On Friday afternoon, I drove with my friends to Cable, Wisconsin for the American Birkebeiner, an international cross-country ski race. One of my friends was racing the Birkie for the first time on Saturday, so we were all accompanying him for emotional support and what we hoped would be a nice 8th week vacation. We were planning to get in around 6 so he could go to bed early and rest well before the race. Spoiler alert: He didn’t.
Gasoline, kerosene, sometimes the world is up in flames.
When we arrived Friday night, the plumbing in our cabin didn’t work. Yikes! Over the next three hours the owner of the cabin came in and out trying to get it fixed, calling the previous owner, an emergency plumbing service, and even his mother, all while my friend was waxing his skis in the living room and we were going through our schedule for Saturday. Once when the owner was out, my friend showed us a TikTok video. It was a parody of the “Veronica Open the Door” song as if done by Mort and King Julian from Madagascar. That should be enough to explain why we collapsed onto the couch in fits of laughter until the owner came back. For the rest of the trip, at random moments we’d fiercely whisper “King Julian, King Julian, open the door please!” in each other’s ears whenever things got a little too intense.
When it was clear the plumbing wouldn’t be fixed that night, the owner sent us to stay the night in his mom Darlene’s living room. We were finally settled in and asleep, when around 2am one of my friends vomited in poor Darlene’s bathroom. Also at 2am, our skier hadn’t slept a wink, and we realized we were four queer people sleeping in a complete stranger’s house in the-middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin. Perhaps as a coping mechanism, we found this situation profoundly hilarious and spent the next 10 minutes muffling our laughter into our pillows so as not to wake Darlene up (throwback to the giggles article from November).
Birds eye view is always true. The ground is far away.
Three and a half hours later, my friend had vomited again and found out they’d gotten a stomach virus from their housemates, and our skier had managed to sleep not a single minute the entire night before his race. So Birkie day was off to a great start!
While our skier was slogging through his 50 kilometers, the rest of us spent most of the day in the car, calling the cabin owner’s friend Donna to make arrangements for that night and helping our sick friend vomit and stay hydrated. By the time we picked our skier up at the finish line, both of them were just about dead, and my roommate and I (usually the immature ones of the group) were left in charge. Our genius solution was to take off our skier’s shoes and try to stretch him in the back seat of the car before we left. He ended up putting them back on and stretching by himself, and that was about the extent of our effectiveness as caregivers.
On the way home, though, he fell asleep with his head in my lap, and I ran my fingers through his hair, watching the snow-covered trees pass by outside.
When signals cross, don’t get lost, you’ll see with your own eyes.
We did manage to haul everyone to Donna’s place, a wintry getaway in the north pole complete with Christmas lights, a tree, and figurines of ducks wearing Packers jerseys and green and yellow Santa hats. Compared to the hell we’d been through, it was a perfectly satisfactory purgatory. We ate, watched Spongebob, got our ears talked off by Donna, slept, and those of us who hadn’t thrown up yet managed to continue not doing so.
Yesterday, back safe and sound and thankfully not sick at Lawrence, I found a video on my phone of that first drive. Before we knew about the plumbing, before we knew about the stomach bug. Before the lack of sleep, and before Darlene and Donna and the Christmas paraphernalia. It was during sunset on Friday, and we were passing from the snow-covered woods to a tiny town on a frozen lake. A silly pop song was playing, my roommate was cracking jokes, our skier was wearing his dad sunglasses, and my other friend had this cute grin on their face right before they burst into laughter.
In spite of everything that happened to ruin it for us, I get chills thinking about this weekend. I get chills, and I smile, because I spent it with them.
Hold onto me with both hands, you can close your eyes again. And I’ll stay with you tonight.