"Hurry up, man, what's taking you so long?"
"Various reasons, one being I'm not as young as I'm used to be, and-"
"Oh, come on, we are not that far apart in years!"
Well, not all of us pertains their youthful spunk into their mid-40s.
Though, I chose not to keep that thought to myself. Always had been a ball of limitless energy, this woman.
I remember it as clear and white as the snowy landscape surrounding us. Her energy never seems to have dwindled over the years.
"Boo! Slowwww!" she teased from the top of the wintry hill. I could only show a weak smile in response, amidst the heavy breaths I could see exhaling out of my system.
"Hah! You lost, again!"
"That's not fair! You ran first!"
"You're just slow in hearing as you are slow in running!"
Playful banters of two children competing in the purity of the cold winter. I remember it as clear and pure as the snowy landscape. We were so young. She would always beat me in a race to the top of the hill, which I would participate in with more fiery spirit than I can now. As a result, my pride as a boy was crushed early like a delicate flower frozen in the winter. I would try my best to fight back her teases while swallowing my tears back.
"Oh, come now! We haven't got all day, old man! Come, come! Quickly now!"
"You said we're not that far apart in-"
She descended from the hilltop to pull and force me up faster, interrupting my rebuttal.
Amazingly, my weight added with the layers I had donned did not resist her grip or pull. She had most definitely grown stronger over the years.
She set me down the sled, in the front seat, as we used to.
"We haven't sledded in, like, what, 20, 30 years?"
"27 years. You moved away to another town before the graduation ceremony for junior high students."
"Yes, yes, I hope you still scream the way you do when you were young!"
"I don't think I have the lungs for that anymore."
"Such a killjoy," she pouted in a childlike manner, unbecoming of her age, but somehow natural in my eyes.
Eyes blurred with age. Eyes biased towards the woman who sat behind me. I never told her how beautiful she looked in the snow. She was just as beautiful in the other three seasons I saw her, but the snow just complemented her features more. It is difficult to explain. All I can say is that whenever she was near me, the surrounding cold seemed to drift away, and I felt warmth like no other.
27 years we did not see each other, not having the chance to exchange our contacts. It was by chance that we would return here in this cabin with our respective families. I was accompanying my mother and father. She was married to a man I never met before. Her smile still looked just as beautiful as I remembered. The 27 years of unexpressed love withered in acceptance. She was clinging to her man so intimately before greeting me. I couldn't keep holding on to an emotion that would not be reciprocated, that would only bring me more suffering.
"Are you ready? I'm sliding it down!"
"No, wait, not yet, I- AAAAAHHHHHH!"
My screams would harmonize with her laughter and shrieks of joy. I couldn't help but reminisce of those times, so familiar, so nostalgic. There we were again, at the same spot, though the trees and cabin looked fairly different, the view was just as breathtaking from when we were children. She would stare off into the blankness, while I gawked at her.
"Alright," she sang, "let's see if I can't push the sled off with your added weight."
"Did you not just pull me with ease a few minutes ago?"
"Oh, yeah, you have a point, well, your weight should give us more momentum, hope you enjoy the rushing winds in the front seat, old man!"
"Should I address you as 'old lady' as well, seeing as how we're not that far apart?"
And she pushed the sled at that moment to blow any other quips I might have thought of.
Her laugh was as hearty, maybe even heartier than I remembered. So happy, so healthy, so humorous. Of course, she was laughing at my reaction. Some things just don't change no matter how old you grow. My screams were deeper but they were full-blown screams of terror. It was scarier than I remembered it.
When we decelerated and stopped at the foot of the hill, she stood up while I was still in a daze. She let out an exciting "Woo!" that echoed to the distance.
"That was fun!"
I was still trying to catch my breath and gather my bearings, "You're still just as strong as ever, aren't you?"
She struck a thinking pose, "Hmm..." then she turned toward me, with a mischievous smile, "No, no, I don't think so! I think I'm even stronger now!" And she laughed boisterously. I felt then that my breath was going to become more bated. She was so beautiful.
I never did get to tell her how I felt.
Not when we were children. Not when we reunited after 27 years. Not when she would eventually die a few days after our reunion from cardiac arrest.
Now I stand on top of the hill we would so often sled down from. Alone. The snow looked sadder tonight. The wintry winds felt colder tonight. Why is it that the flower of love I had decided to let wither rebloom? The yearning, the longing, the regret, and the realization that I would never again get to see her smile or hear her laughter or see her face or hear her voice. I look down. Next to my feet is a wooden sled. Now there is no chance of me swallowing down my tears.