In the Shadow of Parsenn

New England Review - - Table of Contents - Tes­ti­monies Lor­raine Han­lon Co­manor

The wicked dance in which you are caught up will last many a lit­tle sin­ful year yet, and we would not wa­ger much that you will come out whole.— The Magic Moun­tain, Thomas Mann

My fi­nal year of skat­ing I lived in a Swiss vil­lage at the base of Parsenn, Thomas Mann's Magic Moun­tain. The town be­came the hub of my ex­is­tence, not only a ge­o­graph­i­cal cen­ter from which I trav­eled to shows and com­pe­ti­tions, but a place of self-reck­on­ing. The day I was forced to leave, I took with me a Bavar­ian doll, a book of pressed wild­flow­ers, a col­lec­tion of Ger­man texts, and two black-and-white pho­to­graphs: one of old folks stream­ing up the hill to the thir­teenth-cen­tury Frauenkirche, the other of the Höhen­weg, a path I used to take to Parsenn. Today the Ger­man texts sit in my book­case be­hind the doll, wait­ing to be reread. The pho­tos hang in my bed­room, the first thing I see in the morn­ing and the last at night. A last prac­tice ses­sion in the Lon­don sub­urb of Rich­mond with my new Swiss trainer, Arnold Ger­schwiler. Then a flight to Zürich, a cab to the Bahn­hof, a train to Landquart, and a change to the nar­row-gauge Rhätis­che Bahn to climb the fif­teen hun­dred me­ters to Davos. A four-hour train ride in 1962. I brought along a Ger­man gram­mar.

Our first stop on ar­rival was the out­door reg­u­la­tion rink sur­rounded by Alps in their full sum­mer glory, cows graz­ing in the high pas­tures. The town had wanted an elite fig­ure skater, and af­ter the 1962 World Cham­pi­onships, the mayor had in­vited me to be its guest. At six­teen I had trou­ble be­liev­ing that I was go­ing to train in this alpine par­adise. With the ex­cep­tion of two months' out­door work in Cortina, a town in the Dolomites, I'd mostly prac­ticed in build­ings that re­sem­bled air­plane hangars.

Mother watched from the side­lines as I com­pleted a set of brack­ets, mak­ing sure I was tak­ing full ad­van­tage of my re­cent lessons, in­cor­po­rat­ing all the changes Arnold had made to my school fig­ures. This new trainer, she hoped, would help me make the leap from the se­cond Amer­i­can girl to the US fig­ure skat­ing cham­pion. Un­like in Cortina, there was no re­tractable cur­tain here to shade the ice from the alpine sun. I strug­gled to make out my trac­ing in the glare. Af­ter I'd com­pleted a set of brack­ets, she beck­oned me over to the boards. If I would carry my weight just a tad fur­ther back, my skate would run bet­ter.

What did she know about how to stand on a blade? She was a painter.

In a few days, she'd re­turn to our Bos­ton home, and I'd be com­pletely on my own. I'd had the lec­ture on chastity and dis­trac­tions, the for­mer some­thing to keep, the lat­ter—pre­sum­ably ro­man­tic in­volve­ment—some­thing to avoid. I'd lis­tened du­ti­fully. I was used to her con­tin­ual pres­ence in the bleach­ers, her re­it­er­a­tion of my mis­takes at din­ner while she ad­mon­ished me to sit up straight. Af­ter three hours of con­tin­u­ous pulling up, forc­ing my shoul­ders back, I liked noth­ing bet­ter than to slouch at the ta­ble.

But aside from my delight at the prospect of be­ing on my own in a pic­ture­book town, part of me was in a shadow, re­cov­er­ing from the pre­vi­ous year's dis­as­ter. The crash of Sabena Flight 548 in Brussels had killed all seventy-two on board and dec­i­mated the US Fig­ure Skat­ing Team. Of the thirty-four skaters, par­ents, coaches, and of­fi­cials on the flight, nine were from Bos­ton. But for a last minute ul­ti­ma­tum from Win­sor, my elite pri­vate school, I would have been on board too. My name had not even been re­moved from the pas­sen­ger list. From the patch­work quilt of days that fol­lowed, be­gin­ning with the 5 a.m. re­porter's call to my fa­ther ask­ing for an in­ter­view and at the same time in­form­ing him of his wife's and daugh­ter's deaths, what I mostly re­mem­bered were the sleep­less nights, read­ing nov­els of dis­as­ter like Ethan Frome and The Bridge of San Luis Rey, try­ing to make sense of an event for which there was no ex­pla­na­tion, try­ing to ban­ish the im­age of a pho­to­graph I'd seen of the bro­ken air­plane wing with a pair of blades sol­dered to its tip, and flap­ping be­neath it in the rub­ble the cover of Sports Il­lus­trated fea­tur­ing a smil­ing Lau­rence Owen, Amer­ica's new­est fig­ure skat­ing queen. Al­though here in the moun­tains I could es­cape the ghosts of my Amer­i­can friends, es­pe­cially those who haunted my home club in Bos­ton, I still felt their loss and the weight of the dis­as­ter's legacy. It was not just a mat­ter of com­ing up to their stan­dard. As one of the few elite Amer­i­can skaters left, I now had no ex­cuse for not be­ing the best.

A tem­po­rary di­ver­sion from trou­ble­some thoughts: Ger­man skaters were com­ing for an ex­hi­bi­tion. Seppi, whom I had taken up with at the last World Cham­pi­onships, should be among them. Would he still be in­ter­ested in me?

When he ar­rived, I placed a camel spin cen­ter ice, with the blade of my free leg caught in my right hand and pulled up high over my head. A beau­ti­ful spin, but its po­si­tion made it hard to gen­er­ate much cen­tripetal force, and hence, much speed. At its fin­ish, Seppi was still in­tent on lac­ing his boots. What I needed was a blur­ring spin like those of Ron­nie Robert­son, the Olympic sil­ver medal­ist. He'd been clocked spin­ning be­tween seven and eight rev­o­lu­tions per se­cond, faster than an elec­tric fan, so fast that his eyes used to bleed. At seven, when I tried copy­ing his mar­velous spins, Mother would lean over the boards to comment, “I don't see any blood.” Other par­ents would look at her quizzi­cally, miss­ing the imp­ish grin. De­spite the joke, spins that pro­duced bleed­ing eyes be­came the gold stan­dard.

Start­ing a scratch spin now, I pulled as hard as pos­si­ble, com­plet­ing maybe twenty rev­o­lu­tions be­fore run­ning my in­dex finger over my eye­lid. No blood. I

pushed back the sleeves of my dress. On my fore­arms, lit­tle blood ves­sels were burst­ing. The next best thing to bleed­ing eyes. Glanc­ing at the bleach­ers again, I gave my skirt a lit­tle tug. Ac­tu­ally, it wasn't much of a skirt, just two ruf­fles set off the hips of a Vi­en­nese stretch wool leo­tard, the one I had had to pack away last fall when a Bos­ton judge had in­quired af­ter the iden­tity of the Euro­pean tart on the ice. Maybe Seppi thought I was one of the lo­cals. He fi­nally fin­ished lac­ing his boots but had still to look in my di­rec­tion. In these few short months had he for­got­ten our evening in the stair­well of Prague's In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel? He took the ice and I watched him warm up, skat­ing with such en­ergy, a kind of Puck. His school fig­ures weren't as good as mine, but he popped off a dou­ble Lutz, a jump I had not been able to do con­sis­tently, like it was a bunny hop. Per­haps if I put my show mu­sic on, he might take note of Frank Si­na­tra singing “Vo­lare.”

