A Lesson in Believing in Myself
March 5, 2020
Two sections, an open space divided by a ring of palm trees and outlined by another ring of ice. Quite literally magical as I saw people glide over the ice with ease but also a nightmare as most people fell onto the hard, white surface.
My dad taught me to skate in the worst way possible: the open space.
It was extremely slick and shiny, barely skated over and I knew for a fact that the horribly sharpened rental skates would not make it any better. I was taught the basics: fall on your knees, “bubble feet,” and lean. Dad taught me to put my all into it and I did just that.
I took zero breaks as I continued to practice with dad. We raced in the heart of Downtown San Jose’s “Holiday in the Park.” My sister follows closely behind, but in those moments, it was only me and dad. It was always me and dad.
Our tradition of ice skating in the park ended when we moved with dad to the San Fernando Valley, almost six hours south of San Jose.
When we got there, dad immediately found a hockey rink close to our home. The rental skates there were so much better than the ones at the park and the ice was cleaned every hour. It was perfect. This rink, the LA Kings Ice Rink, is where I learned about speed skating.
“It’s like racing but on ice. You’d be perfect for it.”
Anything dad ever said about ice skating was comparisons, and on ice.
The way the day went every time we went to the rink was checking in, giving my shoe size to the staff at the skate rack, dad tightening them around my ankles, and onto the ice. I do a lap with my sister. Very slow but still fun to help her get into skating like I do. Then I leave her back at the rink entrance with dad as I do a free lap, checking to see if the skates are tight enough.
As soon as I get back to the entrance, I pick up speed. I countdown from sixty in my head. I feel like everyone is looking at me, cheering me on and recording. I finish one lap. I can do two more.
I feel amazing as I pass the people around me. Another lap down, another lap to go.
It gets hot but I try to pick up speed.
9..8..7. I’m almost back at the entrance and I can see dad checking the time.
I shave the ice to stop myself right in front of dad and Alyssa.
“Five seconds off.” Dad looks at his stop watch with the critique.
Frustration. I counted wrong.
I continue to try and finish three laps in a perfect minute, but hopefully less, for the rest of the time we’re there.
Whenever we do leave the rink, the street lights illuminate the parking lot and I can see the dim shine of the stars. And though I’m outside in the sticky, warm air of the valley, the coldness of the rink follows me and the rush I felt while skating stays with me until I get into bed.
A great day.
I couldn’t wait to go again next month.
Even if I went ice skating every month, it didn’t make me happy.
Great days were only days, not weeks or months or years.
After the rush died down every night, I was still stuck in an unhealthy state of mind. I knew I wasn’t okay. At some point, the warmth of my dad’s house was exchanged with a cold hospital room for three weeks.
The fight between mom and dad wasn’t pretty. But after the school year, my sister and I packed our stuff.
We drove to my mom’s apartment in San Diego. Three whole hours away from dad and the ice rink.
I thought I could get used to not seeing Dad, to not ice skating, to talking to a wall…or a pillow…or myself.
And when Christmas rolled around, it didn’t get any better.
Mom always had a hard time connecting with me, but she made an effort.
“There’s an ice rink by the base for the holidays,” mom says. “I thought you’d like to go.”
We ride over the Coronado Bridge and pass a little town to get to the rink. It was set up right in front of Hotel del Coronado with the blue-green ocean view.
My heart sinks to my stomach.
I needed to try for her.
Mom pays for the rental skates and fastens the thin paper wristband around my left arm. As I walk up to the rental booth, I can already tell by the ice shavings people drag onto the torn-up mat that the ice hasn’t been cleaned.
I tell the woman at the booth my shoe size, and she hands me a pair of skates made of…blue plastic? Weird.
They don’t have laces.
“They’ll clip when you put them on,” she says. “Just adjust them and you’ll skate fine.” I felt like questioning her nonchalant attitude. I decided against it.
I sit near mom and Alyssa, fastening the skates. They’re still loose. I try to fix them. Too tight.
It’s fine. All’s fine. I’ll make this work.
I walk up to the entrance of the rink and step onto the ice to glide like I usually do. But the uneven ice and the paths from past skaters get the pick of the skates stuck, making me force a path myself.
I don’t like this rink. I pass mom and Alyssa a few times, waving at them as they stare at their phones. As I try to gain their attention, the blade of the skate wiggles and my ankle twists.
Everyone stops as I slide a little less than halfway across the ice on my knees.
People take pictures and I hear laughs.
I’m paranoid now. Paranoid and afraid.
Someone helps me up, and I immediately get off the ice.
Mom asked if I’m okay as I wipe the ice off my clothes.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say, finally understanding that people don’t say what they mean.
I get home that night with bruises scattered all over my legs and arms. I tell myself I won’t skate again. Dad spammed my phone until I picked up. Every time, he could tell right away that something was wrong.
I rant to him about everything that’s been happening, from the lonely feelings that being in San Diego gave to the numbness of my skin after skating that night.
“You used to bust up your legs when you were younger,” he’d say. “You don’t remember because you kept going back. You were always getting better. You just need to find a different rink. You need to keep practicing.”
That’s the thing I loved about Dad the most; he always said the right things at the right time.
Dad was right. I found another ice rink connected to a recreational center that people barely went to. The ice wasn’t touched most days and even if they had clip skates, I got used to them. The staff even let me blast my playlists.
And as I skated, I kept thinking of Dad.
I was getting better. Dad believed in me. I kept up my four laps in a minute. I got faster. I screamed out the lyrics to my songs and cried when I left.
Now and Forever
The memories like this keep me strong today. After everything my family and I have been through in life, we’ve been there for each other. When they couldn’t keep faith, I held them up. And when I gave into the bad thoughts, they pulled me out. I was never alone no matter how many times I thought I was. I had lines of people cheering me on and I didn’t even know. It started with my dad and even he couldn’t see the end of it.
January 11, 2020. The bottom level of the Galleria Mall in Dallas was crowded and stuffy. But the ice rink was clean and people were starting to lace up their skates. It felt amazing to be at the rink again, especially with my own skates. I knew I had to break them in more so this was the perfect opportunity.
“Excited?” My best friend, Tristan, asks.
“Very,” I say as I clutch the silver charm hanging from my neck.
A small, studded skate.
A reminder that I’ll always get better.