At six years of age
I urged my legs to move faster while I skated in a straight line, making sure my knees were bent, head up, legs separated by a shoulder-width apart. A week ago, I made the mistake of bending forward too much and I lost my balance one too many times, almost falling.
Falling on the ice was worse than failing.
“Can’t you see the lines? Keep them straight. Bishop, when are you gonna learn?” His voice was louder than the blue jays that hovered in the trees. I’d much rather hear their calls than Dad’s yelling.
I whispered, “I’m trying.”
But I knew that the winds were the only ones that could hear my pleas.
Trying wasn’t enough for my father. Trying was for losers.
Losers like my friends, Will and Leo, who spent a lot of time skating for fun with their parents. Skating for fun was a waste of time in Dad’s book.
I rounded the corner and skated to the goal line, and for a second, caught my dad’s figure in my periphery.
In a dark red winter coat and thermal pants, my father loomed as a dark shadow against the winter white snow that covered our backyard ice rink. He’d had it built when I was six months old, and he often bragged to his friends that before I could walk on our marbled floors, I’d had my bare feet walking smartly on the ice.
I’d been on the ice for an hour, but it felt like a day. Anything over thirty minutes started to become a long time to be on the ice for me.
I loved the ice. I loved the pureness it represented. The white flecks that dropped from the sky symbolized God’s gift to mankind. According to Miss Preecher, the kind lady who came every day to tutor me, God’s gifts were everywhere; in the bread I ate, in the toys I played with, in the clouds up in the sky.
I’d asked her if God bestowed His gifts to everyone and she’d said yes.
I believed her until I started thinking that maybe she was lying.
Because if God was good and He gave nice gifts to everyone, then why didn’t He give me and my sister Bridge nicer parents?
Mom hardly spent any time with my sister. She used to bring her everywhere, but then Bridge had turned two and it seemed like my mom wanted to be anywhere except where my sister was. The new nanny, Nanny Tilda, spent all her time with Bridge now, but Bridge still didn’t want to talk.
Leo’s sister was the same age as Bridge and his sister, Cherry, babbled a lot.
Something was wrong with Bridge, and I told Mom, but Mom just ignored me. She was too busy doing something on the computer and so, I kept my thoughts to myself.
But every time Bridge’s eyes landed on me when we were playing, I just had a feeling that she wanted to tell me something but she couldn’t.
“Trust me, he’ll be better than Gretzky and Crosby combined.” Dad was now talking on this cellphone. It was probably his hockey friend, Paul, who sometimes watched me practice. Paul often gave me a high five, and pointed out things I should work on.
I used to like Paul coming to see me practice.
But now, I hated it.
Because every time Paul pointed out my mistakes, my father wouldn’t let me rest until I perfected them.
One time, I went to bed, my legs feeling so bruised and my foot bleeding because I’d been on the ice for three hours straight after Paul had left.
I could’ve told my dad that I felt horrible, but I’d learned that he wasn’t sympathetic at all.
He’d tell me to wrap my foot in a bandage and man up.
Bridge helped me get up on my bed. Her tiny figure almost falling off balance because I leaned on her for support, since my legs had become too weak to carry me a few inches off the floor.
“He’s moving with accuracy, but he needs to build up power to move more efficiently. That’ll be our task for tomorrow. You want to come over and help us out?” I was right. Paul was on the phone.
I didn’t know what kids my age did, but I didn’t think it was soaking their bodies in ice baths after grueling hockey practices.
I didn’t think that kids my age knew how to cover up bruised bones as well as I did.
My father said that injury made the muscle remember.
How many injuries did I have to experience to make him remember that I was still a child?
Sure, I could run circles around kids twice my age when it came to skating and shooting pucks, but I doubted that their bodies hurt the way mine had.
Dad turned his back towards me, and I took the opportunity to look at my surroundings.
I still skated in perfect lines because I knew he’d scrutinize them later.
I still skated in the same tempo and rhythm because I knew that he could hear the speed that I was going.
But this time, I allowed my neck to look up and I took refuge at the puffy clouds against the shadowy Canadian skies.
I’d tell Bridge about them later since she loved to draw the clouds.
I turned my head to the side and smiled at the sight of the bluish-gray tint of the Juniper trees that lined our driveway. I eyed the Hybrid Poplar that had sprung up another three feet from the last time I really checked them out. Their leaves still had the reminder of fall – their bright yellow foliage now slightly covered in white specks.
“Bishop! You’re drifting!” My father called out.
I doubted I was drifting.
He was just saying it so that I would know he was really paying attention when he was probably making deals with his former agent on when he and I could have another TV station feature us again.
My father was the most attentive, doting dad when the cameras were on him.
I looked down and checked the lines I’d created from hours of skating.
Nope, they were all perfect.
Lines and circles that formed perfect figure 8’s.
Shapes that showed how perfect I was – the son of Beau Cordello, hero of the Canadian Winter sports and hockey legend.
Figures that mirrored the hours I played and practiced in the ice so I could be as great, if not greater than, the Hockey Hall of Famer.
But to me, those lines didn’t show the countless times I’d fallen but never helped back up.
Those silhouettes cut the picture of how imperfect my life was.
And that’s what they were. Just plain shadows of the reality of the pain and suffering that Bridge and I were subjected to.
Miss Preecher’s face was filled with enthusiasm when she talked about God’s gifts.
And I’d nodded my head, but my heart rebelled.
Because the truth was – she lied.
She’d said that God gave the gift of kindness to everyone.
No, God did not.