Every successful relationship has its share of compromises and boundary pushing moments. One of the very first ones I experienced with the woman who would become my wife was her insistence that I learn how to dance. Really dance. Not that flopping around for which I had become known. I used this as a defense initially: "People say I'm a good dancer." She acknowledged this, but held firm. "But not a lot of fun for me to dance with you."
So began the somewhat painful but ultimately satisfying education of my feet to conform to a set of steps: box step, cha-cha, the waltz. Ah, that waltz. I could hear the music in my head but something about that structure put me off. I muttered one two three under my breath and kept my eyes down. It was no fun.
Until I practiced enough and realized that breaking into a waltz in public is a great way to blow up tension. If you don't believe me, pull the car over to the side of the road and ask your partner to get out there and dance with you on the shoulder. See if it doesn't win you some romance points. It worked for me.
Which was the kernel of what got me on skates last weekend. Coming out of the sporting goods store, I noticed a raised platform with children, of all ages, swirling around in circles in that unmistakable glide of blades on ice. I knew that my wife would love to have the chance to show off her skills, and she showed it with an embarrassed smile when I asked her if she wanted to go check it out. Being a grown up who is married to a profoundly land-based mammal, she declined, but kept walking with me toward the rink.
"It wouldn't be any fun unless you went with me," she said.
I kept cajoling, and by the time we were both signing our waivers, I had made up my mind to give it a try. What was the worst that could happen? I could fall down. A lot. I could hurt myself and since I had just signed away most of my rights as a citizen, there would be no recourse. I was going to strap on a pair of skates and attempt to do something that takes a lot of practice. With no real chance to do it in private first.
The walk across the carpet on those rented blades was awkward enough for me, but once we got out on the ice, every muscle tightened and I focused all my energy into staying upright. I clung to the rail and made my way around once, twice. Small children came up behind me, "Excuse me," the huffed as I blocked their passage. "Sorry," I replied through gritted teeth. I kept sending my wife off on another circuit as I plodded along. Slipping. Sliding.
When I looked up, I watched my wife, or rather I watched her smile as she drifted across the ice in an effortless way that made me wonder what cruel evolutionary step I had missed as I continued to skitter my way around the perimeter, where the slush was collecting and the clock in my head began to tick loudly.
How much more of this fun could I take?
I watched young men and women, boys and girls, dads and moms skating like it was part of normal pedestrian traffic. I could not comprehend it, and eventually made my way to the benches where I could watch my wife. Watch the breeze in her hair and the innate control she seemed to have over the path she made. In my mind, I pictured what I had hoped to be able to do. Nothing fancy, but something beyond that survival clamp I had on the wall of the rink. I wanted to skate with my wife. I wanted to share those moments with her.
And when all was said and done, with our orange plastic rental skates returned to the counter and we were back on the same footing of the parking lot, I realized we had.