He was well into the prac­tice be­fore he smiled in my di­rec­tion. A win­ning smile, but fleet­ing. He seemed de­ter­mined not to be dis­tracted. I smiled back, won­der­ing if I should say some­thing— ciao, servus, salü, sali— but, un­able to de­cide which one might sound best, I did a dou­ble toe loop in­stead. At the end of prac­tice, I joined him on the bench, un­sure of how close I should sit. “What are you do­ing here?” He didn't look up as he un­laced his boots. “I live in Davos now.” I was afraid if I said too much, I'd make a gram­mar mis­take. “I'm go­ing to the Mit­telschule.”

He nod­ded as if Amer­i­can girl­friends al­ways ended up in Swiss towns. I could have brained him for his non­cha­lance. At dusk, we walked back to­gether to­wards his ho­tel. Once we reached a quiet street, he took my hand, his fin­ger­tips press­ing against my palm. He stopped, turned me to face him, and kissed me, first ten­ta­tively, then with the gusto he'd shown in Prague. The mid­sum­mer night's dream be­gan.

The day af­ter the ex­hi­bi­tion, Seppi re­turned home and so did Mother. I don't re­mem­ber in­tro­duc­ing the two, but later he would tell me that she'd given him the dis­tinct im­pres­sion that he should stay away from her daugh­ter. “It was worse than if she'd said, `I don't like you,'” he'd told me. “It was as if I weren't even there.”

The rink was quiet again, only a few of Arnold's skaters train­ing. Shortly, they too would go back to the UK, and I would be left to prac­tice on my own un­til the Oc­to­ber school break when I was to re­turn to Rich­mond.

Within a few weeks, I set­tled into my rou­tine at the Mit­telschule, a lo­cal high school housed in an old sana­to­rium that also had a dorm for out-of-town stu­dents. I strug­gled through the classes, spend­ing too much time with my nose in a dic­tionary, and grad­u­ally chang­ing my frac­tured Vi­en­nese di­alect to a com­i­cal mix­ture of Swîtzertütsch and Ger­man.

Seppi and I had agreed to write. His first let­ter came to the rink, a re­count­ing of our time in Prague and Davos, how he wished I would sim­ply change schools and come to stay in Ober­st­dorf, how we would go swim­ming to­gether on va­ca­tions, maybe stay in a lit­tle cabin in the woods he knew. In Prague I'd ap­par­ently asked him if he'd ever kissed a girl be­fore, but he'd for­given me and

signed off with a bar­rage of kisses. His letters usu­ally ar­rived on Wed­nes­day. When our weekly in­ter­val ex­tended to ten days, I was fran­tic, check­ing the school desk ev­ery af­ter­noon for the mail. I couldn't say for sure what it was about this boy I found so at­trac­tive—the Nordic col­or­ing, the jaunty pre­sen­ta­tion, the at­ten­tion to me, the step into free­dom. Per­haps some com­bi­na­tion of all of the above. Read­ing his letters fifty-two years later, I re­al­ize I'd also been snagged by the hu­mor: be­tween para­graphs about our ex­hi­bi­tion sched­ules are hi­lar­i­ous de­scrip­tions of him­self af­ter our en­coun­ters—the squished tomato face sure to be no­ticed by the wife of the town mayor, the in­side of his cheeks that felt like a pot of boil­ing bul­lion had been poured over them, the rough sand­pa­per tongue that hung like a limp cauliflower in his mouth.

At first our mus­ings were mostly con­cerned with our school and skat­ing week, what was go­ing on in his fam­ily—grace­fully skirt­ing the topic of ro­mance ex­cept for the sign-off of kisses and one hint: without telling me, he'd tried to re­turn to Davos on his Vespa, but his par­ents had caught him some dis­tance out­side of Ober­st­dorf and brought him home.

Writ­ing in Ger­man was a chal­lenge. I needed a Teu­tonic Cyrano de Berg­erac, some­one to help me to be witty, charm­ing, and gram­mat­i­cally cor­rect. Of­ten I spent more time on my weekly let­ter than I did on my home­work, but was too em­bar­rassed to ask my room­mate for help. I didn't want to talk about my boyfriend in case he went away. My Amer­i­can life faded into the dis­tance. With no news­pa­pers or TV at school, I lost track of cur­rent events. Oc­ca­sion­ally I saw a pa­per in town, but for the most part I was con­tent to leave Amer­i­can pol­i­tics be­hind and to for­get, as best I could, about the Brussels crash. One world event did grab my at­ten­tion, though: the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis. While the Swiss laughed at the in­ci­dent—no one, not even the Rus­sians, would be so stupid as to launch a mis­sile at the Us—my par­ents were truly alarmed. They wired a thou­sand dol­lars from the States in the event our coun­try ceased to ex­ist and I had to stay in Switzer­land, which would have been fine with me.

As it hap­pened, just fol­low­ing the Cuban cri­sis and within a week of the start of the Oc­to­ber hol­i­day, the Mit­telschule staff dis­cov­ered build­ing re­pairs that needed im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion. Fall break would start early, four days be­fore I was due in Rich­mond. Armed with a bit of ex­tra cash, I tele­graphed Seppi with a bold plan for my un­ac­counted-for days: in­stead of go­ing to Rich­mond via Zürich, I could come via Ober­st­dorf. The rink had closed for the month, he tele­graphed back. Would I come any­way? Of course, I would.

Over the fol­low­ing few days I was jumpy, sure some­one would dis­cover my altered reser­va­tion or that my par­ents would hear of the sched­ule change and let Arnold know I'd be ar­riv­ing early in Rich­mond.

The train sta­tion was crowded the morn­ing of the hol­i­day start. When I looked for an empty car away from the other stu­dents, a Dutch class­mate

fol­lowed me, sug­gest­ing we travel to the Zürich air­port to­gether. I nod­ded, not know­ing what to say, how to lose him, my stom­ach do­ing flip-flops the en­tire two and a half hour ride to Landquart. As we pulled into the sta­tion, he of­fered to help me with my bag. I told him I could man­age, as I headed to the next car, sup­pos­edly to find an­other class­mate. “Macht schnell,” he called af­ter me. The con­nec­tion time was tight.

Thank­fully, he'd gone when I re­turned, as I had less than five min­utes to find the train to Ober­st­dorf. Try­ing to keep my dis­tance from the throng of school­mates head­ing to Zürich, I crossed the tracks il­le­gally and re­luc­tantly checked in with the con­duc­tor in hes­i­tant Swîtzertütsch. “Ufem an­dere Gleis.” He nod­ded in the di­rec­tion of the next track and be­fore he could in­sist that I go around the other way, I bolted to the Ober­st­dorf train, choos­ing a seat where I couldn't be seen from the plat­form. If Herr Dok­tor Magg, one of the Mit­telschule's Bavar­ian teach­ers, were to ap­pear, I'd in­vent an in­vi­ta­tion to a Bavar­ian ex­hi­bi­tion. By the time the doors closed, Dok­tor Magg had yet to ma­te­ri­al­ize, but my heart was beat­ing loud enough to be heard in the next car. Surely by now some­one had no­ticed I was not on the Zürich train.

