“Speeding, ‘cause it feels good.”
For the first full week of January and the new year I have moved passed writing a round-up of my 2014 goals and achievements. This is a different post entirely, but let me start here.
I took on a lot of firsts in 2014 and a lot of things I’d always wanted to do and try: started a blog, began writing on a consistent basis (facing rejection and learning I could survive its many forms), walking around the outside edge of Toronto’s CN Tower, and making the leap of starting something for myself and my future with a travel website.
I wouldn’t be able to call skating one of those firsts, but it has been on my bucket list for many years now. Before 2014 would end I would be back on that ice, for the first time in more than twenty years.
Out in our back yard (which seemed huge enough to me already), over the fence, through the field, and then we were there.
During the winters, when the snow covered the ground, we would all walk back and back, my younger brother often pulled on a sled, until we arrived at the frozen pond: our frozen pond.
It was our family’s own private skating rink. I have only vague memories of it now, not so clear yet never totally forgotten.
There was the box, on the sled, my baby brother would sit in beside the ice. He hadn’t learned how to skate, but there was always his boots. I marvelled at the fact that this surface was so hard and thick, that we were able to skate over it, water beneath our feet. This all seemed magical to a five-year-old, but first the built-up layer of snow had to be shovelled off and this seemed to take forever, when all I wanted to do was skate.
I probably remember more the lengthy bit of tape devoted to one of these family skates in particular we have captured on record on our home movies.
Okay, so every time we’d watch, my brother and I would fast-forward past this part. It was long and all we could really make out were shrieks and calls of our siblings and the friends skating that day. I was there, sure, but I could never spot myself on the screen, having less sight than I did as a younger child.
I think I was skating, but all I could hear was the scraping sound of the skates on the pond’s icy surface…oh, and my baby brother, at the time, screaming and crying in his buggy. I could detect, even as I fast-forwarded, the dimness on screen, as we continued to skate and the evening grew darker. We had to stop and walk back home then.
I don’t remember my first time on skates, but I think I became pretty practiced at it and it was something I enjoyed as a child, for the first ten or so years of my life.
We used to go to family skates and I would go with school. I would race around the rink, holding onto someone mostly, with the music playing through the speakers. I must have grown quite comfortable with the motion and the movement.
Then one day, something happened that would be the beginning of the end of my love of skating.
My braille teacher came with my class and I for one of those class skating trips. She offered to skate with me and off we went, me holding onto her and then suddenly, down she went …
I remember the ambulance arriving and picking her up off the ice, whisking her away to the hospital. Visiting her there, her and her broken ankle.
“They were skating and Mrs. M fell,” the other girls in my class repeated. “Kerry was skating with Mrs. M and she fell and broke something. She hurt herself. Kerry pulled her down.”
Just girls being girls. I don’t recall for sure if they blamed me directly, or if it had been simply an accusatory tone I heard in their voices. We were eight after all, but I heard them talking there, off the ice, in the stands, as we waited to return to school.
I felt guilty for what happened and I felt responsible. Had I done this terrible thing? It was an accident, wasn’t it? No matter how many people assured me, then and since that time that I had nothing to do with it, something about it stuck with me all these years.
Over time it became less and less about family skates and more about hockey games, our family time at the arena. My brother played for a few years and my younger brother (who never really got the opportunity to skate) and I would spend most of our time in the warm room with the concession stand, eating pop corn and drinking slushies.
I would get sick with kidney failure soon after that and was in no real state for skating.
I still remember the fun of skating and, although not much of a lover of hockey, I would occasionally turn to a game being played on TV and listen to those familiar scraping sounds of the players skating madly around the rink.
My father played hockey. I am Canadian and hockey, to most Canadians, is a pretty big deal. I see the cultural pride and feel my share, somewhere deep down.
For a long time I used to watch figure skating on TV, imagining I’d stuck with skating and had become a figure skater like those leaping and twirling athletes I would watch. Figure skating was one of the sports I was able to see clearly enough on television. I would stare hard at the figure skaters, spinning and zooming around, imagining how much fun it must be.
For twenty or more years I have wanted to try it again, to step out on that ice, but never made it happen. Then, I got a new pair of skates for Christmas and it seemed like a good family activity for us all, now that my niece is starting to learn.
I wondered if I could even stand up on skates now. A lot of time has passed and I am no longer that nimble kid. I have terrible balance and my ankles often turn over on the smallest unevenness in the sidewalk. Could I skate anymore? Would I fall on my butt immediately? Would I even be able to move, even a little? I had to find out.
