Saturday, December 27, 2008

Good Vibrations

I admit I’m a pansy. I’ve spent many years of my life terrified. The rooted-to-the-ground, eyes-squeezed, screaming-prayers-in-my-head terrified. For those of you without such experiences I pity you that your life should be so boring.

The feeling happens when I lose control, something inevitable when I combine my klutziness with speed. Knowing this I’ve spent many nights racking my brain for a way to conquer boarding on land, snow and sea. And when I went home in July for a family reunion I found the answer, the long sloping road I grew up on.

Memorial Drive runs a loop from the highway south of town to Main Street just north of the first stop sign, passing by the VFW, the cemetery, my childhood home and the hospital. I decided Trav and I could skip the first three and hook up near our new house and riding the mile down to the park. My memory holds moments of cruising down the smooth road on a bike, fast enough to tangle my hair. It would be great for Trav to learn and me to gain confidence.

We started a little shaky. Literally the road shook my board, but I’d expected this to be the shady part of the journey. We went down the little dip where the road crosses Willow Creek then kicked up the only hill we encountered. At this point a smarter person would have enjoyed riding down that hill and gone home. We proceeded kicking down Memorial. Occasionally I’d tell Trav life would improve once we made it to the hospital where the road went downhill.

I don’t know that he heard me or that he knows sign language. The rough road caused my board to go slightly backwards while I urged it forward. I felt the shudders course through my right foot, up my leg and trunk and settle in my lungs and throat. It grabbed the air that carried my words and jumbled it around so what came out through chattering teeth sounded demented and foreign. And the wild gestures I threw to signal him got lost in my struggle for balance.

Then as we approached the bridge and the stinky tower (appropriately nicknamed) entrance to the park I saw a familiar white dodge pickup turning toward us. My father drove straight at me. I noticed two craters on the side of the road and thought of the impending disaster. Perhaps a book and cup of cocoa should have been my day’s adventure. Instead my shaky legs stood on a longboard on a busy two-lane road without a shoulder and my dad, who hours before complained about his failing eyesight, headed straight at me. I envisioned a tumble in the ditch and as any sane scared person would do, I held my breath and closed my eyes.

When I opened them the road had cleared and I navigated into the park. Laughing happily I glanced around for Travis. Meanwhile my speed decreased and Trav passed me as my board hit a crack that jolted me backward onto the cobblestone asphalt.

Longboarding on the plains: they told me it couldn’t be done but I didn’t believe them.

They were right.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Eve of Storytelling

I remember sitting on the cold floor of the gym, cringing at the lingering stench of cafeteria food and sweaty kids eagerly waiting for the hour to be over. Assemblies never meant much to me except a sore bum and time away from the creative processing I managed at my desk. This happened to be when I had questionable eyesight and came in as third shortest in my second grade class. I couldn’t see over the other kids’ heads so the presentations held my attention for about three minutes.

One speaker stood out, a Native American who sat in a chair and related creation stories passed down from her tribe. She became the most beautiful woman I couldn’t see. Her melodic chanting voice lulling me along as the sun scorched the silly coyote. At that moment I hoped to be a great storyteller. But maybe I didn’t need outside inspiration, storytelling is in the blood.

Gathered in the kitchen for Christmas Eve chili I received the warm teasing of the visiting child from Gramps.

“Now let me tell you something Breanna,” he started. “Where did you get that dark black hair in a family full of dishwater blondes?”

I fought the urge to point out that he asked me a question and told me nothing. He proceeded to tell me that it came from him and pointed to an old black-and-white high school photo. His hair appeared black. This sparked the evening’s entertainment. We read through the book of transcription to an interview my aunt held with him.

At each pause when while we passed the book over for the next grandchild’s turn, Gramps raised to his full height punctuating the stories with sweeping arm movements. His deep voice projecting and his bright blue eyes dancing mischievously looking younger than his weathered wrinkles he turned to each audience member.

Watching him I realized I’d inherited his skill as an orator (explaining the speech awards and maybe even the blog) and I finally found a common trait with the family patriarch.

Monday, December 22, 2008


“Don’t run,” he yelled.

I straightened and turned my face, heated with shame, towards the unknown man. Throwing an apologetic smile I promised to walk on the icy path. Then I laughed knowing I looked childish in my mismatched winter gear assembled in haste. But I had 11 minutes before the hours for fingerprinting ended.

Rushing through the front doors I met challenge number two. The security guard who looked strangely familiar gestured to me to sign in. Could these ridiculously old men not tell that I failed to plan? I didn’t have moments to spare for the nonsense like walking and registration complete with the State’s version of a bathroom pass—a large round visitor’s sticker.

