A woman learns to conquer her fears.
She stands, transfixed at the edge of the trail. In terror, she stares at the slope below her. How did she get here? How will she escape? "Choose a line!" her instructors would say. She can't find a line. The trail is narrow and crowded, leaving little room for choice. She hates it when she doesn't have enough choices.
The storm intensifies. The powder deepens. Visibility is fading. One wrong turn, and she could fall to her death, buried beneath the snow, where no one could save her. So she thinks.
He has been watching her. Watching her for days, he wonders who she is, and why she always skis alone. She's graceful, yet tentative, bordering on beautiful. If she was his student, he could make her beautiful. "Beautiful as a skier," he clarifies to himself.
He gains speed on her, and sees where she's about to turn. " Oh no! Don't go there!" He hadn't planned to go there himself, but in the depths of his mind, he has somehow become connected to her. In connecting to her, he's committed to protecting her.
In her present fear, she remembers all her fears. Amidst the crowds and confusion there lurked a potential for violence, perhaps unintentional, but dangerous, nonetheless. Her fears, of course were lacking in logic. She has the tactics and technique to get down the slope, but in her paralysis, she neglects to invoke them.
He skis through the whiteout, watching the snow-sliders become ghosts of their former selves. Where is she? He can't see her, so he has to sense her. What is the scent of a beautiful woman in fear?
Suddenly, a voice comes from behind her. "Are you okay?" Startled, she turns towards him. Under ski clothes and snowfall, she can't make out his features, but she senses his maleness, his kindness yet toughness. "Are you okay?" His words bring back memories of danger in the darkness. In a scene set in a city, it was a different danger from the one she now confronted. "Are you okay?" He speaks in the same type of voice as the one who once saved her from human violence. Can he save her from the elements? Can he save her from her own self-doubt?
"You're not from around here," she says. Then she laughs at her cliché.
This is not the response he expects
"Does that mean you don't trust me?"
"Oh no…you sound like someone who once helped me."
"Maybe I can help you now."
"I don't think so. I don't know how I got here, and I don't know how to get away."
He thinks he understands her.
Okay. Try not to think of the mountain as an enemy you need to escape. Before you got to this trail, the mountain was your dancing partner. It still is, but it's giving you some challenging steps to follow."
This is not what she wants to hear. "I'm not in the mood to be challenged right now! This is not the place to learn something new!"
"Something new? Think about it. Every advanced skill is based on something you already know. Can you side slip?"
"Of course. But I need to see where I'm slipping, and I can't!"
"Try to sense what you can't see. Let's try the side slip here, where there's not much powder."
She releases her downhill edge, but her uphill edge holds steadfast, as she refuses to surrender to the snow. He senses her panic.
"Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine that the snow is turning into a cloud. You are becoming so light, that you can stand on it, as you float down the mountain."
She laughs. "Now that's really corny." Still, she closes her eyes.
"Your breathing is the magic that can make this happen. Take a deep breath in as you edge your skis. Breath out and let them flatten. Then, let yourself float down the mountain."
She thinks he's nuts, but somehow trustworthy. His tough, street-smart voice doesn't quite jive with the images he gives her. But this is why she likes him. This is why she's tempted to try his magic. Still, she hesitates.
"What if someone hits me?"
"I'll be right behind you."
"What if they hit you?'
"I'll banish them from this mountain!"
She laughs. "Okay, then."
She feels the sweet sensation of surrender as she allows her skis to slide through the snow. As she looks to the right, her skis, as if connected to her eyes, begin to turn. She floats through the deepest powder she has ever allowed herself to experience.
"This is amazing!" She exclaims. Then, caught up in her excitement she falls from grace.
It's the most graceful wipe-out he's ever seen. One arm and one leg extend toward the sky as she sinks into the snow. He hears her hysteria as he approaches. In relief, he realizes that she is laughing.
Her laughter is her liberation, releasing all terror and tension. She can't control it, nor does she try to. Then, she looks up and sees him.
"You found me."
"I never lost you."
They ski to the bottom of the trail.
"Have you ever skied a Double Black Diamond?" He asks her.
"Well, you just did."
"You're a great teacher."
"I didn't teach you anything you didn't already know."
She thinks about this.
"Then, Mr. Wizard of Ski, you have to let me buy you dinner."
"I'd like to cook dinner for you."
In his car, they make small talk.
"You're from New York," she says. It's a statement, not a question. His looks match his voice. He's classically Italian-American, like the boys who kept her safe when she was growing up in the poorer neighborhoods of the city.
"And you?" he asks.
As she takes off her gloves, he sees what he doesn't want to see. The ring on her left hand mocks his happiness. Still, he takes off her coat, and hangs it in his closet. He takes in the image of the woman in front of him. She is slim and neat. Her hair is braided, and gathered on the top of her head in a tight, neat bun. Even after her ordeal on the slopes, she has not come undone.
While dinner is cooking, he pours her a glass of wine. There's a question he needs to ask her. He doesn't want to ask it. But of course, he must.
"How come your husband never skis with you?"
She is silent. Her eyes begin to water.
"My husband was one of the police officers who was killed at the Trade Center."
He is stunned. This is a hero whose memory he can never compete with. Three years later, she is still alone. She still wears his ring.
Like her laughter on the mountain, her words begin to flow. She rarely speaks of this, but now she must.
"My husband taught me to ski. He felt it would be a good way for me to get beyond my fear of being alive in an unsafe world. We skied at Hunter, Killington and all the New England mountains. Then, we took a trip to Colorado, and decided that one-day we would live here. We started to look into the possibilities of finding work here. It was all supposed to happen in the winter of 2002. On the morning of 9/11, he called to tell me that if anything happened to him, I should still go to Colorado."
"When did you move here?' He asked.
"Just two months ago."
"Why did you wait three years?'
"It seemed wrong to let myself be happy too soon."
"Are you happy now?"
"Getting there." She smiles. "I'm happy today. "
He's not sure if he should be flattered.
"Because I learned that in the face of fear, I shouldn't give up hope."
She savors the meal he's prepared for her. He watches, pleased that he could satisfy her hunger. They finish eating, and she looks at him. He knows what she thinks she wants, but he also knows that this is not what she needs. Not right now. Still he longs to touch her.
"How do you look with your hair down?" He asks.
She blushes. "Some say beautiful."
He stands behind her, and strokes her hair. "May I?"
Slowly, he takes out the pins, unravels the bun, and unbraids her hair. It falls to her waist. She turns towards him. He kisses her on the forehead. She looks at him in anticipation. He's tempted, but the time is not right for this purpose.
"Come on. I'll drive you home."