Tassie Types is about growing up and growing older, facing the mirror, and laughing through it all. Here, you'll find stories of family and friends, courage and love, and laughing without fear of the future.

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Short Story

January 13, 2019

Northern Heights

I’m so excited to share my new story with you! It won Honorable Mention in the Houston Writers Guild contest about travel, “Outside the Window-Tales of the World,” available on Amazon.  Get a copy of the anthology HERE.

 

 

I swore this would be the last time I’d go out on a limb for my kids.

When they were younger and I would announce to them we were going on a family vacation, they would clap and cheer and run off to pack their little Disney suitcases full of their favorite toys. They didn’t care where we were going as long as they could stay in a motel with a pool. I was their hero, a young, cool mom with a fold out map and a picnic basket. They’d cheerfully follow me to the ends of the earth and write about their adventures on postcards they’d send to their envious friends.

But they were older now, and few things were worth writing home about.

I wanted to curse the day I came home from the AAA store armed with travel brochures and a huge smile. It was a gorgeous spring day in Houston and I had just booked a once in a lifetime trip for my teenaged children, my parents and me, and I could barely contain myself.

When I walked through the door, my twenty-year-old daughter, Kati, an aspiring photographer in her second year at A&M, paused long enough to look up from her laptop where she was editing photos. She observed the blue AAA bag in my hand and eyed me suspiciously. “Please tell me you didn’t book anything for July. I’m working every weekend in July.”

Her seventeen-year-old sister, Kristina, a high school senior with a perpetual case of spring fever, sensed big news and muted the show she was watching on Netflix. “Hope it’s Hawaii, or Mexico! Any place warm and sunny.” She leaped up from the sofa and stretched out her slim frame. “I’m so pale! And I’ll need a new swimsuit.” She grabbed for the brochure in my hand. “So where are we going, Mom?”

My smile dimmed, but I was determined not to let them dampen my excitement.

“I don’t know. Do JUNEA?” I exaggerated the last word, drawing out the first syllable.

“No, “ Kristina said, slowly pronouncing each word. “That’s why I want to see the BROCHURE.”

Kati’s lip curled. “Alaska, stupid. She’s taking us to Alaska. I bet it’s a cruise.”

Her younger sister’s face fell. “Alaska cruises are for old people.” She slumped back down on the sofa, pulled out her cell phone and began to text, no doubt reporting the unfairness of her life to her best friend. “Boring.” She looked up at me and rolled her eyes. “So much for getting a tan.”

I tried to hide my disappointment and went in my bedroom to call my mother. She answered on the tenth ring and I sprung my surprise, knowing at least I could count on her to be thrilled about my gift.

“Alaska?” My mother paused for so long I thought she had hung up or fainted from excitement. “It’s cold in Alaska. And it’s for…” she hesitated and whispered, “old people.”

It was then I made the horrifying realization that I had just booked a trip to the only state in the US that apparently catered to the ninety something crowd. Worse yet, if I was the only one who thought it sounded fun, maybe I was the old one.

My apprehension only grew in the weeks before the trip. My mother called me daily to go over what she was packing, nervous her fur coat wouldn’t be warm enough, questioning where she could purchase long underwear for my dad in July. She packed and repacked gloves and scarves, boots and hats, certain she and my dad would freeze even though I argued it would be summer in Alaska, too.

My daughters, on the other hand, put off packing until the night before. Between the two of them, they brought three mittens and one long lost hoodie they found in the bottom of the hall closet for warmth, but somehow the weight of their suitcases still managed to exceed the airline’s limit.

As we waited in line at the cruise terminal in Seattle, I took on the impossible role of keeping my travel companions happy.   The girls were satisfied as long as their cell phones were charged, WIFI was available and they were receiving an acceptable number of likes on Instagram. My parents proved to be more challenging.

My dad needed food, and lots of it. My mother required coffee to cope. Both   struggled to keep up, barely visible behind the mountain of carry-ons they balanced in their arms. Still even with their slower pace, neck pillows and coolers full of medication, I couldn’t help noticing they were two of the youngest people in line to embark on the ship.

I had a sinking feeling we were boarding the Titanic.

“This is going to be so much fun!” My cheerful tone sounded fake even to me. I directed everyone to the excursion booth. “Let’s book some activities before they’re all sold out.”

