Stupidly Fast

by Kyle Beachy

There has been concern in this house, as I assume there is in others, about what happens when I am no longer able to skateboard. K’s concern is the understandable consequence of being around me when I had broken a toe and sulked about the house, or sprained a thing, or suffered this lingering groin injury, which I iced and heated and stretched but which—the fucking thing—would simply not abate. If this is me now, then what becomes of my life when it’s robbed of this practice I so rely upon? I can see her sometimes, looking at me on the floor on the foam roller, extrapolating her experience with my current, low-forties aches into the extended truth of late-life limitations. Will I go quietly? Will I heed my body’s cries, or will it require a shattered hip or ulna before I stop?

Earlier this year, my seventy-five-year-old father suffered a bad injury while skiing. That I was in the mountains with him but not, that afternoon, on the slope when he fell is one of my regrets. That I had the day before been with him and done what I do these days whenever I snowboard, which is go stupidly fast and carve long deep turns and more or less challenge whoever is with me to keep up, is another. I can remember the phone ringing and looking at the clock and thinking, Ah, yes, that will be ski patrol, calling about dad.

And it was. He had been collected and moved to a local hospital, where we found him. They wanted to airlift him to Denver but couldn’t because of a storm moving through the Rockies, so my mother rode in the ambulance with him, and I drove into the storm an hour or so later, after packing some clothes for what looked to be an extended stay. The drive was treacherous and the week that followed difficult and galvanizing. We met with nurses and doctors and huddled around monitors as a finger pointed out his one normal kidney for comparison, and then the gray shapeless mass on the other side. He went in and out of sleep, his mouth at times pulled into a rictus of pain and at other times hanging terribly slack.

On the second of his six nights in the ICU my father lay awake in his bed, riveted with pain. There was internal bleeding, there was leakage and a procedure to install a stent and a catheter. He slept better the following night, and when we talked the next day, he said that during that painful night he had discovered a way to tunnel back into memories of his father that he hadn’t realized were there. I had made it this long knowing more about my grandfather’s death than his life—he was a Mennonite preacher who was forced to take on extra work selling insurance after leaving his church due to a dispute over homosexual marriage (grandpa Neil was in favor), and was killed by a woman who, drunk, had decided to suicide by driving into oncoming traffic late at night in the middle of Ohio. My father was sixteen.

Anyway, in the pain of that night dad remembered a black snake that he’d killed with the twelve-gauge shotgun they kept in the barn. He saw images of himself chopping the head off a chicken and then entered into memories of himself and his siblings plucking the feathers. But where did they boil the chicken? Over a fire? On the stove? This memory had its limits. Before the insurance job, Neil Beachy drove a school bus during the week and delivered sermons on the weekend. Groceries were delivered from the main church each week, cans of food, supplies for the preacher and his family. My father remembered being a young man in Goshen, Indiana, with a paper route, waking up at five a.m. to fold the papers, tie them, and then tossing them (cliché-like) onto porches from his bike. His face lit up, talking to me this way. He recalled Neil driving him in the winters and helping with his route.

I have written these stories down here mostly to ensure that I’ll remember them. One memory I will not forget, I do not imagine, comes from the day of the procedure, following the night of pain. But before I share it, I realize that I have written of my parents’ divorce but have never described their remarriage after five years apart, their second wedding to each other, held in a small chapel in the Rockies. Second marriage? Not according to them. Anyway, so, yes—I attended my parents’ wedding. And, yes, my mother was there for him after the fall that obliterated a kidney and cracked several ribs. She was there once we left the hospital and I’d driven them back to their home in Missouri and left them and returned, finally, to my own home in Chicago. She was there on that most suffering of days before his procedure and after the night of his memories, when he was writhing and moaning, speaking in a strange and tortured voice. And the memory I will not forget is of my mother, Teresa Sophia Beachy, née Brown, herself born in Bristol, England, leaning over my father’s curled and shattered body as he cranes his neck to her and says, “Please don’t let me drown.”

It is strange, watching memories this way. One is tempted to try and slow their motion and study them like we study dog play, to see what we can learn. The way skateboarders will slow down tricks to understand the footwork required and thereby, sometimes, come to know what adjustments to make in our own. The way we turn back to those who have come and gone and left behind a visual record of how they were, which is another and maybe better way of saying who they were. But memories are different, of course. There can be no “slow-motion” memory because memory has no standard pace. How does a memory unfold? By what clock? No, in the realm of memory, time is an illusion—there is no more “now” to pinpoint in memory than a “here” to point out in a river. I do believe, though, that once a door into memory is opened it remains that way. It takes some work, but inside that door the performances are ongoing. The shows at our disposal are always running and we can see them whenever.

Excerpted from The Most Fun Thing: Dispatches from a Skateboard Life by Kyle Beachy. Copyright © 2021 by Kyle Beachy. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

Published on August 5, 2021