Its a very cold November morning, per the usual around these parts. Fall exists only in the minds of calendar builders and those few weeks in October when the leaves change quickly and drop like frost crusted lead balloons (with or without reality show kiddies inside) from the sky. Waking up at 5:00am to trudge 20 minutes up the pot hole filled roads to an arena that is nothing more than four sets of tired wooden bleachers and tin siding slapped together by the care of community leaders that felt the little kids needed to play hockey indoors versus braving the metal wire fencing and frostbitten toes outdoors.
Not to say it wasn't cold inside, as the engineers of the arena streamed the frozen zamboni air straight thru to the confined space with a hand painted #2 in black on its door. You learned to dress before you got there wearing little canoe shaped socks over your blades so the gravel wouldn't burr that sharpening job received at Dave's Sport Shop on Wednesday. Heating was provided by a garage sale special that sat in the upper corner of the locker room that made more noise than provide any comfort.
But, the ice was always perfect. The glass-like smoothness, the lack of water spots, and the ability to dig those steel edges on the surface of the Elk River ice arena without worry of slush made even the newest skater streak a little faster. Sure, your breathe still waifed thru the air with every line-to-line killer and Russian Circle while practicing the rotation from front to back, back to front, crossing over without losing stride, but it wasn't the classroom where bullies picked on those things on your face or inability to hear the pig latin conversation.
This was my time.
There were no state-wide recognition, scholarship offers to any college, or even a picture as the top scorer of the week. Tall and skinny are only good if the back your hockey sweater says "Gretzky", and while there were glimps of skill with countless hours of stickhandling practice, my disablilties would hold me back to just enjoy where I was at. Standing to the side with one padded glove on top of my Christian brothers made stick watching the latest drill play out before mimicing the movements, always waiting for something to be done first so the embarrassment usually felt at school from not hearing the instructions wouldn't spill over to this tin-ladden shield.
There were lapses of course, times of defeat and hearing related blunders that would send me back to my black hole of shutting out the world. Hiding from parents and siblings under a scowl while diving into textbooks on a nightly basis. Friends were near non-existent at the time, only temporary ones popped up for sport seasons then as the participation trophies were handed out at Angeno's Pizza those temporary tattoo kinships washed off before the final station wagon drove home and I returned to the sanctuary of my parent's home.
Looking back while carrying my kids to day care each morning as they aren't old enough yet to feel the cruelness of exclusion based on other's perceived checkpoints for inclusion into their circle of friends, I hope to teach them to be strong enough to be their own self and not let others control their feelings as I did. I know now of the sacrifices my parents made so I could feel whole if just for a 55 minute practice or for those five second of team celebration after managing to put the biscuit in the basket. It wasn't because getting up at the ass-crack of dawn was fun, it was to allow their son a few moments of normallacy in an otherwise shitty situation. Blessed I am to have such parents and only now with two of my own do I reflect and appreciate for their effort versus wallowing in self-pity because certain body parts came out defective.
While I may never completely escape that black hole, there's a light being shown by those I've chosen to surround myself with in the past few years and its with their no-strings-attached friendship that makes my decision to become a parent easier with every non eaten piece of food on the multi-colored Ikea plates and every bedtime hug that will fade as they grow.