Sports Hotel Lavazè: Melting Ice
My voice sounds so stupid, but then I feel somewhat stupefied at the moment.
He . . . is here!
This is not another dream. This is not another time when I think I see someone and, in a drunken haze, think it is him only to stumble over the mistaken person and make a fool of myself again. This is no fantasy only made real with a liberal dose of cannabis burned in the sauna or with a snort of crystal meth.
He . . . has come!
Yet, though my eyes are blurry as usual these days, what I see I can hardly recognise! He wears a ski cap over his entire head where only a few scraggly stray dark blonde hairs peek out from under it. It sits so low over his forehead that it nearly covers his eyebrows. Under his eyebrows his eyes have sunken into his head! They sit in two holes in his skull surrounded by bruised and sleeplessly baggy skin! His beautiful cheekbones are angular and sharp next to his narrowed and pointed nose!
Is this Brian at all?
The lips are pale like they’ve lost all their blood. His whole face is even paler! He has no color at all! He is gray and white. The only thing of color in his whole face are his two staring bright blue eyes that look haunted. They once had that beguiling angularity to them. That ‘triangle’ that Americans seem to have in the shape of their eyes, especially out West, like they squint too much.
They are wide, round, and staring now. When they fix on me I feel a chill run right through me! It’s that wolf-look! That wolf who is now looking half starved and half mad with pain! They look so . . . hurt!
Oh . . . My GOD what have I done? What have I done to my Beloved!
Oh, he is soooo very thin. He’s scary thin! He looks like not much more than a walking skeleton. All that fine, beautiful muscle mass is gone. Gone, gone, gone! We worked so HARD on that! Now . . . it’s all eaten away.
Brian’s mouth parts and he begins to pant like he can’t catch his breath while looking at me for the first time in possibly weeks or maybe a month or two. I seem to have lost track of time somewhere.
I see those sunken, blue, crazy eyes look me up and down slowly. Despite himself a stray tear rolls down his razor sharp cheek bone and into the deep hollow of what was once his cheek. He has begun to tremble. Oh, but how I want to go to him and hold him until it is ok!
But, it is not ok is it? He should not be here. Why did he not do as I asked? He needed to have moved on. He has many other suitors much better suited for him than me. Why, oh why, did he come back to me? Does he not see? It is true! It is true what I wrote! I AM poison! Look at him! Look at my beautiful Brian and how he is withered away into a walking corpse! My poison did that to him! My . . . curse!
“Oh . . . Wh-what are you ~cough~ doing here? H-how did you find me?” It’s all I know to ask. I feel that wheeze in my chest again. I should get a drink to make it go away. I need a drink so bad! I cannot face this without a DRINK! I cannot face him without something. I just cannot! Where is my flask?
Slowly, painfully even, he looks down into the pocket of his little jacket that hangs from him like a great blue canvas bag. Shakily, he reaches into that pocket and seems to fondle something and then to crush it suddenly and viciously! I see those blue eyes close and his eyebrows furrow under his cap. I see his boney jaw work as his teeth grind and fresh tears spurt from behind his crusted eyelids.
I stand like a fool, transfixed, watching and waiting. Brian seems to be working up to saying something. But, speech is not his first reaction to me. It is a violent and wrenching reaction! From his pocket he quickly tosses something at me and it hits the floor near my boot. I think he meant to aim it to hit me with it, but, aww, he does not even have the strength to do that!
The thing thrown at me is a small little ball of paper no more than the size of a walnut. It looks like worn and yellowed notepaper. I have a feeling I know what it is. He kept it. He kept it all this time! Such a thing was meant to be read and thrown away along with any memory of me. Why keep it?
The blue eyes raise themselves up slowly to fix on mine. The anguish there skewers me more effectively than a knight’s lance! His eyes run with a flood of tears and his teeth grit in a grimace of pain and anger! Terrible anger! Worse pain.
“You need to explain some shit to me, ‘Nevefiocco,’ and you need to do it RIGHT NOW!” His voice is a broken thing. It sounds ragged and hoarse as if he has been in a desert for forty days and nights. For all of me, that may be the very length of time we have been apart, actually . . . how horribly biblical.
The last two words bark out at me more as tortured sounds than words. Brian says them with such force that he has to catch himself on the edge of the table so that he does not fall over and off his chair! His trembling is made worse and he sucks his breath in through his teeth like someone undergoing the pain of having a bone set!
“Ne-Nevefiocco?” It is a name I have not heard since last I was here years ago. Even the employees here fail to use it for me. They are all too new here or too young to remember it. Only one I know here would use it now. He totters into view as he goes to support Brian. How on earth did they meet in the first place? Such a chance encounter is near to being astronomical!
