The Sweet Smell of Freon in the Morning

I had a skating dream last night.

Skating dreams are frustrating, because unlike most of my dreams, my skating dreams do not stray far from reality.  (My skydiving dreams, for instance, are nothing short of epic – skydiving in real life is pretty freakin’ awesome, but in dreams I am like a superhero.)

In my skating dreams, I am usually in the same dingy small town rink that I spent most of my youth in.  It’s still cold, and I still can’t land a triple anything.  But for some reason, I wake up feeling nostalgic – which is interesting, because I sort of hated skating.

You see, I was forced to start skating against my will.  I was (yeah, I know) pathologically shy as a kid.  My parents thought it would be healthy for me to have some extracurricular social contact, and since we lived in a small town with limited choices, it was either girl scouts, a church group of some sort, or figure skating.  Figure skating it was.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t totally hate it at first.  I may have even been kind of happy after my first lesson, even though I was confused because I couldn’t tell if my instructor was a boy or a girl.  (She had a bowl cut and was wearing pants.  Gimme a break, I was seven.  I figured it out…eventually.)

And then I moved through the badges really fast and made some friends – one of whom would turn out to be my best friend when we both wound up at the same school for junior high.  Then it was suggested to my parents that I continue on to the group mysteriously known as ‘Juniors’.

I had no idea what ‘Juniors’ was.  But I became one.  And made a total ‘tard of myself on the first day.

In addition to being really shy (and therefore unlikely to initiate conversation even to ask a question which really should be asked, like, say, “So this Juniors thing…what’s that all about?”), I was also a pretty easy-going kid.  I was happy to live my life on a need-to-know basis.  I mean, I trusted my parents not to subject me to anything that would be bad for me (boy, did I grow out of that!), and so I figured ‘Juniors’ was where I was supposed to be and that was that.

The first day of Juniors was a Saturday.  Instead of just an hour in the evening once a week like the badge program, I would now be skating all day on Saturdays and would have private coaches.   When I came out of the dressing room, the other juniors were out on the ice.  There were only a handful, and they were scattered all over the ice.  I spotted my friend and made a beeline for her…and immediately got smacked-down.

Apparently there was this thing called ‘patch’, where each skater gets a patch of ice to work on their figures (yes, that means figure-8s, and…well, fancy figure-8s).  Patches are sacred.  You don’t skate across another skater’s patch.  I’m just lucky Tonya Harding didn’t skate out of my club.

Well, I caught on.

Yeah, I went on to ‘Seniors’ eventually and even got my coach’s certification – though I hope none of the little brats I taught ever wondered if I was a boy.  And the great thing about these hierarchical activities is that you eventually have others below you that you can act all high-and-mighty around and pretend you always knew not to skate over someone else’s patch.

I spent the next 10 years in rinks.  All sorts of rinks.  Nice ones, heated ones, big ones, ones with mysterious drips coming from the ceiling that formed icky yellow slush puddles on the ice.   I remember my dad picking me up in the Jeep on dark winter nights, so exhausted I couldn’t even speak, stretching my throbbing feet in front of me and dozing off on the drive home, where I would eat the supper my mom had kept warm for me before crashing hard.

It’s not just the dreams that make me sentimental now – it’s other things, too.  Like music.  Even now, hearing “Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry” takes me right back to freestyle practice – that tinny, cheap 80s rink music.  Or “The Stray Cat Strut” – from the year my precision line group dressed in cat suits for the year-end carnival.  Any kind of waltz, and I’m right back in Tommy’s arms (Tommy was only boy in the club and had the burden of partnering everybody for their dance exams – poor Tommy), or worse, if Tommy wasn’t around, the arms of one of the two very-very tall girls in the club who had to stand in for him in a pinch.  I remember very clearly protesting to my freestyle coach when she assigned me the song for my first solo choreography – “Tea For Two” and a bunch of cutesy footwork was waaaaay too baby-ish for a nearly-nine-year-old.

I remember other sounds, too.

