Knowing when a thing is done, when it can’t be revived, or reconfigured is a gift. It makes for definitive exits and avoids the lingering looks and feeble tries to resurrect something that is clearly dead.
I know this because my skating life is over.
I learned to skate when I was 5 at the fish hatchery in Hastings, Michigan. My brother, sister and I skated while my mother stayed in the car, the motor running to stay warm. She wasn’t smoking. She didn’t smoke then, only starting much later when I was a teenager. Still, she spent a fair amount of time as a spectator of fun rather than a participant.
When I was 12, I’d take my skates to a pond in the woods near our house and I would skate by myself, pretending to be Carol Hess. It surprises me now that I would have the nerve to go in the woods to a pond to skate by myself so I’m thinking that maybe there were other people there but I’ve just forgotten them. Whether they were there or not, they weren’t important. Being Carol Hess was important.
I took all my children skating at Brown Deer Park, an old lovely park in Milwaukee County where the park workers shoveled the snow from a small lagoon but left the ice rubble in place to slow traffic. The edge of the lagoon came nearly to the doors of the old warming house where there were benches and ice and wet socks on the floor. My winter daughter had birthday parties there, her friends crammed in our car in the days before seat belts and worry, their skates heaped on the floor, everyone flushed and breathless riding home.
I skated with my granddaughters, one in San Diego, on a beautiful rink downtown. It was Christmastime and the ice was smooth and lovely, and the other in Milwaukee at Red Arrow Park where the ice was regularly Zamboni’d. It was slick, fast. But I skated, holding one of my granddaughter’s hands while her grandfather held the other, and it felt almost like I was the one learning to skate, the ice feeling so risky. It made my stride small, careful.
I was never a great skater. I never skated fast and I couldn’t do tricks. On a good day, I could skate with commitment, cross over my skates, and skate backward. I could stop without running into a wall. I could turn. I could help other people get up. I was an older lady who had grown up knowing how to ice skate because that’s what everybody did. Skating was an essential skill like swimming and knowing how to ride a bike. As an adult, I never loved skating and I was never one of those beautiful older folks skating around the rink with a scarf flying out behind me, my hands clasped behind my back. I was just marginally competent like I am in most things. Or some things, I should say.
And then I fell.
I fell backward and fell completely with every part of my body hitting the ice including my head. I got up quickly enough, got my skates under me like I had so many times before because I hadn’t had a skating life devoid of falling. I knew how to get up. But getting up, I felt sick, wounded like I wanted to burst into tears. I was unnerved in the truest sense. I lost my nerve for skating in that one single moment.
“I’m not going to skate anymore,” I told my husband later.
“Of course you will. You’re just rattled. Why would you quit skating?” he replied.
But I did. I was done with skating. I don’t know if I feel bad about that or not. Does a person need to do the things she learned to do as a child forever? There will someday be the last time I ride a bike, the last day I swim in a lake. Are those things to be mourned? Or are they things that have just come to an end?
I ask the question. I don’t have the answer.
Written in response to a prompt from The Daily Post that asked “When was the last time you were ready to throw in the towel?”