Sam’s Storybook
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Sam’s Storybook

A love letter to water and wind

I’ve loved figure skating for twenty years now. It’s pulling me through this stage of the pandemic.

The first time the blade of my skates touched the puckered surface of a frozen pond, it felt like a crime. Once upon a time, my skates were meant for freshly zambonied ice. Now they’re weak at the ankles and just a pinch too tight. There’s always a bruise on my ankle where the leather of the tongue meets the side and rubs against my skin.

Skating and I met almost exactly twenty years ago. It was Michelle in Salt Lake City and it was love at first sight. I was eight, which is old to start skating, but still young enough to be able to point at an elite athlete on the TV and declare: “I want to be HER.”

So there was a time when I knew how to skate. Or I knew how I was supposed to skate. There were 6:00 a.m. practices before school. Whole Saturday mornings spent on the ice. Nervously downing bowls of popcorn with friends from the rink while watching the Torino Olympics. For ten years of childhood there was skating.

And then, I went to college in a place without much ice. I didn’t have a car, so I didn’t skate. Didn’t have a TV, so I didn’t watch skating. I guess I kind of just decided I wasn’t a figure skater anymore. I’d always claimed the identity tentatively anyway. Even when I was skating five plus hours a week, I didn’t really know if I was a figure skater. I skated for fun, I guess, in the sense that I didn’t compete. Which isn’t a thing most people do.

There’s nothing wrong with picking up skating when you’re not a toddler, but every year makes it harder because you get more scared to fall. Maybe I didn’t compete because I was afraid to lose. But really I just think I’ve never cared much for winning.

I wanted to skate because of the sound my blades made when I was the first one out of the locker room on an early morning session. Because of the way it feels to skate so fast you create your own wind. Because of the way stress and worry melt away on the ice. Because of the friendship and the soreness and, mostly, because of the love.

I’ve been questioning love a lot lately. Maybe it’s because we’re in round who-knows-what of COVID withdrawal from public life and it’s so easy to just feel like it’s all caving in. When things opened up this summer, there just felt like there were so many possibilities — so many chances to fall in love. And now, with most of my time spent inside my bedroom/office/knitting studio, I have to really work for those chances.

I think I’m supposed to feel love differently than I do. Think there are supposed to be different kinds. For me, love has always just been this wide open meadow of gratitude. I wonder a lot if there’s something wrong with me, and decide instead to try to convince myself that there’s something wrong with everyone else instead.

And my life, as-is, is full of love. I am so lucky to be surrounded by the most beautiful, wonderful people and places. But it’s only been a few weeks back in my hunkered-down pandemic state, and I think I’m realizing how essential it is to be around strangers, and be reminded of how love can grow from nothing but presence and coincidence.

Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s been ice that’s given me a reprieve from wallowing. First, there was the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the last major competition for American skaters before the Olympics start next month. It thought it would be a mostly unsurprising competition. Instead it brought a breakout performance from 17-year-old Ilia Malinin. For me, it was the most exciting new skater introduction in years and it made me fall a little more in love with the sport.

And then, someone in my (now, sadly, virtual) knitting group mentioned she’d gone skating on Lake Monona and that it had been so glassy you could see the bottom. It was once-in-a-lifetime ice. The next day, I dragged myself out onto the lake and went skating.

I’m a seasonal skater now. Consistent enough that every winter I think I might buy a slightly bigger pair of skates. Inconsistent enough that I don’t. In the handful of years since that first pond skate, I’ve come to learn that outdoor ice is hit or miss, but when it’s good, that ephemeral sheet of ice is a dream.

Natural ice is more alive. You can feel the different textures under your blade. You have to guess if a crack is a weak spot or just evidence of past movement. You can feel the wind pressing against you when you skate into it. You have less control and you just have to respond to what the lake and the sky has given you. On the perfectly frozen lake, I did spins and jumps better than I had since I stopped regularly skating. The smooth surface just made way for muscle memory to react. It felt like gratitude. It felt like love.

Skating toward shore under a darkening sky, a group of college girls called out a hello. And we talked about skating, we talked about the ice and about trusting the lake. “You’re a beautiful skater!” One called after me as I skated away. “So are you!” I yelled back. It was everything I’ve been missing.

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Samantha Harrington

Samantha Harrington

Freelance journo and designer. I write. A lot. Tea obsessed but need coffee to live. Usually dancing- poorly.