"What's wrong?" said my brother.
"I think I might have told Tee Jay, that I would do the Birkie."
"You did. I heard you."
"Maybe he won't remember."
"He already mentioned it this morning."
This is just the kind of thing that happens to Millie Noe when she stays up after midnight and alcohol is involved.
And, if it is after midnight and Millie Noe is up, then, alcohol is involved.
Sometimes people are sent to rehab to save a liver or thrown into jail to make our roads safer. And sometimes a cab is called for that one, bad, drunk dancer, who nobody knows.
But nobody ever seems to come to the rescue of Millie Noe, to stop her from saying shit in French or in English, in the wee hours of the morning.
Probably because it is impossible.
"Why is the sun out?" I said to Pitter, as we started up the hill toward the chalet. "Is it a law that it has to shine when you feel like crap?"
"The sun isn't out."
Twelve of us left our mark and a wad of money in Minocqua recently.
We did our darnedest to keep this economy afloat.
There is nothing better than a bunch of siblings and friends on a ski weekend, to break up a Wisconsin winter.
And after that, we went back to the hotel to get some shut eye.
The next day was going to be a big day,
Shirlee was in her room. But then she stepped out for a cigarette and didn't return for three hours, according to her husband. That is because she ran into Sven who was in the hallway, and he was heading toward Pitter and Marguerite's room.
At the stroke of midnight, it was another brother's birthday. That would be TeeJay. And that is when my Jägermeister induced tongue, just started saying anything it felt like saying.
Specifically, "I'll do the Birkie with you."
I shivered and pulled my collar tight around my neck as Pitter and I were aimed for the door of the chalet at Winter Park, that cloudy, Saturday morning.
My ski career came back to me like a slow-motion movie.
Sven and I had registered for our first ski race when I was forty-six.
Forty-six might sound rather late for an athletic debut but hell, Sven was fifty-five.
I was never a frilly little thing growing up. I was born with a mustache and blossomed right into a tomboy. Put it this way, I had more testosterone than most of the boys in third grade.
But then everything changed when at eleven, I became a woman, about a week after we watched that freaking movie.
And that is when I figured out what I liked best about boys.
Jesus. I was just a kid trying to figure out how to wear a Kotex pad.
You see, I had always been the first female picked for kick ball by the self-proclaimed captains out there on the playground. I had run with the bulls down in the battlefield. And, I had broken loose from the pack with a football securely tucked under my arm and had carried it to the end zone.
Not to mention, I could whip just about everybody and their little brother at a friendly game of HORSE or PIG.
But I tossed all of this talent out the window when I discovered that boys liked girls who were soft and sweet and came with knockers.
They seemed to like the girls who did not kick their butts in soccer the most.
Now, I couldn't do much about my breast situation, because you get what you get. But I could certainly let a boy win once in a while.
So, I did.
Life went on.
I grew up. I found facial bleach for my cookie duster. I got married. I had kids. I got divorced. I found a bra at Kohl's that came with boobs already in it. I got married. I got old.
And then one day when I was forty-six, I was just minding my own business and I came down with a bad case of Birkie Fever.
That is also when I discovered that the tomboy who had once roomed within me, was still in there.
You have never heard of Birkie Fever?
Well, let me tell you.
It is a dreadful illness that takes over your life.
It all starts when somebody says, "I think you could do the Birkie."
And you say, "I could never ski that far. That is like, fifty-two K."
And they say, "You could do it."
And you say, "Not going to happen."
But at that point the seed has been planted.
And you start thinking, "Maybe I could could do it. How far can that be?"
"It's about thirty-two miles."
And before you wake up, you are signed up.
People with Birkie Fever, live on adrenaline, spinach and granola.
They are like peacocks with their feathers fanned, in the best shape of their lives, living CLEAN, and extremely happy.
My God, it is Tammy Faye Bakker and Clint Eastwood.
"Make my day."
Fortunately, Sven and I came down with our symptoms at the same time.
So, nobody was found by the coroner with a pillow over their face and without a pulse.
"Well, I don't know what happened to him, officer. He just quit breathing in the middle of the night."
