Skate-a-thon

The summer I was ten, my picture appeared in the Review Journal, Las Vegas’ only real newspaper.

Of all the figure skaters at the Ice Palace, I was chosen to pose in front of a popular local anchorman, his hands on my shoulders. But I was the focus of that picture, featured in a story about the first-ever upcoming Skate-a-thon, in which I would be skating and performing a solo!

I collected two pages worth of pledges to raise money to help children with Muscular Dystrophy. The music I’d chosen for my number, Georgy Girl, was in honor of my father, George. Sports was the language of love with him. He shared hours at a time with my two older brothers, watching football and baseball on TV, and attending their hockey games. Between their hockey and my figure skating, we grew up at the Ice Palace. We knew all the parents of all the other kids who skated, as well as the owners, the Carlow’s.

I wore a dress that I’d designed, sewn by my instructor’s mother. It was my favorite color, burgundy, with cap sleeves, and a faux bodice over a white underlay. I got the idea from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean characters from the Disneyland ride.

The event began at 7am, and the rink was packed. The Zamboni came out every three hours at first, but the later it got, the less people returned to the resurfaced ice. I skated through the day and night, fueled by pride, adrenaline, and  concession stand hot dogs.

Finally, it was time. The opening notes of an all-instrumental version of Georgy Girl came over the loud speaker, and I played to the people who would one day fill the highest balcony seats, once I made it to the Olympics. For two and a half minutes, all eyes were on me, spinning, leaping, soaring. I was the most important person in the world.

My mother, who had been there for the first several hours, returned just before midnight to watch me perform. Though she’d pleaded with my father, who worked nights, to change his schedule, he wasn’t with her.

She gave me a big hug when I finished, and said she needed to get some sleep, but would be back at 7am. There were still a number of familiar faces there, including Mrs. Carlow, so she knew it was safe to leave me.

Each passing hour grew longer, my legs heavier, my eyes more tired. There were now few enough people on the ice that I could count them all. Much as I hated to cover my amazing dress, I was getting cold, and got my burgundy warmup jacket out of my locker, wishing I’d brought the matching pants as well. I was paying attention to the clock more and more, wishing 7am would come already.

At 5am, my father surprised me by showing up. I was so happy that he wanted to witness me skate into the final, twenty-fourth hour. What was more surprising was that my brothers were right behind him. Since when did they want to watch me do anything?

As I skated closer to him, it wasn’t pride I saw on his face. On any of their faces.

“Get off the ice. No daughter of mine going to spend all night out alone.”

“Alone? Mrs. Carlow’s right over there. You’re here.”

“Get off the ice.”

“Just watch me skate, there’s only two hours left.”

“Get off the goddamn ice.”

“No.”

I retreated to the safety of the ice, where I felt untouchable. When I reached the end of the rink and pivoted into some back crossovers, I thought for a moment I was imagining things.

My brothers were moving toward me on the ice in their sneakers. Despite the look on their faces that told me otherwise, I clung to a tiny bit of hope that they were coming to stand with me, to take my side in defiance of our father. Instead, each one grabbed one of my arms. I struggled to get away, but I was cornered. They carried me off the ice, kicking and screaming the whole way to the car.

I’d stood up to my father when he ordered me off the ice. Why didn’t my brothers stand up to him when ordered to get me off the ice? They were older than me, bigger than me, stronger than me. They were boys.

We drove home in silence. I slammed the front door, which woke up my mother. My father told her I needed come home for breakfast and then, once it was light out, I could go back. But she knew what completing the Skate-a-thon meant to me, and flew into a rage. As her only daughter, my dreams were her dreams. And he’d killed this one.

I forced down two spoonfuls of oatmeal and my mother drove me back to skate the final hour. But when we got there, I couldn’t get back on the ice. I knew that I didn’t belong with the four skaters who had been there since the start, and were about to complete all twenty-four hours of the Ice Palace’s first ever Skate-a-thon.

We drove home in silence. The Skate-a-thon sealed an unspoken pact between me and my mother. It would be the last time we shared my dreams with my father.


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