words: Austin Smith
ACROSS ALL CULTURES AND THROUGHOUT ALL HUMANS, WE SHARE THE SAME SIX EMOTIONS: sadness, anger, fear, joy, love, and peace. For me, snowboarding touches each of those. Sadness when I’m hurt and I can’t snowboard. Anger when I’ve made a mistake leading to an injury. Fear of one day no longer wanting to snowboard. Joy, the most consistent and overwhelming emotion that snowboarding brings me. Love—plain, simple and unwavering. Peace—I snowboard by myself to remind myself of this one. Apart from snowboarding, it is challenging for me to evoke much emotion. I can name three occasions and that is about it.
The worst day of my life, I call it. March 31, 2018. I was at Baldface, and while you are snowboarding there, you don’t have cell service. At the end of the day when you come back to the lodge, you get service. I was taking my boots off in the boot room and I got a text from my ex-girlfriend who I don’t regularly talk to.
Nikki: So much bad news all around. So sorry about your grandpa and Curtis.
I knew Curtis was up in Stewart, BC filming with Eric Jackson, so I called him a couple of times. but it went straight to voicemail. A little concerned, I text her back
Me: What happened to Curtis?
Where are you?
Have you not talked to Curtis?
Curtis Sr. had a heart attack.
And passed away earlier today.
I’m really sorry, I thought you would’ve already known.
With these texts, I dropped to the floor and started bawling. I had never felt so blindsided with unexpected news or loss. For the previous four years, my dad had been battling cancer, and Curt Sr. and his wife, Lettie, were who I would talk to about it. Curt Sr. had become a second dad in my life ever since I had met him eighteen years prior. So much about it did not feel like the “right” timing. It felt cruel and I was absolutely crushed. That was the saddest and most angry I have ever been.
A few months after, that my dad called me asking me to come home and said that he wasn’t doing too well. Throughout his whole life he had proved to be extremely stubborn; he never asked for help, so I knew it was serious with this request. He had aggressive cancer for five years and went through a variety of treatments along the way. Some yielded positive results, but they were always short-lived. What was consistent was a steady increase in pain and it got to a point where he was reliant on a constant supply of morphine. Oregon is one of six states that allow Death with Dignity, which is an end-of-life option that allows certain eligible individuals to legally request and obtain medications from their physician to end their life in a peaceful, humane, and dignified manner. One of the many stipulations with this program is the patient must be able to self-administer the medication under their own will power.
This became a delicate balancing act for my dad. This is something he had decided he wanted to do and knew he had to do it before his health deteriorated too far to where he was incapable of doing it. I was with him while this happened and motherfucker, it was intense. He had to drink a cup of fluid to do this—one of the challenges leading up to this was his growing inability to eat or drink. In addition, the doctor was adamant about the fact that you have to finish the drink in its entirety, and you can’t throw up and the series of complications that can come from that. These instructions definitely gave my dad some anxiety and upon first sniff he was not enthused. He drank about half of it and had to pause and was starting to panic about throwing up, saying it tasted terrible. But like I said, he was stubborn and he finished it. From there you have very little time, and I will say, it was just a lot. Obviously very different emotion than with Curt Sr., as this was somewhat expected and planned but it was so heavy, an abundance of emotions. I was sad that he was gone, angry that he didn’t find the cancer earlier, and felt love and joy that he found peace.
Before either of those, I experienced some classic heartbreak. I’ll spare you the details, other than we are happily together now. But what surprised me by this experience/emotion, was how it can radiate violently through your whole body. At one point, I was driving and had to pull over to throw up as a result of the whole situation. For me, that was a first; evidence that love is powerful.
I relive this memories to remind myself of those emotions, inevitably I cry in the process, and to prove to you and myself that I am human. But apart from those three experiences, I have very little emotion outside of snowboarding–or at least that I can remember. I’m in the process of learning about some seemingly serious memory challenges I have, which I would imagine play a role in it all. To bring it full circle and to answer the original question of my relationship with fear and snowboarding, I don’t have fear with snowboarding–or any fear I have is welcomed. Snowboarding makes me feel alive.