ON THIN ICE
Journal Entry, May 15th
I’m a liar. I know it, I hate it, and I can’t seem to help myself. I feel the lies piling up as if I’m being buried, each one a stone that keeps me pinned in a shallow grave.
God knows I have my reasons for hiding from the truth. Truth is hard and ugly. The lies are easier. As Mom gets sicker, my world grows smaller and the lies grow bigger. The uneven ground beneath my feet leaves me unsteady, and I’m waiting for the earthquake that will disrupt my life and change it forever.
At school, I’m expected to get all A’s. On the ice, I’m expected to pass tests, compete, and win. At home…well, I’m expected to be strong, help out, take charge and be an inspiration—like one of Mom’s Celine Dion slit-my-wrists songs. If I am “Perfect Penny”, maybe everything will be okay, but I know that I’m lying, even to myself. Because no matter how hard I try, I will never be good enough to change the truth.
I hit the ice at 8:00 a.m. Monday morning. Summer camp was one more step on the path to Olympic Gold. At least that’s what Mom has been telling me since I was eight. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that we would never have the money it would take to get me to the Olympics, no matter how talented I was. I started keeping track of our costs in little journals when I was about ten. After calculating the thousands of dollars my parents had spent over those first few years, it was clear to me that unless we found a wealthy sponsor who saw my potential, the best I could hope for was the ice show circuit or teaching.
That idea didn’t bother me the way it did Mom. I hated competing, but telling her that would have broken her heart. She had such high hopes for me, and with her cancer, I couldn’t let her down. So I worked hard and stuck to the plan.
But plans have a way of changing. I could spin with the best of them, but after my second concussion when I was fourteen, I developed a phobia of axels. I had no trouble with all of the other double jumps, but every time I tried to kick through to come off of that forward outside edge, my body balked. Without a double axel in my programs, pursuing a competitive freestyle career was futile. Despite trying every trick in the book, including the use of a jump harness and off-ice training,I couldn't overcome my fear. “Instinctual avoidance”, my coach called it. So, Mom got me started ice dancing, hoping I’d have a better chance at landing a partner—a possibility as slim as me escaping the horrors of daily life in the trenches at number four Barrett Street, also known as home sweet home. At least that’s what the sign above the kitchen door said.
A group of girls stood behind me waiting for the Zamboni to finish cleaning the ice. They were townies like me, but much younger, ranging in age from eight to thirteen, girls I helped teach basics to as part of our club’s mentoring program. Chad, a twelve year old boy with a handsome face and short blond hair stood amongst the girls trying to blend in. I had noticed some hockey players teasing him earlier and saw the hurt in his eyes. Before I’d had a chance to go put the brats in their place, another guy in a hockey uniform had scattered the little beasts with a few choice words. I would have to remember to thank him.
Chad was the token practice partner for the younger group, but none of them would land him as a permanent partner. There were ten girls to every one boy on the ice. It was an unspoken assumption that the boys got their pick of partners, and it only made good sense to choose a rich girl who could pay all of their expenses along the way.
This was clearly the case with our premier ice dance team, Kent and Daphne, who stood off to the side arguing about costumes for the upcoming show. Daphne had her hands on her hips and a look on her face that meant the argument would be short lived and she would be choosing the colors they would wear.