Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chapter Three


I always had a skill for fitting in with people much older than me. It was now imperative to hone my adult veneer.
It didn’t take long before I was one of them. No longer did anyone see me as a child. No longer was it odd to see me up at all hours, wittily conversing with people over twice my age. I was no longer my father’s daughter. That conveniently faded out of everyone’s conscience.
It was alarmingly easy to charm or outwit any concern or disbelief because people had an innate need to deny things that made them edgy. On the other hand, maybe Dad just convinced them that I was a midget. I knew he was that good, both scenarios, plausible and disturbing. He could rationalize anything.
I became his most unswerving partner, his gopher, his confidante. People started to ask questions if I was not glued to him. I was expected to be sitting next to him with the ‘after hours’ crowd, ordering a double when the server came.
I didn’t have pay for pot, or cocaine, as Dad had the best available. I could get valiums anytime I wanted from my dad’s doctor friend. It was comforting to see Sugar every day, to feed her Twinkies when I had them. My truck was quite a status symbol for someone my age.
Dad went with me to get a driver’s license. All it took was me driving around the block with Fred, my dad’s friend at the Post Office. After skidding into a parking meter, I backed out correctly.
Fred was cool, he knew these kind of little dings happened all the time when the road was packed with two feet of snow.
Since I was able to parallel park without hitting anything, I strutted out with a ‘bonified’ New Mexican driver’s license. Changing my birth date was a simple little typographic error, never to be discovered.
After that, I took on the task of crossing Raton Pass to Trinidad, Colorado. Trinidad had the cheapest, best horse hay around. It was worth the twenty (thirty) miles, I guess.
As the crow flies, Trinidad was fourteen, fifteen miles away…as the crow flies…
At least fifteen miles of the road headed UP and DOWN and back and forth through the treacherous roads on the mountains... the ROCKY MOUNTAINS.
I learned to put chains on my tires, and carry bags of salt all times, to weigh down the truck for more traction…or to pour salt around a wheel that got stuck in a snow drift.
Up the mountain, down the mountain, curve after hair-pin, spine-tingling curve, I traversed the Raton pass into Colorado.
I always felt a fear on the way back to Raton. Six bales of hay in the back of my truck could be a tricky trick. On the one hand, the weight helped my tire chains dig into the snow and gave me traction. On the other hand, the weight could take control of my steering wheel, sending me deadly close to the edge of the one lane road that dropped off the mountain into oblivion.
It was an adventure I hated that I made every month. In a way, I hated learning to drive.
But on the other hand, it gave me some freedom that I hadn’t had before. And the restaurant kids I was allowed to hang out with thought I was pretty hot shit.
I burnt through two clutches in six months. “Sorry, Dad, not my fault.....he paid for the repairs without too much complaint.
If I could just wait…and survive, it had to be just a matter of time, I kept telling myself. I was right, eventually. That’s all I had to do, outlast the clock, the days, the months, the years.
I learned how to play poker but I wasn’t good at it. I became gifted at the horse track, though. It was the closest legal horse track to Oklahoma and Texas and drew many visitors during racing season, an attraction kept Raton alive. I learned how to predict winners by becoming a guru with the racing forms. People respected me and appreciated an occasional inside tip.
All of this is what my dad considered LOVE. He and I drinking Busch beer while sitting in some elite owners box, no more than twenty yards from the starting gate. I will admit that I did enjoy that. But by then, I was an adult, not a child. I was not a daughter. I was my father’s companion.
Then there were the frequent ski trips to Taos or Red River or Angelfire. There weren’t many children on the slopes since we normally skied on weekdays. We would arrive around 10:00 in the morning and head back at around 3:00 in the afternoon. That was more than enough ski time, as all of the resorts were less than 80 miles away. Sometimes a crowd of six or eight of us would go, sometimes just Dad and me.