“See Nevefiocco! Look here, huh? Look at your friend! Guarda quello che hai fatto qui! He come all this way a’find you!” Il Maestro admonishes me as if I am still that young teenager he took under his wing in what seems a lifetime ago.
“Ey! Portatevi caffè! Non riesci a vedere?” Maestro Filippi waves at Margherita who is standing as far away from us as possible while still ‘manning the desk’. The poor girl is not accustomed to excitement. Her mother and father run the café down the street and Mr. Franz was good enough to give her employment here. Passo Lavazè is not a place known for excitement. Even in winter when many come to ski the little town stays pretty sleepy.
Margherita scurries off though she knows she will probably be scolded by Mr. Franz for deserting her station with only me up front. I am far from an ideal greeter for new guests. I am hardly a ski trainer anymore. I admit that I have not had my heart much into it lately. My heart, I suppose, would have to be more than a block of ice to be of much use at all.
Not knowing what to do with myself, as I allow Margherita’s movements to distract me from Brian, I turn back to look down at the crumpled note. I should pick it up. Brian wanted me to have it back. It would be rude to not pick it up. It really would! I wish I had not left my flask of scotch in my bedroom!
“What the fuck are you waiting for? Pick the goddamn thing up! Toss it in the trash. Whatever. Just let’s be done with this and then I can . . . go.” Brian says in a low hoarse whisper that is barely audible. He stares at the floor still holding himself up by the table as if he wants to fall over.
I stare at him for what seems like an eternity. ‘Go’? Why would he just go? Why, he just got here! He should take his coffee first. Margherita just went for it!
Brian does not move from his position and Maestro just looks at him while rubbing his back. My teacher seems to have adopted Brian on some level. Such tenderness he rarely showed me, but then I did not need it in those days. I needed determination and strength, not comfort. It is surreal seeing the both of them together like this!
“Pick . . . The . . . God . . . Damned . . . Thing . . . UUUP!” Brian raises his head slowly to stare at me menacingly. It is almost hatred I see there. Perhaps it is hatred! Oh no. No, no, no. Do not look upon me in that way Brian. No! No.
“No!” The word in my mind comes blurting out of my mouth and it does so with an iciness I do not mean. Where did that ice come from?
“NOoooO?” Brian snarls his question. The wolf is replaced by the lion! A hungry, haunted, blue eyed, angry lion! Shakily Brian rises to his feet, his hands becoming fists, and he looks out at me from under his ski cap with a madness I’ve never seen in him before.
Before my Maestro can stop him, Brian charges! Wobbly but with speed he crouches and gathers up the crumpled piece of paper and then he rises painfully to face me. The exertion of merely doing this has left him breathless. His burning eyes hold mine captive! The gritting of his grinding teeth make his jaw bones flex under his ears and makes the deepened sinews in his scrawny neck work and stand out. The stubble all over his face seems to reach out as if to stab me! His fisted hand juts out at me to hand me the offending piece of paper.
“TAKE THE FUCKING NOTE! TAKE IT!” His shout is almost hysterically high pitched. It’s a sound I have never heard from him before. Yet, despite this crazy insistence I do not reach to take the note. It is not mine and I do not want it. Brian should throw it away into the trash where it belongs!
“I do not want it. It is obviously meaningless now.” That ice in my voice will not leave! I cannot make my heart work to bring the right way of speaking out. I LOVE Brian too much to be doing this to him! Why will not my brain, my heart, and my mouth work together right?
The fist presses into my chest and shoves. I find that I do not budge. Brian no longer has strength enough to move me. Perhaps it is because I have gained weight. I would hate to think that it is because Brian has lost so much of himself that he can no longer even move me.
“GRRRRR! FUCKER! YOU FUCKING FUCKER! FUCK YOU! FUUUCK YOU!” The fist punches at my chest but I hardly feel it because I am so frozen and numb. Then the other fist comes down on my chest too until Brian is weakly pounding on me. Yet, I just stand there as if I am in a waking dream taking the beating without flinching.
Reflexively my arms rise as Brian flails at me ineffectively. They embrace him like they move on their own using muscle memory of familiar movements. Brian struggles to get away and pushes at me, but, bless him, he is no longer capable of such things. He cannot escape me.
I hold him while he exhausts himself in my arms and then finally he collapses into my chest. He continues to pound my shoulders a bit as he sobs deep, muffled, wrenching, and agonizing sounds from his body.
