We linger over one mid-day beer at the Ice Bar for longer than usual because the mountain feels stagnant. Yes, it's a gorgeous blue bird day and yes, we're in Tahoe. We're not complaining, well, maybe about the lack of snow... a snow that seemed furious and determined in November and December, but has since been castrated by La Niña's wily ways. Leave it to a female to tease us with exactly what we want and then viciously yank it away. I can say that because I've done it myself plenty of times.
We finish our PBRs, strap into our boards, and coast down to the lift.
"What do you want to do next?"
It's the same question at the end of every run. The one you only have to say aloud when you're riding with someone. Alone, you just hop on the lift and go. It doesn't matter where you end up. It's just you.
Luckily, we usually agree. And this time, maybe because I have an assignment for a new website I'm writing for, or maybe because we're all groomered out, or maybe just because: we decide to make our way to the kiddie park in an effort to get me doing jumps again, something I've abandoned since the first snowfall of the season.
I ask him to film it. One, so I can see how little air I'm getting (I swear it feels like more when you're doing it) and two, so that I can post it on this new site I just mentioned. The first attempt is a complete disgrace to the sport and anyone who just witnessed what happened. My board barely lifts off of the ground and I'm perplexed as I make my way to the lift as to why the earth hasn't opened up and swallowed me and spared me the humiliation I'm about to endure.
"Just delete it," I say, without even asking.
"Obviously, we're doing that again," I say.
Because that's how it works. You go for it and if you end up *not* actually going for it, or fucking it up, or just not liking how it all went down: You do it again. It's like the opposite of relationships. Instead of bailing when things get bad, you push through it. Oh. Wait.
We get off of the lift and make our way back to the park. He rides down to the first jump and pulls out his phone. I watch a four year old follow his instructor over the jumps. Sure, he's just gliding over them and not getting air and sure he's not quite three feet tall, but, I mean, he's four. I'm [redacted] years old than him for heaven's sake. I've gone through bigger parks. I've landed bigger jumps. This is all about that stupid voice in my head that appeared a few years ago after a certain birthday and refuses to let me live my life without weighing the consequences.
I wait and make sure the four year old doesn't fall after the jump; after all, the worst thing I could do would be to land on top of a child. With the way I talk about kids, no one would even believe it was an accident. I see him move on to the second jump in the park (park is a mild exaggeration, I'll admit) and I turn my board straight down the hill and go. I do my best not to speed check myself. After all, these jumps are tiny. Without any speed, gravity is going to win the fight.
I aim my board straight at the jump, slide up it and... ugh. Totally anticlimatic. Again. I can do this, I tell myself. I curve my board around the second jump and aim it towards the final jump in the park. I've got a decent amount of speed, determined to make this one count. I point my board straight, fly up the jump and suddenly I'm five feet in the air, my balance is totally off...
"Oh!" I exclaim.
Time slows down. I know things are about to go horribly wrong. But I can't fix it.
My feet are now completely out from under me and I'm falling back to the earth with my eyes facing the sky.
I land the jump. With my back.
Pain like I've never felt before overtakes my entire lower back. I can't move. I bellow like a wild animal. I try to sit up. I only do so long enough to make eye contact with the Alpine Meadows employee who is working "Tubeville," the inner tube park I've never even noticed before. I don't know how he sees the look I give him through my goggles--the please help me I think I might be dying look, but he starts running towards me.
I collapse back onto the snow, moaning like a Tyrannosaurus rex in heat.
"Are you okay?" he asks.
"I have to block off the jump. I'll be right back. Just one second, okay?"
I can hear him running up the mountain to make sure no one launches the jump and lands on my face.
The pain is unbearable. I can't breathe. I can't open my eyes. I can't move.
The next part is a blur... They don't want me to move. All I want to do is move. Campfriend takes my snowboard off (thank God) and I bend my legs. They tell me not to move again. Ski patrol is here. A doctor is here. My eyes are still closed.
"Does this hurt?" they ask as they push different parts of my body. My pelvis, my neck, my back--
"Yes. That hurts. It all hurts."
"Yeah... It's going to hurt to be on your back for a while," someone says.
"Sorry, babe." I smile. The ski patrol laugh, but Campfriend misses the obvious sex joke, focused on the back board and stretcher that have arrived. I'm just happy I'm still making sex jokes.
I'm on a back board. I'm being immobilized. They're taping my head down to the board.
"Sorry, I'm going to get your hair in this," someone apologizes. He could yank each and every strand out of my head and I wouldn't even feel it.
"I'm sorry," I keep saying. "I think I'm fine. I'm sure I'm fine." But also... "Why aren't there any dogs here?" Alpine Meadows is famous for its adorable rescue dogs. I never thought I'd be in this situation, but now that I am, I mean... it'd be so much better if there were a Golden Retriever by my side.
