Meet Cute #15: The Ice Dancers

I met Lisa only a few years after my memories begin. I was seven, and she was eight. Before that I remember only a few things. The train set I got for Christmas when I was six, or pouting about going to Sunday school.

At the time I met her, I had vague notions, fueled by my parents, of becoming a singles figure skater. I’d been skating since I was five, so I had a certain naturalness on the ice.

But apparently my leaps weren’t spectacular or speedy or high enough. Because one day, after practice, Coach nudged me to the side of the rink, toward a tiny girl with her blonde hair in a ponytail.

“Tony, this is Lisa,” Coach said. “She practices here, too.”

“Hi,” I said.

Lisa said nothing back. She held her hands behind her, staring at the ice and twisting side to side.

Other kids in the rink rushed past, their skates clacking against the ice. The sound and movement made me impatient to join them.

After a few seconds of waiting in vain for the silent girl to speak, I started to skate away.

Coach grabbed me by the arm, his fingers wrapping all the way around my biceps. “Tony. Get back here.”

Lisa and I returned to staring down at our skates.

“Here’s the deal: The two of you are going to skate together,” Coach said.

“Why?” I asked. “I like skating by myself.”

“Well, you’re going to like skating with Lisa even more.”

Our moms must have both been present, somewhere in stands behind us, though I have no memory of seeing either of them. I’d find out years later that they’d condoned and helped orchestrate the meeting.

“Here,” Coach said. He took my hand and stuffed it in Lisa’s. I’d never held a girl’s hand before. Her fingers felt foreign and wrong in mine — hot, squirming. I felt embarrassed and saw that she, too, had reddened with shame.

But the moment didn’t last long, because Coach pushed us out into the rink. We had to hold onto each other with both hands now to keep from falling.

“Do a couple of passes around the ice!” he yelled. “And match your steps!”

We began to skate. Lisa was shorter than me, and her steps were smaller. I didn’t understand the notion of slowing down — of moderating my own speed, to match hers. She quickened her own pace to keep up.

“Tony! Smaller steps! Match her!”

I forced my feet to slow. I heard her panting softly beside me.

“Don’t you want to go faster?” I asked.

She shook her head. “This is as fast as I can go,” she said. They were the first words I’d heard her speak. Her voice was louder than I’d expected, firmer.

Coach was cupping his hands around his mouth. “OK, now try a spin!”

Without a second thought, I let go of her hands, spun on my own across the ice.

“No, no!” Coach yelled. “Together! Hold hands!”

I didn’t want to do it, and I was sure Lisa didn’t either. I would get her germs. The other kids on the rink would jeer.

Still, something made me skate back to Lisa. Maybe it was just the authority in Coach’s voice. But I like to think it was something more. Some understanding that this was what I was supposed to do.

I held out my hands to her and our eyes met — just for an instant. She glanced up in the stands — at her mother, I realize now. She bit her lip and took my hands.

“Good, now spin!” Coach said.

And we did. The stands were a blur around us even as her face stayed constant in my view.

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