I find my cheek comes to rest on top of his head as his struggles cease while he shivers and wretches into my breast. It is then that something finally peels away deep inside of me. It is like some kind of cracking and loosening feeling. It feels rather like when warming ice starts to crack and dissolve in your hands. It feels like melting ice.
The waters of that melting ice flow from me through my vodka-irritated eyes and now it is I who begin to sob as my thawing heart finally lets loose inside of me. Hands that were beating me up just seconds ago loosen and slowly slip around to my back. Brian’s arms gently constrict and the dear head turns so that a hollowed cheek presses against the shoulder of my now damp gray sweater.
I hear what must be the crumpled note fall and hit the floor with a small tap. It is where it belongs now: dropped and forgotten.
“Don’t you ever do this to me again, Snowflake. Don’t you ever leave me again! Don’t you do it.” Brian says with his emotionally thickened voice. It is so quiet that only I can hear it.
“Never again so long as I live. I understand now. I will never ever be sorry enough for what I have done.” I speak into the top of Brian’s head.
“Damned straight.” Brian says and then kisses me lightly on my cheek.
That would be the last kiss I would have for a very long while.
Much time has passed since our being reunited and winter has come and as time has passed healing has come with it, I suppose, but it is slow. Brian is not as close to me as he once was, much to my lasting sorrow. I understand it, but it still hurts very much. It will take time for his trust to come back, if it ever really does. My paranoia and my own lack of trust has lead to this. I know now that trust can only be taken if it is given. It is a two way street that goes nowhere if it is not a complete circuit.
Fortunately for the both of us, Il Maestro Filippi has taken us both into his strong hands. We now reside at Villetta Filippi together and come up to the Ski School to train. Brian seems to have pushed his anguish into a singular pursuit to perfect his skiing technique. To facilitate this, Maestro has been training the both of us! I did not know the old man had kept all his knowledge of cross-country, but, actually, he seems to know even more now than he did when he originally trained me all those many years ago.
During this time Maestro has managed to get me through the withdrawals of my alcoholism. Fortunately, I had not gotten so far into my binge for it to become a permanent thing in my physiology. With something real to work toward and with my Brian back with me I had very little need for the drink. Mind you, I dearly fancied a drink from time to time especially when Brian would turn a cold shoulder to me, but I was able to overcome my urges.
I am sober now, the extra weight has come off, and the work has been hard and strenuous which suits me fine! It burns off my energy and keeps my libido low. Maestro was always the best slave driver. Brian and I have been pacing regularly now for nearly eight hours straight on some days. The grand tracks of Passo Lavazè are so numerous and so substantial that neither of us get bored as we push through our kilometers. This allows us to do small marathons weekly and our times have improved steadily with each week!
Brian has regained much of his muscle mass and then some! His legs are like marble and granite and are beautifully bulky around the thighs. It is at the times that I see him in his tights, with those marvelous natural inborn thigh muscles, that I miss him most in my bed. I would love to taste every succulent inch of his legs. They are long sinewy things of beauty now! But, he still withholds himself from me.
I must have hurt him terribly for his own libido to be so ‘off’. I could kill myself for my stupidness! Brian was never one to shy away from sex at any time. That was, perhaps, the misunderstanding that got us into this mess in the first place. To him sex has always been a game. A sport almost! But, now it is like his whole attitude on it has become a different animal altogether. He is almost monk-like in his chastity. He says he will not even touch himself anymore! What did I do? I broke him didn’t I?
Alas, it is all that I deserve. What evil demon possessed me to run out on Brian like that? It seemed, so much, like the right thing to do at the time. He should not have had to compete with Kris at all! Why did I want that huge Norge fool anyhow when I had the sweetest and most beautiful American angel anywhere? No Norge or Swede can EVER match an American when it comes to romance. They are both peoples too much like my own. Practical and ‘grounded’ to a frozen fault! Brian taught me why romance is the best thing ever sold by America. The French may have invented some of it, but Americans actually made it real and sold it to the world! My Finnish soul just melted when Brian’s red hot pulsing love blasted me into an entirely different way of thinking about life and love.
How could I have ruined such a precious gift? Il Maestro is right about me. I am, indeed, made of the thickest concrete. I let my past life tell me what my present life is and what my future life will be. That past life could not fathom what Brian has brought me. That younger, stupider Snowflake could never have appreciated the perfect love Brian gave me. Why did I let that little fool convince me of things that were never real to begin with? That young Snowflake was a paranoiac! He was deeply flawed like cracking, melting ice upon a frozen fjord.
