Today is a great day. I’m so excited. I am well suited for the task. The sharp wind feels like slicing ice across the subtle, small, open spaces on my face between my hat and scarf. Everything else are no match for the rest of my body. My mom told me I had to layer up. So, she even helped me put on my long johns underneath my jeans and sweater. My coat is even insulated with a fleece underlaying. Anyway..., that’s what mom calls it. I don’t like to be cold. Mom doesn’t want me to be either. Afterwards, mom said she’s going to cook her famous chicken noodle soup. I can’t wait. The only catch is I must do well. Dad will be home later on. I can’t wait to brag to him how my first lesson went.
Mom is a pro. She’s been doing this since she was my age….six. I get to follow in her footsteps. One day hopefully I can be an all-American gold medal Olympian like her. Anyways, I carefully untie and take off my shoes. Mom hands me my pair of skates. As I place them on one by one, she ties them tightly one by one. Then she stands to her feet and swoops me on mine. I slip a little, from the uncomfortable feeling of the straight edge, but my mom holds my hand stern, so I don’t fall. I’m realizing that this isn’t as easy as mom makes it looks. When mom is on the ice she glides, flips, twists and spins with such great speed and ease, that the ice looks like her best friend.
Two steps and we make our way on the edge of the ice. There is no one else out with us. We are over a frozen pond at Sal J. Prezioso Mountain Lakes Park in North Salem. I love the quiet. I feel like I can focus better and listen to mom’s calm, soft, stern voice. Everything is carefully laid out for me on what I’m supposed to do and the way I must position my feet. I feel like my whole lower body is fighting against the weight of the skates, which seem as if they want to turn my feet inward and catapult me to fall. I don’t want to fall. I don’t want mom to let go of my hand either.
Mom appears to understand this. She has not let go of me yet. I kind of imagined her pushing me out, just like earlier this year when I learned to ride a bike without the training wheels on it. But it’s as if she understands my feet are not ready yet. And so, mom continues to tell me to ignore the weighted feeling, to balance my feet over the skate’s blade, and push my legs down to stay upright. After a minute I am standing up on my own. Mom is proud. I know it. I see the glow and glitter in her eyes. Mom has a slight smile, but is focused on my footing, as if there is still a lot more words waiting to part from her lips. As she notices I am balanced and my feet are still, mom carefully speaks the next set of directions. I push my feet out one by one, from side to side. Mom is beside me the whole time. Although she is not holding my hand, she is positioned beside me. So far so good. I continue to listen to her guidance and feel like this is going to be a piece of cake. I am feeling the skates unsteady wobble underneath my feet, still my skates are gliding about the ice. My mom then tells me to apply more pressure on feet so that my feet will be more steady gliding across the ice. Mom has on her skates too. She is skating alongside me. I do what my mom tells me to do, but I misjudge the weight and apply too much. That’s when it happens for the first time. The ice is extremely hard, and I’m knocked down with such force my arm hits with a loud bang. Startled from the fall it takes me a few seconds to make out the intense sharp pain shooting inside my left arm. I scream out, holding my arm, and wincing in pain. After a few seconds it calms down. Mom is by my side examining me. I can move it, so its not broken. Mom asked if I would like to continue. I didn’t want to disappoint her, and so I muscle up the strength to start again. I let her help me up, but this time I want her to hold my hand. This seems to work well. Instead of skating ahead, mom has me skate around her in a circle, as she holds my hand. Once I get the hang of it, I’m again back on my own. Mom lets go of my hand and watches me skate. We were on the ice for about an hour before I got it. But now I have it. Mom claps and smiles, cheering me on.
The hours are up now. It’s time to go home. I must learn how to skate well before mom says she’ll teach me any tricks. Mom always loves to show off on the ice. We both had fun. Putting the boots back on feels very different. The flat sole subconsciously reminds me of how difficult it was to hold my feet balanced. I make mention of it to my mother. Mom says I’ll get used to it.
We start our walk to the car. To the side of where we parked is a small pond where the ducks relax. If you ever pay attention to a duck, they seem very peaceful, just like the waters they travel on. My mom always tells me, ducks provide a glimpse into heaven. Their beauty, their glides over water, their four season and the tranquility of it all gives hints of the ethereal. This is how life is supposed to be. My mom feels like this when she ice skates.