I always looked forward to getting drunk on the mountain from the wine in my goatskin. These ventures never failed to entertain. As if on cue, someone would put the wine to their lips, gulping that one gulp that threw them into stupidness. That’s when the fun really began. Watching perfectly sane adults get completely shit faced and turn into Jean Claude Kili was priceless! Limping down the mountain became a frequent mode of travel.
Ahh, the memories, I still smile when I think about the time Dad swerved off the main trail, mounting a young juniper tree at 30 miles an hour. To maintain his coolness, he laughed with the rest of us. I was laughing harder on the inside. He was injured more than he realized. But I knew. He was going to be out of commission for at least a few days. The black eyes, raging headache and torn groin muscle took the Casanova right out of him. There were many other hilarious shenanigans but none made me laugh as hard and long as that one.
I became a pretty good skier, easily racing past most people. Then I took to choosing the expert Diamond trails, the ones that made the experts leery. I was confident Dad would follow. He had to, he had no choice. His arrogance and self-centered confidence forced him to beat me, to out-ski me, to rule over me in all things. I snicker when I remember this. I was picking up ways to beat him at his own game.
“Are you sure? Are you sure, Dad? Should we really try this one? I’m game if you are, Dad! You wanna, Dad? Huh, huh, you wanna?” There, I got him. Sometimes he was so fucking easy. On the other hand, maybe I was getting savvier.
I looked over the edge and nearly peed my pants. This was going to be a blast. Finally, I pushed off and slowly eased into a confident rhythm, going back and forth across the slope. After twenty yards or so, I slowed and came to a stop. I looked up at him with a huge grin and gave him the ‘hi’ sign.
I could see his face turning red. My grin got bigger. I could even see the sweat wetting his sideburns. It was five degrees outside and we were 11,000 feet above sea level. The man looked like he just stepped out of a sauna!
God, it felt good to be winning. The danger of going down a forty-degree slope with deadly caverns and crevices didn’t faze me a bit. I had never been happier to be in so much peril! This was nothing! I risked it all and tore down the slope another thirty yards then slowed to a stop and let out a whoop. “Wow! That was so cool!” I yelled up at him.
I allowed him a few seconds to gather himself before looking up to see where he was. He was bent over, fiddling with the bootstrap on his right ski.
“Dammit!! I knew the guy at the ski shop didn’t set this right!” he lied. Then he took off the ski and began to act like he was troubleshooting in earnest.
After a few minutes of this, I yelled, “Want me to go ahead? Or do you want me to wait? You want me to go get ski support? Maybe they can fix it!”
“No, they’re a bunch of dumbasses, just like the ski shop guy. I’ll fix it. You go on, I’ll catch up.”
“Are ya sure? I could walk back up and take a look at it for ya!” Now, I knew this would do the trick; this would really piss him off.
“Goddammit! You think you can fix it if I can’t! Go ON!! I’ll meet you at the bottom!”
I apologized and shrugged, trying to appear as sincere as possible. Then I turned and headed down the mountain.
I beat him, I beat him!! Ha ha ha! Whoo hoo! I’m free, I’m a bird! I’m flying! I’m flyyyiiiing! NOW THIS IS LOVE!! God I LOVE being alive! I’m finally flying! I’m really…flyi…. Whoa…uhh…. Hey…. I really AM flying. My vision was blurred and I possibly hit forty to fifty miles an hour, as I sped in a straight line down a very steep mountain. I knew I was going way too fast and far too reckless to survive this for much longer.
My smugness and gloating sank under the solid chunk of ice that had taken up residence in my stomach. My surroundings assured me that my complete and utter terror were appropriate. Dammit! Holy Shit! Oh MY God!! I might die, right here, right now!!! I’d gotten so absorbed with the possibility of accidentally killing him, that I forgot about me! I don’t want to die!
I was in a full-blown, out of control, complete panic. Panic. That word started rolling around in my mind. Oh yeah, I remembered now! At the beginning of the season, I was required to take a safety course with the rescue instructors. The first thing they said and repeated constantly was, “Don’t Panic!”