I stand now in my ancestral skis looking upon the ice and snow. I see the snowflakes fall and many like to catch in my hair and on my eyelashes. They are my kindred and so they flock to me. The chill, thin mountain wind brushes across my cheeks and must pinch them red as I can feel the sting. Now is here and ice and snow are falling upon this life, not the past and hopefully not the future.
Winter is cold but the void in my arms is colder. The Brian shaped hollow my empty arms make is made empty by worries held over from a past life.
In the distance, I see him there. He stands like an apparition with his back to me. A red, white, and blue shape contrasting starkly with the pristine whiteness of the snow. He is striking standing there with the strength returned to him. Mama Filippi’s fine food and the Maestro’s good Austrian beer has restored Brian and brought life back to his limbs.
But his heart is cold. It is cold like lava rock, but not like ice. Ice melts and changes when the sun rises where lava rock never melts. It remains set in its form being only a memory of the flame it once held – black, glassy cinder hard as diamonds. Diamonds glitter like ice, but never ever melt. Eternal ice: that is what diamonds are and diamonds are just tortured lava rock.
Did I torture my Brian from being lava rock to being a diamond hearted man? A man of harder ice even than I? By the flint in his blue eyes I would think perhaps so. He allows me in only so far, but no further. He is a friend now and a colleague. We work toward the goal of racing the qualifying races in Val Di Fiemme. Arrangements were made by myself and Il Maestro that Brian be allowed to compete for the USA Ski Team despite his lack of experience. This will be dependent on a qualifier that we must do in Truckee back at Lake Tahoe. We will train here and then fly over there toward the end of the month.
Early winter is upon us and the snows are forecasted to fall there soon. An ‘El Niño’ of record proportions is set to hit California this year and that means record snowfall. Brian will have good conditions for competing if the storms do not turn to blizzards in Truckee. I hope they do not. I have seen what Brian can do. There is no doubt that he will more than qualify for the US Ski Team to try out for World Cup Qualifiers here in Italy. Brian is a prodigy. Never have I seen one who is so new and yet so old who can ski with such power and precision.
He can now pace me at my full strength most days. He beat me once or twice in skate sprinting! Apparently, his ski-work with his father as a child built into him the near inborn reflexes it takes to mimic my movements, adapt them to his own, and then engage his body to explode with power! He cuts through the snow like a hot razor through ice cream! He astounds me each time I see him go!
This is what allowed me to convince USA Skiing to try Brian out. We are fortunate that cross-country skiing in America is still something of a cottage industry sport and that the team is always hungry for new talent even if they are not brought up through their junior programmes. There is not much in the way of wrangling for sponsorships, etc. so the money issue (or lack thereof) allow the powers that be to be more flexible. America spends more of its money on the alpine and extreme skiers and on hockey than on cross-country. I also suppose that with my endorsement and that of my own teacher that this had much to do to convince these ‘elders’ to allow this unusual acceptance of Brian.
But, all of that aside, I’d happily see Brian slip and fall all over himself like a hopelessly uncoordinated novice skier if it meant that he would come back into my arms again. As I stand in this snow looking as he begins pushing off on his own trek again, not seeming to care or want my company at all, my heart breaks all over again. He does not seem to miss me anymore.
It is at times like this that I want a drink so very badly. But, where there is a slim hope of Brian coming around to me again while I am sober, there is NO hope if I go back to drinking. But, then perhaps I am kidding myself altogether. Perhaps there is no hope one way or another.
Brian could very well be lost to me forever. I lost him . . . and so I deserve these cold and empty arms that cross before my cold and empty heart.
I turn to go back into the hotel. I shall indulge in gelato and coffee since I cannot do so with vodka and cranberry juice. The coffee up here is as excellent as it is anywhere else in Italy. These are simple pleasures that can distract one from the loss of true joys.
“Where the fuck are you going, Snowplow?” I become surprised because I hear this so close to my back. He snuck up on me so quickly and silently! He is getting very good at that. He also uses, for the first time in ages, that lovely term of endearment for me. I gasp and a lump catches in my throat from hearing it. Is there hope after all?
“We got less than a month before we’ve got to get on a plane to Truckee. I want to get under 35 in the 15K. We’ve got to push!” I turn to see his beauty standing there all in his dark blue, red, and white. So very American! The first ever to strive for such a time successfully. I had seen that number myself in Kuusamo just as I was cresting toward Olympic gold. The times are shorter for the gold now, but to qualify 35 is more than respectable. I don’t think any American has ever gotten that time.
“We have been out here for many hours, Brian. Are you hydrated sufficiently? Do you need to warm your muscles up in the sauna?” I admonish him. This new drive is inspiring, but since I know from whence it comes, I fear it could become obsessive and lead to injury.