As I’m sure many security cameras can verify I ran down the hall, nearly pulled the door off the hinges and tapped my foot impatiently waiting for the elevator. Arriving on the fourth floor I approached the first woman I saw sitting at a desk.

“I need to be fingerprinted,” I exclaimed. Honestly I said it loudly and stood confused when I had to repeat my request to the woman in the next cubicle. She had been facing me when I first spoke so I wrongly assumed she had heard. Not my only miscalculation.

An hour later, which included a quick trip to the ATM across the street, I stared at my fingers. The computer refused to believe that my individually scanned fingerprint patterns matched the four digit scans done first. My skin dried out from the damp cloth the lady kept wiping them with, the cloth that was meant to hydrate.

I felt criminal, like I’d gotten away with the perfect crime only to have karma kick me. We scanned and re-scanned and erased to start again. I regretted not drinking that glass of water. This was no routine ink job. When we finally tricked the digi-cop I breathed deeply, mentally checking this errand off my list.

“Here are your papers,” the lady said cheerfully handing me the forms I’d just filled out. “Keep them together and bring them back after you get your criminal history from Ireland.”

Did I complain about the hour-plus fingerprinting? I might have more to say when the Garda get back to me next year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fading Glory

I lie, I lie, I lie. And in the face of the truth I rationalize. My recent offense occurred a few weeks ago when I enthusiastically signed up for a weekend volleyball tournament. I excitedly told everyone about it. I rescheduled therapy sessions. I imagined two days of digging and swinging.

That was the first lie. I don’t swing. I’ve never been a hitter and my short attention span makes it difficult to get the timing down. Back row pass, setter’s got the ball, she’s sending offside, that’s me, start the approach, wow those are bright coral shorts, reminds me of a flower in Dublin, or maybe it was Monet’s garden. Suddenly I’ve jumped with my right arm stretched. I hastily finish the swing while shifting focus back to the falling ball. Sometimes I even hit it with my hand.

Tonight while flailing pathetically on the court, I silently cursed my talent and contemplated why I continue to play with a broken body, not to mention the ghosts of indoor play. My team got hammered from all fronts. Our opponents’ seven foot stars out shining our nearly five foot midgets. Their girls were taller too.

I held on to hope that we’d find a rhythm, save our dignity and appear as competitors. I rallied, thinking myself a fierce intimidating threat. Then a visitor from my past showed up. We hugged hello and I apologized for making her watch our games. She smiled and proclaimed to be happy with anything as long as she could stay the night at my apartment. She was driving through Salt Lake on a holiday trip from Portland to Denver.

We chatted a bit and soon I stretched in preparation for the next match. It crossed my mind that I had been a little distracted earlier and I expected my abilities to improve now that I wasn’t worried about my visitor. It may have worked had my visitor not offered a confession that detected my second lie.

“I wasn’t sure how I was going to find you. It’s been about five years since I’ve seen you,” she said. “And that was only for few hours. So I just looked for a short, petite brunette.”

Any other day, say when I’m pool side in a bathing suit, I would welcome the petite suggestion. Short never passes as a compliment. I felt more like a harmless kitten and less like a powerful lioness; no one finds short and petite intimidating on an eight foot net.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Let Her Eat Cake

I missed the foreshadowing, the driver’s license, the bewildered midnight phone call, the aching bone, all a sign of the irony to befall me on the mark of my 26th year.

Walking into work two minutes early sent a rush through the estimating office. Paul glanced up with pleasant surprise and like a kid who aced the spelling test I smiled brightly. Dorky, sure, but when the two people who love you most wake you with a birthday tune perfectly pitched with adoration the day is destined for cheesy smiles.

And the birthday wishes? They poured in hurricane style, again a foreshadowing I wish I’d noticed. I did not though. I just kept smiling and laughing, occasionally dipping into the sparse workload to wrap up the week. My roommate even nailed me down with a desire for cake with my closest friends (side note: marriage sprinkles my girlfriends around the world and leaving me with a living room of boys for my party). The morning passed by blissfully.

In contrast the afternoon took me gruffly, twisting my blood pumper in the most unpredictable fashion. My boss called me into his office. He sat behind the formidable wooden desk and remarked, “It’s not a good day girl.”

It’s not? I thought. But today I’ve been loved.

“I’m going to have to let you go,” he blurts as if the news barreled from the pit of his stomach burning his throat and tongue in passing.

He continues with an econ lesson which led him to downsize drastically. I tuned out as angels sang. The pounding in my ears echoed the excitement of my heart. Freedom. I straightened in my chair and a smile tiptoed across my lips. I raised my eyes to look at him.

OH! My left hand flew to my collar bone. I watched the ragged intake of his shortened breath. I watched his hands stroke his temples pulling his eyes tightly long. A lone tear escaped from his left eye. Ashamed I averted my gaze unable to bear his grief. Instantly my voice filled the room consoling him in his choice.

