The fall of 1996. Bill Clinton had just had an easy slide to re-election (an event he might later regret, given what was to come); MSNBC had just launched, promising to be a 21st Century network, with a young omni-ethnic Soledad O’Brien and a computer generated co-anchor as two of their biggest stars. Oh, and my parents had just gotten a divorce.
I took it about as well as most early teens do. A little bit of shock, a little bit of anger, and a whole lot of confusion about what happens next. I found myself suddenly having to make a lot of decisions that had never been mine to make before: Where I wanted to live, where I wanted to go to school, and who I was going to spend the rest of my teen years being raised by. For a number of reasons that I will not go into right now, I chose to live with my father. He and I made the decision to leave the area where we lived in Ventura County to get a fresh start in the snow-capped San Bernadino mountains, specifically a small town called Crestline, on the outskirts of Lake Arrowhead. We had spent some time there a while back when he was on a job, and he and I had enjoyed it. My mother less so. With nothing holding us down at home we packed up and headed, full of hope, up the mountain.
It was a bitterly cold winter that year. The roads were frequently closed, and the only grocery store in our little town was often understocked due to delivery trucks not being able to make it up to us. I remember having almost a month’s worth of Snow Days, which while sounding great, mostly meant I spent all day and night on the computer since I didn’t really have many friends, or anywhere to go. So I became quite accustomed to the arcane squeaks of a dial-up modem connecting to the Internet, and the distant-but-cheerful voice saying “Welcome!” as I logged on to AOL. When he wasn’t working, my dad and I ended up spending a lot of time watching Back to the Future together. It became something of a tradition for us to watch BttF when we moved to a new place (Another reason the series is one of my all-time favorites). Eventually we got a break from the snow, so my dad decided to take us on an evening out. We hopped into his dented cream-colored F-150, and drove to the nearby “suburb” called Blue Jay, which has a rather large ice skating rink.
Now mind you, I was 14 at this point and probably even more awkward than you remember yourself being at that age. I was never the most physically active of kids, and had certainly never thought it was a sensible idea to strap razor-sharp steel to your feet and go flying around on ice with a dozen or more strangers. But somehow, my dad talked me into it, and before I knew it I was gliding, albeit wobbly, around the rink. Eventually I began to gain a little more confidence as my legs adjusted to their new method of transportation, and started to pick up some speed. I skated ahead of my dad, reminiscent of an earlier moment in life when my father let go of the bicycle seat, and finally let me ride down the road alone. Only this time instead of crashing into a bush and starting to cry, I took a funky turn and my legs came out from under me.
To the outside observer it must have looked like something out of a cartoon, or a madcap comedy. I felt my torso stay absolutely upright as my legs swung forward, suddenly parallel with the ice. Gravity, the cruel jester that it is, did the rest, slamming my backside onto the ice with the full weight of my not-slight teenage frame. A grenade of pain exploded through my body, and next thing I knew my father was picking me up and taking me to a bench off the ice.
When he started to unlace my skates I abruptly stopped him.
“What are you doing?” I asked, still smarting, wondering how taking off my skates was supposed to make my butt feel any better.
“I figured you were done with skating.”
“Dad, I’ll be fine, I just need a minute.” He stopped and looked at me for a while. It was a look I’d never seen him give me before. It was this strange mix of confusion, surprise, and just a hint of … pride? A few moments later I got back up and was out on the ice. We skated uneventfully for another hour or so until I decided what would really make me feel better was pizza.
It wasn’t until years later, when I brought up the story to my dad on one of those random occasions where you discuss odd events of your past, when he told me what that look meant. With the slightest hint of trepidation in his voice he said, “It meant I had just seen you grow up.”
It’s easy for us, in times of difficulty, to let the circumstances of our situation overwhelm us. But the truth is most of the time all you’ve done is fall on your butt. You just need to get up, and get back on the ice.