I never had to say that. Millie and Sven were plagued with Birkie Fever, for nine straight years.
We biked, we hiked, and we skied. We ran, we swam, and we ate fruit. We walked and we talked, and we talked, and we walked.
And do you know what we talked about?
The American Birkebeiner.
During this era, I raced in two, twenty-three kilometer, Kortelopets and four, fifty-two kilometer, Birkebeiners.
Hang on a second.
My sister says, two Korties and four Birkies do not add up to nine. And she says that she doesn't remember me eating any granola or ever living clean.
"Are you calling me a liar, Louisa?"
"I am just sayin'."
Well, first of all, let me explain the mathematical situation.
Where I come from, two plus six can equal a lot of things, depending on the circumstances.
Math is not always about numbers you know.
You see, there was that one year that it rained and rained and there wasn't enough snow to hold an official race, other than for the elite skiers, who ski so fast that they were able to get to the finish line before all the snow was melted.
Then there was that God awful year that Sven and a certain ladder from hell, got into a big fight about whether he was going up or he was coming down. The ladder won the argument, leaving my sweet Sven in the hospital for three weeks, higher than a kite, with an ankle made of a thousand little pieces that a doctor had to put back together with a magnifying glass, tweezers, metal and a little bit of superglue. And then he sent him home.
And the worst year of all. That was the year that my father died.
Now, just because life sends shit your way, it does not mean that they call the Birkebeiner off.
But, with the examples I have given, you can see how numbers can get jumbled up and how two plus four can indeed, equal nine.
And as far as clean living?
It's all relative.
If you were to take a guy who weighed five hundred pounds and he lost two hundred pounds, you would think, "Holy balls, does Gordon ever look skinny."
Same thing if you were to compare Millie Noe in training and Millie Noe, not in training.
And I did try granola once.
No matter what, Sven and I came back from every single set back.
Because that is what Birkie Fever does to people.
There is not an antidote.
Unless of course, you have a race like that last race I had four years ago and you say, "I Fucking Quit!"
The elite skiers, the ones who get all the accolades, do the race in a little over two hours, neck in neck, with photo finishes.
Anybody can ski for two hours.
That sounds like a little party.
Try skiing for five hours and twelve minutes. That was my all time, best time.
Try skiing six and a half hours with the wrong wax and frozen fingers. That was my all time, worst time.
You are welcome.
Those pampered, star skiers, in their racing outfits, would never make it.
Try being pulled into a heated tent with real nice firemen who assure you that your mascara is not running, while one guy massages life back into your hands and says, "Maybe you should catch a ride to Hayward in the heated van."
And try being Millie Noe, who says, "No."
As I limped my way across the endless lake with my ski poles hanging at my sides, trying to get to that elusive finish line on the snow covered Main Street of Hayward, somebody was screaming, "I will never be on this fucking lake again, unless I am in a fucking boat!"
Whoever it was, she was screaming this so loud, that I couldn't even hear the beer offers from the nuts sitting out there in their lawn chairs.
I really do hope that voice was inside my head. Because it sounded just like mine.
And what about my sweet Sven?
He was so worried.
And those officials. Boy were they happy to see Millie Noe coming up that road.
It wasn't because Sven told them how wonderful I was. And, how I could do no wrong. And, that I am always right.
They wanted him out of there.
As we drove away from Hayward toward our rented cabin, I pulled the visor down, to look in the mirror to see if those nice firemen had been telling me the truth about my mascara.
And this is what I saw.
"What?" said Sven, slamming on the breaks.
"Look at me!"
"Jesus, I thought something was wrong."
You can only imagine that for someone like Millie Noe, someone who is used to always being very glamorous, that this look was quite a shock.
"I will never be on that fucking lake again, unless I am in a fucking boat!" I yelled as we drove past the lake.
This time the voice was NOT inside my head.
And so, the fever was broken.
Life went on.
And four years later, that devil in that green bottle took my tongue and made it say, "TeeJay. Je t'adore. I will ski le Birekenemente avec vous."
And he said, "What?"
And then I said, "I will ski the Birkie with you."
"And where in the hell are my sunglasses?"
"You have them on."