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Before and After - Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019
Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 @ 2:20 pm
I stand in the rain on the soggy lawn of the Cricket Club. Goretex and waxed leather boots, I practice tossing out an avalanche probe and assembling it until I can perform the task with my eyes closed. I sit in a dim classroom and learn about the wind and slope angles and the shape of snowflakes. I drink coffee and take notes and ask questions. This is avalanche safety training.
At night, I meet up with friends at a grubby-chic bar in the downtown eastside. A DJ spins grungy punk music, and I order a bourbon sour and a hot dog. Sebastian sits close to me, his massive muscled body - a tower of man - feels hot and electric. His leg pressed against mine in the tiny booth. We talk about climbing, about the climbing gym, and one of his climbing partners with whom I have developed a casual gym rapport.
“Stella says that you’re becoming a very strong climber,” he tells me. “She says that she’s watched you progress over the summer and is impressed.”
I blush and grin, pleased with myself, pleased to hear him tell me this. I know that she was there the last time that I climbed, and I’d impressed myself that night, pushing myself further and succeeding on routes that I’d never imagined possible. I imagine now that she watched me climb that white route, watched me yelp out in excitement when I reached the top, watched me collapse in laughter onto the gym floor after I was lowered, giddy with joy.
I rise the next morning at 5am. Confused, sweaty, bleary. I shower and make coffee and double check my bag. Pull on long underwear and layers of technical clothing. Carry my skis and boots and poles out to his car. And drive by myself for two hours up into the mountains.
I meet the other course participants in the village. We talk and laugh and stomp around trying to stay warm. Eventually we ride a series of gondolas and chair lifts up into the alpine and then skin up beyond the ski boundary into the wild backcountry.
The sun is blazing in a bluebird sky. A skiff of fresh, dry snow across the landscape. I lift a handful of the powder and throw it into the air and watch the sun sparkle through it all. We spend the day studying the layers of snow, practicing rescue drills, learning shoveling techniques. In the distance, bombs are being dropped on the couloirs, and snow avalanches down the mountain sides in silence.
Later in the week I meet Robyn, and we talk for two hours at a donut shop and then lay beside each other sweating in a hot yoga studio. A woman plays guitar and sings softly in the corner of the dimly lit room. My chest rises and falls. Robyn beside me. Sweat beads tracing delicate paths across my skin.
Every Thursday, we dance together. There are moments of perfection, of us moving together well and laughing and all of this playful connection. And I dance with others too. Chris in the white shirt, and the chemistry between us. David, with whom I do side-by-side Charleston and a sequence of variations, our hips pressed together so that I can feel his communication. A stranger who smells of alcohol and dances too closely to me, his hand placed more intimately than it should. The other David, the one from Nelson, who leads me in the best dance of my life. He is easy to follow, and I’m so very happy, and I’m laughing and smiling and swiveling my hips when he swings me out. Me and a sixty-year-old man. The riskiness of dancing, of being vulnerable, of never knowing what’s coming next. I curtsy at the end of the dance and beam a smile at him and thank him for the wonderful dance.
My heart full so many times over.
He stays over on Sunday night. The alarm goes off early for us to ready for work. I grind coffee by hand, listening to the CBC and watching the sun rise over the apartment buildings to the east.
I bring him coffee in bed. He’s propped up on my pillows reading his book. All of the white sheets and his limbs exposed in haphazard ways.
“Mmmm good coffee!!” he exclaims.
“That’s the reaction that I want,” I reply. I kiss him on the neck. Press my face against his.
My heart full so many times over.