As we ap­proached the Ger­man bor­der, I be­came in­creas­ingly anx­ious. What mix of ex­pe­ri­ences—lis­ten­ing to war sto­ries, read­ing Anne Frank, or dur­ing a re­cent trip to Ber­lin hear­ing shots from the just-com­pleted Wall—pro­duced this re­ac­tion, I couldn't quite say, but I'd never been com­pletely com­fort­able in Ger­many. I told my­self Seppi had noth­ing to do with these events. Still, sup­pose he changed his mind about the whole plan? Fret­ting away the hours, I watched the sil­ver land­scape turn gray. Even­tu­ally the train slowed, the wheels screeched, and the con­duc­tor an­nounced the fi­nal sta­tion: Ober­st­dorf. First to reach the opened door, I bumped my suit­case down the metal steps, scan­ning the plat­form for a head of wheat-col­ored hair. He was not there. Af­ter three tele­grams he hadn't come? I'd just made a seven-and-a-half hour trip to a strange coun­try for naught. The sta­tion house was out of fo­cus. Wip­ing my eyes, I promised my­self never to com­plain again about the English rain and fog, as I looked for the kiosk, where I could buy a re­turn ticket. With luck, I'd get back to Zürich and off to Lon­don without any­one know­ing just how fool­ish—or, more ac­cu­rately, dev­as­tated—i'd been. Fi­nally, I came to the end of the train where I could pick my way across the tracks, lug­ging my im­pos­si­bly heavy bag be­hind me. I was wal­low­ing in pity when I looked up and saw him at the gate, sport­ing a grin.

Cel­e­brat­ing my un­de­tected es­capade at the ho­tel, I or­dered a glass of wine with din­ner. It went straight to my head be­fore I'd even fin­ished it and could take my­self un­steadily back to my room to en­ter­tain my fan­tasies in pri­vate.

Dur­ing the next three morn­ings, I read pa­tiently un­til Seppi was out of school and we could walk hand-in-hand through the town with its wooden chalets perched on stone, the All­gäu Alps in the back­ground. The weather was per­fect, just a hint of fall in the air. As we couldn't train, he showed me around. We strolled by the rush­ing Tret­tach, find­ing a se­cluded bench where we re­sumed our fa­vorite ac­tiv­ity with wild aban­don. All too soon, he had to go home to

din­ner and I back to the ho­tel, as there was no ex­tra room in his house for guests. I wasn't even sure he'd told his par­ents about my visit. The se­cond day he took me to a bor­ing sci-fi movie. He was en­thralled and I couldn't wait un­til it was over, but I would have watched that film ev­ery af­ter­noon if it could have pro­longed my three-day visit. Af­ter­wards we spent so much time on our bench that the fol­low­ing day his mother and his school friends asked him what was wrong with his mouth.

Re­luc­tantly, I boarded the train back to Zürich, try­ing not to think of the damp­ness that awaited me in Rich­mond. I'd worked hard and Arnold was pleased with my progress, but out­side the rink my mind was com­pletely en­grossed in an Ober­st­dorf reverie. Each day, I hur­ried back to my postage-stamp room, an­tic­i­pat­ing the let­ter that ar­rived sev­eral days later. “Au­thor: slightly to def­i­nitely crazy, but not yet ready for the in­sane asy­lum. Con­di­tion bad, but no longer dan­ger­ous, as the dan­ger source has gone to an­other lo­ca­tion.” I scanned it quickly for the magic four-let­ter word (ac­tu­ally five in Ger­man) that I had yet to hear from him and had been too shy to use my­self. In the mid­dle of page three, I stopped: he couldn't be­lieve he had fallen in love with a girl who seemed to be in love with him too. I did a pirou­ette, bump­ing into the bed, be­fore run­ning off to buy some blue eye shadow. With my nose to the mir­ror, I first ap­plied it just un­der the brow and then cov­ered the whole eye­lid, un­cer­tain of the effect. The next day, Arnold looked at me askance and noted that I didn't usu­ally wear eye makeup to prac­tice. Al­ready com­pos­ing the re­turn let­ter in my head, I had to force my­self to con­cen­trate on my fig­ures. When I fi­nally read the end of his let­ter, I learned that our plan for an Ober­st­dorf de­tour on my way back from the UK had been way­laid by his par­ents sched­ul­ing a trip to Heil­bron. There would be other ex­hi­bi­tions, other chances for us to get to­gether, he'd said. The rain streaked my win­dow­pane. But then it was usu­ally rain­ing in the UK. Back in Davos, the good fall weather con­tin­ued for some time, but some days were un­sea­son­ably warm and I felt slug­gish on the ice. The Föhn ar­riv­ing, my school­mates told me. It was said to be re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­thing from headaches to mad­ness.

And mad­ness en­croached on my world that Novem­ber, de­spite my at­tempt to limit my time com­pos­ing letters to Seppi and gaz­ing at his pic­ture. I be­gan to won­der if Seppi's mother dis­ap­proved of us, as I knew my mother dis­ap­proved of Ger­mans. Seppi as­sured me this was not the case. Still, I had my doubts, and lit­tle mis­un­der­stand­ings crept into our letters un­til at one point he said that he might not be able to feel a hun­dred per­cent com­fort­able with an Amer­i­can, just as the re­v­erse seemed to be true. Want­ing me to un­der­stand that ev­ery peo­ple had their good and bad sides, he chose to de­scribe the bad be­hav­ior of some of the Amer­i­can soldiers sta­tioned in Garmisch. Up un­til then, the War had never come up and I had not wanted to bring it up, sens­ing that in Europe the topic was off lim­its. He signed off as Sepp, his more se­ri­ous self.

The last thing I wanted was to be as­so­ci­ated with an oc­cu­py­ing army. But as I reread these letters now, I see we were try­ing to un­der­stand what the re­la­tion­ship be­tween our peo­ples would be in the post­war era. We weren't very skill­ful and we didn't get very far, but at least we had a stab at it, al­though the at­tempt may have been the be­gin­ning of our un­rav­el­ing. Each week the school doled out eight francs of spend­ing money. Most stu­dents bought Lindt cho­co­late. Some went to the movies. Since Sepp and I seemed to have got­ten past our un­com­fort­able po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions—his last let­ter had be­gun with Mein lieb­ster Spatz— I saved my al­lowance for a few weeks and bought a sweater pat­tern, knit­ting nee­dles, and yarn—a light corn­flower blue, which would look very good with his eyes. I hadn't knit any­thing for years but was con­fi­dent the skill would come back.

Over hol­i­days and breaks, when the school was closed, I was to stay with the fam­ily of one of the Mit­telschule's Ger­man lit­er­a­ture teach­ers. They lived in Friederich­haus in Davos Dorf, the next town to the Platz. Herr Dok­tor Brück­mann was a philoso­pher. I didn't know any philoso­phers, and my school­mates were afraid of this one. When I pressed them fur­ther, I learned noth­ing more than he some­times chewed with his mouth open.

I hauled my suit­case and skates onto the bus and, af­ter a short ride to the Dorf, knocked, with trep­i­da­tion, on their door. Ruth Brück­mann an­swered, smil­ing, with two lit­tle boys, Philipp and Ursi, in tow. The chil­dren looked at me wide-eyed, as if to ask what I was do­ing there. Ar­tur, her hus­band—herr Dok­tor Brück­mann to me—would re­turn in time for lunch, she said. A few min­utes later a sub­stan­tial man, dressed in bulky cor­duroy trousers and a loose-fit­ting sweater, opened the door, stamp­ing the snow off his feet.

Ruth served rösti and sausage, prob­a­bly not what I should have been eat­ing, but I was hun­gry and it was good. Con­ver­sa­tion was halt­ing. “How did you come to Davos?” Ar­tur asked, be­tween mouth­fuls of rösti. While the boys rocked in their chairs and Ar­tur ad­mon­ished them to be quiet, I ex­plained that I was a skater, a guest of the town. From their puz­zled expressions I could tell that the con­cept of trav­el­ing for a sport was for­eign to them. We changed the sub­ject. At the end of the meal I helped Ruth clear and wash the dishes. She served cof­fee in the liv­ing room be­side the mu­sic stands. She sang; he played vi­o­lin. Be­fore call­ing his boys for story time, he put on a record—bartók, I thought. This was a long mid­day break, and a dif­fer­ent house­hold than I ex­pected. I was al­most re­luc­tant to go back to the rink. Seppi and I had been work­ing on a plan to get me back to Ober­st­dorf for Christ­mas, but we al­ways seemed to be in­vited to dif­fer­ent ex­hi­bi­tions. Mid­De­cem­ber he was sched­uled to per­form for the Queen Mother. As an ex­cuse to go back to Ger­many, I told ev­ery­one I'd been in­vited, ne­glect­ing to men­tion

the ex­hi­bi­tion dates—mid­week, not dur­ing the hol­i­days—and the lo­ca­tion— Lon­don, not Ober­st­dorf.

