Aida couldn’t remember a time when she couldn’t skate or didn’t know the feel of ice under her feet or of the air on her face as she stroked across the frozen surface below her or twirled about in dizzying spins – – except that she never got dizzy. And it was true, her parents had put skates on her feet before shoes, thinking that getting used to the feeling of being unsteady on the ice might hasten the development of her motor control and ability to walk, run, skip, climb trees, swim, kick balls, dance, prance and all the other ways we use our downward limbs to explore the world and to celebrate our human embodiment. It was a while before Aida discovered those other possibilities – – like the swimming, dancing, climbing kinds – – because when she wasn’t in school she was always in her skates, always on the ice, always trying new tricks, trying to go faster, testing the limits of physics, geometry, gravity and of her own body. The other kids couldn’t understand…well, the kids at school couldn’t understand, but the kids at the ice rink were just like her, so they became her friends, at least for a few years until some of them got so competitive that their interest in medals outweighed their ability to relate to their peers. Aida’s parents gave her all possible encouragement and form of support, yet as proud as they were of her obviously growing skills on the ice, they never pressured her to compete, but left it up to her. It was hard for anyone in the culture of being-on-the-ice-whenever-you’re-not-in-school NOT to feel the pull of the podium. By the time Aida was 11 the kids who’d surrounded her since she was a toddler were chasing medals, taping their feet, always trying to lose weight, trying to snag spots on the teams of the most renowned coaches, moving to other cities, or even to other countries, in order to enhance their opportunities to compete to be the best, to throw a new trick, to be seen by the most people.
Then came her 12th birthday. Aida had been born on a Friday toward the end of November, a rather dreary, overcast, cold, rainy Friday in Louisville. The timing of her birthday was such that every few years it fell on Thanksgiving. She hated those years as a youngster; no matter what lengths her family went to in their efforts to keep the two celebrations separate, they always collapsed in her mind and her experience. She came to despise turkey and pumpkin pie made her vomit. But as her 12th birthday approached and her mother noted it would fall on Thanksgiving this year, Aida found that she wasn’t particularly upset. In fact, she wasn’t upset at all. When her mother asked, “How would you like to celebrate your birthday this year, sweetie?” she responded, “Can we go to Silver Lake?”
So, on Thanksgiving Day Aida, her parents and two older brothers piled into the car and drove 40 minutes to Silver Lake. Winter had come early that year and the lake was already frozen. Aida sailed across it, the blades whispering to her, “Happy Birthday, Princess,” as her scarf whipped around her eyes. They ate Thanksgiving dinner – – ham – – In the cabin they’d rented for the weekend, the ham being followed by birthday cake. Not a pumpkin in site. Aida couldn’t have been happier.
Photo courtesy of weston_m on Unsplash