CHICAGO TO ASPEN
I often think about what happened in Aspen at least two times a day now. It haunts me, but mainly it taught me about life. I remember it all as if it were just yesterday.
It began on the crisp morning of December 19th, 2018, when I should have been excited to hop onto a first-class flight to Aspen. But there I laid, underneath my blanket, convincing myself to part with the warmth of my bed. At the time, I was twenty-eight years old and successful, but I must admit I lacked the luxury of having a relationship with my family. There was a time when we spent every Christmas holiday in Aspen, which prompted my sister Bethany to start the tradition again. I used to favor Bethany the most of my siblings, which is why I cleared my busy schedule in the first place. If it had been anyone else, I would have sent their call straight to voicemail.
When I finally conjured the discipline to live up to my reservation, I turned over in my bed and stared out of the floor-to-ceiling windows that displayed all of Chicago’s attractiveness to get a glimpse of what the weather was like. I was hoping that a vicious snowstorm would awaken and riddle the flight canceled; but no, the weather was perfect that day. Well, at least it was perfect for a December’s day in Chicago.
After accepting that the universe wasn’t going to provide me an excuse to withdraw, I finally got out of bed. I stationed my feet onto the mocha brown hardwood floors. The floor was cold, like the single snowflake that gracefully falls from the sky and lands at the tip of your nose, sending a chill down your spine. After I showered, I proceeded to my lavish remodeled closet. It cost me a lot, but it was worth every penny. And after all the hard work that I put into Street Style Magazine last quarter, I can unbiasedly say I deserved it. Wrapped in a lush white towel, I browsed my closet then dressed in a simple red sweater and jeans. My black knee-length coat, however, was far from simple. It cost me two thousand dollars, but like my remodeled closet, I deserved it. I packed my suitcase, grabbed my Chanel bag, and made my way to the lobby to wait for my sister’s arrival.
When I entered the lobby, the doorman, Mr. Willis, diligently waved for me to join him. Dragging my suitcase, I did just that. He was standing near the gold revolving doors that introduced every tenant to the city's hustle and bustle. Mr. Willis was a very tall and frail man, as well as mature in age. He had not one wrinkle on his face; instead, a youthful sense of pride in doing his job, as if every tenant in the building was his beloved grandchild. I don’t recall being without an umbrella to cover me from the rain on nights I rushed in from a taxi.
“Your sister Bethany is parked across the street in that black car. She’s been there for quite a while,” Mr. Willis said.
Mr. Willis extended his right arm and led my eyes in Bethany’s direction. His single hand exhibited wrinkles that reminded me of the vicissitudes of life. Each wrinkle collided into another, maintaining somehow their own meaning; their own life; their own breath, similar to a piece of artwork that auctions for thousands of dollars. The gold trim of his crisp uniform complimented the dark green shade of his tie. Mr. Willis was indeed a staple to the building.
I peered beyond the thick wall of glass to learn that it was her, my sister, Bethany, inside the car. Her lips were coated in red lipstick, her cheeks were blush-ridden, entertaining a deepened shade of peach. Her neck was snuggled by a dark green turtleneck sweater, and her black wool jacket was unzipped.
I faced Mr. Willis. “That’s her, alright. But how do you know that she is my sister,” I asked Mr. Willis while tending to my phone?
“When you have been a doorman for as long as I have, you memorize every face that has ever visited the building. Anyhow, let me help you with your luggage. I am sure you have a flight to catch; another business trip,” Mr. Willis conjectured because I was always traveling for work.
“Not quite this time. I am headed to Aspen for a family reunion.”
“That sounds luxurious, spending the holiday season in Aspen,” Mr. Willis said. “I would love to be tucked in the mountains and cozied away in a cabin with family and friends, or one of those luxury ski resorts. No?”
“I wish that I could say the same, but my family, well, let’s just say they could spoil a jar of honey.”
