by Jacqueline Ruvalcaba

I am about to descend over the edge, into the sky, where glimmering white fades into cloudless blue. Here, down is up. If you can avoid thinking too critically, you can pretend you’re riding a mountainous cloud. Until you hit the hidden patches of ice, hear the distant and near calls, yips, and hollers of other skiers, the steady hum of the chair lift—then the illusion breaks, and down is down again. The fear of losing control and falling rather than flying is too real of a possibility.

My mom pushes herself toward this edge first, but I grab the sleeve of her red jacket before she can go over. I don’t want her to leave me yet. I’m not ready. I feel scared of the unknown, of the hurt that will come if I panic, make a wrong decision, and fall.

I shuffle away from the edge. “I can’t do this.”

“Yes, you can,” my mom says, and I can hear her reassuring smile. Using her ski poles, she pushes forward again, until she is at the edge of the mountain, where snow meets the sky. I watch her red jacket disappear as she goes over the edge, into the sky, a paintbrush on canvas. She glides down the steep trail on a cloud of soft, freshly fallen snow, etching lines into the mountain, keeping balance even as she hits patches of ice.

I stare over the edge of the hill, afraid to begin. I try shuffling forward, watching as my skis brush and flatten out the snow beneath me. The snow is like the white acrylic paint beneath my mom’s palette knives, flattening and mixing before she begins.

I push myself to the edge of the hill, an end-stop. I consider years before, of cascading over mountain edges much like this one, flying down the hill with no fear—before putting words down on a blank page became as scary as going over the edge of a cliff, before words and stories locked up and bolted down deep inside, seemingly without reason. My mom knows this fear as well. Her sketchbooks are filled with ghosts, traces of trashed ideas, lines, and eraser shavings. But she keeps working, moving forward. My own journals and Word documents are filled with unfinished sentences and disjointed narratives, trials and errors, and sometimes left as white as the snow beneath me.

I’m holding myself back. Skiers are speeding past me, diving over the edge, catching air, flying. I remember that feeling. I want to feel that again. To let go, stop thinking of what could happen if I were to make a mistake and fall. I don’t want to hold back anymore.

With a shaky exhale, I let myself go over the edge, down the hill, maybe not as fearless, but as fast as I once could go. I don’t know if the snow I’m rushing up to is powder or ice.

And then I feel it. The feeling of having no traction, no grip. I’m nearly flying, skis barely touching the ground, but it’s not a good feeling. I feel the familiar wobble in my right leg, my strongest leg. I feel the insecurity there when I press harder into the snow to maintain control. But like a stone skipping on water, my right ski stutters, crosses inward, onto my other ski, creating an X.

My skis are no longer beneath me. I’m flying. I’m tumbling with no end in sight. When it’s over, I’m left wide-eyed, staring up at the sky.

I tremble as I lift myself onto my elbows and survey everything I lost. One pole is further up the hill, and the other is beside me. My right ski popped off and is to my far left. My ski boot is like a ten-pound weight, but it’s a bit lighter now without the ski. It’s easier to move and position myself to pop off my other ski and work on standing again.

I hear my name and look over. I see my mom’s red jacket. She reaches me, cutting into a sharp turn and spraying me with snow. She’s laughing, asking if I’m okay. I tell her nothing is broken. Surprisingly, I’m laughing with her despite how shaky I still feel. My mom grabs my hands and helps me stand back up.

From here, I get to work. I pick up all of the things I lost in the fall. And when I make it to the bottom of the mountain, the end of the page, I’m ready to begin again.


Featured in our May 2023 issue, "Craft Fair"