A tiny white void -- a kind of cosmic tumbleweed bouncing north on the Ruth glacier, an isolated sphere of humanity in close orbit to the earth. I see only white, I hear my own deep breaths interrupted by great, rumbling crashes from either side of the invisible gorge like massive, curling waves against a rocky shore somewhere out there. Over and over again. Everything is falling apart out there in the universe. Skiing through a sickly damp fog, I look up from my skis and the snow fuses to the nebulous cloud without distinction. My eyes follow the green rope through the white to Cody’s dark silhouette. Cody. You fucker. I want nothing to do with you. That’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking I need out of here right now. But I get a little dizzy looking at what may as well be the glacier all around me -- I don’t even think about looking up -- so I look at my skis again because they tell me which way is down. Kick, kick, kick. Break the monotony. Kick-glide... kick-glide... Sweet Jesus -- I think I might be skiing into the air. Don’t think too hard. Fog and sweat bead in my hair and on my forehead.
I’ve counted 10 days since I drove her to the airport to catch a midnight flight to see her parents in Arizona. We talked a little on the way, but it was really awful. I mostly just stared itinerantly through the windshield at the red glow of tail lights, stretching row after row after row on into the wet Anchorage night as we moved from stoplight to stoplight. I couldn’t look at her as she plied me with trite conversational cues to which I had no answer.
“Look...” I flick the rope aside and it loops over itself to rest behind me as I stop. “The other birds just ripped it apart... Huh.” Cody sees something that hasn’t yet come into my sphere. He starts skiing again and I watch the loop straighten back out in front of me before resuming my slog. I’m kicking and gliding and watching my skis slide through yesterday’s tracks when I see faint whisps of soft, dark grey down feathers spotting the snow, frozen tentatively to its slushy surface, beading moisture like eery morning dew. The down feathers lead to dark black flight feathers that wreath an unfortunate raven’s skeleton. All of my kicking and gliding slows a little bit to take a look at the bird. Its bones are picked clean. Black, empty eye sockets stare back at me. The rope tugs at my waist and I stumble a little before I regain my stride.
She is already a month along now. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he slid down the bench seat, pressing himself tight against the passenger door as we rattled up the Parks Highway to the Y and Talkeetna. Maybe he was making room for what I had said -- getting a good look at it settling in on the bench seat between us to join our flight into the Range. He says it slowly: “Holy shit... are you sure you want to go on this trip?”
The Utah guys have been gone for three days now. We watched them move quickly up the Japanese couloir the first clear night after the four day storm that saw us down to our last drop of booze. “Maybe we should do that instead of Ham and Eggs tomorrow -- those guys are cruising.” Now we ski past their camp, empty and eerie in the fog. After another day their bodies are seen in a heap of dedris high above the gorge, and we are rummaging through the food that the mountaineering patrol has recovered. I feel sick with my desire to stay, but I still take a bag of dried fruit and nuts, some pasta, and a package of sausage. They must have been so excited packing all this shit. This trip was going to be great, I’m sure, and they would return home happy and satisfied with their adventures so far away in the wild north. Their families and girlfriends would be amazed by their stories and pictures. Next year maybe they would go for something bigger. The Llama touches down and rangers begin the body recovery, while volunteers pack the men’s belongings, and we continue scavenging.
Days go by and we do nothing but grow apart, mental islands in the snow, frozen banana republics snapping in and out of civil war. Our trip was over before we landed, and I am resigned to this awful waiting without any focus but the mess I am responsible for at home. What did she tell her parents? What will I tell mine? Will I make enough money this summer? I’ll be living in a fucking truck-bed trailer; how can I make this work? Well, as long as we’re not getting after it, we’re not getting hurt, right? So what’s in the medicine cabinet... hydrocodone? Best taken with whiskey.
These mountains molt and shed their winter coats now, these mountains show me only what I already know. Two weeks ago they were a beautiful challenge that I would confidently face. Now they are silent bastions of death that exacerbate my inadequacies with their looming, sentinel presence. Cocooned in polargard, I am dreaming. I am warm and dreaming that I have nothing to worry about. I have been laying like this for a long time now, and I don’t realize that my face is sideways in a puddle of my own vomit until Cody tells me so.
I have burned badly this time. At home I am dimly aware of it all -- I can still hear the violent collapse of what once was. Seasons change, the dead stay gone, the living offer little solace, and the abortion is scheduled. It will be a long time before I find my way out of this fog.