The last memory I have of my mother is our drive home. Although freezing cold outside, the sunshine beaming through the window kept the car warm. That afternoon felt warmer than usual. I guess being in the chill of the outside weather for hours, has me happy to be inside a warm car. I felt safe, loved, and pleased to have learned the basics of mother’s trade. I must say she passed the gift down to me. No…..I’m joking. Mom says in another year or so I’ll be good enough for her to train me.
I’m in deep thought about the wonderful morning me and mom had, the feeling of being on the skates, and now the warmth of the car, when my mom suddenly hits on the breaks. The car does not stop, it seems to be sliding on the icy-covered road, and she’s yelling for me to hold on tight. Mom tries to gain control of the wheel, but the speed of the car is now doubled, and the ice won't let her. We are both screaming and worried for dear life. I don’t know what mom saw in the road to hit the breaks like that, but now the car won’t stop. All of this happened in a matter of thirty seconds. The scarier piece is it is not just us who’s car is skidding, but a huge truck trying to stop from the opposite side of road. The sound of the truck’s breaks, horn and skidding is triple the sound of ours and horrendous. All we can do is wait. The next thing I know, the trucks back section swerves to the side of the truck parallel to the driver. This part is what crashes into mom’s side of the car. We’re both out cold.
It is a week later. I wake up in the hospital. I’m in intensive care. I notice my father and grandparents are by my side. I’m in so much pain that I try to scream. I can’t. I realize there are tubes down my throat. My dad reaches over for my hand, he strokes my forehead and affectionately calms me down without words. I feel the pain slightly subside. Tears are in his eyes. Tears are in everyone’s eyes. I try to talk. I want to know about mom. Dad gently shushes me. He leans forward and kisses my forehead. He tells me not to worry. Everything is fine, he says.
The funeral passes with me in the hospital. I am in recovery for two months. Nothing matters to me much anymore. At six years old, I am so deep in a sunken place, that life feels numb. The days, weeks, seasons, months, and the years change, but I stay the same. Emotionless….. Motionless…… Stuck on that day. Stuck in time. Stuck in space.
Of course, I had to attend therapy throughout the years. Physical therapy, then mental therapy. As I got better physically, mentally I held onto the pain and anger. I couldn’t understand why my dad lied to me about my mother. Eventually he told me, but it was too late. The damage was already done. I died that day with mom.
I knew I had to grow up and make a living for myself. My depression diagnosis would not keep me financially suited for the world. I could not live with my father for the rest of my life. He remarried five years after mom. Still, there is a hole in the middle of our hearts. Dad still cries sometimes. I don’t.
Anyway. I’m twenty-three now. I’ve been working as a high school history teacher for a year, and it seems to spark a happy medium in my life. I have what I call “happy feelings” when I’m teaching. The children seem to like me as well. The summertime bores me. I have nothing to do, no children to teach. This is the time I stay very depressed. Despite the depression, I never take prescribed medication. I don’t drink alcohol, or do any kind of drug. I just sit in my nothingness, until school starts back up. I actually look forward to it starting next week.
Dad visits once a week. He brings my eight-year old little sister to see me twice a month. My “happy feelings” pay me a visit as well when she comes. I always have activities for us to do. She loves to paint. She loves to karaoke. She even loves to bake. I sometimes babysit her for the parents. That’s when we binge watch her favorite Disney movies. Dad and I have time together when he doesn’t bring her. We don’t talk about sports, how to fix cars, or other hobbies between a father and son. We just sit and have lunch together. He asks me about my week and offers to introduce me to some of his friend’s children, my age. Every week the answer is no. Every week my father still offers.
Now I’m back in front of the classroom. It is the same one from last year, so I don’t have to reposition the room. All I have to do is put up the same decorations and figure out this first week’s lesson plan. I always anticipate lots of participation. I have all summer to think of creative twists and plots and cool things for the school year.
Class starts. I teach high school, but I have these children jumping out of these seats like they’re five years old. It’s my gift. The principle tells me the kids are only excited about my class. He couldn’t believe the grades for every child coming out of my classroom, so in the second semester he sat in and watched with his own eyes the excitement and level of participation. Last year I won teacher of the year award. It was my first year as a teacher. I appreciated it but didn’t really care. Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Barrick seemed to be the one’s who did. They tried to protest my winning, but the principle simply shrugged them off. He said I deserved it, and if they wanted to win, to try and do what I’m doing. I had to admit, I thought it was the most funniest thing in the world. “Happy feelings” had a moment there too.
