On Spring Break in Whistler at the age of 30 with my Parents, or, What is Happening to Me? Day 6
What follows is an account of my 8-day spring break vacation, spent at the ski resort Whistler/Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada. It’s just me and my parents. I am 30 years old. Single. Depressed. God rapes us in mysterious ways.
For those of you who may know me and my parents, I must say, I do not hate or despise them. These are simply observations intended for humor and I appreciate them as people and certainly love them as my parents. That said, they’re crazy.
Today is my last day of skiing. I am determined to not be afraid. I am determined to ski the entire day. I am determined to ski down a bowl, a double-black. I am determined to ski like I used to ski when I was 23 years old, living in Breckenridge, Colorado. A time when I would play horseshoes and drink Bud Light in the waning afternoon sun. Skiing in the morning would be my hangover cure. Those days are seven years gone and my bones have aged quite a bit. They hurt. I pop two Ibuprofens and tell myself I will not die today.
My parents have not skied this vacation and will not. Though they keep saying they want to. I feel sad for them. They live with an incredible amount of fear. Fear of injury, fear of disease, and death. Fear of severe financial loss, fear that they’re sons will not be successful. They fear being alone and therefore will never leave each other despite they are no longer in love, if they ever were at all. They fear that my brother and I will despise them and so they shower us with attention and love that just pushes us away further. They fear learning new things, they fear change. They fear going home to South Africa to visit family. They fear judgment and so they dole it out to everyone who crosses their path.
There are men and women much older than them on the slopes, making turns, smiling. They wear cool sunglasses that boys and girls one-third their age also wear. They do not care. They are not afraid. I wish this for my parents. I wish I could bottle up their fear and throw it into the ocean (not in a littering type of way, more like a message in a bottle type of way). But I suppose what bothers me more is that I feel their fear seeping into my blood. Skiing does not feel exciting to me as it once did. I think it is because I am afraid of getting hurt. I feel the fear when I try to talk to women, when confronted with commitment with women who love me, when imagining where I’ll be in 3 years (or where I won’t be). Perhaps all this is natural. Perhaps it isn’t. I just know that when I look at my parents, they look afraid of everything.
I am now at a precipice. This isn’t a metaphor for anything. I’m literally at a precipice. Below me is a double-black diamond run. It’s called Spanky’s Ladder. I had to hike uphill about 120 feet to get here. That may not seem like much, but at an altitude of 9,000 feet there is slightly less oxygen available and, really, let’s not kid each other, I am not in shape, at least not enough to climb 120 feet at 9,000 feet above sea level. My legs are weak, blubbery feeling, it’s a sensation that travels up to my bowels; I pray. I want to say it’s from fatigue, but it’s also partly because the tips of my skis are peering over the edge of a drop off in which the angle of descent appears to be steeper than sanity recommends. I am afraid, simply afraid.
I make it down. Without incident. I’m a little winded, but that’s to be expected. My legs no longer feel blubbery, they instead burn from lactic acid build up, but as they say it’s a good burn. Here’s the thing, as I peer up at the line I just took down, I sort of knew all along that I could do it. I possessed all the skills and faculties necessary to accomplish this feat. So if I knew I could do it all along, what exactly was I afraid of? My therapist would say I was afraid of being successful. My first response to that is what the fuck are you talking about? Why would I be afraid of successfully accomplishing what I set out to accomplish? Wouldn’t I be more afraid of failing? But upon reflection (which is what you’re reading now) it makes sense. Failing at something sets you up to do one of two things: try again or give up. Either way, you sort of know what can happen. But if you succeed, what are you presented with? You are presented with open-ended opportunities. If you can accomplish this one task, what is stopping you from accomplishing another, and another, and another. It means that you have the potential to live an unscripted life. One in which you cannot predict the next move.
Tonight is our last night Whistler. Tomorrow we will make our way to Vancouver, spend the afternoon there and I will board a plane back to Florida the following morning. I know exactly what is waiting for me back home. Papers to grade, books to read, friends to catch up with. I am comforted by this, but am also depressed by it. I simultaneously crave an unpredictable life and fear it, fear the unknowing it embodies.
My parents came to this country not knowing what their future held for them. My mother arrived with $600 and a friend in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. My father arrived a year later with a letter with my mother’s address on it. They were not married yet. They had broken up when my mother left South Africa. They were both fed up with the racism and prejudice they faced in South Africa and so they turned to another imperfect nation they really knew nothing about. They could not predict the events of their day-to-day lives, let alone the long term consequences of their choices, truly life choices. My father proposed to my mother a few weeks after his arrival, mostly out of fear he later admitted to me. He didn’t know anyone, he knew her. She was beautiful, smart, and familiar in a vastly unfamiliar place. My mother said yes because she knew my father, he was familiar, he was a doctor, he could provide, he did not drink, he was gentle, he was safe, he was predictable. I am sad for them. They did unpredictable exciting things and then immediately compromised for comfort and safety. But perhaps I should not pity that. They were young, scared, truly strangers in a strange land.
I am young. I am scared. I almost always feel a stranger to place and people around me. My parents are admirable people, but I fear that I may become just like them. I look at my mother as she tries to convince me of the evils of socialized medicine. She looks tired. Confused. Like she knows exactly what tomorrow holds and yet does not know what exactly else she could do. My father looks bored and frustrated. He, too, looks tired. They need change and yet they fear what might happen if they push themselves off that precipice (this is a metaphor). I crave change and yet every time I come home I see how much things have not changed. I suppose many take comfort in that. Not me. It scares me.
I take a bite of my steak and tell my parents that I might move to Canada. My mother responds, “I don’t know why. This place could never be as good as America. I don’t know why you hate America so much.”
Me: [sigh] I don’t hate America.
My Mother: It sure seems like you do. All you do is complain about it.
Me: Fine. I’ll stop complaining.
My Mother: No, I’m not saying that.
Me: Actually, that’s exactly what you just said.
My Mother: What I mean is that I appreciate it. I’ve learned so much from you. Things I would have never known about. You make me think. I would be so bored otherwise. Truly, Kiren. Our lives are nearly over. We are bored. You and your brother are what keep us going.
Mother: Yes. Absolutely.
Me: Well, in that case, yeah, I hate America.