By Dominic Hanna
The snow reflects the sunlight directly into my eyes, blinding me as I descend through the clouds. I know that there are people around me, but I do not acknowledge their presence. They mean nothing to me. In my world, the only things that exist are myself, and the hill. Everything else is just an extension of one of us. My skis and my turns are an extension of me as I drift quickly downwards. The other people, the trees, he bumps, those are all the hill–just obstacles standing between me and my goal. My goal, however, is undefined. All that I want in my ten-year old mind is speed. To be at the bottom. To be able to go back to the top and do it again. I am completely consumed by the task at hand. I know nothing but for the unwinnable battle against the fifteen-degree angle. I imagine this is how I managed to lose myself.
I was a short kid. At ten years old, I stood just over four feet tall. Thus, in my world, everything else was massive. Massive things are intimidating. Because of this, I was pretty shy around adults at that age. I wouldn’t talk to them if I didn’t have to, and I did my best to avoid making them talk to me. Thus, when I found myself separated from my family, on a ski hill in Quebec where everybody spoke French, I didn’t ask for help. I may not have known where I was, but I felt confident that I could find the condo where we were staying without too much trouble. It was “Ski in, ski out,” after all. But in order not to have to talk to anyone, I knew that I would have to look like I didn’t need help. So I did what people who don’t need aid do at ski resorts. I got on the lift. I later learned that the eon I spent waiting by the chair lift was closer to ten minutes, and that my little sister had fallen, causing the others in my group to be slightly delayed. They would arrive approximately five minutes after I had left. This irony was lost on me at the time. I set out on my quest not to stand out.
The thing about being alone on a chair lift is that people will try to invite you into their conversation. The thing about being a child is that people will have a natural instinct to keep you safe. These two facts worked in tandem to hinder my goal of being left alone. On the first ride up all alone, there was a perfectly nice old couple sitting next to me. I attempted to give the impression that I was totally in control of my situation, tried to look like it was just another day in the life of today’s independent youngster, but they must have seen through my ruse. The man asked me where my parents were. I reluctantly told him that they were somewhere else on the mountain, though I omitted the fact that this was not my parents’ intention. He must have known that I wasn’t meant to be all by my lonesome as I was, and pressed me the whole way up. He was trying to get me to admit I needed help, but I wasn’t having it. I deflected question after question. He didn’t try to follow me when I reached the top.
As I stood at the top of the black diamond my parents had forbade me to ski, I felt mature. I felt completely in control of my current situation. As a young child, I had never been given this responsibility over myself before, and rightfully so. Mere seconds after shifting from horizontal to vertical, I knew I had made a mistake. It was too steep, too bumpy, too difficult. But, as stubborn as I ever was, I powered through. I went slowly, taking wide turns, trying to look as professional as possible. I now know that the few people that sped past me weren’t paying attention to the small figure worriedly descending into the increasingly precipitous slope. I, however, felt that all the non-existent eyes were on me, and I very much wanted to prove I could complete what I had set out to. I fell a few times, bouncing upwards as quickly as I could, desperately hoping that no one would see me touching the cold white powder. If there had been anyone watching me, it would have been clear to them that I had not succeeded. But in my brain, I had avoided embarrassment sufficiently. It took much longer to reach the bottom of that hill than I had taken waiting for my family in that same spot, to what now had been almost an hour earlier. This passage of time meant that the sun was setting, the lifts beginning to close. I began to head back to the condo.
The second lift went more smoothly than the first. I attribute this to what must have been a very smug and self-satisfied smirk that I wore. Those on the lift with me must have thought that someone that pleased with themselves knows exactly what they’re doing. I barely remembered how to get back to my temporary home, but I wasn’t worried about that. Right then, I wouldn’t have cared if I had to spend the night at the windy peak. In fact, I would have welcomed the challenge with open arms. I found myself at the front door of the building we were staying in almost by accident, and put my gear away and waltzed through the entrance. Whoever was there made the frantic phone call to those searching for me to return. They had me wait until there were enough adults in the room to adequately chew me out for my lack of thought, for scaring them in such a way. In the back of my head I knew the problem I had caused, but right then and there, I distressed not. I was not irresponsible; I was the most responsible I had ever been.