“I’m getting something to eat and I’m taking a nap.” My dad shuffled off in search of the nearest buffet. Broad as a bull and just as strong, his posture read that he was on vacation and he was going to do whatever he wanted, with or without us. He whistled for my mom to follow.

I studied the list of excursions. This would be a memorable, fun vacation if it killed me.

“How about a ride in a vintage rail car through the scenic mountains?”

“Boring!” The girls chimed in unison.

“No trains.” My mom called over her shoulder to me as she rushed to catch up with my dad. “Trains are dangerous. Some shopping. Maybe a bus tour of the city.”

I examined the ad for the train ride again. Enjoy panoramic views of mountains, glaciers, gorges and waterfalls, it read. How safe could you get? The most challenging part of this excursion would be getting their cabooses all aboard. “We’ll take two tickets for the train.” It would do my parents good to get out of their comfort zone for a couple of hours. “Now for us…”

“Dog sledding!” Kristina pointed to a picture of a team of huskies pulling a sled through the snow. “The three hour trip includes flightseeing via helicopter and one hour at a dog sled camp,” she read. “And we get to see two glaciers. Now that would be fun!”

“You know I’m afraid of heights.” My heart pounded at the thought of boarding a helicopter and almost stopped all together when I saw the price. “Besides, that excursion costs more than the entire cruise! Let’s look for something more reasonable we can all enjoy.” I wiped the sweat off my brow with the back of my hand; my eyes begged the excursion director for help.

She pointed to a picture of a family wearing matching helmets and huge smiles. “May I suggest our Alaska Canopy Adventure?” She gave me a subtle once over and erased the beginning of a smirk off her face. “It’s very popular with our younger, adventurous guests. Entirely safe, of course.” She studied my face for a moment. “Unless you’d rather go on the train-ride with your parents…”

“Alaska Canopy Adventure it is.” Whatever that is. I pulled out my VISA card and thrust it at the young woman behind the counter. “You only live once!”

I linked arms with the girls as we headed down the long corridor to our cabin, pausing to kiss each one gently on the forehead. It took so little to make them happy. My heart soared at the joy I saw on their faces.

“I can’t wait for tomorrow! I’m going to get the best photos, ever.” Kati looked at me with admiration in her eyes. “I’m so proud of you, Mom. Facing your fears like that.”

I froze. “What do you mean?”

“Ziplining? Tomorrow? Nonrefundable?” She pointed to the tickets I clutched in my hand and read the fine print out loud. “Enjoy the thrill of gliding through the top of a rich rainforest canopy over eight zip lines and three suspension bridges 135 feet above the forest floor.” She watched the blood drain from my face. “Mom, are you ok?”

Kristina fanned me with a map of Juneau, her brown eyes wide with concern. “What’s there to worry about?” She looked genuinely puzzled. “You’ll be wearing a helmet.”

The next morning I woke with a dreadful feeling in my stomach and the metallic taste of terror on my tongue. Three things forced me out of my cozy cabin bed, the mental image of my mother, who I feared I was turning into if I didn’t fly out of my comfort zone, and my two pushy daughters who stood at the foot of my bed, hands on their hips. For once they were up before me, already dressed for adventure.

Kristina wrestled me out of my bunk, a determined look on her face. “Rise and shine,” she sang in her best morning mom impression. She took in my watery eyes and slumped shoulders. “You literally look like you’ve just lost your phone, or worse. It’s going to be fun.”

Kati took over. “Seriously, Mom. I’ve done this before. You’ll be fine.” She handed me a cup of coffee and my running shoes. “And we’ll get the greatest pictures.” Poised and unflappable, she strapped her camera bag over her shoulders and looked me up and down with the critical eye of a photographer. “Is that what you’re wearing?”

I took a sip of the scalding coffee, summoned my inner warrior, and eyed the two confident young women, leaders in Lululemon, in front of me. I wasn’t getting any younger, their expressions read. I’d better live a little while I still could.

I warmed up to the idea as we exited the ship and met the others who were going on the excursion. Everyone was so happy and excited I almost forgot the fear that simmered deep in my bowels. I even enjoyed the jeep ride through the Tongass National Forest. In my quest to spot a black bear with the other eager tourists, I didn’t notice how high we were climbing up the winding roads.

Somehow, I allowed the tour guides, a perky blonde with pigtails, and her partner, a hunky, bearded lumberjack with a man bun, to slip a leather harness up my legs and around my waist.