I went back over what I had been taught and began to make longer S turns across the slope, crossing back and forth horizontally until I finally lost all momentum. I pushed my ski poles into the snow and leaned my armpits into them. Whew, wee.
As I looked out across the horizon, I could see peeks that seemed at least a hundred miles away. As long as I looked at them, I was OK. But the moment I looked down, my legs turned to rubber and I couldn’t breathe. I was afraid to close my eyes because I would surely go into the spins and fall off the mountain. I looked at the sky and tried to think of puppies and kittens.
My trusty old survival mechanism slowly woke up and began to sputter and chug. Soon it was purring steadily. It poured sanity into me like warm syrup, which began to melt my frozen stomach. “Sit Down you Idiot! Take a breath! Suck on your goat skin, now!!”
The slope was so steep, it seemed like I was sitting in a lawn chair. I tilted the bag back and squirted the wine into my mouth, not missing a drop. Then I removed the cap and took a long gulp. Then another gulp. Then another.
Time for a cigarette. I inhaled deeply and it hurt my lungs. Aah, finally! A warm calm sensation entered my brain and didn’t stop until it reached my toes. Another gulp, another puff. Geeez, this is heaven!! I LOVE this! It’s beautiful up here!
I pulled out a joint and coughed while lighting it. After a few deep hits, I was at peace with the world. My situation was not so grim. What was I thinking? Sheeeit!! What is my problem? I’ve done this a million times. I started laughing as I looked down at the mountain of death. God this is funny! I laughed uncontrollably at the sky now. And when I looked down, it was kind of fun! “Whoa there pardner, steady yerself!”
My reality was wonderful now! The mountain had turned into a kiddies’ slope, easy as pie. I could ski down as far as I wanted and then take another break. It’d be great fun! I may die, but then I may not! I could even take my skis off and walk down, but that wasn’t really an option. The chance of flying into oblivion was what made me feel so alive. It’s what made it so fun, so worth it.
After an hour or so, I was sipping on my third cider and rum. The ski lodge was the usual walls of glass meeting at the top of the A-Frame. Out of the corner of my eye, I couldn’t miss the bright red rescue jackets walking towards to lodge.
My dad was still cussing the ski shop guy and was demanding to be unescorted at that point. I quickly looked in the opposite direction towards the deer head over the fireplace…Ahh, how nice…
As he walked in, I feigned fascination, relief and camaraderie.
“My God Dad, I heard there was a white out up there! How in the hell did you make it?”
And so began the circle of himself. Perfect. I would listen to every word of his bravery and courage, just as long as they kept those ciders coming.
Heading back to Raton was an adventure in itself. The driving was treacherous on the way back through the Cimarron canyon. The one lane road snaked through tremendous palisades on one side with a steep cliff on the other, not much room for error. My choice was to shut my eyes and puke or keep my eyes open die of a heart attack.
It was a live or die roller coaster. I loved roller coasters! One tiny swerve and you could be meeting Gabriel, or Michael or some other big shot from heaven. That’s why is was so exciting. Now you live, now you don’t!
I felt so lucky and invincible every damn time the road finally got wider, and the canyon faded into calm rolling meadows. I always felt a sense of indestructibility. I felt like I had just went sky diving from fifty thousand feet. I was confident when the main chute failed. With steady hands I cut it away and pulled the string of the pussy little extra chute. I landed perfectly. What, me worry? I laugh in the face of danger! Yes, it truly was good to survive
Yet, in the deepest place within me, a peculiar churning never ceased. A thought kept screaming at me and would not shut up. It repeated constantly: EVERYTHING IS ALL WRONG!
That’s when I knew that reality was not lost on me. This truth was my own; no one would see it, hear it or know about it. I swore I secretly I would hold onto the truth. I swore that I would remain sane. I made a commitment to myself to do anything to live.
My Dad was in love with me. I swore right then and there that I would not let it kill me. I knew what I was in love with. I was in love with survival.

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