You’re 12 years old.
That summer, you can’t believe your luck:
You go to Chile.
In the summer (your least favorite season).
Where it is winter (your favorite season).
To go skiing (your favorite thing).
There, with your family, you play in the snow. You ski, wondering at the jagged Andies, the air salted with a language you do not understand. You have chocolate hazelnut spread for the first time, scooping it from a tiny plastic carton the same size and shape as the single serving jams at your hometown’s diner.
Your luck doesn’t run out.
You happened to be staying Portillo at the same time as the US Olympic team. They’re young. They seem young. Some not even as old as your eldest brother. This surprises you, but they still seem so big and bright and fast.
Was this before or after you started ski racing? You only did it for a few winters. You never had a coach, just your dad shouting pointers from the sidelines, but you tried. You might have already given up, outsized and out practiced.
Whether or not you were racing at the time, you don’t actually follow ski racing very closely. In the winter, you spend your days and nights skiing and swimming and reading and going to school. You don’t watch much TV.
But you know what it means to be on the US Olympic Team and being in their presence makes you shake
One night, they open the building they’re staying in to the public. Your dad encourages you to walk in. He stands close, making sure you don’t bolt.
You are clutching a note pad and a purple gel pen.
You can’t believe the only pen you have is a purple gel pen. How embarrassing…
The first person you ask for an autograph jots her name down quickly. You have no recollection of who she was.
But the next, a young man with a bright, smiling face says, Hold on. I can do better than this.
He gets you a mini poster and personally walks from racer to racer, collecting autographs. (With your purple gel pen.)
You clutch that piece of paper tight, tongue tied, heart racing.
When you leave, a young man on a balcony says, “Goodnight Elizabeth.” (You manage to wave, but stumble over your own feet.)
When you go back to school, you bring the poster with you; it is, after all, your most prized possession. The gel pen is smudged in places. You try to show your classmates – Look! I met the US ski team!
What was it, exactly, that they said?
“No one cares.”
Those words crush you.
That afternoon when you get home from school, you stuff the poster in the back of your closet. You cry.
It doesn’t make sense to you. If they, the other kids, had met the US Soccer Team or the Red Sox, wouldn’t that have been cool? Wouldn’t that have been a story worth sharing?
Why isn’t mine worth sharing?
You throw the poster away because you came across it one day and you feel that crushing pain all over again. You hope you forget about it forever.
But you don’t.
And you still wonder if you did the right thing.
The things that haunt me, the memories I really hate, all seem so trivial in the retelling. So what? It’s stupid to feel the pain still. No one should care about something that happened almost 16 years ago.
But I remember these things, and I wonder why they mattered, and I wonder if I’ll ever forget.
I like to write about the bright things. The seeking things. The joy that restlessness can bring. I like to write about reaching out to fear and discovering myself to be, yes, alive.
From a young age, I was discouraged from writing about the dark. Don’t show the painful things. So, obediently, I don’t tell the stories that are behind the times I cannot be brave. The meltdowns, the tears, the mean reds.
But so many boil down to this:
You are stupid. The thing that brings you joy is dumb. Why won’t you just fit in?
And yet, I keep going. (Please keep going.)
I don’t have a lesson for you, dear reader. I can’t tie this up in a bow. This isn’t about facing fear or suddenly experiencing the revelatory moment of overcoming a petty childhood scar.
I just felt like you should see: I’m not all café crèmes and rappels and love songs to speed.
I am small, senseless scars. Like the pock marks on my knees from when I fell of a bike as a little kid (resulting in a decade long fear of bicycles). Like the burn mark on my right wrist from the worst Christmas I can remember.
The big things–the dog bite, the unfortunate collision with a bed post, removing the supernumerary nipple, the appendectomy, the concussion–seem to fade. It’s the big stuff that I can fight. These are the marks that become part of my epic songs, the stories I tell at parties to be cool and funny.
Perplexingly, it’s the ones that should be insignificant that remain.
Don’t worry. There is plenty more light on the way. There are sunny days and patches of snow and laughing until I cry and standing in streams with a fishing pole. There are bike rides up Sunshine Canyon and plane tickets and words. There are strangers and old friends. There are dogs and sandstone and granite and cluster flies.
I just really hate saccharine sweetness of motivational, positivity blogs. They feel dishonest. They show you the least interesting facet of a diamond that is more beautiful for its flaw.
Okay, here’s a lesson. Don’t take it as something sad or melancholy. Take it, perhaps, as a proof of bravery. Take it as the fact that we “in this captious and intenible sieve” still go forth. Your lesson: behind every beautiful thing is a thousand scars.
None of them are shameful. Even the small ones. Especially the small ones.
Chicks dig scars.