Mr. Willis and I both hurried from the building. We merged with a large crowd and remorsefully crossed Michigan Avenue while the traffic light was still green. The people in their cars impatiently blew their horns as we chucked up clusters of snow. While crossing in between vehicles, Bethany spotted me. She leaned forward and told the driver to lift the trunk. After Mr. Willis loaded my luggage, I tipped him, and he returned to the building. As for me, I got into the car, and once the door shut and the sounds of the city became muffled, a sullen silence arose that eagerly yearned for interruption. I fiddled with the tip of my cashmere gloves to make up for the awkward silence, and Bethany fiddled with her jacket zipper. It was a shame that distance got the best of our relationship, even more shameful that neither of us tried to intervene throughout the years. Every breath and every second that Bethany and I shared in the exposing moment felt as if my morals were chastising me. A heavy gust of wind blew and slightly shifted the car. We both chuckled, and amid acknowledging the brash jerk, we caught eyes. I wasn’t sure to hug Bethany or just greet a polite hello. So, I settled on a modest smile and adjusted my hair that was swept over my mouth. We were out of touch with one another, I thought to myself. So out of touch.
Bethany was thirty-five years old at the time and recently divorced from her husband of fourteen years. I would have spoken to her about it, but I didn’t feel comfortable, being that we never discussed or shared such personal things with one another before. Bethany lived in Winnetka. Her house was over ten thousand square feet, a pedantic fact that she never failed to mention.
“You look great,” Bethany complimented and broke the ice.
A vivid smile flashed across her face. Her hands were folded over one another and resting on her left thigh. Her posture was highly maintained and exempt from slouching. The car began moving, and as it cruised down Michigan Avenue, I froze. I didn’t respond as promptly as I had yearned to, and I was kicking myself for it. Instead, I just focused on adjusting my seat belt, but only to come off as preoccupied rather than rude.
“Are you not speaking to me too,” Bethany brashly asked.
Her facial expression briefly exposed a latency that she was apparently defensive of.
“I just don’t know what to say. I feel like I barely know you anymore. And not just you, but everyone.”
Bethany gradually graduated into a sympathetic state. It was as if she was at first drowning, then suddenly proved to be an experienced swimmer.
“That is exactly why I wanted to get everyone together.”
“Is Terrence coming,” I asked?
Terrence is our brother, and I only asked about him because his name was the first name to appear in my mind.
“Terrence will be joining us, along with his new fiancé, Sophia.”
I wasn’t aware at the time that Terrance was engaged to another woman, let alone divorced. It was all news to me.
“It’s his second divorce and third fiancé,” Bethany contemptibly mocked. “None of us have met her yet,” she said.
“Is he bringing his son’s,” I asked?
“Terrence said that he is bringing the boys with him. When we spoke over the phone, he didn’t want to hear the mention of their mother, Vanessa. And as far as Vanessa goes, I called to invite her but never got through. She must be embarrassed about everything that happened. The way that Terrence left her. I understand her being upset.”
I peered out of the window. “So, everyone is coming to Aspen and staying under the same roof for one week,” I reflected.
“Every last one of us is going to be there,” Bethany said.
“What about Denise,” I asked.
Bethany became disquiet at the mentioning of Denise. It was evident that she was fabricating a response in her mind. Instead of confronting her, I casually waited for her answer.
“Denise is staying behind a couple of days to participate in her Christmas play at her high school, but she will be joining us long before Christmas day.”
I couldn’t help but question Bethany’s frantic aggression towards me earlier.
“What did you mean earlier when you asked me if I weren’t talking to you,” I asked.
“What are you talking about? I never said anything like that…or at least I don’t remember,” Bethany denied.
Bethany's eyes grew big. She adjusted her hair with a quick and unnecessary swipe before extending her arm to caress my hand. She stared into my eyes, and the more I looked back into hers, the more I sensed that she was abusing her medications again. Like that of a convicted murderer, Bethany was discomposed. A murderer that was three seconds from hearing his lifelong sentence, denying the verdict that he was ever guilty in the first place.
“I am happy that you decided to show,” Bethany lastly said before turning away.
I gave her a polite smile and stared out of the near frosted window, and for the rest of the car ride, we both pretended to be immersed in our phones until we arrived at O’ Hare Airport. After braving the intense checkpoints, we boarded the plane, and shortly after our plane took flight from the runway Bethany and I fell asleep. We slept the entire flight and landed in Aspen at exactly three fifteen. We waited at the baggage claim for our youngest brother, Greg, to pick us up.