In denial, I followed the others up a steep stairway wrapped around a massive trunk until all 12 of us circled the tree, over a hundred feet up, perched on a wooden platform no larger than my coffee table. I clutched the trunk for dear life.

This was taking my love for my children to new heights.

“Wow!” Kati clicked at her camera furiously. “The view is amazing!”

“Are those people down there, or ants?” Kristina’s laughter rang out through the woods.

“Girls, hold on!” I felt the rough bark of the tree against my cheek. My heart pounded as I clung to the spruce, both arms wrapped around its mighty trunk in a bear hug, and willed myself not to look down. “Don’t stand too close to the edge.”

I vaguely heard Lumberjack and Jill giving instructions to our group. Then Jack clipped his lanyard onto the pulley and with a hearty whoop zipped across the cable, disappearing over the trees. The group chattered excitedly, arguing over who would get to be next. I embraced the tree tighter as one by one Jill sent an ecstatic explorer flying off through the clouds.

“My turn!” I recognized Kristina’s excited voice.

I uncurled one finger from the tree. “Don’t you dare!” My voice came out shaky and hoarse and the pounding of my heart drowned out my pathetic plea. On land, I would die for my children. Now all my maternal instincts evaporated as I shamefully realized if my youngest daughter wanted to take a flying leap off a tree 200 feet up, I was too concerned about my own safety to come to her rescue. I watched with tears in my eyes as she flew through the air clutching her cell phone, and her thin frame disappeared in the clouds.

“I’m next!” Kati undid her ponytail and shook her hair free. Clutching her camera in one hand she posed for a selfie as Jill clipped her to the cable and gave her a gentle push.

“No!” I hung my head, still clinging tightly to the tree. I would expect my younger, more reckless daughter to throw caution to the wind, but now my careful older one was close behind her.

I hugged the tree tighter and we swayed softly in the wind, dancing to the rhythmic sounds of the forest. I inhaled its piney cologne and ran my fingers through its mossy mane.

“And last but not least!” Jill motioned for me to join her at the edge of the platform, but I shook my head and tightened my grip. She reached for my hand and slowly peeled it away from the tree. I resisted. She was remarkably strong for such a tiny woman. “You don’t want to keep the others waiting, do you?”

And annoying.

“I’ll just wait here until you get back.” I reasoned with her but she shook her head. “I know it’s hard to believe but I’m afraid of heights.” I grimaced as she pulled my other arm off the trunk and slowly turned my body to face her.

“There’s no turning back now.” Jill spoke to me like I was a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, which I was. “I’ll be right behind you.”

I wrung my hands as she clipped my equipment onto a pulley. “That thing won’t hold me!” I glanced back one last time at the safe spot in the shade where my tree and I shared a warm embrace.

“I think it will.” Jill tugged on my harness as if to reassure me.

“I lied about my weight on the waiver!” I blurted out my shameful confession, hoping I would be banned from the park.

She gave me a once over and adjusted a strap. “We know. We added thirty pounds.”

Before I could open my mouth to protest, she continued. “Just straighten your legs in front of you and enjoy the view. Remember, slow down by pulling on the cable right before you reach the next platform.”

I don’t want to die this way! A million thoughts ran through my head. What if they bury me in some awful dress? I could hear it now. What possessed her to do it? She had a beautiful life until she jumped off that tree in Alaska. Wearing some kind of kinky leather harness, no less. I heard she did it for her children. Alaska! Why’d she want to go there anyway? It’s for old people.

I teetered on the edge of the platform and made the mistake of looking down past my feet where as far as I could see was sky and trees. My heart leaped into my throat. Then Jill pushed me with all her demonic strength and I flew through the air.

“Nooooo!” My anguished scream echoed through the woods. The bright warm day grew dark and chilly for a moment as my harnessed Tong-ass zipped past the sun. I imagined parents down below shielding their children’s eyes from the round globes seeping out of the bottom of my harness. Don’t look directly at it! They’d shout at the little ones. You’ll go blind!

The wind took my breath away as I soared through the trees. I made promises with God I had no intentions of keeping and recited the Lord’s Prayer seven times. Then miraculously, I spotted something in the distance. My light at the end of the tunnel appeared to me in the shape of a platform. I might survive, after all, if a branch didn’t impale my inside passage first.