This week, I memorized all the children’s names and we played certain trivia. Classes were almost done. I was on the last class of the day, when “he” walked in. I recognize him from the newspaper articles written on him. I have this thing. Well…. I have a couple of things, but this thing is very important to me. It's supposed to keep me off the medication. If I do it, I might have my bad thoughts. I absolutely cannot watch any of the Olympic shows. I keep up with the articles and winnings, just for current event purposes. I am a history teacher. I recognize his picture in the newspapers. It can’t be, I thought. But the more I looked at him, the other children surrounded him, and he became the next biggest distraction (other than myself) in the room, I knew he was someone special. Maybe even someone special to me. I ask everyone to take their seat. Then I ask him what his name is. This is his first day in my class, and he’s holding some form of note from the office. He hands the note. He stares at me, as if I just asked him a foreign question. When I ask him again, he responds. My name is Michael Jacobs. As the words rolled off of his lips, I was gasping in mine. He is a star. One of the best junior skating Olympians competing for the gold this year. I shake his hand and congratulate him on his successes. I am so star struck, but I hold my composure. I restructure the kids from their star “struckeness” too and try to keep a straight equanimity while I pick back up the trivia. Some kind of way I got the children to pick up right where we left off. I have a challenge on my hands. How can we stay focused on schoolwork when Michael was a part of it? I wondered how many passes I would have to give him. Mom said………Mom…..oh never mind.
As the weeks go by, everyone gets used to Michael being in the classroom. Of course, the first day everyone went home and told their parents who was in their school/my class. Young Michael was treated like a celebrity for a week. Parents were taking pictures, asking him for autographs. It had gotten so bad that the principle asked for cars to be parked around the corner to pick up children. The cars were holding up traffic in the parking lot. School security was ignored. Then everything went semi-normal. We still shot him out everyday in the classroom, from the parking lot, the lunchroom, gym, etc., but he’s one of us now. It’s been a while since the town has seen millionaire talent in the building, let alone neighborhood. It’s been awhile since…..since….. Oh never mind.
The more I see the kid in my class, the more he reminds of……her. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I don’t know what to do. The “happy feelings” stop showing up. I start slowing down and became a regular teacher. One afternoon, when everyone left, he stayed behind. We get into a conversation. The young man seemed to be levelheaded, but at this moment, he was terrified. He begins to talk to me about competing in the Olympics, and how that frightened him. I started to give advice. Then something happened. Without me even knowing, I started sharing stories of my feelings when I was a little boy. I too, wanted to grow up to be an Olympian. I told him I was trying to fill my mother’s shoes. Then I talked about her. It had been so long since...... I talked about her. Michael had done something, not even the therapists could do. I cried. Michael understood. No one mentions it, but everyone knows whose son I am.
“Happy feelings” are here. "Sad feelings" are here too. Michael is patient with me. I stop crying. He shakes my hand. He even thanks me for sharing. The conversation appeared to help the both of us. I go home just as soon after I finish grading. I try to clear my mind from the talk I had earlier in the day, but nothing is working. So, I finally step outside my home to grab a drink from the bar. I’m using the word finally because I’ve never had a drink before. The bar is about a five-minute walk. I’m a block away when I notice my dad turning around the corner. He sees me, parks, and meets me on the sidewalk.
“Where are you going son?” “Ugh…. Nowhere. Just went for a walk.” “A walk....? You don’t go for walks.” “Well, I…I….” “It’s okay son. You’re grabbing your first drink, aren’t you?” “How did you know?” “You’re my son… I know that look.” “I have a look?” “Yes…. The first drink look.” “Oh dad…whatever.’’ “Come on. We’ll have one together.” “Okay.”
