To say that I was fussy would be an understatement. Leaving Long Beach late, we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way up the 605 and straight onto the 210.
Our trip to Big Bear would now take a solid three to four hours to get there instead of the usual two and after a long day of teaching, nothing to eat since breakfast, I was beating up Stephen pretty good. And as usual, he sat there and took it; his Buddha like demeanor in almost all situations infuriating.
“You’re like the guy in that Snickers’ commercial.” He said.
If looks could kill, Stephen would have been tossed out the door and rolling down the slow lane of the 605 at that very moment.
“No, no!” he said, correcting himself, “You’re like that guy from Network. You know… I’m mad as hell and I just can’t…”
“I know the guy,” I said.
“Yeah but what was his name?” Stephen pushed our pup, Opal towards me as he made room to rummaged about in his pocket, obvious glee registering on his face, “Hang on, I can’t remember his name. I’m going to look him up.” He pulled his phone out and Googled: Mad as hell.
There was a blissful moment of silence before he pressed the phone towards my face and said, “I forgot my reading glasses at home could you read this for me and tell me…”
“Howard Beale! God damn it.” I shouted. “It was Howard Beale!” My knuckles tight and white on the steering wheel. “I’m driving!” I pushed Opal back onto Stephen’s lap and watched as he adjusted himself around her large, lanky puppy body.
“Yeah,” Stephen said. “That’s who you are.” He pointed his finger at me. “You’re that guy.”
We didn’t talk much after that.
Stephen, a keen observer of my road Tourette’s syndrome, chose to take a nap with Opal, so he didn’t have to deal with me, as I navigated the rest of the way up the mountain.
We hit Big Bear around 7, chained up the truck and grabbed take-out from Denny’s, which was a slow and painful mistake, and headed up the paved but pot-holed forestry road to our cabin that sat back in the woods.
Owning a cabin in a National Forest has many advantages: privacy for one, but unplowed dirt roads is not part of the package. I knew that even with the truck we might not get in but I went up to the high road behind our cabin and planned to hit the gas and hope that the chains would carry me up and over the first drift and we’d use gravity to drop us into the area where our cabin sat.
A parked Subaru Outback blocking the road foiled my plan.
I was furious that someone had blocked the community road but Stephen calmly hopped out and headed up to the cabin that sat just a few feet off in the distance.
I rolled down the cab window to listen to the soon to be exchange.
A nice looking older man with jet white hair came out on the porch, he was wearing a fair isle sweater and was a picture postcard representation of how I imagined Alpine skiers in the 1950’s to look. He shook Stephen’s hand and then in a thick Czech accent shouted down to me, “Hello, I am Merik. You can try to go up that road but I tell you, you won’t get in.”
Being a big believer in signs, jinxes, and fate, I was pretty sure that Merik had just fucked me from getting anywhere but my frustration and rage, combined with my super ego was pushing me to show him—show them both really.
He walked down from his cabin and moved his car out of my way and watched as I floored it up into the drive and slammed head first into an ice bank that almost stuck the truck.
I didn’t care.
I was so hell-bent that I backed it up, floored the truck again and slammed right back into the bank.
I watched as Merik put his hands up to his temples, comic really, and shook his head back and forth, Stephen standing next to him, his mouth agape.
When I went back for a third run, I backed up too far and the truck slid down the icy road and went sideways to the edge of the cliff.
This was the moment when Stephen ran over to the cab and whispered, “You’re being stubborn. You’re going to get hurt. Stop it. Let it go. We’ll hike in.”
Merik sensing my fury tried to calm the situation down by shouting to me, “Come on now. Come inside. Let’s have a drink on this.”
Goddamn Czechs. I thought: Always a reason to party.
I waved him off and drove up the road away from the men and went a good clip before finding a small turn around and heading back down towards them.
By the time I returned, Merik was back in his warm cabin and Stephen was waiting to jump back into the cab.