Then my chest constricted and I wanted nothing more than the comfort of my mother’s embrace. But 750 miles is a long reach. I returned to my desk and helped Paul finish his bid before informing him that I would be leaving. I prepared to say goodbye to my work friends.

They had a chocolate cake with rows of mistletoe. A birthday cake serving dual purpose and with calm composure I scooped the ice cream the irony of the economy burning in my newly 26-year-old mind.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Feeling 50, Looking 15

“OK Group 5 this is our last run. You’re all doing great but remember to watch out for beginners, they don’t know how to handle their equipment.”

With a wicked grin I turned to Travis and raised my hand. I managed to get my thumb to my jaw before bursting into laughter. I’m sure Trav felt the bench shake, just as I’m sure more than six guys stared at me. I only hope that my new snowboard friend saw me as well and thought I laughed at him.

The lifts opened yesterday and we dragged ourselves up to the mountains hoping for snow. I think the 33” mentioned on the website meant they combined all the snow in front of the lodge and built a snowman of such height. But this year I’m determined to conquer the heel-side and to do I will need every available day.

I made it down the one packed trail with a little snow and plenty of people, which helped block out the numerous trees. The trees covered in snow look like soft mounds of fun, bare I see them as prickly death sticks that I am destined to meet spread-eagle. I took a couple tumbles dodging fate. My acrobatics caused me to look young and uncoordinated and each time a creaked back up I imagined my chiropractor’s face twisted in horror at the damage I’d done. One lucky run I decided to regroup by stretching my legs out near the bottom hopeful that I’d appear to be waiting for my friends and that my toe would stop tingling.

I got one out of two. Moments after stopping a young high school boy waved at me and asked if I came up with anyone. I explained that I did have people watching for me but in my slow awkward decent I had told my friends to go on without me. I didn’t realize that was the green light he’d wanted.

“You can ride down with me and I’ll help you. I can teach you how to ride,” he grinned.

No, I thought, you can’t there is an obvious generation gap. Except that it wasn’t obvious as my mouth betrayed me by laughingly saying, “It would be a long trip, I’m not good I struggle.”

His grin spread, at the challenge I’m sure, and he told he’d wait for me at the lifts. He did right in front of Travis. When I slid up between them Trav started excitedly talking about his adventures and asking about mine. I bit my lip to suppress a rising giggle and watched as my new friend told me he’d see me on the top of the slope. And he did. He rode up behind us, waited for me as I sat beside Trav and adjusted my boots (really it is awful trying to concentrate while worrying your toe will need amputation), and watched as a burst into laughter in the middle of Group 5’s instructions. Then he waved good-bye and left me.

Being hot and young enough for a high school kid shouldn’t bring so much joy, but on the cusp of losing another year to old age it was a boost.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Swim Caps Compulsory

Learning to swim I had one flaw—moving in a straight path. Superman style, back float, breast stroke, even bobbing I deterred. It didn’t matter because I soon gave up swimming for lying on a towel chatting with a girlfriend. My apologies to anyone who thought higher of me but for a good ten years I spent summers achieving the perfect tan. Now the thoughts of wrinkles and cancer push me back to the act of swimming, indoors away from harm.

Harm from the sun not from crazy Boy Scouts. Actually they didn’t inflict any physical harm other than the growing hunger pangs I endured while waiting for them to finish their swim tests. One lane opened and I jumped in ready for embarrassment. Good thing as it came shortly. While thinking straight thoughts in a stroke, stroke, breathe pattern I gained a fan. Not the Boy Scout you assume but a peer who spent his youth on the swim team.

He wanted to share my lane. Of course I accepted his offer and agreed to split the lane. Except that he held his breath twice as long as me, ok longer but it pains me to confess. He glided through the water gracefully and I tensed up with the knowledge that at some point I would whack him with some part of my body.

In my Europe days I learned all about wearing swim caps and goggles protect my enhanced eyes so from the neck up I looked legit. I caved under pressure and swam worse and worse eventually causing my asthma to flare up. Choking and sputtering I gripped the wall in the deep end. My eyes widen with horror as I felt an old feeling in my toes. A cramp of the my-toes-look-sick-and-crippled variety. I easily hid the deformity by placing my foot against the wall and pushing hard. Too hard as I lost my grip and flailed. My lane partner flipped under water and began his beautiful butterfly stroke.

Back at the safe end with feet touching I explained that I would take the now free lane to our left. He looked puzzled, as if he wanted to tell me to stop swimming or stay in his lane in case he had to save me. Then he offered to go to the other lane (it was beside the wall). I shook my head and ducked under the divider forcing myself to swim for an additional fifteen minutes.

He could have offered to give me back my dignity.