I squinted. I could make out the form of a man waving his arms, his mouth open shouting something.

As I drew nearer, I could see my daughters gesturing frantically at me, reaching up and pulling something over and over again. “Mom, slow down!”

By the time I made the alarming realization I was speeding towards Jack with the power of a derailed train it was too late. The others dived behind the tree trunk for shelter as I flew full force into his spread arms.

The impact of our helmets nearly knocked me out cold. I could feel the splintered texture of the platform under my knees, but something warm and forgiving had broken my fall. I breathed in a musky, woodsy smell. Maybe my worst nightmare had turned into a pleasant dream. I would open my eyes and find I had dozed off on a beach in Hawaii; a romance novel spread open on my tanned tummy.

I tried to speak but something furry and round gagged my mouth.   The figure beneath me squirmed in an enticing way and I almost didn’t want to open my eyes.

“Mom!” Kristina’s tone of disapproval was unmistakable.

My eyes flew open and to my horror, I found myself straddling Jack, whose helmet had flown off in our collision.   His bite-sized man bun lodged firmly in my mouth.

“I’m ok!” He brushed himself off, reassured everyone and reshaped his bun.

Sputtering, I staggered to my feet as Kati clicked feverishly on her camera. Avoiding the edge of the platform, I raced to the middle and embraced the safety of the tree.

At least I was alive. And more than ready for the free hot chocolate promised in the brochure.

Just then, Jill soared up, landing gracefully on the platform. “Who’s ready for zip line number two?”

The others clamored for position in line, each one wanting to be first.

“Wait a minute!” My fear echoed through the forest. “You mean we have to do this again?”

Jack turned his back to me, feigning interest in some pulleys but Jill looked me directly in the eyes. “We have three more zip lines.” She ignored the panic on my face. “And two suspension bridges.”

“Look, we signed up to zipline, and now we’ve ziplined.” I reasoned with the perky blonde. “It’s really not for me and I’d like to go home.” From the corner of my eye I saw Kati and Kristina wither in unison.

“We’re in the middle of the rainforest on a platform.” Jill’s steely gray eyes bore into mine. “There are only two ways out. You complete the course.” Her evil smile sent shivers up my spine. “Or we lower you down on a rope. Someone will come by to pick you up.” Her eyes gleamed.   “If a bear doesn’t first. The choice is yours.”

Still clinging to the tree, I looked down. I contemplated descending the rope of shame, getting stuck all alone, bear bait bobbing in midair, a tasty treat for the first grizzly that ambled by. How I wished I were on that boring train ride, sitting next to my parents, sipping coffee and chatting about my father’s sugar level.

Jill nodded with satisfaction when she saw my indecision, then addressed the others. “This is a longer, faster zip line.” She paused until the cheering stopped. “So feel free to experiment with some spins.”

Jack whooshed off upside down across the cable to ready the next platform for our arrival. The girls jumped up and down in anticipation, planning how they could get the perfect shot of their stunts. My only comfort was the tree gently rocking in my arms.

It’ll get better, the others promised, pumped up on adrenaline. Don’t you feel empowered now that you’ve faced your greatest fear? But each zip line proved to be more humiliating than the last. In one day I’d become an avid tree hugger, only I wasn’t saving trees. They were saving me. At each step in the course, Jill would mutter under her breath and have to unwrap me from my leafy embrace.

Goodbye tall, bark and handsome! I’ll never fir-get you…

Ignoring my protests, she’d clip me onto the next pulley and send me hurling through the sky at breakneck speed. Jack quaked in his hiking boots each time he saw me racing towards him.

The bridges were no better. The others pretended not to enjoy making them wobble to hear my screams.

In fact, the best part of the entire day was landing on the final platform. At last I could see the ground. My daughters cringed as I kneeled down and kissed the weathered wood. Jack presented each of us with a bronze medal for completing the course and hustled us down to the lodge gift shop.

I sat on a bench sipping hot chocolate and waiting for my knees to stop shaking while the girls shopped. A few minutes later, they walked up wearing matching knit moose caps and handed me a small paper bag.

“What’s this?” I pulled out a pair of wool socks with a scene of Alaska on them, a blue glacier stretching up each leg.

“They’re for you.” Kati grinned. “So you’ll never get cold feet again. You really faced your fears up there, Mom.”

