I think it's safe to assume that back in May everyone at our ice rink thought we were losers. Sized up by girls and men with various levels of expertise we were found lacking. We could buy skates but we couldn't buy class. Or talent. "Congrats on the backwards swizzles, loser, could you get out of my way so I can do a lutz?"
Even the ice rink employees regarded us with a certain level of bemusement. Over and over again, despite the presence of our skate bags, they asked "Do you need to rent skates?" Because, I guess, most adults coming to skate were either well-known regulars or people who were coming to skate for amusement or nostalgia.
Despite seeing the same faces three times a week Kate and I kept to ourselves. Keeping to ourselves unfortunately means being loud and foulmouthed and doing a lot of mock choreography. Practicing our fledgling skills meant we were often in the way, interrupting jumping passes and footwork sequences with embarrassed "Sorries!" thrown over our shoulders because we didn't know how to stop very well. Children who had never skated before did not pay us any attention and looked instead with envy and confusion at the wizardry being performed by more advanced skaters.
By the end of June I figured there would never be a sense of camaraderie. A big part of this is my age. Seeing an eight year old girl practicing backwards crossovers anyway while you struggle with a one footed backwards glide is pretty dignity robbing. To actually ask an eight year old girl practicing backwards crossovers how she does it would be humiliating, pointless and, well, creepy. The same goes with the handful of older teenagers as well, all of whom are usually engaging in the essential teenage activities of gossiping and badly flirting.
Some of the employees are closer to my age, but no matter what they might feel about myself or Kate, they are working and probably aren't all that thrilled about it. To be a twenty-six year old groupie to the guy who drives the zamboni while listening to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" is just as dignity robbing as watching a 12 year old complete a jump combination while you're patting yourself on the back for bunny hops.
But then. There are the other adults. Some are coaches, some are clearly advanced skaters, and then the other novices. The grown women with children who are maybe only a year or two beyond my skill set. We skate passed each other a hundred times, we sit close to each other as we unlace, and we don't speak. I wonder what they think of me, because I think they're endlessly intriguing. Are they reclaiming a lost skill of their youth? Is this all as new to them as it is to me? Why do they do it? Do they wonder why I'm still here? Still trying?
I thought maybe I'd never know the answers, but it turns out I just needed to be more patient. Slowly, overtures are being made. A small chat here and there, a slight commiseration about backwards crossovers. An employee that recognizes us and seems glad to chat. No names have yet been exchanged, but the ice is beginning to thaw. Kate and I have dubbed many of them with nicknames which might not seem complimentary but are actually quite fond: "Sister Wife," "Jay AND Silent Bob," "Captain Cranky Pants."
How close the community is, how widely reaching, I don't know. There may be a wicked hazing in my future, but somehow I don't think so. Johnny Weir and Stephane Lambiel have both expressed how lonely ice skating is. It's often you on the ice, and except during for competitions, the only thing you are trying only to beat is your own limitations. It's hard to make eye contact with people when you're looking down at your own feet.
But with patience came backwards crossovers and small talk. With more patience... who knows?