I heard stories of ice-skating at Warsaw often, but I never got to do it.
When I was fifteen, I spent many winter nights ice-skating on a deserted pond in Wisconsin. It was my favorite way to the pass the time. I’d meet my best friend at dusk and we’d split a pack of cigarettes, a thermos of coffee, and go sailing across the ice in the dark. I felt like I was flying.
I’ve never had an experience like it since, but I’ve always wished I could.
A year or two into dating Francis, Virginia had a cold snap. Temperatures plunged into the teens. My father-in-law Chase called and invited us down to Warsaw for a skating party. But Francis didn’t want to go. “It’s going to be forty by lunch,” he said. He wanted to stay home and watch football.
I went down by myself, angrily, but by the time I got there, the sun hung high in the sky, burning off all the frost. Chase handed me a moldy pair of ice skates and we walked down to the pond together. As soon as we got there, I knew it was too warm to skate. The ice was thin and wet with water in the center of the pond.
But Chase was stubborn.
“It’s fine,” he insisted. He stumbled down to the water, all pigeon-toed. He walked a few steps onto the ice, stomped on it to show me how strong it was and fell through.
“Jesus Christ,” he swore. “Son of a bitch.”
I pulled him out. The both of us sunk in the black mud up to our ankles. “It was fine before,” he skulked as we walked back up to the house. “We went skating all the time.”
I got in the car and drove home. Cursing myself all the way for wanting a little magic in a day that had turned to shit.
Over the weekend, temperatures dropped. The lake froze.
I’d heard stories of people ice-skating across this lake in the winter, although I didn’t believe it. It just doesn’t get cold enough in Virginia for ice-skating.
But last week, temperatures plunged below ten degrees. We watched the lake freeze. And then, suddenly, we saw some kids in brightly colored hats and mittens running across the ice. Just zipping across it, at break-neck speed. Their cheeks flushed, their mouths open. “Hoo-wee,” they shouted. They skipped and slid across the ice.
Francis and I looked at each other, grabbed the kids’ hats, mittens and winter jackets, and ran down to the ice. We spent the rest of the weekend sliding across it in our sneakers. Pulling the kids on sleds and sending them spinning.
It is funny sometimes. How magic sneaks up on you. How it surprises you. When you had all but given up on it.