Brian looks out back to the track as if weighing options. He wants me to come with him. Why do I have to put a damper on that? A moment ago, I thought he could do without me as a ski companion and now I try to talk him out of it.
It is because I want him to succeed and I love him far too much to see him injure himself unnecessarily. I remember that injury at Auburn with his knee. It seems so long ago! This I will never let happen again . . . even if it was that very injury that brought Brian into my arms for the first time. I will allow my cold heart to throb a little longer and my loneliness to linger if it will keep Brian from hurting himself again. His dreams depend on him being in the best fighting shape and uninjured.
“Hmmm, yeah. Ok. I guess when you’re right you’re right. Let’s do the sauna. I do feel things starting to stiffen up.” Brian says this absently and yet I cannot help but hide my face a bit to stifle a snicker. There was a time that I would not be able to let that go without a rude comment. Ah, but that time is no more. Brian is not giving me an opportunity to flirt. He is merely stating a physical fact of his body. We no longer flirt. Brian just does not respond to my attempts anymore.
“Sure thing, Brian. Do you need massaging or conditioning?” I ask him clinically.
“My calves, yeah. They are tightening on me. I probably need some Gatorade too for potassium.” Brian says with all business and begins to effortlessly glide back to the hotel and I follow.
I shall get him his Gatorade and I shall work his calves. I will do it like the professional I am.
I am Brian’s coach after all – that and nothing more.
“Hey, are you stiffening up yet too?” Brian turns and smirks at me for a moment holding my stare through his golden eye-shields. The moment locks us and I see, however faint, the rekindled flame there.
“I believe I am! We should do the hot tub first, I think.” I say with a smile that he then returns.
There does indeed seem to be hope after all.
❤️🔥 ❤️🔥 ❤️🔥
Inside Villetta Filippi, Il Maestro has made one of his world famous raging winter fires. The feel of the hearth fire’s warmth brings that wonderful shiver down my spine and through my body as the ice and cold melt away from my being. I stand mesmerized by the licking flames, all white and gold. No other light is allowed in the darkened room; only the fire’s. The smell of the burning pine and cedar weave stories in my mind in pictures, tastes, and especially scents. Memories they are.
There were hunting parties and venison stew made of reindeer meat. There was Christmas night after coming in from watching the Blessed Aurora that my grandmother always called ‘Angelsong’.
She always called it this because she believed that angels, being beings of light, could only ‘sing’ with light and that this light was only for the Pure Folk to see on Christmas. She thought of us as the Pure Folk: The People of the Snow. On Christmas night the Blessed Aurora did seem to put on an extra special show for us. It had different colours than other times of the year. Colours only those of us who live under the phosphorescent sky would notice as special, I suppose.
In any case, always there was the great fire waiting for us after we would all get too cold watching the Angelsong. There was that and warm sweet cinnamon milk and magical gingerbread! I would have eaten myself sick on that if such a thing were possible. Fortunately, for me and my brothers and sisters, gingerbread never makes for a sick tummy. Ginger is truly magic like that.
Around that fire we would sing the old songs in the old languages. I hardly knew what any of them meant, but I knew the words at least. The fire and the songs would enchant the night and make winter the warmest season.
I hear a voice singing those old songs in those old languages even now. I do not know if it is the memory of my father’s beautiful voice I hear singing or if it is my own voice I hear. The song just comes and it does because the fire is there and the fire needs its song.
Then there is a new warmth – a familiar and precious warmth.
I feel the warmth on my cheek! I feel it tingle and linger there. I feel the touch of it and the breath of it. The gentle suction of it! My head turns in surprise wondering who could be there. I expect to see an apparition of my grandmother.
But the warmth then captures my lips and my eyes instinctively close so I cannot see the giver of this gift of gifts. But, then, I do not need to see to know do I?
The taste of those lips is what I have hungered for all my life and lately I have been starving for them until ravenous. The scent of the breath breathed into my mouth and nose I know better than my own breath. The strong yet gentle hands coming to rest on my hips touch with perfect pressure because the know me better than I know myself.
The kiss deepens and I feel another shiver quake through me. This one is much deeper and far more meaningful than what I felt merely standing by the fire warming my bones. It is a shiver that runs through my very soul and caresses my quivering heart. It is the shiver the tree gives in spring when the long winter has ended. It is the shiver of life returning to frozen limbs and frozen hearts. It is the waking from the numb hibernation of a long winter’s nap.
It is the thawing quake that can only come from the kiss of my beloved Brian Chesney.
It is the rekindling of his flame in full that sets my ice to melt away entirely making my winter here finally . . .
. . . the warmest season of all!