I want to open my eyes, to find a way to enjoy this, even though that's obviously not the point, but the pain is unlike anything I've ever experienced, so I keep my eyes closed and try to breathe. Which also hurts.
I don't know how they get me from the sled to the table in First Aid, but somehow I am there, still strapped to the back board, my neck immobilized with two cushion things, and my head taped down. I imagine someone had to lift me, the thought of which seems horrifying. But not as horrifying as when they start asking me my height and weight.
I mean, I can't see him, but I'm sure Campfriend is right there. Thinking I might be about to die, I don't even bother to lie. (File under: moments I'd like back.)
There's more poking, more prodding, more "Does this hurt?" "Does THIS hurt?" "What about THIS?" and all I know is that, literally, EVERYTHING hurts. I think about how when I first fell, I was in so much pain, but assumed that I'd be at the Alpine Bar shortly enjoying a beer. I now know that's not the case. In fact, it's starting to seem like I might not be back at Alpine Meadows, much less the bar, for the rest of the season. I am determined not to let that happen.
"I'm sure I'm fine," I say. All I want is for them to unstrap me. To roll over. So that I'm lying on ANYTHING but my back.
"We need to call the ambulance," the doctor says.
And that's when the tears start.
"You can't do that," I protest. "I can't afford it."
"When you landed," the doctor explains," you may have compressed your spinal cord and caused a fracture."
"I don't think I did that," I say, even though I have no idea. I just want out of these straps. Off of this board.
"We won't know if you fractured your spine unless we get an x-ray," he continues. "And I don't want to move you until you get an x-ray because if I let you stand up and walk, you may start to lose feelings in your legs. And once you lose feelings in your legs, you can't get that back."
"I can't afford it," I say again, tears streaming down my face. "I just can't."
"Can you afford not to ever walk again?" he asks.
Damn this guy is good. "I'm not trying to be difficult," I keep saying. "I just... My deductible. It's six thousand dollars. I can't... I don't..."
They leave me strapped to the board while I make the decision.
I ask Campfriend to call my oldest brother. I'm in no position to make a decision, and somehow it seems better to ask someone who is far away and can't see me, helpless and in agonizing pain.
As he walks out of the building to make the call, I yell, "Tell him not to tell my mom!"
The nurse approaches and asks, "Would your mother maybe help you out?"
It's too long of a story. Too much to get into. I wish I could shake my head no, but I'm forced to use my words.
"I'm too old to ask my mother for help."
A small pep talk about how her son is 31 and she'd help him out follows, and she might be the most well intentioned person ever, but I just want someone to unstrap me so I can roll the fuck over and so I shrug and say, "Maybe."
Campfriend returns and lets me know my brother thinks I should skip the ER. Wait to see a doctor in the city, since that will be much cheaper.
I tell them I am going to walk out. There are forms to be read and signed. I can barely focus enough to write my own name, so I have no idea what I'm signing, but I know it means I can't sue. Like I'd sue someone else for the fact that I can't land a jump.
They unstrap me from the board and roll me off. I immediately turn onto my stomach. I can still feel my fingers and toes. The pain is excruciating--why won't someone give me a fucking Qualuude? Are Qualuude's even something that still exist?--but it feels better to be facing down.
Campfriend goes to get the car. I keep my eyes closed and try to think about anything other than not being able to walk for the rest of my life. I don't even want to think about not being able to snowboard for the rest of the season.
The guy who saw me fall and rushed to help me is back at First Aid, this time with a guy with a broken collarbone. He comes up to me and asks how I'm doing.
"Okay," I say.
"You really launched that jump," he says.
"Yeah," I can barely talk. But he is kind of cute, so I suffer through it. (I am nothing if not a martyr.)
"I saw the whole thing. Next time, just be sure to bend your knees more."
"Oh, there's not going to be a next time," I say. But as soon as the words come out of my mouth, we both know it's not true. He raises his eyebrows.
"Well, I've got to do it one more time. Just to know I can. But then... never again."
"Exactly," he says. "Just keep those knees bent."
I wake up the next morning still in massive amounts of pain. But I know what I have to do.I don't know if I want to as much as I am compelled to. So I pop six more motrin, which I've been doing every three hours since the fall, put on my snowboarding gear and go back to the mountain.
As I walk up the hill to get on the lift, I turn to my left to size up the jump that got the best of me... the jump that I am going to have my way with. Not today, mind you, but soon.
(Want to see the fall? Follow me past the first "I can't believe I'm letting you see how much I suck" jump and all the way to the bottom of the hill. Better viewed in full screen.)