There are two things I vowed to do before turning 40 — learn how to drive stick and be able to skate half decently on hockey skates. Because, let’s face it, what kind of a Canadian lesbian would I be otherwise?
There are still no takers brave enough to teach me my way around a clutch and gearbox. An ex-lover tried once. She was English and therefore born downshifting. By the end of half an hour with me in the driver’s seat, however, she had acquired a “crashing headache” and relegated me to shotgun.
But hockey — that’s something I figured I could tackle on my own. After all, I knew how to skate. I once was quite a proficient little skater on a pair of picks… when Charlie’s Angels was popular. The original series, not the films. Okay, so it had been a while. But how hard could it be?
Armed with a brand-new pair of hockey skates, I set out down the street to my local rink in Greenwood Park. It was a perfect night, not too cold, with a light snowfall kissing my cheeks. For a second, I almost believed I was a kid again, skates slung over my shoulder, excited at the prospect of whipping around the rink, spraying up a rooster tail of snow on a perfectly executed left-bladed stop. Cool.
Hockey skates are not figure skates. I learned this the hard way as a teenager, and haven’t forgot the sting of embarrassment from discovering the mechanical difference a pair of picks can make to a person’s balance. And when that person is a 16-year-old baby dyke out to impress her gym teacher at hockey try-outs… well, enough said. I stepped out on the ice and fell flat on my ass. Then continued to flail and fall and flail until the object of my affection gently suggested that perhaps the hockey team was not my cup of tea. I tucked tail and never put on a pair of skates again — until now.
Gingerly, I stepped out onto the ice, mindful that the blades were shorter and that tipping forward could result in a broken nose. God, I missed those picks. But I managed to skate, which is to say I was technically gliding awkwardly across the ice. But this wasn’t what I had in mind. I was too afraid to swivel and skate backward, crosscuts were out of the question and as for rooster tails, the closest I came was a spectacular near wipeout narrowly averted by clinging to the boards and nearly wrenching my arm out of its socket. Not exactly the exhilarating thrill of hot steel crunching through cold ice that I remembered from childhood.
On the walk home I nursed a bruised elbow and an all-over sense of, “Bummer. When did I get so old?” Then I predictably stowed the skates in the closet where all unloved equipment winds up and tried to forget the whole damned thing.
But I couldn’t. Shortly after Christmas, when the weather was so mild and everyone seemed to be heading to the rink, I decided to try again. This time, I wasn’t ashamed of picks. With a brand-new pair of figure skates slung over my shoulder, I set out for the rink on another perfect softly snowing night. When I stepped out on the ice, there was a twinge of familiarity, and just a tiny whiff of confidence. I dug in and took a few tentative strides.
Nice. I wasn’t even wobbly. The newly sharpened girly blades were doing the trick, supporting my so-close-to-40-there’s-no-point-in-pretending-anymore body. I relaxed. I bent my knees. I gathered speed. It was all coming back to me. I even managed cross-cuts and turning around mid-glide to skate backward. And yes, when I powered down the rink at almost full-throttle and dug in to the left, that satisfying scraping sound could only mean — a rooster tail. Cool. I loosened up and started to skate as fast as I could, recapturing, for a moment, the thrill of going like mad just for the hell of it. Then I tripped on my own pick.
As a kid, you don’t fear falling. You just fall, laugh your head off and get back up again. At 40, when you take a header, visions of snapped wrists are overwhelming, even when you are still mid-air. Fortunately I came crashing down on my gut and did a belly slide for a good 10 feet before coming to a kneeling stop, bewildered, winded, but no worse for wear.
“Hey, who needs a Zamboni with you here?” Charming. But I laughed, because her eyes were smiling and she was really cute: another 40ish dyke out taking a turn on blades. Hockey skates, I couldn’t help but notice.
“There’s women’s shinny here every Wednesday night,” she said. Then she was off, in a graceful arc of snow and ice.
I just bet she drove to the rink in a standard.