Letter: Her name was Shelby
Vail, CO, Colorado
My brother Mark Costello and I boarded the Chair 21 out of Vail’s back bowls on Tuesday, April 1. A young man slipped onto the chair with us and sat hunched to the side. Being open to conversation is often obvious, but other times the signal to be left alone is just as clear. We quietly made our way up the mountain.
I was reflecting on how much I was enjoying my new powder skis designed for the eight inches of fresh snow that was so light for late in the season.
Mark had not only encouraged me to upgrade my equipment, he had called me at work to come to the Gorsuch Midnight Madness sale and get the skis he knew were right for me. He held onto the skis until I got there to buy them. At last I was able to feel the easy floating sensation down Genghis and Red Square he promised would be the case on updated equipment.
My brother had skied with me nine of the 10 days on my 2007-08 season pass, and now I was enjoying my first bonus April ski day with him. Day after day he had been annoyingly free with instruction, tips, and ceaseless critiques to improve my skiing technique. He wore me out.
But today, with the new skis, everything Mark had been telling me was coming together: facing downhill; arms up, a bit away from the body and a bit forward, skis more equally weighted and rolling them from side to side simultaneously with the ankles; still body staying forward with action from the knees down. I was not consistent with each turn, but I was feeling it when I was getting it right. What a fabulous day I was having skiing with my brother.
Our sandy-haired chair mate, with what looked to be a bit of snuff tucked in his lower lip, got a call on his cell phone. I liked the ring he had chosen and I thought I could ask him what it was called when he hung up to start a little friendly conversation. The call was from a friend, a girl, and I could hear the beautiful intonation of her voice from where I was sitting.
Our companion said, “It’s not good.” Pause. “We lost Shelby today.” Pause. He was holding back tears. “Dad is with Kelly.” “I’m skiing in the powder. I don’t know what else I can do.” He seemed to be wondering if he should be skiing. “Call Kelly,” he said. He hung up and hunched to the side again.
Thoughts flew through my mind. What does “lost” mean, and is “Shelby” a human being? Do I say anything? My brother and I talked quietly about the direction we would head next.
Near the top of the lift, I reached over to the grieving skier and patted his shoulder and said, “Whatever the problem, I hope it turns out OK.”
He said, “I lost my sister today.” He could say no more. I patted his shoulder again, and we had to unload from the lift. He skied off toward the Far East Bowl. I watched him go.
I turned to my brother Mark and said, “If I should die, go skiing, and take a run for me.”
I hope that sad young fellow feels the presence of his sister Shelby in clouds as they rush across the sapphire sky above Vail Mountain.
I hope he recalls her laughter when the wind whispers in the trees under the protection of the Mount of the Holy Cross. I hope he remembers the sparkle in her eyes when the snow glints like diamonds in the sun. I hope he knows that Shelby treasured him, her brother, even when he was annoying.
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