused for a moment to consider her answer:

“I don’t think so.”

“What do you mean you ‘don’t think so?” Melody asked. “How would you forget a thing like that?”

“I did a lot of crazy shit in college,” Adriana replied.

“Little Miss Prim and Proper?” Melody teased. “I can’t imagine.”
“I said did. Some of college memories are pretty hazy,” Adriana admitted.

“How about we go for it?” Melody asked. My eyes must have bugged out of my head.

“Sure. What not?” Adriana replied matter-of-factly as though she was just asked if she wanted another truffle.

Meanwhile, I sat in stunned silence. This had to be a dream. How could it not be?

They both turned to me.

“This is a joke, right?”

“I’m in if you’re in,” Melody said to me.

“I am pretty horny,” Adriana said.

“Where do we begin?” I asked, realizing my fantasy was on the threshold of becoming reality.

I wish I could say that I didn’t have to sleep on the pullout couch that night. But suddenly, Adriana and Melody burst out laughing. At first, I was confused, before realizing that they were pulling my leg. The downhill trio wasn’t about to become the downhill threesome after all. Yet, despite the temporary let down, it was still a night for the ages.

***

The next morning, as we prepared for our drive back home, we barely spoke a word. No words were necessary. And unlike our arrival, this time, Adriana didn’t force me to carry her luggage.

We drove most of the way home in understood, mutual silence, as well. Not in an awkward sort of way – but in a way usually reserved for the best of friends and married couples. At one point, we shared a rotisserie chicken we picked up at a market on our journey home.

When we finally arrived back home in the good old U.S. of A., we hugged one another goodbye to get back to our lives, which we knew were never going to be the same for mostly only the right reasons. Little did we know it then, but this trip turned out to be both the first and last time just the three of us ever hung out. It wasn’t a matter of not wanting a reunion. Deep down inside, we just knew that it could never be the same. We knew it was time to move on to the next phase of our respective lives. Our friendship was like a comet meant for that place and time only. Some friendships aren’t meant to last beyond our need for them. Strangely, these are the friendships we often remember and cherish the most, which is why they remain alive inside us.

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