Rebel Without a Clear Head (My Last Winter)

December 2009

Under a gray, sunless sky, I peer down to see my leg dangling in midair, hovering high above the calm, white ocean below. It’s not two seconds before my back hits the well-worn cushion of the ascending chair.

Twenty-two years old, and I still need the safety bar. I shake my head at the disappointing thought.

Growing up, I was never burdened by many fears, much less a fear of heights. I was always the risky, thrill-seeker who’d be at the front of a roller coaster with both hands reaching up; the one who’d make the effort to climb higher than anyone else in a tree. When and how this fear snuck it’s claws into me I haven’t the slightest clue. I sit back and accept it being a part of me on the lonesome ride of this crawling chairlift.

I look around but can’t find any of the guys—my new housemates. Am I seriously the only one who came up?

The wind howls as it sends its icy spears into the exposed half of my face, eventually tearing through the two long sleeve shirts. Damn… should have brought a fucking jacket!

Click, click, click, click, click, click

Each click of the binding strap snaps in sync with each heartbeat, hanging in anticipation. Until, along with the last click when I know my boot is securely strapped-in, it stops its rhythmic beat at the sight before me. If there is a God after all, He now has the upmost of my Adderall-prescribed attention.

The warming presence seeps through my black shirts, as I unwittingly let out, “Ahh, man. Now that brings me back!”

My heart switches back on, as though it had forgotten what it was supposed to be doing. The clouds continue to open-up revealing more of the mountain. The entire sun sphere streams down on my body that sends more homely nostalgia surging through me. I close my eyes to better my focus on holding these wistful waves full of many happy years spent with family and friends in the Rocky Mountains.

According to my selective memory, from ages ten to eighteen, half of those years were spent snowboarding in Telluride, Colorado—with a few months spent in Red River, New Mexico. These are the only moments of my life where I let my mind deceive me. Instead of spending entire years like I wanted to believe, my family and I—along with other families and friends—would spend a week there each year. For a few of those years, we’d gone both Christmas and Spring Break. Also, as a summer trip celebrating my 18th birthday with three close friends at the yearly Telluride Bluegrass Festival—”Avoiding the brown acid,” as we were told, but taking everything else we came across (lots and lots of mushrooms).

Along with all of this rushing into my head, a fire lights-up inside me. I can’t help smiling as I turn my board and launch myself down the hill.

After a few quick cuts to awaken the memory of my leg muscles, I lean on my heels and come to a stop. I stand with a slight bend in my knees and stare out ahead. The mix of adrenaline and the mountainous landscape ahead takes me away to another world. The fluttering in my chest is so intense, I panic for a second, only to insult my mind for trying to ruin this feeling with worry.

I wasn’t going to let some doctor with his “claims” and “prescriptions” of having high blood pressure kill my natural high. Although, it was true and happened only a few months before.

Fuck it, I’d said to myself—the motto of my young, rebel-without-a-clear head days of addiction.

From the reflecting beam of sun rays, I feel lost in the white sea beneath, shimmering as if it rained millions of tiny diamonds overnight. My head buzzes in elation, intoxicated with stirring passion from merely taking in the snowy terrain before me. With nobody around, I admit to myself that this is the main reason I agreed to come to Washington; to have this chance to do something I hadn’t done in years—and had never thought I would ever again.

I lean back on my left leg, lift my right foot and quickly shift it ninety-degrees to the left in a hopping motion, pointing the board down the hill to ride away. I left my headphones in my pocket for the first run, wanting to hear the sound of the board carving back and forth through the creamy snow.

The powder is fresh and soft, meaning it had snowed last night. Unfortunately, we didn’t leave the house early enough to make first tracks, but there’s still plenty of untouched terrain where I can make my marks.

I soar across and down each hill—Flowing back and forth, carving through the snowy canvas, bending the body into each groove; never thinking, only feeling; thus, I’m living in the moment.

I don’t believe humans can fully understand the purpose of life with our limited, three-dimensional minds. It’s being in the present state of feeling pure, unadulterated bliss, without ever questioning or giving it any thought. I’ve experienced this many times before, especially while on stage playing music. It’s the same groove found while gliding down a mountain, strapped to a board. It’s all about the groove. The flow.