This time I knew where to find Seppi at the sta­tion, even though it was dark by the time my train pulled in. He was stand­ing be­hind the gate, arms akimbo, head slightly cocked to one side, with that amused ex­pres­sion that al­ways made me a bit giddy. Re­served in pub­lic, he kept a re­spectable dis­tance while walk­ing me to the ho­tel, even bring­ing my suit­case up to my over­heated room. As soon as the door closed, he tore my coat off. He was barely a cou­ple of inches taller than I, so I felt the heat of ev­ery inch of his body press­ing into mine, his hands work­ing their way down from my waist. The next mo­ment we were on the bed, still fully clothed, shoes fly­ing, the un­lit room swim­ming, the kisses com­ing harder as he fum­bled with the but­tons of my sweater. I was wear­ing enough lay­ers that I had no im­me­di­ate fear of get­ting down to skin, so I kissed him back, adhering to the full length of him as if we'd both been painted with Krazy Glue. But sud­denly he stood up, backed away. Part of me was put off by the abrupt­ness of his with­drawal, but, Mother's chastity lec­ture still in my ear, I was also a small part re­lieved as I pulled my­self off the bed.

“You know what I want.” His hands, now on my shoul­ders, an­chor­ing me a foot away from him, as if I were con­ta­gious. “But I can't have it. Ger­man men marry late, not be­fore thirty.”

The au­thor­i­tar­ian voice didn't be­long to the Seppi I knew. We were sup­posed to wait twelve years? I didn't re­spond, but he must have read my puz­zled ex­pres­sion by the street­light that was com­ing through the blinds. He shrugged and we pulled our­selves to­gether. He was ex­pected home for din­ner. He'd come by to take me to prac­tice in the morn­ing. Alone, I spent the evening peek­ing through the wrap­ping at his sweater, hop­ing he would like it.

The next day the tem­per­a­ture dropped to mi­nus thirty Cel­sius. Prac­tice was dif­fi­cult, our lungs burn­ing with any ex­er­tion. It was al­most dark when we left the rink. I rode on the back of his Vespa, through the post­card-per­fect vil­lage with its now barely vis­i­ble red roofs, hang­ing on tight, as we bumped over the ruts in the snowy roads. My head against his broad back, I was now con­vinced the sweater would be too tight. My par­ents had for­bid­den me to ride on mo­tor­cy­cles, but, with the over­head riot of stars, I wouldn't have missed this jaunt for any­thing. I could al­most hear Franz Gru­ber play­ing “Stille Nacht” in the lit­tle church.

There were no lights on at his house when we ar­rived. I fol­lowed him up the dark stairs. By cus­tom, on Christ­mas Eve, the liv­ing room door was kept closed un­til af­ter the Christ Child came. As he opened the door, I could just make out the sil­hou­ette of his mother light­ing real white can­dles on the tree. When I told her how beau­ti­ful it was—the most beau­ti­ful tree I'd ever seen—she smiled. In his last let­ter Seppi had apol­o­gized in ad­vance for their sim­ple cel­e­bra­tion, but I couldn't have imag­ined any­thing quite as lovely.

Fol­low­ing our sup­per of Ger­man cold cuts, Seppi handed me a pack­age from be­neath the tree. It was larger than I'd ex­pected, ir­reg­u­lar in shape, and crinkly. I'd been hop­ing for some­thing small, a piece of jew­elry, a sim­ple bracelet

or neck­lace, some­thing like the en­graved four-leaf-clover charm Greg, my best skat­ing friend, had given me a few Christ­mases ago. Think­ing about how I used to take it out of the box to run my fin­gers over our ini­tials, re­mem­ber­ing the fun we had had be­fore that plane had plum­meted from the sky, I strug­gled not to tear Seppi's wrap­ping. My hand felt some­thing like scratchy wool. Slowly I ex­tracted a cloth doll. A doll? I worked to hide my dis­ap­point­ment. “I wanted you to have some­thing from this area,” he ex­plained. I looked at the doll care­fully. An old man with steel-rimmed glasses, a ci­gar in his mouth, in a white Lo­den coat, a brown Bavar­ian hat, a travel bag in one hand, an um­brella in the other. He had a cer­tain charm, al­though I had no idea what I was go­ing to do with him. Over the years, he's sur­vived many moves, and today he sits on a book­case shelf in my of­fice.

“Süss,” I said, real­iz­ing “cute” might be in­ad­e­quate but not hav­ing an­other word come to mind. I sat the doll on my lap and handed him my odd-shaped present, which I wished now I'd put into a box.

He pulled back the Scotch tape, un­folded the end, and held up the sweater that was ob­vi­ously short.

“Schön,” he said and put it on, con­firm­ing my sus­pi­cions. But he didn't seem to mind. He said it would stretch.

Now his mother handed him her pack­age. He tore the pa­per hastily and pulled out a wal­nut sweater with per­fect ca­ble and pop­corn stitch­ing. Why hadn't it oc­curred to me that his mother might be an ex­pert knit­ter and might have made him a sweater too? I wanted to take mine back, give him some­thing else. “You know I hate brown,” he said, meet­ing her eyes. When I think about the mo­ment that fol­lowed, I can al­most hear an or­na­ment fall­ing from the tree, only there were no or­na­ments, just flick­er­ing can­dles. From the cor­ner of my eye, I saw her face go slack, a front tooth com­ing over her lower lip. I looked down at my doll. The si­lence con­tin­ued. I don't re­mem­ber re­turn­ing to the ho­tel.

Christ­mas morn­ing found us back at the rink in the uni­sex chang­ing room. Seppi stripped to his long, white un­der­wear, two bulges in his crotch quite vis­i­ble. I was not ex­actly sure what was what, but I was sure that both were def­i­nitely too big to fit in­side me! Si­mul­ta­ne­ously aroused and scared—scared of what might have hap­pened two nights ago if he hadn't had a sud­den at­tack of pro­pri­ety—i de­cided I had prob­a­bly mis­be­haved enough. So I looked away and laced up my boots. Only as we were about to go out to the rink did I turn to him.

“Wie kon­ntest du so et­was sa­gen? (How could you have said that?) Your mother must have spent hours mak­ing that sweater—all that ex­quis­ite pop­corn stitch­ing. I was em­bar­rassed to put mine be­side it.” He shrugged. I couldn't read his face. “Braun trage ich nicht (I don't wear brown),” he said and took the ice. The air was still too cold for lengthy ex­er­tion. Without a hat, my left ear was all pins and nee­dles, and I was dou­bly glad when prac­tice ended early be­cause I

didn't want him to see that I was hav­ing trou­ble with my dou­ble flip. I should have asked him for help—he knocked them off so eas­ily—but I stayed mum, still em­bar­rassed by the events of the pre­vi­ous evening. I was un­sure about Christ­mas din­ner with Sepp's par­ents, but as I had no place else to go, I hopped on the back of his Vespa to head to his house.

His mother had spent the morn­ing in the kitchen, now filled with the aroma of roast goose, red kraut, and ap­ples. The ta­ble was nicely set. The burned-low can­dles on the tree were now ex­tin­guished, the presents gone. The tree looked un­dressed. I wished I could put the presents back un­der it and re­open them all with a dif­fer­ent end­ing. “Komm, Kinder,” his mother said, serv­ing din­ner. She wasn't smil­ing. The goose was de­li­cious, al­though my mouth was dry and swal­low­ing a bit dif­fi­cult. Af­ter a brief ex­change, we ate in si­lence.

