Becoming a unicorn

In my first post-hiatus post, I wrote a bit about returning to ice skating. I didn’t say all that much about skating or what it really means to me because…well, I suppose because I felt a little shy about it all. Confused. Excited and afraid of looking foolish. Protective. Not really sure of what it means or what it will be. Not unlike the way you can feel at the beginning of a romance.

I mean…c’mon. I am 57 years old. When I was skating–really skating–the Cold War was still in full swing. Jimmy Carter was president. I’m too old to be the parent of many of today’s competitive skaters.

But you know those stories about high school sweethearts who break up and live separate lives for decades and then meet at a reunion and fall in love all over again? I’ve never done that, but I imagine it to feel much as I am feeling about rekindling my relationship with skates and ice and other skaters. I imagine it feels wondrous and improbable and–more than anything else–delightful.

Y’all: I am freakin’ full of delight. On a daily basis.

I know you might not know that from reading my posts, and I’m probably never going to not feel all kinds of angst about the world’s slow burn (both literal and metaphorical) on so many fronts, but I am also, simultaneously, full of delight. Because, what are the chances? Who would ever expect, after 45 years, to fall in love again with the one who got away? Who would’ve thought that existential dread and pure, hope-filled joy can exist in the same being at the same time?

I’m here to tell you: It can. Life is weird. Heartbreaking and wonderful and funny and surprising.

Sometimes, I tell myself that everything that went wrong in mine can be traced back to the time I quit skating, even though I know that’s a little ridiculous. I was 12, and life pretty much turns to shit for everyone when they hit 7th grade, but I hit 7th grade right after I lost a thing that made me feel strong and beautiful and whole. (I think 7th grade–and all the years beyond it–could be a whole different experience for everyone involved if we could all have a thing that makes us feel strong and beautiful and whole.)

It’s all so mysterious. Why would moving and jumping and spinning over ice be a thing that makes a person whole? I don’t know. But skating–even in the wobbly, starting-all-over-again-as-an-almost-beginner way I’m doing it–still gives me moments of feeling strong and beautiful and whole, and I’ve lived long enough to know that’s no small or unimportant thing.

To be clear: Like any love–perhaps, especially, a late-in-life one–it’s not all rainbows and confetti. Every person who’s lived a good chunk of time carries baggage, and unpacking mine has meant coming to new terms with aging and mortality and the passing of time and dreams.

In the past two months, I’ve become grounded in the reality that my body has changed and is changing. That I am going to get old and die. For real. Not in some abstract, “some day” sort of way, but in a concrete, wow-I-can’t-do-things-I-could-do-just-a-few-years-ago sort of way. In my head, I’ve still been mostly the same physical being I was in my mid-30s or so. Sure, I’d gained a few pounds, but I could still do all the same things, right? Ummm, not exactly. Now, in both my head and body, I know I’m not the same physical being I thought I was. (If you want to know how old your body really is, take up a sport you haven’t played since you were a tween. You’ll know, too.)

I know this might sound kind of grim–and I’ve had my moments of feeling fairly terrible about it all–but it’s really not. It’s becoming the foundation for a kind of gratitude I’ve never felt before. Yes, I’m going to die, but I’m not dead yet. A thing I thought was lost to me has come back. (What else might this be true for?) My body has deteriorated, but not so much that I can’t embrace this opportunity. The ladies I skate with tell me I’ve come back just in time; I’m still young enough to regain many of the skills I once had, but if I’d waited even a few more years that might not be the case. For the first time since–well, since about the time I quit skating, really–I’m feeling more gratitude than resentment toward my body.

Speaking of the ladies I skate with, I have discovered that there is a whole world of adult skaters. This did not exist when I left skating in the late ’70s, but now the US Figure Skating Association has a program for you if “you are an adult who became a skater or a skater who became an adult.” I’ve had a hard time knowing which kind of adult skater I am. A woman I take lessons with is 73 years old, and she didn’t start skating until she was 55! She can skate circles around me in our dance class, but there are things I can do that she can’t because of the skating I did when I was young. Still, I don’t really feel like a skater who became an adult, either. I’ve joined two Facebook groups for adult skaters, and I see post after post from people wondering if they can come back after 20 or 25 years away. These are people who skated and competed for years as children and teens, and they are in their 30s and 40s now.

I skated for only 18 months (albeit fairly intense ones), and I did it 45 years ago.

FORTY-FIVE YEARS.

How is that possible? How is that a real thing? How have that many years of my life passed? How is it that my body has retained enough muscle memory from so long ago that I have moments when I can do things without knowing how, exactly, I’m doing them? But why are there other, far simpler things that I can’t do? How can I be thinking of skating–really skating–after more than 4 decades away from it? What does “really skating” mean, anyway, now? What can it mean? How can a thing I did for such a short time feel and be so important? Both back then and now? How can age be something that is both so concrete and so amorphous, with time simultaneously expanding and collapsing every time I step on the ice?

