Thursday, January 27, 2005
"Things are strange in Steamboat right now." It was my weekly phone call to my mom. I listened to myself as everything just poured out, and it sounded like I was describing a plague.
It's been a hard winter, Mom. A lot of people are dying.
"We lose people all the time," a co-worker told me. And she's right. But somehow this winter feels different. A little girl, a friend, a neighbor, that guy from the New Year's party. We lost them all to accidents within days and weeks of each other.
It feels like a sniper is hiding somewhere picking us off one by one.
In a small town like this, even if you didn't know the person who died, you know someone who did. If nothing else, you understand how they lived.
I don't know how this is affecting us, but I've noticed that it keeps coming up in conversations. At first, I thought it was me bringing it up or maybe people were talking to me about it because I work at the newspaper. The conversation would come up at the grocery store, at the post office, on the phone or during a night out at Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill.
"This has been a weird winter," is usually how it begins. After we've rehashed the details, someone tries at an explanation.
But there is no way to explain it. If you focus on one death at a time, you can dissect the details. You can think about how it could have been prevented.
You can grieve.
But when they all come together like this, a wave of loss, no theory can explain it away, and it's harder to mourn.
It's like we're all huddled together inside a shelter, waiting for a storm to stop. There is silence and someone opens the door to examine the debris, to assess the damage, and just then it all starts again.
I thought it was me who brought up these conversations, until Monday morning. My alarm clock radio went off, and I laid there with my eyes half open listening to the disc jockeys banter in their morning-show style.
They were talking about the weekend and the news. Everything, it seems, is funny to a morning show DJ. And then, somehow, that same conversation began. They started talking about the skier who died late last week in a backcountry ski accident.
"This has been a weird winter," the DJ said. It was one of the most uncomfortable radio moments I've heard in a long time. They tried to keep it light and then realized they just needed to drop the subject.
That's when I realized that it wasn't just me. It's on a lot of minds. The effects are rippling through our town, and no one knows what to do.
I'm writing about this, not because I have a theory or a quick turn of phrase that will make this make sense.
As a writer, I'm at a loss for words.
I don't know how it's affecting this town, but it is. I can hear us talking, but we don't know what to say.