The fol­low­ing day Sepp walked me back to the sta­tion. Maybe the train would be late, giv­ing him time to thaw, but Ger­man trains were al­ways on time. I waited for him to kiss me good­bye be­fore the en­gine car pulled in, but he just looked in the di­rec­tion it was com­ing from. I could tell he couldn't wait un­til I was on board. There should have been some­thing I could have said that would have eased the ten­sion, but, not think­ing of any­thing, I just nod­ded and smiled weakly when he said Tschüss, then bumped my bag up the metal steps. I couldn't see him from my seat, but I imag­ined him high­tail­ing it back to the rink, breath­ing a sigh of re­lief.

As the train pulled out, I didn't take a last look at the pic­turesque vil­lage; I was imag­in­ing the Brück­manns' quiet Christ­mas, know­ing that had I spent it with them, my ro­mance might still be in­tact. Maybe I could have even had a lovely hol­i­day here, had I not looked skep­ti­cal about wait­ing for his thir­ti­eth birth­day or ques­tioned the man­ner in which he'd re­ceived his mother's gift. Surely, though, that last in­ci­dent would pass. He'd apol­o­gize to his mother, make it up to her some­how. I told my­self that things would go back as they were be­fore, yet some­how I knew they wouldn't.

Af­ter an in­ter­minable ride, I was back at the Brück­manns', go­ing straight to my room to put Seppi's pic­ture face­down in the back of the cup­board, the lit­tle Bavar­ian man safely on top. The Föhn had re­turned and with it the heavy air. Not hun­gry, I was re­luc­tant to come to din­ner. The bratwurst, which I usu­ally loved, tasted like card­board and stuck to the roof of my mouth.

“Would you like to learn more Ger­man?” Ar­tur asked, af­ter din­ner, as Ruth brought cof­fee to the liv­ing room. “We could read some good books.”

What I re­ally would have liked was to have had my boyfriend back, but that hardly seemed like an ac­cept­able an­swer. I nod­ded in­stead. From the book­shelf, he se­lected Die March­ese von O. The reg­u­la­tion rink with ar­ti­fi­cial ice had now closed for the sea­son, and we skated on a huge, hosed-over soc­cer field said to be a mile in perime­ter. For the few weeks Arnold was here with his Rich­mond en­tourage, he marked off a sec­tion of

ice to ap­prox­i­mate the 90 by 180-foot com­pe­ti­tion sur­face, sub­di­vid­ing it into smaller sec­tions for fig­ures. Al­though my im­prove­ment had slowed in the last two months, my fig­ures were ac­cept­able and Arnold was sat­is­fied. The weather co­op­er­ated, at least to the ex­tent that there were no bliz­zards.

At the end of the first week of Jan­uary, Arnold re­turned to Rich­mond, tak­ing his other skaters with him. The storms started. Alone on the ex­pan­sive ice that merged into an end­less blan­ket of snow, I lost my bear­ings, the vis­ual cues for lin­ing up school fig­ures now ab­sent.

Early morn­ings a thick frost cov­ered the ice. Com­plet­ing a fig­ure was like try­ing to glide over the sticky side of Scotch tape. Even­tu­ally, though, the frost wore off, ex­pos­ing an un­even, rough sur­face. I needed twice the usual push to get around a cir­cle. Twenty min­utes into the start of prac­tice, my feet were numb and the plate of my blade was en­cased in a half inch of ice, which would take me fif­teen min­utes to chisel off at the end of the ses­sion.

Af­ter­noons, as the pale sun dipped be­hind the peaks, the rush of the wind oblit­er­ated the mu­sic. I strug­gled to hear the open­ing strains of Smetana's “Má vlast,” as I gath­ered speed into my pro­gram's first jump, the wind sting­ing my face with its in­vis­i­ble nee­dles. What I en­joyed most on the ice was in­ter­pret­ing an­other skater's mu­sic, not con­fined to my own chore­og­ra­phy. It was this free, un­scripted skat­ing that drew the least crit­i­cism from my mother. Of­ten I could feel her pres­ence in the bleach­ers, hear her voice, “Stand up taller. You're los­ing your line.” But with Arnold's group gone, I had only my own mu­sic. Per­haps just as well, as I as­so­ci­ated so many opera or bal­let selec­tions with the skaters who died in Brussels, and even hear­ing a bar or two of cer­tain pieces could bring the phlegm up into my throat like glue.

When it was snow­ing hard and I couldn't see two feet in front of me, I re­gret­ted choos­ing to train here in a year I was ex­pected to win Na­tion­als. No one could work se­ri­ously in these con­di­tions. But, as there were no in­door rinks any­where nearby, I had to make this ar­range­ment work. My fo­cus, how­ever, was shat­tered. Ev­ery day I checked the mail, hop­ing for a let­ter from Seppi say­ing he was sorry things were left on a bad note, that he'd like to patch them up, but there was noth­ing. Un­suc­cess­fully, I tried to put him out of my mind. Con­cen­trat­ing on get­ting past the wind, my tim­ing had gone to pot. I was sure my hand po­si­tions were a fright.

Af­ter watch­ing a TV show in which the cam­era had caught my awk­ward hand po­si­tion, Dick But­ton, the for­mer Olympic cham­pion, had writ­ten me a let­ter that started with “Dear Miss Grape­fruit Clutch.” I tried to laugh now, pic­tur­ing my gloved hands grasp­ing grape­fruits. At the time, even Mother had found it funny, al­though she was dis­ap­pointed that af­ter all that in­struc­tion I could still have ended up in such a po­si­tion. She'd in­vested so much in my mu­sic and bal­let, mu­sic lessons hav­ing be­gun at seven and for my eighth birth­day, the ar­rival of a re­fur­bished Mason and Ham­lin baby grand pi­ano. And there were the hours with Miss Eleanor, a teacher from the Kirov who had de­fected through Ber­lin. I thought about the movie The Red Shoes— the sac­ri­fice of ev­ery­thing

for dance—and about Mother nudg­ing me at ev­ery Bos­ton per­for­mance of the Sadler's Wells Bal­let, ex­pect­ing me to study Mar­got Fonteyn's pre­ci­sion and to adapt Balan­chine's chore­og­ra­phy to the ice. How we'd ar­gued about my do­ing a for­ward cabri­ole. She, re­gard­ing me as an im­pos­si­bly stub­born child, I, re­gard­ing her as some­one who should never have left her art stu­dio.

Head­ing into the alpine wind on the town's huge rink, I was lucky just to have been stand­ing up, let alone to have re­sem­bled Mar­got Fonteyn or Moira Shearer. I stopped wor­ry­ing about my hand po­si­tions, con­struct­ing in­stead an imag­i­nary fence around a sec­tion of the ice, vi­su­al­iz­ing where the high­lights of my pro­gram must emerge, with no idea if they fell within the pre­scribed space. Weeks later, I re­al­ized I'd made my imag­i­nary rink too large. But then, my main con­cern was my jumps. I was still miss­ing my dou­ble flip, fall­ing or two-foot­ing it. With no coach to tell me what I was do­ing wrong, I had no clue as to why I was at an an­gle af­ter take­off. When I tried a more con­ser­va­tive ap­proach, I didn't com­plete the two ro­ta­tions, com­ing down for­wards in­stead of back­wards. I at­tempted it again and again, hop­ing to leave prac­tice on a pos­i­tive note. By the time dark­ness en­veloped the rink, I was dis­cour­aged and fam­ished. What was I think­ing to have agreed to this iso­lated, arc­tic train­ing pro­gram? The an­swer was sim­ple: I was es­cap­ing Bos­ton, es­cap­ing Mother's grasp.