At times, this has all felt like mind-fuckery of grand proportions–but in a good way? Or at least, an amazing, interesting, isn’t-life-weird way. I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and for once in my long history of questioning almost everything, I am not impatient to find them. I am figuring out this romance as I go, and I know that–this time–I get to form answers that will work better for me. This time, there is no such thing as “too old” and no reason to do any of it other than love. What a freaking amazing gift! To get to rewrite a painful story and give it a whole new ending. To heal my relationship with my body. To get to skate just for the love of it, and to have found it again while I still can. I haven’t yet come across anyone with a backstory quite like mine, which has me feeling that my relationship with skating is a bit of a unicorn. A beautiful, rare, magical thing.

I think I might start farting glitter any day now.

(That is, of course, not me in this video! I couldn’t do half those moves, even without a unicorn costume on.)

I would love to hear about anyone having an experience of returning to a lost love. Or about a lost love you’d like to get back to. Hoping mine can help you believe that it’s not impossible.

12 thoughts on “Becoming a unicorn

  1. Kate says:

    I love this post because delight has been a focus of my year. It started when my Gram passed because she was the last person living who just really delighted in me – in all my stages – and losing that was…really fucking hard. My therapist suggested that I start finding ways to delight in me. Which has lead to me dressing like I’m 7 – floral leggings and rainbow striped sweaters and yellow rubber rain boots, and making kindergarten art, and PLAYING. And honestly, this has been both the hardest and most wonderful year of my life. It’s wonderful to recapture that child like joy and I’m looking forward to hearing more about it.

    • Rita says:

      It is really fucking hard to lose a grandparent who was able to love like that. I miss mine all the time, even though it’s been a really long time since any was able to be that kind of person. I am so glad you are finding ways to delight in yourself. That’s an idea I haven’t considered. Thank you for giving me something useful to ponder and act upon. I’d like to find some other ways of playing, too.

      • Kate says:

        It’s fun to be older and wiser and still have the things that bring child like joy! I meant to say that I look forward to hearing more about the lessons you learn from returning to yours.

  2. TD says:

    I’m glad to read your fun post, Rita! It’s important to nurture ourselves, however the nurturing may be.

    Today, strolls with Yorkie along the bay sea wall nurtured us!

  3. Dave Bonta says:

    Slightly analogous to your discovery, I have rediscovered the joy of long walks in the woods over the last two years, something I used to do growing up and into my 30s, gradually curtailed after I got online in the late 90s. I’m 56, so yeah, it does very much feel as if I’ve regained my strength just in time to watch it slowly dissipate, but whatever, it feels so good.

    • Rita says:

      I really enjoy the photos and words you share from your walks. I’m having some back (SI joint) and knee issues, and I’ve found (to my dismay) that long walks are exacerbating them. Skating is also messing with my knees, but not my back. Nonetheless, as you say, it does feel so good to regain strength.

  4. Ally Bean says:

    I’m glad you found your way back to skating and your love for it. Certainly it’s an unexpected return to the past, done better this time because of you are aware of what you’ve got going on there. How lucky you are to have it.

  5. Bethany Reid says:

    Rita, I reread the poem after reading this post — and all I can say is “applause, applause” — I feel lucky that I get to follow your adventures. May you have many more.

  6. Debs Carey says:

    Oh yes please to farting glitter 😀 😀

    I used to feel that way about swimming. I was a water baby, I felt so at home, so comfortable, so complete in the water. I wasn’t a competition grade swimmer or anything, and I never learned how to do butterfly, but I knew it was my place. Then, for a whole variety of reasons, I didn’t swim for ages. The last time I got in the water, I felt like my body didn’t know how to do it properly any more. It shocked me. I planned to return to swimming shortly after moving house, but just before the pandemic arrived, and now I’m even creakier than ever. But your words have reminded me how important it is not only for the gentle supported movement, but because of the joy I experienced when in the water. I want that again. I’d go so far as to say I need it. Thanks Rita 🙂
    Debs Carey recently posted…On Hiatus for April A-ZMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Oh, I hope you can find a way back to the water! I can relate so much to what you are saying here. When I skated the first few times I was also shocked at the things my body didn’t know how to do properly any more. I had skated very occasionally over the years, and of course I wasn’t doing jumps or anything advanced, but once I warmed up it all felt much as it had when I was training. Somehow, this time, it really didn’t. And continues not to, much of the time. It’s really made me confront how much my body has changed, from both aging and the effects of the pandemic.

      It’s hard for me to find the right words to convey it all. It’s been both deeply uncomfortable and deeply joyful at the same time. I have moments when I am able to feel the same kind of joy in my body I once did, and that feels like an amazing gift. There are times I mourn the loss of the body I once had and what it could do and how it felt. It’s humbling to have to work at something that once came so easily. It’s satisfying to see and feel progress as a result of the work. This thing is giving me joy in old ways, but more in new ways. It’s causing me to think deeply about the reasons we do all kinds of things. It’s giving me opportunity to revise harmful ideas that were so deeply ingrained into the culture I’ve lived my whole live within. It’s a lot, at times. And sometimes it is so simple: I just love the feeling of moving fast over ice, propelled by the strength of my own legs.

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