When I was about 4 years old, I started figure skating. Looking like a calf attempting its first steps, my ankles bent at dangerous angles, ready to snap at any second. I was not the picture of natural talent.
One day, my father took me to the rink for a practice session. Hesitant and wobbly, I meandered on to the ice with the intent focus of staying upright. He stood at the boards, smoking his Winston cigarettes and drinking coffee, with a smile and a wave each slow pass around. Steadily I gained more confidence with each lap, knowing my father was right there watching. I wanted to impress him and make him proud. As my confidence swelled, the Earth shifted slightly on its axis (or maybe it was gravity), and I was suddenly face first on the cold, unforgiving ice. I watched the frozen surface turn from milky white to blood-red. My nose smashed, a mix of blood, snot and tears flowed into my mouth as I screamed. The door flew open and there he was. For a fleeting moment, I saw my always cool dad white-faced and equally terrified. After a quick triage, he immediately began the process of calming me the fuck down. Soothing consolations like, “Marie, will you stop goddamn screaming?? Jesus Christ! It’s just blood! You’re not dying.” were most likely uttered into my tiny, frightened face. This very public meltdown prompted me to be carried out of the rink, skates still on, and taken home.
When we got home, my father called my mom at work to tell her what happened. Hanging up the phone, he looked at me grimly. He told me we were going back to the rink to finish my practice. Horrified, I screamed even more as I was packed into to the car. When we got there, he promptly picked me up and put me on the ice, me clutching his neck, pleading to let me back on solid ground. I remember his eyes full of pain while he told me I could do it. I hated him with every fiber of my being and he knew it. But, there was no arguing with my father. I had to do it. Clutching the boards for my life, he walked slooooooowly around the rink with me each minuscule step I took. Jokes were made while I set my jaw and forged ahead. He told me I was great, I was making amazing progress! He was the best liar and hype man a girl could ask for. The practice ended and I scurried off the ice unscathed, just as promised.
I stayed on the ice for 10 more years. I traveled the country, competing on teams that won national titles. I also lost many, many competitions. My experiences were both amazing and heartbreaking. Looking back, my smashed nose was probably the mildest injury I endured throughout that time.
My father taught me a lot in 21 years. He taught me to never give up, never take anyone’s bullshit, never let your gas tank go below a quarter tank (sorry dad), always carry gum, candy, or mints, making people laugh is the absolute best feeling in the world, girls can do anything boys can do, to be tough, but always be kind.
May 18th, 2016 marked the 15th year I haven’t been able to pick up the phone and call my dad (he hated the phone), listen to his never-ending dad jokes, laugh hysterically at said dad jokes, argue with him about dumb things, or give him a hug and kiss. He never got to see me graduate college, start my first real job, buy a house, get married, get divorced, lose my house, watch me fall apart then pick myself up again, find myself, start writing, become a comic, fall in love again, and everything in between. While I’ve missed him every wobbly, unsure step of the way, I’ve realized he’s still walking the rink with me, telling me he’s proud of me and to never stop trying.