Fruits and veg­eta­bles were scarce that ex­cep­tion­ally cold winter and I'd gained weight eat­ing Bircher­müesli and pota­toes. Switzer­land was shy on scales and mir­rors, and my mir­ror-gaz­ing habit of check­ing for the first sign of a tummy bulge had gone by the way­side. At five-foot-six, I should have been no more than 118 pounds, but I was prob­a­bly over 120. Mother was bound to be up­set if my thighs looked heavy or there were any bulges in my tight dresses.

Some­times by the week­end I just wanted to sit by the heater and read, but I of­ten had a train ticket to some Swiss or Ger­man city where some­one would meet me at the sta­tion and drive me to the rink for yet an­other ex­hi­bi­tion, some­times with other skaters, but of­ten alone be­tween pe­ri­ods of a hockey game. That year's ex­ten­sive com­pe­ti­tion travel started mid-jan­uary with a flight home to Bos­ton. The chartreuse Lo­den cape I wore, a gift from the Han­nover ex­hi­bi­tion, didn't hide the ex­tra pounds. My par­ents were wait­ing at Lo­gan Air­port, my fa­ther stand­ing stiffly in his Hom­burg hat, watch­ing for me to cross the tar­mac. As I walked into the ter­mi­nal, I heard Mother say to him, “She's gained weight.”

When I first set foot again in the Skat­ing Club of Bos­ton, ev­ery­thing seemed wrong. For­get­ting I was no longer fight­ing the wind over a bumpy sur­face, I pushed off much too hard. My cir­cles were at least twenty feet in di­am­e­ter, not the de­sired eigh­teen. My free skat­ing pro­gram took up too much space: I con­tin­u­ally hit the boards. Only two weeks to straighten out these prob­lems.

My sev­en­teenth birth­day came and went. The only birth­day party I could re­mem­ber was my ninth, a twenty-minute af­fair in the Club's lounge when my trainer's mother had taken the cake knife out of my hand, pro­claim­ing the

birth­day girl never cuts her own cake. I prob­a­bly wouldn't have had much of a cel­e­bra­tion if I were still in Davos ei­ther, but skat­ing freely against the wind, rather than un­der the eyes of the Bos­ton judges, would have been less stress­ful. A small con­so­la­tion: at sea level with no head­wind and on per­fectly groomed Zam­boni ice, I was much faster than any­one else. I just had to scale ev­ery­thing down to size.

It was seventy-five de­grees when I ar­rived in Los An­ge­les. Af­ter freez­ing for months, I felt as slug­gish as I did when the Föhn blew. An over­whelm­ing feel­ing of sleepi­ness, ac­cen­tu­ated in this al­most trop­i­cal cli­mate, was ac­com­pa­nied by my other re­ac­tion to stress—a con­stantly full blad­der. I wor­ried that when the time came to com­pete, I would ei­ther be yawn­ing or stuck in the bath­room.

My spotty mem­ory of that na­tional cham­pi­onship be­gan twenty min­utes be­fore the start, with the draw­ing from a hat of one of five pos­si­ble groups of school fig­ures to be per­formed. All in­cluded a rep­re­sen­ta­tive bracket, rocker, counter, dou­ble-three, and loop, but the for­ward-change dou­ble-threes in this one was where Arnold's unique stance was high­lighted, the hands fall­ing to the back of the hips af­ter each turn. No other Amer­i­can skater ex­e­cuted the fig­ure in this man­ner. It was the last one of the group. I'd been do­ing well so far— sur­pris­ingly, the fig­ures, so dif­fi­cult to prac­tice on the rough Davos ice, were com­ing to­gether—but to as­sure first place I needed to put it on clean ice and nail it. At the com­ple­tion of the first set, I could sense that the cir­cles and the threes were in line, the cen­ter tight and per­fectly closed. Now all I had to do was to re­trace it twice more within a quar­ter of an inch.

For most peo­ple, watch­ing fig­ures is like watch­ing the grass grow, a silent ac­tiv­ity not ac­com­pa­nied by mu­sic, scrap­ing stops, scratch­ing toe picks, or muf­fled sounds from the bleach­ers. But af­ter my com­ple­tion of that change dou­ble-three, there was ap­plause.

A tor­ren­tial rain­storm hit the fol­low­ing day. Af­ter an early morn­ing prac­tice, Mother whisked me off to the hair­dresser, giv­ing de­tailed in­struc­tions on what to do with my un­ruly hair. I emerged with a bouf­fant Hol­ly­wood twist, not look­ing at all like my­self, the new bee­hive cov­ered with a plas­tic bag. Ea­ger to get out of the del­uge, I waded an­kle-deep through the rink park­ing lot and had to change my tights once in­side. Be­fore me lay an ex­pan­sive sheet of blank ice wait­ing to be filled with beau­ti­ful things. Smoothest ice A par­adise To him who is a dancer nice

—Ni­et­zsche, The Joy­ful Wis­dom Would I be a “dancer nice”? The mo­ment that I dreaded most ar­rived: the play­ing of the na­tional an­them. A not-so-sub­tle re­minder that, af­ter ten years of work, I had one four-minute shot at the gold. The sleepi­ness in­creased. An­other trip to the bath­room. Mother picked off a loose se­quin near my col­lar­bone and then fussed with my sleeves. I wished she could have just left me be.

Al­most fifty years later my kids forced me to watch the per­for­mance on

Youtube. All these years, I'd safely hid­den the box of my Wide World of Sports tapes in the base­ment, ghosts I did not wish to res­ur­rect. I was taken back to the Long Beach arena, the tape for­tu­nately cut­ting short the aw­ful mo­ment when I'm stand­ing alone cen­ter stage, with that per­fectly ridicu­lous hairdo, wait­ing for the mu­sic to start. Sud­denly I'm un­der­way, gath­er­ing speed in a se­ries of back­ward threes, in­ter­rupted by skips in the film, for the open­ing split jumps, split flip, and a trav­el­ing camel into a lay­back spin. The leg ex­ten­sion on the split flip is just shy of the de­sired 180 de­grees; the right knee is slightly bent. I hold my breath as the tape con­tin­ues. The speed is there, but the el­e­ments seem tight. At the end of the lay­back, the mu­sic shifts from the Smetana to Car­men. The tape freezes again; a good dou­ble loop is lost. Foot­work into the dou­ble toe loop. A back cabri­ole, the com­pro­mise with Mother. Ac­tu­ally it is quite pretty. A dou­ble lay­back spin that I'd for­got­ten about. Maybe it's not as bad as I re­mem­bered. The dou­ble flip is com­ing up. I'm telling my mus­cles not to tense, to take my time set­ting it up. I bring it off, but it's a close call—the free leg barely off the ice on the land­ing. The hard parts are be­hind me; I'm into the last sec­tion of West Side Story's “Dance at the Gym” that, even today, I can­not hear without all my mus­cles con­strict­ing. The mis­take is com­ing. I look away from the screen, ig­nor­ing the in­tri­cate foot­work lead­ing up to it. When the sim­ple dou­ble Sal­chow fi­nally ar­rives, I see that af­ter the take­off, the free leg is out too wide. Over the years, I've wo­ken at night in the mid­dle of that jump, try­ing to right my­self in the air, to bring it down gen­tly, still un­cer­tain of what I did that made my foot slip away on the land­ing. I can still feel the shoul­der drop­ping, the right hand go­ing down, try­ing for a last-minute save. I'd al­ways thought I'd just lost con­cen­tra­tion, but now I see that the jump is higher than I re­mem­bered. At the time, I may have sub­con­sciously re­al­ized that I'd gone for too much, be­cause from then on, I would go for too lit­tle.

