by Lauri Fraser
You know those friends that come into your life and you hang out allot and then suddenly you don’t see them anymore, but they leave an impression that stays with you for life? Well that was Neal. Neal was my mountain bike and ski buddy. He could see the easy in everything and what’s more, he inspired me to see it too. “Come on”, he’d say, “That’s not hard. Maybe for them, but not for us. You can do it. I know you can.” He would take away my fear and replaced it with excitement .He earned his living as a fashion photographer who photos had graced the pages of Vogue and Bizarre magazine. He loved being a photographer but in recent years had trouble finding work. He was a cool but sloppy dresser. He’d wear an expensive trendy shirt but there’d be a stain on it. Oh, he put it on clean. He’d just stain it early on in the evening. Neal was a dipper rather than a spiller. He dipped while he talked and you could almost bet when that salsa was going to fall off the chip...... and hit the front of his shirt. “Ooops…cool shirt, huh?”He talked like a surf dude, but he surfed, so I guess that made it authentic. I met Neal, along with Tad and Liz, two of his closest friends up in Big Bear, and we became fast friends for a short time, but I had sort of lost touch with Neal, Cut to 10 years later. I get a call from Sydney, Neal’s father. “Hi Lauri? It’s Sydney,” “Hi Sydney” “I’ve got some bad news,. Sad news I’m afraid. Neal died.” “Neal died!? He wasn’t even 50, How did he die?” “Apparently he took too much of his medication and died. He had Turrets Syndrome you know,” I hadn’t known that. He had a twitch every now and then but he never said anything about it and I never asked. “He was a troubled young man.”Now there may have been more to the picture, but that was all that Sydney wanted to say, and out of respect to the both of them I kept my mouth quiet. I didn’t know anyone who knew Neal except for Tad and Liz. I barely knew his wife, Nikki aside from the fact that she loved that I went skiing and mountain biking with Neal, because that meant that she, didn’t have to.
I went to the funeral. It was raining that day. I stood under a black tarp barely fitting 20 people under black umbrellas. Where were all Neal’s friends? Surely he had more than this? Where were Tad and Liz? They were about to put him into the ground and no one said anything. Finally his brother said “On the count of three lets all say good-bye to Neal.” What? I caught the Rabbis eye and waved my hand. The Rabbi asked if anyone had anything to say. I blurted out words I can’t even remember. Something about Neal being an incredible athlete and teaching me how to ski better and that he was my friend. Then they tossed some dirt on him, and I noticed a white bird. It flew out of nowhere and circled the tarp above Sydney’s head, slowly, and then flew away. It was Neal. It had to be. A bird in the rain? I left and went back to work, but I never really got closure. Two years later I was skiing in Utah with my cousin. I had just got a new pair of skis, and was chomping to the bit to put them to the test, and for that reason Neal was on my mind. It was a pristine ski day. I hadn’t bought skis since Neal and I had gone to Demo Week at Mammoth Mountain the first year we'd met. I would never have bought them if it wasn’t for him saying. “Cool skis. (in that surfer dude voice) You should get those.”. So I did. I trusted Neal. I don’t know why. He Tad and Liz were much better skiers than I. Especially Liz. She was something to watch, Her upper body never moved no matter how steep or bumpy the run was. I looked like an out of control cartoon trying to follow her. We’d get up there on some steep hill and Neal would ski down a ways and then turn up and yell to me “You can do it. Just keep your weight on the down hill ski. You can do it.” And I would. I’d ski down what ever run he told me I could do. Then I’d get to the bottom and he’d say “Fuuuuck. I can’t believe you made it down that. That was pretty cool.” He had a sense of humor about it, but he infuse this confidence in me that was transforming, if only for the moment. He got me safely out of my comfort zone. Weather he was skiing, surfing, playing tennis or mountain biking, he was an inspiration to watch. His body never hit the ground.
My cousin and I like to ski different terrain, so we took our cell phones so that we could call each other when we were through. I took my work cell phone as well, being the good self-employed business woman that I am. I put a phone in each of the chest pockets of my fleece sweatshirt, and proceeded to put my new skis to the test. When my legs felt like noodles, I phoned my cousin to let her know that I was coming in. I was exhausted. I got on the chairlift and 1/2 way up I noticed that one of the cell phones was missing. Oh no! It must have popped out of my pocket on that last run. I got off the chairlift to look for it but to no avail. “I can’t believe that I have to go down this thing again!” I used the phone I had to call the other cell phone. Ya never know. Maybe someone found it. Nothing. I skied off the lift and noticed a girl next to the large map of the mountain with the word HOST on her jacket. I asked her where the trails merged and told her that I had lost my cell phone. She looked down at my skis and said “Wow. Cool skis. I’ll bet you love those.” I got a funny feeling. She said “I’ll come and help you find your phone.”: “:Oh you don’t have to do that, but thanks. She looked oddly familiar. What’s your name?”
“Liz”. I thought to myself,,,,,No….”You don’t have a boyfriend named Tad do you?” “No” Her look matched my thought. “why”. “Oh I used to know someone a long time ago. I used to ski with them. Tad and Liz.” “Tad is my husband.” “Liz?” She’s looking at me. “It’s Lauri. From Neal and Lauri?” “Oh my God. Where’s Neal? We have been trying to reach him for a couple of years. His numbers have all been disconnected and we couldn’t find his last name anywhere in the phone book.” I got really close to her and I said” Neals Dead. And then I told her about the funeral and how I never got closure, and how I didn’t know anyone who knew Neal except for her and Tad, and where were they and then I said I think I wanna hug you. Then we hugged and cried and hugged and cried some more and then my cell phone rang. I answered it and it was a guy saying that he had found my phone. “I’m at the bottom of Wasach express.” “We’ll be right there!” I hung up and looked at Liz and suddenly I felt the same way I did when the white bird flew over Sydneys head at Neals funeral. She said” Let’s go get your cell phone and let’s ski this run for Neal" I looked up at the sky and yelled “This one’s for you Neal!” I followed Liz( which was no easy feat and when we got to the bottom she asked me if I wanted to go again., I said yes and we skied another one and I skied right behind her and passed her on the right and when we stopped she said “Neal would be really proud of the way you ski now.” I got a wiggle in my heart. You know, she said, I’ve been working here for the past 17 years and I’ve never offered to help anyone look for anything. We exchanged numbers and when I got inside the house I realized that all the soreness of my legs had gone. I could have skied for another four hours! I phoned Sydney to tell him what had happened. “Hello?” “Hi Sydney?” “Yes” “it’s Lauri.” “Who?” “Lauri Fraser.” “Lauri Fraaaaaser. I’m so glad to hear from you. I’m ninety-two ya know.” I told him what had happened. “Sydney are you there?” Oh. No I’ve killed Sydney!. “Yes..I’m here. I was just looking at some pictures on the wall. Pictures of Neal. One of him skiing. One of him surfing. One of his fashion cover pictures. I’ve had these on my wall, but I haven’t looked at them for a long time. I got sad. “Oh Sydney, I didn’t mean to make you feel sad.
“On No It’s a good thing. At ninety-two it’s a good thing to feel anything!
Thanks for calling Lauri. Good bye.”
I never realized until that moment just how lucky I am to have a guy like Neal, cross my path. I used to feel scared when I thought about or attempted to do certain things. But now I just think about Neal and I picture him up on the side of the slope looking up at me and saying “You can do it. I know you can” It doesn’t take much, cuz a little bit of Neal…… goes a long way.