How it felt to behold the snow-capped Rockies rising up out of the distance, far higher and far more jagged than you, a girl from the foothills of the Adirondacks, knew mountains could be.
How it felt to stand in the living room of a kind stranger who had offered you and your boyfriend shelter that first night, stars whirling in your eyes, the world going black, and wake on the floor a few minutes later with chipped teeth and a fierce headache.
“Altitude sickness,” said the kind stranger. “You took a divot out of the table on your way down.”
How to clean a hotel room. Bathroom first: a) sink, b) tub, c) toilet, d) mirror, e) floor. Mini-fridge: check for leftovers. Strip the bed. Remake the bed. Vacuum. Dust. Lock the door behind you.
How you laughed at the title of the job your boyfriend got at that lodge on the edge of town: Houseboy. How he used to lock himself and three oranges inside a room inside a room inside a room on his lunch hour to teach himself how to juggle. How good he got at it.
How every day around 1 p.m. thunderclouds gathered over the mountain and rain poured down for twenty minutes. The scrape of chairs and tables being hauled inside. The smell of wet cobblestone and pavement. The scrape of chairs and tables being hauled outside again. The rinsed smell of the air.
How it felt to hike up the mountain and ride the gondola down, as if you knew a secret none of the tourists who rode the gondola both ways knew.
How angry you felt the night the cops came to the apartment to arrest your friend for taking a single piece of ham and an orange from the kitchen of the restaurant where he worked.
How triumphant you felt when you dangled a piece of string in a stream high up in the mountains and watched in amazement as a trout impaled itself on the safety pin you had tied onto the end of that string.
How you used to stand by the side of the highway, thumb out, hitching a ride to the Safeway a couple of miles away. The feel of the tall grass brushing your bare legs. The dry smell of sage.
How the boys’ voices drifted back toward you near the summit of that one mountain. Headache, pounding heart, swimmy stars. Altitude sickness, said the kind stranger. How you jackknifed your body so that you could use your hands to climb the rest of the way, like a monkey.
How the girls with long hair and tie-dye skirts, flowers in their hands, danced for hours at that Dead concert that the three of you hitched to. Or took the Greyhound to. How you got up in the middle of the night, in darkness, to get there in time. How the sweet smell of pot drifted over the canyon.
How you got so good at flipping through the Welcome to Colorado magazines that were placed in each hotel room in order to find the Buy One Whopper Get One Free coupon near the back. How you carefully folded the page in quarters so as to tear out the coupon.
How it felt to come home after cleaning all those rooms, tired, and drag yourself up the double flight of stairs (Altitude sickness, said the kind stranger) and put your key in the lock.
How you used to mix a tall glass of lemonade and vodka and sit cross-legged on the balcony to watch the sun set. How you used to sit there and wonder, “Am I a grownup now?”