Back in the mo­ment, the mu­sic shifts to Verdi's Il trova­tore. I pick my­self up, quickly pulling off a sim­ple toe jump, fol­lowed by a pre­car­i­ous axle—my calves are burn­ing now—a lit­tle more foot­work into the fi­nal cross foot spin. It's a re­spectable fin­ish, and I'm fairly cer­tain that I've brought off enough to keep my first place. Out of breath, I come off the ice. Mother was stand­ing tight-faced at the en­trance. “You didn't do your best, did you?” The joy of the an­tic­i­pated win van­ished. It seemed un­fair that the pre­vi­ous year's se­cond place fin­ish came af­ter a near-per­fect pro­gram. “You'll need to get it to­gether for North Amer­i­cans,” she added. I couldn't imagine re­peat­ing all this in a week. I just wanted to sit down, take my skates off, and have a glass of wa­ter. But when the marks ap­peared, her hazel eyes lit up. Her daugh­ter was the new na­tional cham­pion, a nec­es­sary step­ping-stone to be­ing the best in the world, some­thing she'd told me I could achieve, if I'd only work harder. Yet it never seemed like a re­al­is­tic goal to me. Un­til last year, even a na­tional ti­tle ap­peared unattain­able. Half an hour later, stand­ing on top of the podium to ac­cept the tro­phy, the medal, the skate pin

with the di­a­mond toe pick, and the dozen Amer­i­can Beauty roses, I forced a smile.

The fol­low­ing week, dur­ing prac­tice in Van­cou­ver, I spiked my­self do­ing a dou­ble toe loop, the heel of my blade pierc­ing the toe of my boot. When I took the boot off, I saw the giant blood blis­ter, the big toe­nail a deep pur­ple. Mother was slightly miffed over the ac­ci­dent—fo­cused peo­ple didn't do this sort of thing—but she took me with my throb­bing foot to the doc­tor. As he wedged the nee­dle un­der the nail to draw out the blood, the two talked as if I were not present, the doc­tor want­ing to put me on the pill so I would never have a pe­riod dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion—it hardly seemed nec­es­sary since I hadn't had a pe­riod in months any­way—my mother firmly against the idea, whether for med­i­cal rea­sons or for the im­pro­pri­ety of hav­ing a daugh­ter on birth con­trol, I never learned. Try­ing not to watch the sy­ringe fill­ing with blood, I dreamed of be­ing back in the Brück­manns' liv­ing room, lis­ten­ing to Vi­valdi's Four Sea­sons, per­haps tack­ling a pas­sage from Dür­ren­matt.

I took my de­com­pressed toe back to the rink. Go­ing into a com­bi­na­tion jump that re­quired spring­ing from the toe pick on the blood-blis­tered foot, I told my­self if I could get through last year's Worlds with a stress frac­ture, I could man­age in Van­cou­ver with a stabbed toe. But my prac­tice was not en­cour­ag­ing.

“If you can't do bet­ter, you shouldn't bother to skate.” Mother had come down from the third tier of the bleach­ers, lean­ing over the bar­rier in her lamb­skin coat. Usu­ally, I could gauge her opin­ion of my prac­tice by the way she sat, which was al­ways more re­laxed when she was with some­one who might mo­men­tar­ily take her fo­cus off of me. Up un­til the past year, she used to sit with Nathalie Kel­ley, Greg's much older sis­ter, but Nathalie also died in Brussels, and Mother hadn't found a re­place­ment bleacher mate. Alone now, listed to one side, her back ob­vi­ously hurt­ing, she was more crit­i­cal. Years ago she'd missed a rock­ing chair sit­ting down to nurse me and had bro­ken her back, an event my fa­ther fre­quently re­minded me of.

I should have been more sym­pa­thetic, but I would have liked to have sent her back to the ho­tel. Per­haps alone I could have brought back the zip I had be­fore Na­tion­als. It didn't hap­pen; I stum­bled through North Amer­i­cans.

The fol­low­ing day, I was on a plane again over the pole back to Am­s­ter­dam, fol­lowed by a day train ride to Davos for a short train­ing stopover. No time for a snowy walk on the Höhen­weg or an af­ter­noon read­ing with Dr. Brück­mann. Three days later, the long train ride to Cortina d'am­pezzo, the World Cham­pi­onships, then more train trips to sev­eral other coun­tries for the ex­hi­bi­tion tour, all in the space of a few weeks. I hadn't heard from Seppi since Christ­mas and was anx­ious about find­ing my­self on the same sheet of ice with him in Cortina. I'd been hop­ing his si­lence was just in­dica­tive of his in­abil­ity to find the right words, that once he saw me again in the land of Verdi and Puc­cini, we would patch things up.

The first day of prac­tice at Worlds, the clouds drained the warmth from the coral tips of the mostly snow-cov­ered Dolomites that sur­rounded the rink. Al­though the men's prac­tice was sched­uled later than ours, Seppi walked into the out­door rink just ahead of me. I held my breath, wait­ing to see if he'd turn around, but he never made eye con­tact. I couldn't wait for my ses­sion to end. The new Amer­i­can cham­pion, mov­ing wood­enly from one el­e­ment to the next, try­ing to hide her dev­as­ta­tion. The next day he walked in with the se­cond Cana­dian girl who was skat­ing much bet­ter than I. I'd never told my mother about Seppi, al­though I was sure she sensed there had been some­thing be­tween us. If I so much as men­tioned him now, I knew I would get the lec­ture on fo­cus.

I was re­lieved when the com­pe­ti­tion was over, so I could for­get about my lack­lus­ter per­for­mance. Ready to stay put and make up school­work, I dreaded go­ing on tour. The last place I wanted to be was in the rink or on an­other train, but the Olympics were next year and I was ex­pected to keep train­ing. I wished they were over. For me, the Olympics were just an­other World Cham­pi­onship with a bit more hype. But the real rea­son I wanted to skip the Olympics was that I dreaded an­other pro­gram cap­tured on world­wide TV that came up short.

Back in Davos, I was grate­ful for the pri­vacy to lick my wounds. I buried my head in Brecht's Galileo— now there was some­one who cer­tainly had it tougher than I had. By April, the ar­ti­fi­cial ice rink was open again, mak­ing prac­tice eas­ier, but it was lonely with no one else train­ing. Some days a fine sleet fell; oth­ers, the con­di­tions were al­most bl­iz­zard-like. Even­tu­ally, the Föhn re­turned and the great melt started, and the snow in the val­ley was grad­u­ally re­placed by white cro­cuses. As I forced my­self to work on my school fig­ures and free skat­ing pro­gram, the first of the alpen­rosen turned the slopes pink. In town, sewer work was un­der­way. I pulled on pants be­fore I left the rink, tot­ter­ing across the trenches on rick­ety boards, the Ital­ian work­men jeer­ing un­der­neath.

Away from the rink, I be­gan to con­sider other things. I started writ­ing a story about a girl on the Höhen­weg, but then got stuck, un­able to imagine what hap­pened to her. Ar­tur in­tro­duced me to more Baroque mu­sic, con­vinced skat­ing had ex­posed me to an over­dose of the Ro­man­tic era. For­tu­nately, I was never re­ally taken with Seppi's mu­sic, Glück­liche Reise, and it didn't keep run­ning through my head, not like Greg's Rigo­letto, which could in­stantly trans­port me back to the Bos­ton club. Some­times I took Seppi's Ty­rolean man out of the closet, but I'd put his pic­ture and letters neatly away in a drawer.