“I’m not sure which fear I was facing.” I felt the texture of the wool in my hand, traced the outline of the glacier with my fingertip. “My fear of heights, or my fear of getting old, of seeming old to you.” I leaned down, changed into my new socks and wiggled my toes. “Sometimes you get cold feet because you’re scared, and maybe that’s a good thing. It saves you from doing something dangerous.” The wind picked up and I hugged myself. “And sometimes you get cold feet because it’s cold.”

We boarded the bus that would take us back to the ship. The girls dozed as I gazed out the window, mesmerized by the view. The tip of the Mendenhall Glacier glistened in the distance, like a blue diamond dropped straight from heaven into a crystal pool of water. The trees lining the road grew lush with leaves and the bus driver pointed out an eagle soaring overhead. As we circled down the mountain, I could see the ornate caboose of an old train on the tracks below, chugging slowly through the forest.

Maybe my mom was right.   A little shopping and a bus tour was all the adventure I needed. I looked forward to seeing my parents that night and sharing stories about our adventures over dinner. I closed my eyes, replaying the day in my head. I may have faced a fear, but I certainly hadn’t overcome it. That’s the last time I’ll let my kids talk me into something I don’t want to do. No matter how old I am! I nodded off to the humming of the bus motor.

An abrupt stop jolted me awake. A long line of brake lights signaled the road was closed ahead. Sirens wailed in the distance. The driver picked up the microphone and made an announcement to the passengers.

“Sorry for the delay, folks. It seems the White Pass historic train has derailed. We don’t know how serious it is yet but I see lots of ambulances up ahead. We might be here awhile…”

I gasped and sat up straighter, trying to get a better view out the window. Not the train I made my parents go on! I searched in my backpack for my phone. No service. I woke up the girls but there was nothing we could do as the bus inched its way through the traffic.

Kristina sobbed against the window, her shoulders gently shaking. “I can see the train down there!” She grabbed my hand. “It doesn’t look good.”

Whatever you do, don’t look down!

Fear and guilt consumed me as I thought of my parents in that wreckage. They would never have been there in the first place if I hadn’t shamed them into going. If I hadn’t made them feel old.

Take a deep breath.

I willed myself to remain positive. We didn’t know where their seats were on that train. Surely not all of the cars were part of that tangled mess. I pounded my armrest but the bus continued to creep along the highway.

When we finally made it to the dock, the girls and I ran all the way to the ship, barely slowing down for security.

“The train wreck! My parents…” I stopped an officer at the entrance of the ship.

“Go to the purser’s desk.” He pointed to a long line snaking through the lobby. “They’ll answer your questions.” He noticed the panic in my eyes and softened. “There were no casualties.”

We joined the others at the back of the line.

“That old couple’s been up there for 15 minutes.” A red-faced man growled in front of us. “Hurry up, already!”

I looked up to see what couple he was talking about and spotted my mom and dad, holding hands and two cups of coffee, walking away from the desk.

“Who do you think you’re calling old?” I pushed past the man and ran up to my parents. “Are you ok?”

“The damn train derailed.” My dad shook his head and raised an eyebrow. “But we got them to give you a refund.”

“Who cares about the refund? We were so worried about you!”   The girls and I hugged the pair, careful not to spill their coffee in our excitement.

 

“Those poor old people!” My mother clucked her tongue. “You could never get me on that train. Did you see those cliffs in the brochure?”

“What do you mean?” I studied their faces, more confused than ever. “I bought you tickets.”

My mother looked down, a sheepish look on her face. “Besides, Albert didn’t want to wake up that early. We stayed on board and had a nice lunch on the deck.” She beamed at her granddaughters. “Did you girls have a relaxing day?”

My daughters laughed at my expression and Kati made us all pose for a picture.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.” My dad headed in the direction of the dining room with my mother trailing behind.

“Hey Mom!” Kristina pointed to the excursion desk. Beside it hung a huge poster of a smiling family sitting in an inflatable raft, wearing life jackets and white knuckles. Enjoy a heart-pounding fourteen-mile trip down Class IV whitewater rapids, it read. Guides are certified swift-water rescue technicians! “What are we doing tomorrow?”

“I’m too old for that!” I made the announcement with pride and hurried to catch up with my parents. I might be over the hill, but I want to live to see a few more mountains.

And suddenly my feet felt cold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. thaney

    February 27th, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    I will never go zip-lining again!

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