Its late on a school night. Max should be getting ready for bed, or at least close to brushing his teeth. Instead we are entering an ice rink in a town 30 minutes away. We are here to see a teenage friend play ice hockey.
Max has recently expressed a fascination with things on ice. Its unclear to me how much of it is a pure interest in the game, and how much of it is a love of our friend Jeff, a hockey dad and all around fan. It is Jeff we meet at the rink, Jeff who takes Max’s hand and whispers to him the secrets of the game. Whatever it is, the attention from Jeff, the fast moving game, the being in the middle of a very male world, it makes his heart sing. And so I make an exception about bedtime and I drive 30 minutes on a school night out to the rink.
We arrive at the rink and within minutes I am alone. Max has scurried off to the booth from where Jeff runs the scoreboard. He sits on Jeff’s lap. He stands on the bench in the penalty box waiting to open the gate. He wrestles with another dad, a nice man, whose name I will not catch, but who picks Max up by his elbows while Jeff looks on and laughs–three boys together playing a game that can not include me. Max is happy and so I can sit, alone for a change, and be with my thoughts.
The sound of the skates cutting across the ice is meditative. The nice people sitting around me cheering for their kids disappear. I am alone with the memories that wash over me as I follow the puck across the ice. I am carried away, back to a more innocent age, to a rink just like this one.
I was just 13–or maybe 14 when we met. He was a dreamy blond Canadian boy who played hockey. He sat next to me in 8th grade history class. He was popular and talented and wonderful and he took my breath away. And then he took me completely by surprise. One February night, at an ice rink, he took my hand and asked me out. He was my first real love.
For the next two years, we were an item. I don’t remember anything else about those two years but him. He was my Romeo. I worshipped him. At his brother’s hockey games, we would sneak away, hand in hand, out of the sight of everyone to “warm up.” I practically lived at his house. We would lay for hours on end, wrapped up together on his water bed, listening to music. We trusted each other. In that bedroom, we grew up.
He played on an elite travel team. Many a Sunday night, after an afternoon of hanging out in his room, we would eat whole wheat spaghetti in his kitchen. Then he would disappear to the garage and pick up his big hockey bag and stick. I would throw on my coat and watch him throw his bag into the back of his dad’s station wagon. We would climb in the back seat and his dad would drive us all to some far flung rink, while his mother sat up front chatting away.
He would disappear into a locker room and emerge on the ice. I would sit in the stands between his mom and his dad. I would watch every play, every move he made with the attention one gives only to a true love. His father would sit to my right and whisper into my ear what was happening as each play unfolded. His mom would sit to my left knitting, occasionally chiming in. I learned not only about love on those winters nights. By accident, I learned about hockey.
After the game, he and I would snuggle in the back seat of that stationwagon, oblivious to his (clearly very cool and hip) parents up front. I would sit on his lap and bury my head into his chest and breathe in the sweet musky scent of a guy who had just skated his butt off for an hour and a half. A guy who made my heart do flips. A guy who hung the moon. A guy I was sure I would love forever.
I sit now in the stands now and I half expect to see his face when the defenseman turns my way. I can almost hear his dad’s voice now, call out the plays, explain the penalties. I hear him call out as the boys crash into the boards. “There you go…That’s it…Skate…skate…skate. Oh…too bad.” I hear his voice in my head, clear and bell like as I surprise myself with what I remember. I turn slightly to the right almost instinctively and say, “That was a nice clean pass, wasn’t it?”. I say it to no one in particular but I feel the smile, the warm arm around my shoulder that would have answered me back then. I heard he died years ago. I wish that I had said a prayer then–that I had reached out to the family. That I had found my old love and told him how much I adored his dad. I say a prayer for him now as the skates cut across the ice. As the buzzer sounds marking the end of the period.
The buzzer knocks me forward 24 years, back to my grown-up life. I wonder why I am thinking so much about this chapter of my life. I had not thought of this dreamy Canadian boy, his gentle mother, his laid back and kind father for some 20 years, but now I think of them all so often this winter. I think about how his dad taught me to pump gas and let me sign for it. I think of how his mom would ask me to help her chop vegetables. I think about how I crossed some Rubicon in the company of that warm family. In the arms of that sweet boy.
I want to go back and touch the heart that I would break when we were older. I want to go back and say what I should have said when his mother finally gave in to cancer years after we broke up. I want to go back and thank him for being so gentle and kind with me as we walked the path from innocence to knowing. I want to take his hand in mine and tell him that he changed my life when he asked me out that February night. I never did any of those things but I am yearning to do it now. And I can’t help but wonder why…
Perhaps it is about being at the cusp of a beginning again. Perhaps it is standing in a new place of innocence. After years of being out of commission I am now standing again, ready to plunge into love or something that feels like it. Perhaps the hopeful, heady feeling reminds me of being so young again. Perhaps it is that I know that I am once again in a moment, a moment not that much different from when I was wrapping my hands around a cup of hot chocolate, wondering what would happen next, that moment between the second and third period right before that dreamy boy took me by surprise when he asked me to take a walk around the rink, when he swept me off my feet, and sent me tumbling headfirst into the adventure I call my grown-up life.