Last year I was starting to seek out those things I wondered if I could do, just to find out for certain. I had been looking for thrills and wanting to try new things, or at least newish. Twenty years seemed like a lifetime ago. What did I have to lose?
I jumped at my first chance, when my uncle offered, to come to a private party skate. Perfect. The rink wouldn’t be packed like during a public skate. I could get my bearings and there wouldn’t be as many people there to see me fall.
I loved the security of the way the skate felt as it was tightened and the laces pulled, fitting snugly around my ankles. the skates seemed to keep my rolling ankles in check and held firmly in place. I stood up and began, one foot in front of the other, to walk in my new skates from the change rooms to the ice. I was surprised at how easy it was to walk on skates.
I loved it immediately. The memories came bak to me as I felt the cool air on my face and saw the bright white of the ice. I always liked that I could see dark shapes of people against the glaringly bright background.
I held on for dear life to the edge of the boards as I took my first steps onto the ice in more than twenty years. I loved to smell the fresh coolness of the rink, that smell I always loved and never forgot.
I had no immediate plans of letting go of the side, but right away I felt something familiar as I began to get the feel of the ice again. I followed the side along, relearning how to move and propel myself forward on these seemingly thin blades. I listened to the scraping noises of the other skaters and I suddenly had the urge to release my hold by the open door and go go go.
I held onto the boards, onto my sister, onto my father. He and I began to skate, him taking my hands and then he was skating backwards. The first fall of the night. He and I were talking and he did not notice the hockey net sitting there on the ice. He backed into it and we both fell. I landed on my knees, getting slightly entangled in his legs. He took the brunt of the fall, but something flashed me back to being eight years old and my poor teacher going down.
My father stood up painfully, my sister rushed over, and the both of them helped me up. I clung to the boards once more, feeling nauseated and dizzy. I knew he was okay and hadn’t broken anything, that once more I hadn’t been responsible for anything, but I was immediately brought back to the past and I felt as close to a panic attack as I’ve ever felt.
Finally I could move again and I began to slowly make my way around by holding onto the side. The skate was almost over and I took my chance, just in case we did not return with the rest of the family the next day. I let go and moved a little distance from the side, but still close enough that I could grab on if I needed to. I had to learn how to move my feet, how fast to go and how to slow myself down and stop. I tried to learn how to keep my balance and how to distribute my body weight.
I moved a little and then I went down, hard, on my behind. This was okay. It was painful, but I was proud that I had taken the chance. Maybe skating with another person would be a good idea, for a while still, but I continued to yearn for the freedom of skating, fast and with confidence, all by myself.
So you might fall, I told myself. So what. Life is like that. You can go through it, never letting go of the safety of the side, or you can let go and see what happens.
Even with the falls and the flashbacks I felt a high as we left the rink and headed for home. I felt strangely exhilarated. I had felt a familiar feeling of comfort. I had felt at home, like an old memory. Muscle memory of some kind. It came back to me, like when you learn something from such an early age. It always stays with you and helps you as you grow older. I felt, even with the ever-present risk of falling, that I was home again.
It seemed, this time, like a much longer and farther distance to fall than as a child. If nothing is risked nothing is gained, I told myself to push this thought out of my head. I never wanted to leave that rink.
We returned the next day and this time I had my older brother too. I felt a certain certainty in skating with both my father and my brother. They were both tall and sturdy. They had a comfort on skates that I could feel the moment I held onto them and we began to round the rink, the side feet away and me loving the feeling.
I noticed how good it felt to work up the sweat, under my thick winter coat, the rink not even feeling cold anymore. It was a good natural high of moving forward on the ice. I wanted to speed around and around the ice, like everyone else there. I wanted to skate and skate and never stop skating. If I slowed down I wanted to keep moving again.
I was actually glad I had fallen. The next day I did not fall once. I took the risk of broken bones because I felt a sense of rightness and like I was somewhere I belonged and where had I been all this time?
It’s hard to feel comfortable and really go for it when I am at a public skate, with people whizzing by all the time. I think back to our private pond now and wish I were back there, on a silent snowy night.
I want to be able to skate and to practice and get better. It feels like the most natural thing in the world to me, childhood traumas notwithstanding. I am home. Skating is ingrained in my memory, part of my past, and hopefully, my future.
I want to make skating a yearly family tradition around the holidays, something we can do together. A totally Canadian pastime for all of us to enjoy. I can and always have handled falling down, as long as I have them there when I get back up.