“Just park there,” he said, and pointed to the side of the road. “We’ll take Dora’s path straight up the mountain.”
We parked on the edge of the main road and looked up at our cabin that sat a good football field straight up a bouldered outcrop.
I don’t know what Stephen was thinking but I was thinking, How the hell did a woman in her 80s climb that path everyday for the years she lived there before us?
“Let me get the snowshoes” Stephen said.
I watched as he got out of the truck, the air sharp, beyond cold, and reached under the blue tarp of the truck bed for the shoes.
“Where’s the other pair?” I asked through the open door of the cab.
“I just got shoes for me.” He said.
I swear to God our dog, Opal turned around and looked at me as if to say, “Oh shit.” A serious frown on her baby pitbull face.
“Why didn’t you get me snow shoes?” I asked.
“Well you didn’t seem to think it would be a problem to get into the cabin and you seemed to think I was over-reacting so I bought a pair and thought we could get you a pair later.”
I looked back up at the ravine we would have to traverse to get up to the cabin. A solid six feet of snow at least, giant boulders and tree branches jutting out from each side and then back at Stephen, glaring with hatred.
“I was gonna get you shoes,” he said, “but you were making fun and…”
I cut Stephen off in a fury.
“I want you to put on your little snowshoes and leave.” I snapped. “I want you to climb your little pathway and leave me alone to eat my chicken sandwich. Do you understand me?”
Stephen reached down and strapped his snowshoes on, all the while mumbling, “You didn’t even want snowshoes. You made fun of me thinking we needed snowshoes.”
“What?” I said.
Stephen stood up and looked at me. “Do you want to go home?”
“I want to eat my chicken sandwich in peace.”
He sighed, and turned to head up the hill though I’m sure I heard him say something again about Ned Beale as he slammed the cab door.
I watched him struggling to get up the four feet of solid ice from the lip of the road before he stumbled and fell into the drifts of snow. He righted himself, fell again, righted himself, then stumbled, then suddenly caught his bearings and headed steadily up the hill.
I took the moment to put on my fingerless mittens, my beanie, pump up the old Dodge’s truck heater to high and sat eating my now cold chicken sandwich with Opal.
If she had been upset when Stephen exited the cab, she was now intent on staring at my sandwich, in hopes that I would understand how desirable it was to her.
I fed her small bites of chicken as I watched the hill and wondered where Stephen was.
After a bit, now semi sated, I realized that I was being ridiculous and that if an eighty-year-old woman could climb up that hill in the middle of winter well then Goddamn it, I could too.
I didn’t need any Goddamn snowshoes.
Dora never had any Goddamn snowshoes.
Who cares if I was wearing rubber Crocs and a long dress?
I could do this!
I brought my Oh, Pioneer! mindset to the table and stepped out of the cab with gusto—Opal close behind me on her leash. I reached under the blue tarp on the back of the truck and grabbed my bag of clothes and my pillow: that was all I needed to make it through the night and look at this problem fresh in the morning.
We carefully crossed the icy road. Opal jumping easily up the ice ledge and onto the fresh snow turning to look at me as she landed, as if to offer encouragement.
I steeled myself to the moment, and pushed ahead and my chubby middle-aged body dropped a good four feet down into the snow as I fell forward, face first, into the thick powder.
Opal tried to help, pulling me ahead, trying to get me out of the snow, but each time she tugged I ended up deeper in the drift.
My first irrational thought? Kill The Stephen.
I flipped over on my back and realized that the only way I was going to get back to the road was to actually roll there.
I threw my body weight towards a downhill direction and rolled up over the snow, up over the ice ledge, and down onto the icy street where Opal then dragged me down the road on my back, my rubber Crocs acting as a make-shift sled until my shouts of her to stop finally halted her about twenty feet from where we first tried to climb up the hill.
My second irrational thought? Fuck Dora.
