Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate |

Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Well, 2009 has gotten off with a bang so far. I mean, it’s only been a week and let me tell you these last seven days have totally been the bomb.

Let’s face it: I have some serious momentum going in. I spend the month of November gallivanting around Brazil and Costa Rica. On the way home I do a two-day stint in Miami, where I find myself in the company of strippers and pimps and gangsters, after which I’m considering taking pole-dancing classes down in Glenwood or maybe checking myself into the witness protection program.

I’ve also come down with some strain of the E-coli virus, which turns out to be the perfect thing to jump-start my weight loss program just in time for the holiday party circuit.

So I buy a pair of tight jeans and rally up to Jackson Hole, where the real changes that would catapult me into the new year are about to take place.

It turns out my little knack for creativity allows me to paint all kinds of fantasies, especially when it comes to men. These empty, blank slates do not even come close to living up to what they’re supposed to be, at least according to the broad, colorful strokes I paint them with in my mind.

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At yoga teacher training we had this saying, “fake it ’til you make it,” just because the demands of the nine-week program were essentially unobtainable. That was the whole point, really. As paradoxical as it might seem, this particular school of yoga employs a boot camp mentality that breaks you down and builds you back up again.

Our instructors compared it to peeling back the layers of an onion, shedding the stench of your true self until tears roll down your cheeks and your nose is clogged with snot, face bright red with the humiliation and pain of it all. There’s something humanizing about watching 300 people react in precisely the same way.

It makes you realize your fragile little ego doesn’t matter as much as you thought it did. The point is, the only way to get through it was to pretend you could. Until one day, you start to believe in your own performance.

That comes in handy when, one morning I find myself in bed with a friend I’d known and loved for more than 10 years.

“How do you feel?” he wants to know, propping himself up on one elbow to look at me.

“Horny, I guess,” I say, staring up at the ceiling.

“But, I mean, what do you think about this? Is it going to change our dynamic?”

No, not at all, I say. I tell him if anything, it made me realize I’m not in love with him at all.

“So now you don’t like me?” he says, laughing. But I can see his blue eyes fade just a little, like the dimmer on a light switch as his power over me wanes.

Then comes Christmas, when my father announces my parents will not be making the trip to Aspen to be with me this year.

“Forget it! No way,” he says. “You’re nuts if you think I’m driving all the way over there in a goddamned blizzard!”

I throw a tantrum. He throws his arms up in the air and goes, “I don’t get it! It’s not even our holiday!”

But the idea of being alone over the holidays seems to magnify everything that’s wrong with my life. I’m alone, without a family of my own, without any semblance of tradition. I feel pathetic.

On the drive home from Steamboat I’m singing so loud to the radio my throat hurts and I finally get it. I have to prove to myself I can be alone. I have to let go of this idea about what this holiday (that my family doesn’t even celebrate) is supposed to be.

So I hike Highland Bowl in a blizzard on Christmas Day with Catherine. We brace ourselves against ice-cold winds on the ridge and slog through snowdrifts up to our knees. We’re the only ones at the top, but it’s fittingly peaceful despite our frozen fingers, cheeks and toes. It’s like our little secret, our private powder stash, our whoops muffled as we float through the bottomless G-Zones.

By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, I start to believe I don’t care. My plan is to go skiing, tie on a fat buzz at the Sky, come home early, pop a Xanax and finally put these stupid holidays behind me.

But somehow it’s the expectation of having no expectations that sets me up for one of life’s sweet little (or should I say big?) surprises.

I pile into the gondola with a couple of conservative-looking middle-aged dudes. One of them promptly busts out a one-hitter and goes, “Hope you girls don’t mind, you just boarded the smoking car!” After getting completely blitzed I chase my two best girls around the mountain, reeling from the endorphins that can only come from that burn in your quads and that sting in your lungs. I feel silly and loose and my mind is as empty as that canvas, except this time I choose to keep it blank.

We take a couple runs, enough to get the wind in our faces and a glow in our cheeks and to justify the right to start drinking. I walk into the Sky, and for the first time ever, I don’t look for people I know. The background suddenly shifts into the foreground and there he is, standing there looking at me like he’s been waiting for me all along.

All of a sudden the room erupts into cheer. It turns out we’ve stumbled into the only bar in town that hasn’t been evacuated. Ironic considering it’s at that very spot where a very real bomb is about to go off as the sparks fly between us.

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