The King of Panda Peak
By Nancy McAtavey
“Honey, I’m home,” she called from the back door. “What have you been… oh, snap! You’ve got your ski boots on.” She set the shopping bag on the counter and reached for her cell phone. “I have to get a picture of this, send it to everyone.”
“Please, just wait.”
“I don’t know if I can get it off.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, James. If you got it on, you can somehow get it off. If not, I’ll just call 911 and ask for help, ask them to bring the jaws of life. If they can cut open a car, they can cut through that ski boot, right?”
“That’s not funny, Nancy.” I sighed and proceeded with my grunts and groans as I struggled with the boot. By the time the groceries were put away, my left foot was free. I stood up and headed for the bedroom. Nap time.
A bluebird sky with not a cloud in sight. This is why I moved to Colorado. This was a million miles from March in Maine: trails that were skied off by 10 a.m., gusty winds that put the lifts on hold, gray skies that suffocated the spring sun. I had been here a month; today was showtime at Buttermilk Mountain. No crowds, parking close to the lift and the gentle slope of Panda Peak: the ideal place for my comeback. The only thing between me and the top? A half-dozen noisy preschoolers wearing yellow bibs and capital letter name tags.
Their ski instructor shouted over their chatter. “Now, listen up! Just two of you on the chair lift. When you get to the top, WAIT for me. Do not go ANYWHERE. Do you hear me? Everyone got that?” Heads nodded. “Any questions?”
Emily flicked at her braids that peeked out from her helmet. “When is snack time?”
Joey wiped his nose with his mittened hand. “When will my Mom and Dad be here?”
Rory looked up the hill. “Are we going to ski straight down?”
They all made it onto the lift. Their shouts and laughter followed them up the beginner hill. Next up? Me. Any questions? “What if I can’t lean forward to get off the chair? What if my left leg doesn’t turn and I just ski off into the woods? What if I have to go down the hill on a sled being pulled by a ski patroller?” It was a short ride, no time for answers. I skied off, adjusted my goggles, willed my left hand to hold onto my pole and pushed off.
I bent forward over my ski poles, trying to catch my breath. It hadn’t been a pretty sight but I made it down. Wide turns, jerky body movements, my body not quite aligned with my skis. I closed my eyes and previewed my next run: up, down, hands forward, turn. This next run would be better.
I opened my eyes. It was the Rory kid, the one who wanted to ski straight down. “Hi there.”
“You in line, mister?”
“No, I’m just resting for a minute. And my name is Jim.”
“Okay, Mister Jim. I’m Rory. You going up again or what?”
“Yep, in a minute. I’m taking a little rest.”
“Well, ah, yes. I haven’t been on skis in two years. I’m a little rusty.”
“How come what?”
“How come you got rusted and haven’t been on skis?”
I forgot how little kids asked so many questions. How? Why? I remembered my own kids at this age when every sentence ended with a question mark. “Surgery. I had an operation on my spine and my left side isn’t working right yet.”
“Well, maybe you need to be in ski school. We’re learning how to make French fries and pizzas and how to get up when we fall. I know you’re a grown-up but I bet my instructor would let you in our class. I could ask…”
“Well, thanks. But I’ll be okay. Just taking it a little slow.”
A week later, I came across Rory again. This time he was standing with his class, ski poles in hand, listening intently to his instructor. He’s made progress, I thought. Probably skiing down the hill like a rocket. He saw me when he looked over his shoulder and then pointed in the direction of the Summit Chairlift. He flashed a big smile as he shouted, “We’re going up ALL the way to the summit!”
“Good for you,” I shouted back. “Go for it!”
I watched again as those little kids so easily loaded the lift, reached back for the bar and then scooted their bottoms onto the chair. I watched as they traveled up the hill, their snow-panted legs dangling back and forth, their helmeted-heads bobbing up and down and back and forth. I stood there at the bottom for several minutes, looking at the Panda Peak lift in front of me and the Summit Lift right next to it. I made the decision; I was headed all the way up, too. There was no pause at the top; I just took off. There were some erratic turns and then three good ones linked together. My thighs burned as I reminded myself to breathe in and out, turn and turn. Again and again until I was at the bottom.
Ski school was finished for the day. The little kids laughed and babbled as they struggled to get out of their skis. Emily flicked at her braids and Joey made several swipes at his nose with his mittened hand. I skied over to Rory, happy to see him smiling. “You made it! Good for you!”
“And how about you, Mr. Jim? You made it, too. I watched you come all the way down the big slope.”
“Yep, I did, Rory. I figured if you could do it, I could, too.”
“You know what?”
“I think you are… the King of Panda Peak!”
We high-fived and I turned to make my way toward the parking lot. Yep, I thought. I’m okay with that title… Mr. Jim, the King of Panda Peak.
Is this what we want?
Any town, U.S.
Bullets rip through all bodies
A grim routine rules
Five finches feeding
Cat in the window
Chatters at the birds beyond
My uncle is a fine man
Living with righteous ease
Admired, true, with many a fan
And since he’s been ill, filled with disease
He’s all the more looked up to
How wise, you cannot judge the sick
But my God, what a bore, waiting the whole night through
His death being not in the least quick
And what a chore!
To adjust his pillow
And his medicine force him to swallow
But in amusing this half-dead uncle
I must keep steady
I can only sigh and quietly grumble
“Oh the devil, just die already!”