I kept picturing her. Her reed thin tiny body, her long gray wild hair, her large blue eyes and that hard look on her face and I knew that if she would have been watching me at this moment she would have been laughing her ass off.
Pussy, I heard her say in my imaginary scenario.
“Fuck,” I said under my breath as I rolled onto my knees and worked to stand back up.
“You need help?” I heard Stephen shout from somewhere up the hill.
I refused to answer back but took the moment to look up and see that the lights were now lit in the cabin and it’s picturesque beauty was in direct juxtaposition to my situation here down below.
“Fuck,” I said again.
I went back to the truck with Opal to regroup. I turned the engine back on and warmed myself in the cab, my head reclining on the cushioned seat when after a moment; Stephen was at the passenger door.
“Hey,” he said. “Take my snowshoes and we will head up that small road.” He pointed to somewhere a bit further up the mountain. “It’s not too steep. You can wear the snowshoes and I can follow behind in your footsteps.”
I looked at The Stephen.
Still trying to please me.
Still trying to make things right, and I didn’t have the energy or the heart to tell him that in the last few minutes I had already been Googling hotels considering a warm bath and room service for the evening.
“I’ll take Opal,” he said and off they both went towards the new path.
I cut the engine, locked the truck, and stood on the edge of the road working to put on Stephen’s snowshoes.
He watched for a minute, afraid to step in, before seeing that I was once again becoming frustrated, and walked over to help me adjust them.
“Like this,” he said as he tightened my foot into the shoes and strapped my heels to the back. “See?” he said. “Pretty easy.”
He walked on and I followed him in silence, the metal cleats of the shoes striking loudly on the icy road.
I went up the bank first, and of course, fell forward again but this time, my snowshoes kept me towards the top of the surface.
I had a hard time righting myself with my clothes bag in one hand and a hefty bag holding my pillow in the other but I did and stepped forward again. And again, I fell face first in the snow as the fucks began to fly.
“Shhhhh,” Stephen said trying to calm me. “Baby steps. Just take baby…”
“Stephen!” I shouted. Fuck!”
He stood quietly behind me and waited.
I thought of Dora again, how she had lived in this cabin alone for over 20 years, no man, no dog, only her grit and her shotgun and I stood up and pushed myself forward again.
This time, I made it a good ten feet before I face planted.
“We need to make better time,” Stephen said quietly from behind me.
I lifted myself up onto my elbows and turned and glared at him.
He got the message.
“You know what,” he said. “I think I can make it on my own.” I’ll go ahead and you take your time.”
He stepped over me and walked ahead, dropping into drifts every now and then but then Opal pulled him forward and I watched them work as a team until they disappeared down the road.
I lay there a moment. Ready to give up, working to catch my breath before I pulled my phone from my bag and used the light from it to survey the area. I could see Merrick’s cabin far away from me now, the truck, down on the road and then, just a few feet away from me, a long stick, which I grabbed, and dragged towards me and sticking it deep in the snow used it to right myself and steady my balance.
My pioneer spirit was back, and I moved forward with a vengeance, my phone light and my bags in one hand, my walking stick in the other. And after a few minutes, I had a steady solid rhythm and for a moment, realized that I really liked snowshoeing.
I paused again.
My eyes had adjusted to the night so I put my phone away and readied to follow the path to the cabin. And in that moment, everything changed for me.
The forest was bright all around me.
The snow reflecting the moon.
I was surprised by how light it all was and looked up to note the thousands of stars, the full round moon, the beauty of everything around me, so lovely, everything I had ever wanted, and then I looked toward my cabin.
The cabin I had wanted since I was a very little girl, the good man inside of it who would do anything for me, and I stood in that forest and cried with relief that I had been strong enough to make it up the hill and cried with joy for how blessed I was, and cried and laughed as I heard Stephen call from the cabin, “Do you want me to help you?” and laughing like a fool as I shouted back, my true self again, “No, I’ve got it. I’m almost there.”
Before walking on into my forest, towards my new life.