Paul and I drove the two hours to get to the Ice and Fire skating trail. It was this beautiful 1.5km skating trail lit by tiki torches. I didn’t think it would matter that I wasn’t an excellent skater. We were at the brink of collapse in our relationship. We both knew we were on a slippery slope. We were trying to rekindle what was left. We were there for the experience.
The experience was awful. We’d probably skated about half a kilometre before I needed a break.
“A break?” Paul huffed, observing all the skaters flying past us. “How can we take break?”
He was right, of course. It wouldn’t make logical sense. It was a skinny one-direction trail and a busy night. The sides of the ice were lined with big piles of snow holding up the torches. Stopping would impede other skaters. A family with two preteen daughters passed us on our right. A teenage boy trailed behind them from our left.
“These skates are really hurting me,” I explained. I didn’t own my own pair of skates. I’d borrowed these from Paul’s sister, but now I was realizing they were too small. “My calves are all locked up, my legs feel like they’re going to give out, or my ankles might snap. My feet are all twisted up.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Paul reasoned, skating ahead of me again. “Just try to skate a little faster and you won’t feel it.”
“But do your skates feel like this way?” I wondered. “Like everything is squished and suffocated, and they need to get out?”
“Maybe I tied them too tight,” Paul shrugged, not answering my question. “Try loosening them a bit.”
I skated over to the side of the trail as a little boy no older than 6 years old whizzed around me on the ice. Embarrassed, I tried to lean against the snow and tugged at the mess of laces and knots. Paul waited ahead of me.
By the time we skated past the wood sign with “1km” etched into it, slight discomfort had turned into unbearable pain. My lower legs were numb except for the throbbing. I could feel the bruises that were forming on my shins right above the tops of the skates. My ankles felt weak. Frozen blisters sharp as icicles lined my feet.
Finally I declared, “Paul, I can’t do it anymore.”
He turned back to look at me, startled. He told me, “there’s only half a kilometre left. You’ve done more than half of it already.”
“I can’t!” I nearly yelled. Tears flurried in my eyes. The female half of the couple skating beside us hand-in-hand looked over at me disapprovingly. I glided over to the snowy edge again, and Paul followed me reluctantly. As much as it annoyed me that Paul didn’t seem to be grasping the nature of my pain, it wasn’t his fault. Only I knew what I was feeling in that moment. It was desperation.
I knew I was about to propose was unorthodox and crazy, but it was the only way. I asked, “do you think you can go to the end of the trail, get my boots, and bring them to me? Please?”
That would essentially mean Paul would have to do the trail twice, but he was in good shape. He could handle it. He hesitated. “You really can’t just stick it out for another half a kilometre?”
“I can’t.” I replied earnestly, knowing that he’d be disappointed in me. Feeling a little disappointed in myself. This was meant to be a special night for us, and here I was ruining it. But it honestly felt like if I continued to put pressure on these skates for another second, I might need to get my legs amputated. Or I might break an ankle. Or my feet might end up permanently deformed. Something was seriously wrong with the skates and as humiliated as I was to admit defeat, there was no other choice.
Paul skated away, and I felt a huge wave of relief wash over me. I crawled into a snow bank beside a torch, pulled my knees up to my chin and wrapped my long white wool coat around me to keep me warm. I watched as the happy skaters floated by, fitting perfectly into their own skates. I looked down on the black ladies’ hockey skates with pink laces affixed to my feet. When Paul had brought them home, I was excited because they were so stylish. They’d look great with my coat and black skinny jeans.
Sometimes things aren’t a fit. For a long time, I prided myself on my adaptability. I liked being chill. What I didn’t realize is that when things truly aren’t a fit, no matter how much you contort yourself, there really is no hope. They won’t fit. Sometimes the only solution is to ditch whatever you’re trying to fit into. Like a too-small pair of skates. Or a relationship.
It took a little while for my soon-to-be ex boyfriend to grab my boots and skate back with them. He helped me pry off those stupid skates once and for all. He’d really saved the day. I was so grateful. We got curious glances from other skaters, but I didn’t worry about them. The freedom from my confines reminded me of what life should feel like. It instantly outweighed any bad feelings I had about spoiling our evening. My legs relaxed into their true shape. My feet expanded, and I wiggled my happy little toes. A huge smile overtook my face. The relief was unimaginable.
I slipped into my cozy warm Sorrels and felt like a new woman. I walked along the snowy edges of the path with Paul skating ahead of me to finish the trail.
It wasn’t what anyone expected of me, it wasn’t what everyone else was doing, and it was much slower, but it was what worked for me. And that’s all that mattered.