My earliest memory of my father is a winter one. I am five, and he is kneeling at my feet in our front yard’s snow, strapping cross-country skis to my heavy boots.
What I am seeing is the top of my father’s head—the dark, slicked-back hair, the tops of his protruding ears, the brown fuzziness of his leather bomber jacket’s collar. I see his breath, too, translucent question marks that come up over his forehead and then dissipate into the blueness of the sky.
Behind me, I hear my mother open the front door, and I try to turn, but only succeed in twisting the upper half of my body. My mother, wrapped in a navy blue cardigan that is far too big and that I have never seen before, leans on the doorjamb and twiddles her fingers at me: a wave. I wave back, mittened. My father looks up, sees her, jumps up and runs to the door in what seems like two incredibly long strides. Rooted to my skis, I remain half-turned, watching as my father kisses my mother’s forehead, touches her elbow, and guides her inside. Then, closing the door behind him, he’s back, strapping on his own skis and handing me two sawed-off poles. “Okay,” he says. “Let’s go.”
It does not occur to me to say I don’t know how to ski, that he has never shown me how. My father has said, “Let’s go,” and go I must, and go I do, in short mincing steps and then longer gliding ones to catch up with him. He never looks back to see if I am there, because he knows I am, and I know I must not disappoint him.
At first, I stay in the twin tracks my father’s skis have traced for me, but as I become more accustomed to my feet’s lengthy extensions I move parallel to him, although still behind. Under my skis the snow repeats the same soothing sound over and over, sh-sh, sh-sh, its smoothness so reassuring that I fall into it as if we were one.
We ski at the edge of the canyon, and we ski for a very long time. We encounter no one, and we never say a word to each other. It is only hindsight that tells me that what I experienced that afternoon may well have been my only moments of pure joy.
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Dissonance (University of New Mexico Press) © 2003 Lisa Lenard-Cook. Used by permission of the author.