Me and my dad had drinks. The company feels good. Although he’s twice my senior, my dad looks good for his age. He could pass for one of my younger colleagues. We start to talk. I tell him about Michael. Dad heard about the famous kid at the school where I was teaching. He starts to reminisce about how it was to be with my mom during her Olympic days. He explained how excited he was to be dating a gold medal Olympian. He never felt intimidated, for he was a big-time lawyer. And when they married, what a power couple they became. They were truly in love. He still misses her. This was our first talk ever in years about my mother. All the feelings I could think of came rushing back. We cried together. My dad warned me to take it easy on the beers. “They creep up on you,” he says. Anyway, it felt good for the talk. Afterwards, dad drives me home. I sleep like a newborn baby.
The next morning, I awake for work. I don’t have a hangover, surprisingly. I mean I only had three beers. It was my first time, and I felt the beers were pretty light. I don’t want to make it a habit, but I make plans to go out this weekend. I ask a couple of co-workers from work. They’re always inviting me out anyway. I figured I take them up on the offer.
Class is the same, exciting, fun and interesting. We decide to talk about Michael today. It is coming close to his competitions. He practices everyday after school, but the practices will start to get intense in the next couple of weeks. He has made it to the finals, and the real competitions begin in the next month. He will miss school, for the competitions are time consuming. I gave him his work already. He devotes an extra thirty minutes a night to stay ahead. The last day of class for him was the saddest. Everyone wished him luck. He hugs me and hands me an envelope. He tells me not to open it until next week. I agree and we all see him leave school by limousine, where he is going straight to the airport.
We continue with class as if he isn’t there. We miss him, but we carry on. We watch reports on the Olympics, cheering on the sidelines for him. He is such an amazing skater. It reminds me of watching my mother when she was alive. Anyway, the week ends. I had been itching all week to open the envelope. The envelope looks plain, but I can tell there are things in it. Just as I open it, turn it upside down, three tickets fall out. Two are round trip airport tickets to China. The other ticket is for the Olympics. I get to see him in his final competition!!!!!!!!!! So much for drinks next week. I am so happy I fall out of my work chair. This makes a loud bang, and the teachers run down the hallway to my classroom to check on me. I am off the floor by the time they arrive. I show them the tickets. Immediately the tickets are snatched from my hand and being passed around. I hear someone say “Man you lucky son of a bbb..” He stops when all eyes turn and are glued to his lips. I kindly take my tickets back from them. I immediately inform the principle, who then assigns my classroom a substitute. He pats me on the back. I leave.
I only dreamed about going to the Olympic games again. That year my mom was supposed to take me to hers. We all went as support four years prior, so I don't really remember because I was only two. As I sit in the crowded room, I imagined it would be much bigger. So big I and everyone else would look like a needle in a haystack. But we don’t. When I was kid, I wanted this to be me. Although it’s not my life, at this moment, I kind of feel like it is. I imagine I’m one of the ice skaters gearing up. That day so vivid in my mind again. I try and take my mind off my mother’s face. I envisioned her helping me with my skates again. The memories become so deafening and blinding, I can no longer stay in the stadium. I have to leave…. Just as I stood up, my eyes refocused, and I caught a glimpse of Michael walking at the bottom. It was his turn. He was up.
The intensity of it all. You must be extremely quiet when the skaters start their performance on the ice. I notice his nervousness some yards away, but then I see a calmness and competitive spirit take over his demeanor. The boy skated like his life depended on it. I could not stop crying. I was so proud of him. He danced with another young lady too. They did extremely well. All high, top, scores. Later he walked away with the gold.
I met up with him and his family when the competitions were over. We decided to have dinner together the next morning. China was beautiful. I was awed throughout the cities, admiring the culture, the food, and the architect. This was what my mom experienced, I thought. I felt so close to her in every moment within the last couple of days that the cold air was no match for the warmth of the sun. After eating dinner with Michael’s family, Michael asks me to meet him down the road in 15 minutes.
Not knowing where to go, he instructs me to just follow the road up. Up the road is a building where he wants me to meet him. Next to the building are some ducks in a pond. I thought to myself, I haven't seen those little buddies in awhile. Then remember the pond where mom parked her car that day. Every moment was reminding me of my mother’s last hours. I arrive at the building and he’s already there inside holding two pairs of skates. The building is an ice-skating rink. Tears fill my eyes again. It is the anniversary of my mother’s death. Usually, I would decline, but today and the moment is the right time. Without hesitation, I put on the skates. Michael holds my hands and guides me on the ice. It’s been seventeen years……. And I still got it!