When Greg finally arrived at Aspen Pitkin County Airport, he was excited to see Bethany and me. He got out of his car and hugged us both. At that exact moment, I couldn’t help but feel guilty. I felt guilty because I never even attended one of his basketball games. I never once called him to discuss his dreams and his ambitions. I didn’t even know what he feared most in life or what his deepest secret was. Nor had I attempted to lecture and forewarn him of the uncertainties that lay hidden in the world, the difficulties that he could possibly be faced with one day.
Greg was nineteen years old at the time. Tall, athletic, and the star basketball player at Duke. He injured his knee during a basketball practice two weeks prior and was waiting to get cleared to play again by the doctors. I conjectured it to be a minor injury since he was walking without complication and unburdened with the company of a knee cast.
Greg had an aura of vivacity that instantly but temporarily eased my anxiety. Almost like when you gaze upon a garden and notice that the first flower has sprouted. Or upon notice that the winter season is coming to an end and advancing towards spring. Or the deep breath you take before comprehending that everything will end well in the height of affliction. Greg had grown taller since the last time that I had seen him, which was four years ago, but our distance from one another didn’t feel problematic, nor did it feel amassed, remaining in the moment sincerely sordid. Once Greg loaded our luggage into the trunk of his brand-new Ferrari, we hit the road and headed straight for Cabin Joyce.
During the drive that was granted without heavy traffic, I vigilantly watched Greg from the back seat. He was handsome and mature and had an impressive demeanor that was highly admirable for his age. If he were a flower, his scent would be boastful to the noses that inhaled within their lungs, his confidence. Greg was indubitably doing something with his life, and it was clear that he was delighted with contentment. I took a deep breath before committing to small talk.
“So, what made you want to drive from North Carolina to Aspen,” I asked from the back seat while Greg flowed through traffic like a scarf caught in a car door.
“His brand-new car,” Bethany teased.
Greg couldn’t help but chuckle. Why, if he were of different ethnicity, he would have blushed, for he was moons beyond bashful.
“Some of my friends helped with the drive. We were just so excited about driving a Ferrari that the twenty-seven-hour drive was nothing. And besides, some of the guys couldn’t afford to fly back home, so we just drove instead. It was quite relaxing; the scenery and all.”
After Greg spoke, the car went silent, and the only thing that you could hear was the tires passing over the thick layer of snow that fell the day before and the occasional clicks from the turning signal. I felt obligated to spark up another conversation with Greg. After all, I was his older sister, which warrants me solely responsible for our estranged relationship.
“Have you heard any news from the doctors,” I asked?
“Not yet. I don’t think my injury is as serious as the doctors have led it on to be. They just have to take every injury seriously. Because we are college students, they have to baby us. Still, I am positive that I will be cleared in time for finals,” he said while adjusting his rearview mirror.
As we rode a road that swiveled through the mountains, I turned my head just in time to feast on the breathtaking snow-covered mountains we were passing and was taught an instant lesson on humility. Not that I was a woman of arrogance. The tranquil beauty crippled me. I was convinced that I was being confronted by allurement, or better yet, bullied. I had forgotten how beautiful Aspen was in the wintertime. I was mesmerized at the blazing sun that graced the mountains and poured down into the valley field of white snow. The stunning scenery could’ve brought a tear to even the most dispassionate and incorrigible person on earth; you would have thought that I was floating and among the chosen to enter heaven. I was envious of the valley that splurged in unapologetic and voluntary solitude. I wanted to dive and dwindle in between the snow as if I were a juvenile again. I was close to hopping out of the car to make a snow angel and near clutching a snowball of sparkling snow. But who to throw it upon, whom to relish in rapture with. No one, I quickly snapped out of it, for my family and I was distant strangers, only connected by a bloodline. At that moment, I was reminded of my loneliness. It felt like my emotions had stepped out into the sunlight for the first time in decades. Could our family resurrect our bond and mirror the harmonious surroundings, I asked myself. Convincingly hopeful, I was.