In this state, there is no ‘Josh the fuck-up; the junkie; the disappointment; the heroin-addicted failure.’ Shit, in this state, if someone mentioned any of this, it wouldn’t make any sense to me—

What’s heroin… ?” I’d answer.

I haul ass down the hill, making sharp cuts back and forth, avoiding other people. I have to show my house I wasn’t bullshitting when I told them I could board. About halfway down I look over and recognize a few of the guys on the shorter run. With a slight bend in the knees, I rotate my legs in a quick, sharp turn on the left edge of the board with my toes digging into the hill, skidding into a stop.

They’re on the bunny hill?

I pull my goggles up and off my eyes to see one of them slam face down onto ice.


My face cringes with vicarious pain.

What!? I thought they could board?

Looking back, I can’t recall them ever saying they were any good. I’m going to fix that. With a push off my back foot, much like on a skateboard and shift the board straight while in midair and back down towards the bottom, taking off again, and shaking my head. This should be fun.

I see a mini-terrain park towards the bottom of the hill with boxes, rails, and kickers—jumps. I come up and hit as many as I can on this run. Now, there are two trails I can take: one going to the chairlift going back up to where I was, or one heading to the bunny hill loft. I have to decide fast.

Darry stands up with his board flat and glides down at a slow pace. It looks as if he has it down. As he gains more speed, he turns his bored too quickly and catches an edge on his heels, ass slamming into snow. He turns his head around looking up at us. His goofy, bug-eyed goggles cover most of his face. All I can see is his giant, ear-to-ear grin. I could feel his excitement and sense of accomplishment. It makes me smile back.

“Hell yeah, man! What happened though?” I yell.

“I think I figured it out. Let me try again.” I can only guess as I barely make out Darry’s faint voice.

“Remember what I told you, bud. Just point your board down the mountain and go!”

When I told Darry this before, I said it with a hint of sarcasm, but he must’ve taken it literally. He pointed his board straight down and after a few falls; he carves back and forth. But instead of going with it, he cuts to the side to stop and throws his arms up.

Joy radiates from him and I feel it. Until it’s overpowered by my own accomplishments and pride. I taught someone how to snowboard.

“Why’d you stop though?” I yell.

Sonny and Pete were the other two who couldn’t quite get it down. They would need more work. Well, maybe not Pete. I didn’t think he’d ever get it down. His heart wasn’t in it.

After most of the guys left for Christmas break and came back after a week, Pete never came back.

Driving to the ski hill once, and sometimes twice a week, I had everyone boarding. We even got to snowboard at night, which I had never done before. There were light posts up and down most of the runs I’d never noticed before, giving off enough light to shred it up in the thriving dark of night.

After the first day of boarding, we arrive back at the house to have dinner before our daily check-in meeting. Everyone talks of how much fun they had. I had a blast, but my muscles were aching in agony. They would get used to it though. It was a good pain.

Unexpectedly, when it’s Tammy’s—one of the life coaches—turn to speak, she looks at me with a big smile.

Immediately, my chest starts pounding. Before she says anything, my mind races through every single thing I did today, making sure I did nothing wrong that will put me outside tonight. I can’t think of anything. So what could she want to say?

“I want to praise our newest member, Josh, here.”

My eyes lit-up brighter than the lights on our Christmas tree.

Me? What the hell did I do? I freeze in fear.

She continues, “Today was his first day to go snowboarding, and he had told me before that he’s had a lot of experience and was really looking forward to it.” Another pause as she turns toward everyone else. “But instead of running off with the other guys who know how to ride—”

Yeah, the assholes I couldn’t find.

He stuck around all day to help the ones who didn’t; which I think, shows what a good, caring person he is.”

My heart drops. What is this, kindergarten?

I look down at the ground.

Receiving compliments is not a comforting thing for me. But I look back up at Tammy, who is still smiling at me. That’s when it occurs to me,

Tammy is… kinda hot.


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