Like the sound of Mrs. Gilmour – she was a sort of house mother that babysat all of us, sitting in the dressing room sewing our costumes and knitting us Lopi sweaters.  “Get off that telephone, young lady!  Do you know how much your parents are paying for your ice time??”  The ooohs and aaaaaahs when our new dresses were finished – particularly my first dress with double ruffled skirts that flew out and looked like a tutu during a spin (custom-made by Mrs. G., of course).

The sound of skate blades scraping sideways to produce snow to pack on a fellow skater’s injury after a bad fall.  If you think skating is a dainty sport, think again.  I once put the end of my blade right through my shin-bone during a jump…not pretty.

Then there was the clack of hockey sticks on the hollow seats of the stands as the players filed in for practice after our session, and the hockey players bitching about us skaters leaving divots in the ice with our picks that even the zamboni couldn’t repair.  (Blah blah blah.)

Oh, the hockey players.  For some of us, that was about the only exposure we got to boys, other than school.  We only saw them at a distance, from our lonely isolated patches of ice, though.  I, of course, developed a long-standing crush on one, a boy with dark hair, dark eyes and a big smile.  We actually became friends later on, and in fact, he may or may not have been my first date.  Never did figure it out for sure.  He started asking me to dance for all the slow songs at the high school dances, but I figured it was just because I was short and so was he.  He used to joke around and eat popsicles over my shoulder while we danced, so I never took it seriously, even though I was mad for him.  Then one night he asked me if I wanted to (what else) go skating with him (I figured he wanted the practice).  He picked me up in his mom’s car and invited himself up to my room afterward.  But I was a 14-year-old four-eyed dork whose entire social life so far consisted of hanging out in a cold rink with a bunch of other girls and I’d never had a boy in my room ever …so when he came and sat next to me on the bed, I figured he needed more room, so to be polite, I went and sat in the chair.  He’s happily married with kids now, I hear.  Still cute, though.  Wonder if he still plays hockey?

And then there are the smells.  Freon.  Oh, the smell of freon, that cold ozone-y taste of the air in a rink.  I will never forget it.  (Or maybe I will – have there been any long-term studies on what those fumes to your brain?)  Boiled canteen hot dogs.  Vending machine hot chocolate and Lime Crush.  White shoe polish for your boots before a show or competition.  Band-aids (yes, they have a smell).

But it’s only now that I have these fond reminiscences.  When I turned 17, I rebelled.  I discovered booze and boys (yes, finally) and threw a tantrum and declared that I hated skating, hated the cold, and never wanted to skate again.  I got rid of all of my equipment except for one pair of skates (my best ones).  And then I didn’t hit the ice again for many years.

The funny thing about it, though, it’s like riding a bike, I guess.  Some years back, I went skating and I had been a bit nervous that I would fall on my ass.  It came back instantly – along with all the memories of alllll those hours.  It was awesome, despite how sore my feet were afterward from squishing them into my teenager-sized skates (which sadly, I hadn’t cleaned properly when I stored them in my fit of angst and it took the guy at the shop forever to get all the rust off the blades, amidst much ‘tsk’-ing over my treatment of such expensive gear, blah blah blah).

But as many hours as I spent there, I never did land anything great, like a triple-anything.  So wouldn’t you think the least my subconscious could do would be to give me that in my dreams?  But no.  In my dreams, I even have to coach the wee ones and make them learn basic choreography to impress the parents (which, if you’ve ever seen a bunch of 4-year-olds in snowsuits on a slippery surface, well, you can imagine the challenge).  I have not once done a back-flip combination á la Scotty Hamilton.  And the music is still canned.

It’s so unfair.  I really expect better of my imagination, you know.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great post, Andrea. YOu brought me back to the rink as well. I never spent a lot of time at B’water’s rink, we used to go to the Lunenburg rink in elementary school during the winter, and I looked so forward to it. I never took lessons, but I can tell you, when the music came on that I really liked dancing to, I tried as hard as I could to skate like I dance (but since I had no skating skills, all I could do was skate faster around the rink!) lol.
    I guess your body memory is too strong for your subconscious to allow you a triple-anything, if you had never done one before. Sucks. 🙂

  2. […] begged my parents to let me join band the following year.  But I was already heavily into skating and they really didn’t think I should spread myself so thin, plus the added expense of an […]


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