Big Girls Don't Fall
When we skated on frozen New England ponds, we looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting--no joke--with the horses and sleighs and muffs and skating skirts transmuted into silver sliding discs, 1980s Day-Glo snowpants, and those gloves that changed color with the temperature. Rental skates were always either too tight or too loose. They were tragically, obviously, not yours. But you were excited to at least get white ones, however scuffed. The alternative pair were the color of spoiled eggs, which meant a lackluster performance over the cracked and rippled ice.
Was it Look Park? Forest Park? Either way, the lake was huge and flat only in the middle, where boys had scraped smooth a rectangular area on which to play hockey. These weren't neighborhood boys, these were high schoolers with scholarships and double-blade racing skates. They were boys to be avoided for fear of notice and/or body checks that could send a ten-year-old to Mercy Hospital. So I'd break free from my little sister, a Weeble in wool and Gore-tex, tottering alongside my mother, and my Dad practicing his long, low strides in black skates he's had since college, and go exploring.
I'd scrape along the edge of the lake. Low, leafless branches reached desperately toward my feet, looking for spring. After a few minutes, I'd attempt a twirl in a secluded nook, careful no one could see in case I fell. That was my goal: not to fall. This was easy at first, in the cautious beginning, but after three successful twirls and a hitch twist into my backwards stride, I'd get heady, start picturing myself in a spangly leotard and a matching hair scrunchie panting through a smile as I rounded the rink into my final triple lutz. My parents and sister, on their feet behind the giant ice arena sneeze-guard, looked meaningfully at each other in between chants of support. I was gunning for World Champion and everybody knew I was going to do it. I'd be the American Dream, face on a box of Wheaties.
When you fall and your skull bounces on four inches of ice like four winters, you see black, then white before the Polaroid of your brain develops into a landscape of stars. It's a graceful fall, the Nike swoop of falls. In your whole head there's a cold pain, not a hot one like needles or scalds. Your father picks you up, and you say you're okay even though your head feels like a split melon. There's no blood, but you feel some phantom ooze warming the back of your neck, just where your scarf is wound tight. You cry, even though you're a big girl.