An offhand mention of that fateful cross-country ski trip sent me plummeting yesterday.
But I was primed to plummet.
Like I say, I’ve been isolating. Thought about hanging out with Lois Lane over the holiday weekend and decided against it. Why? I don’t know. Human contact has been difficult. I can sustain bright, brittle conversations with strangers but talking to people with whom I feel a real connection
has been problematic.
Like on the phone with Max last night, five minutes into the conversation, I said, “I’m sorry. I just can’t think of anything to talk about—“
He was patient and good. “What movies have you seen? What books are you reading?”
And so, I rattled for a while about 1917
, and eventually began talking about the cross-country ski trip—
“So, someone asked me today why I don’t like snow. And I began talking about that incident
, which I’m sure I’ve bored you with a thousand times before—“
“Oh, right. You got lost in the snow. In Yosemite.”
“Oh, it was a bit more intense than that. We were skiing into the Ostrander Ski Hut, and this blizzard came up out of nowhere. We got lost in the snow for three days
and had to be airlifted out by helicopter. I almost died several times. We were snow blind, you see. And we had to keep tromping around. Once I stepped off a cliff and fell 20 feet. Got buried. Had to be dug out. Wanna know how I survived? Right before I left for the trip, I’d been reading a book about avalanches, so while I was falling, I knew enough to put my arms up in a circle around my head so there’d be an air pocket, and I wouldn’t suffocate.”
“Wow,” Max said. “No, I did not
know that. Wow. I’m glad that you survived!”
“Well, yeah. Or else you
wouldn’t be here. But you know what struck me the most? When I was telling that person about the trip—very briefly, of course—the first thing out of my mouth was, Joe lied to the park ranger about bringing a tent
. Because, you know, you’re never supposed to start out on one of these expeditions without a tent. If we’d had a tent, we could have sheltered in place. It would have been a drag. But we wouldn’t have been in peril.
“Joe fucked up. But somehow, I
became the goat. The whole situation was very weird, because you know what I was worried about throughout those whole three days? Not
that we were in imminent danger of dying. But that I was losing face in front of Joe and Ann and Dan.
“I should have been fucking furious
with Joe. But, I wasn’t. I was furious with myself.”
“When did this happen
?” Max asked.
“January 3 through January 7, 1978,” I said.
I remember the dates quite clearly. Dan’s birthday was January 4, and we celebrated by eating liquid cake mix in a snow pit. Since we’d intended to ski into Ostrander and stay for three days, we had plenty of food.
Joe Zimmerman. What an asshole. If Norman Mailer had gone to medical school, he would have been Joe Zimmerman.
His girlfriend Ann Hathaway was a close friend, which is how I got invited along on the trip.
Ann was very plucky. Also, she had no problems with seeming invisible. These were two qualities that utterly fascinated whiny, attention-seeking moi
the fact that she shared a name with Shakespeare’s wife but had no interest whatsoever in Shakespeare.
When I first met Ann, she was living with a slimy, manipulative economist called Dan Levy who was similarly fascinated by Ann’s self-possession.
Like me, Dan was a talker
. Ann was not
a talker. She obviously possessed great intelligence—she was in medical school, after all—but she saw no need to flaunt it.
When Ann eventually left Dan, he unraveled completely. Began stalking her and eventually killed himself. Very messy suicide. He hanged
“Well, he was always talking about how well hung he was!” I remarked to a mutual pal.
I understood completely when she took up with Joe Zimmerman. Joe Zimmerman was the anti-Dan Zimmerman. He was not just a doctor, he was a surgeon
. They did a lot of Third World travel together! Moldering in that San Francisco storage unit that I really need to get rid of are a few elaborately embroidered blouses that Ann brought me back from Guatemala.
Unlike me, Ann was very stoic throughout the disastrous cross-country ski trip. So stoic, Joe married her a year or so afterwards.
Ann and Joe’s divorce was absolutely awful. It happened 15 years or so after the cross-country ski fiasco. By that time, they were both upscale physicians practicing in Marin County. Joe was a surgeon at the San Raphael Kaiser center and had started catting around with the nurses there.
One of the nurses fell madly in love with him. Refused to be deterred by what I imagine were Joe’s blunt statements that he was never gonna leave his wife. I will
give Joe that: He was always very frank. Brutally
honest, one might say.
Any way, this nurse became so utterly distraught that she
committed suicide in the creepiest way imaginable: She smuggled home phenobarbital ampules and IV equipment and rigged the apparatus up in her bathroom. I think they found her after three days after she repeatedly did not show up for work.
So, Ann and Joe! Dragging invisible corpses around in back of them.
You would not guess it if you met them. They are pleasant, affluent Marin County types.
And after a brief period of recrimination, Ann and Joe became BFF. They had two kids together, after all. I last saw them when I attended Ann’s 50th birthday party where we all laughed together and made jokes about the disastrous cross-country ski expedition.
“So, why do you think you got triggered?” Max asked me on the phone.
“Well, yeah. Obviously.”Triggered
. That’s a word in the psychobabble lexicon I loathe intensely.
“I dunno,” I said. “You know, when you’re my age, you spend a disproportionate amount of time wondering how you got to the place where you’ve gotten. I guess this reminiscence set something off.”
“What did it set off?”
I sighed. “I started wondering why
I always used to blame myself for bad things other people did. I felt suddenly furious and impotent
because I’m not able to travel back in time and tell that bright, sparkling young woman I once was: It wasn’t you; Joe Zimmerman really was an asshole.
“Have you ever thought about going into therapy?” Max asked.
“Therapy!” I said. “Why would I want to do that
? Why would anyone
want to go into therapy when they could use that money to take a trip to Romania or Turkey? Ooops—“
Because Max, of course, is a huge fan of therapy!
But he just laughed.
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