Americas

Never Fear Firsts

Ski instructor Mark and my brother Nick on the chair lift

My new ski instructor, Mark, watches me for a moment. I’ve been practicing my new moves (these consist of walking forward, standing still without sliding down a hill and sometimes- just sometimes- gliding from one side of the bunny slope to the other). I’m skiing down the hill — aka, the “Magic Carpet” — with five year olds and adorable parents with toddlers strapped to harnesses while Mark looks on. He’s a tall man from Minnesota and he has a big smile. One of those people that you naturally warm to. I get back to the top of the hill and he says, “Ok, I think you’re ready for the chair now.”

“The Chair” might as well be as much the electrocution device as the chair lift (it was obviously the latter) because, despite the fact that I said, “sure, okay Mark” while as chill as can be on the outside, on the inside I was kicking and screaming so much that I felt I would need some heavy shackling to be dragged up there. I had touched my first pair of skis less than an hour ago, and now here I am on the hill. The beginner hill, sure, but a very, very high mountain, nonetheless.

Mark smiles at me as The Chair sweeps up behind us and pulls us higher and higher off the ground. I feel my skis weigh my legs down into what seems like a hundred feet of clear air below. The mountains here are indescribable and gorgeous. What’s also indescribable is the pit of fear knotting up in my stomach. Mark turns to me and whips out a bar of chocolate.

“This’ll give you strength to get down that mountain,” he says, breaking off a piece and handing it to me.

Let me tell you something. My knees were weak when I saw the top of the mountain and all that we had to go down. Just getting off the chair lift was a trial. I was pretty scared, to say the least. But with chocolate…well damn, I can do just about anything with chocolate.

We reach the top and Mark says to hold up. “Give me those poles,” he says. “You’ve been relying on them too much and you don’t need them. I want you to go down without them.”

I’m writing this in the past, so I obviously made it- no poles, extra chocolate, some blind faith. In fact, I made it down twice. Not without a few spills, of course. But who said I was perfect. The point is, I survived.

Last night, Marvin called. I excitedly talked to him for all of two minutes. We hadn’t spoken in nearly two weeks and he made it apparent that these biweekly two minute calls are going to be our relationship for pretty much the remainder of his deployment. It would take a lot more than two minutes to explain what has happened in my life in the past two weeks; everything has moved so quickly (luckily I write letters when I feel the need to be wordy, so he will understand my life in-depth in about a month). So cutting out the “ohmygoshImissyousomuch”es and other info that is useless to this post, our conversation goes pretty much like this:

“MARVIN!”

“Hey, what’s going on?”

“Well, I’m in Wyoming now for the week and I just went skiing for the very first time the other day and it was so scary and soon I’m going to Haiti for six weeks. How are you?”

“Fighting the good fight. Sick of MREs. Go do great things and carry a knife on you.”

“Okay, you go do great things and carry a knife on you too.”

“Don’t you worry, I definitely do. Talk to you in May.”

And that’s us updating each other with our lives.

I’ve mentioned being a Go Girl and a Stay Girl before and that theme will certainly resonate with my posts over the next few months. There are many military wives and husbands that experience some pretty monumental events while their significant other is away at war- the birth of a child, a new job, so many steps. And though skiing for the first time isn’t as grandiose an event as a baby being born, it’s still a milestone. It’s still something that I am doing by myself, and it’s hard not to think about him while I do it.

It’s easy to misguidedly assume that when I travel, I forget about Marvin, and that’s why I am so on the go. I gloss over his news when I talk about him out loud to friends and family. I smile and am extremely casual. But it’s a façade, of course. I am scared as hell.

While it is true that keeping busy is certainly less torturous than sitting around waiting for six months, there is rarely a single moment in my day when I have forgotten about him. The fear of the unspeakable is great and sometimes almost overwhelming. But it is fear that I have learned to recognize and, therefore, to welcome. The fear comes and you say to it, “Well there you are again! Come on in because I can take you on any day of the week.” You work through it. You keep going with your normal life, even with this fear in the background. And in many ways the fear strengthens you. You can stand on top of a huge mountain and know that the only way is down and you can say to yourself, “Fear, I know how to deal with you. Bring it.” And you plunge down that mountain with no poles because your own fear won’t stop you from living, so help you God.

And when that doesn’t work, try chocolate.

Beth Santos
Founder and CEO of Wanderful, creator of the Women in Travel Summit, enthusiastic lover of ice cream, picnics and art.

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2 Comments

  1. Love the title of this post! I hope you’re having a great time in Wyoming.

  2. I loved that post, Bethy! so much of it resonated with me, especially the keeping loved ones in your mind and battling fear constantly, but continuing the good fight.
    and i always carry chocolate and a knife in my purse. 🙂
    glad your first time skiing was better than expected! once your knee recovers maybe we’ll hit the slopes together…

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