One morn­ing, as I lay hud­dled un­der the down com­forter, the gray light ar­rived through the gauze cur­tains, re­mind­ing me of the fog that had come to the rink the day of the Brussels crash. In­stead of Sepp doo­dling in bi­ol­ogy class, do­ing a dou­ble Lutz, wait­ing for the train to take me back to Davos, what I saw was the bro­ken air­plane wing with the blades sol­dered to its tip. A cold re­minder of my obli­ga­tion.

But with no plea­sure in the process, one's body sim­ply did not skate; it went through the mo­tions. Of­ten my gut was raw. The town doc­tor rec­om­mended a Rol­lkur, a treat­ment that re­quired the in­ges­tion of some vile tast­ing liq­uid,

fol­lowed by lit­er­ally “rolling” for fif­teen min­utes on each side to coat the stom­ach.

What re­laxed me was to sit with Ar­tur as he ground the cof­fee that filled the apart­ment with a won­der­ful aroma and to lis­ten to his sto­ries— Struwwelpeter and Jogli for his lit­tle boys, for me, how Thomas Mann's niece wanted to start a cloth­ing store in town af­ter the war and how the towns­peo­ple, in­censed over the eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able Davos cit­i­zens cast as char­ac­ters in Der Zauber­berg ( The Magic Moun­tain), drove her out.

From my ear­li­est days train­ing in Lake Placid, when, be­tween ses­sions, I would dis­ap­pear into the Adiron­dack woods with a book, read­ing had al­ways been my es­cape. Tem­po­rar­ily, I'd for­get the ice, block out the morn­ing prac­tice where I hadn't come up to snuff, and lose my­self in The Year­ling or Pen­rod. That spring, in need of an ad­vanced ver­sion of “See Spot Run” to master more of the lan­guage, I strug­gled long hours in­stead with Hans Cas­torp and his crowd. Im­pa­tient to get to the end of Mann's in­ter­minable sen­tences, I prob­a­bly missed many of the great writer's mes­sages. What was not lost on me, how­ever, was the un­can­ni­ness of go­ing to school in an old sana­to­rium and liv­ing un­der Cas­torp's magic moun­tain in the home of a Ger­man philoso­pher.

I liked be­ing in the shadow of Parsenn. Spring week­ends we hiked up to the Höhen­weg Mit­tel­sta­tion, look­ing across to Jakob­shorn and down at the Dis­chma Val­ley. Other hikes too: Shatzalp, Strela Pass to­wards Arosa, Mon­steinWiesen, Brämabüel, the boys al­most al­ways run­ning on ahead of us, throw­ing sticks. These out­ings did more for my sleep­ing and my stom­ach than the Rol­lkur. Once we went mush­room­ing—a big ac­tiv­ity in a coun­try that sports two hun­dred ed­i­ble va­ri­eties and a hun­dred and fifty poi­sonous ones, Ar­tur once told me. I left the se­lec­tion to him. That evening, Ruth made porcini mush­room omelets. Laugh­ing at my re­luc­tance, the Brück­manns tasted first. Even­tu­ally I ate mine, sur­prised to find my­self com­pletely well the next morn­ing, ready for the Sun­day out­ing to gather wild­flow­ers that bloomed in rain­bow waves of love­li­ness over the moun­tain­sides. A col­lec­tion—cam­pion, gen­tians, bellflow­ers, chamois rag­wort, sax­ifrage—kept me from my other ragged thoughts. Ruth showed me how to press the in­di­vid­ual blos­soms into a book. More than fifty years later, they've still re­tained their colors.

One Satur­day, high on Parsenn, I was watch­ing the giant mar­mots scram­bling up the boul­ders to sun them­selves as Ar­tur was build­ing a fire to roast the bratwurst. Down in the val­ley, in the cor­ner of my field of vi­sion, was the ice rink, now the size of an anthill. Just the pre­vi­ous af­ter­noon, work­ing alone, the sur­face had seemed large but not over­whelm­ing. Prac­tice had been al­most en­cour­ag­ing. I was be­gin­ning to get my­self to­gether again, skat­ing with some con­vic­tion, land­ing jumps more solidly. Per­haps I just needed a lit­tle break from the com­pe­ti­tion cir­cuit, a lit­tle more dis­tance be­tween Seppi and me. With time I might be­come my old self again. But that Satur­day my stage was dwarfed by the Magic Moun­tain. When I tried to zoom in on it, I saw in­stead the Skat­ing Club of Bos­ton, where Lau­rence and Greg were prac­tic­ing. Strains of Sym­phonie

Fan­tas­tique and Rigo­letto play­ing in my mind's ear be­fore even­tu­ally the im­age of the bro­ken air­plane wing above Lau­rence's pic­ture in the rub­ble reap­peared.

Years later, af­ter Ar­tur's death, when I re­turned to Davos to visit with Ruth, now in a re­tire­ment home, we took the Bahn up Schatzalp to walk to­gether from the Höhen­weg over to the more re­cently cre­ated Thomas Mann Weg. I looked down once again at the tiny ice rink, think­ing of the day so many years ago when my gaze had been di­verted from the romp­ing mar­mots. As I read selec­tions of Zauber­berg carved in wood signs along­side the trail, I searched for some­thing about the wicked dance, but didn't find it.

That spring the Brück­manns must have sensed my am­biva­lence about skat­ing. Afraid of the dis­cus­sion and know­ing I'd make a poor philoso­pher, at first I dodged Ar­tur's pointed ques­tions. Cer­tainly I didn't see the rink as some peo­ple saw a stage: a re­cre­ation of the uni­verse. Kierkegaard had said some­thing about dis­cov­er­ing a se­cond face be­hind the one you saw. Was there an­other face be­hind the skater me? Not clear. Only when Ruth asked, Was gibt dir das Eis­laufen wirk­lich? (What do you re­ally have from your skat­ing?) did I sense I might reach an an­swer. To skate or not to skate? And if not to skate, then what? Some­thing far from the gray-blue light of the spot. Would any­thing else be a come­down? It shouldn't take a philoso­pher to fig­ure it out, but it might take a philoso­pher to de­ter­mine if one had an iden­tity over and above what one did. Hadn't Yeats writ­ten about sep­a­rat­ing the dancer from the dance? Could there be a me that did not wear a pair of skates? Over weeks, a pos­si­ble “yes” emerged. But who­ever that per­son was, I didn't see her re­turn­ing to the US. I knew she could not live with my mother.

If I stayed in Switzer­land, Ar­tur told me, life wouldn't be easy. Even­tu­ally, it would come time for me to marry, and a boy from a good Swiss fam­ily wouldn't marry an out­sider. For­eign­ers were dis­trusted here. He should know. A Ger­man ex-pat, he was a for­eigner too, but far more as­sim­i­lated than I could ever be, his na­tive Kon­stanz di­alect not so dif­fer­ent from what was spo­ken in town.

Not that I viewed Switzer­land as per­fect. Af­ter a few months I'd seen some of the coun­try's warts. On a school hike the pre­vi­ous fall, we were trekking sin­gle file in the high pas­tures when one of my class­mates caught up to me and walked back to school by my side—not hold­ing hands, just chat­ting. Af­ter tea, I was called to the head­mas­ter's of­fice. Most un­wise, was how he'd put it. My class­mate, he in­formed me, was Jewish, and my par­ents would be dis­pleased to learn that I had talked to him one-on-one. Other is­sues: women still didn't vote. They didn't seem to have much of a say in any­thing. A month be­fore, when Ar­tur learned that the fam­ily would have to move, he went alone to find a new apart­ment, sign­ing the lease be­fore Ruth ever saw it. Dur­ing that out­ing, he also went shop­ping, alone. “It's so pretty,” she'd said, when he showed her his pur­chase of her one new skirt for the year.

Still, I was ready to take my chances. I was now used to a cer­tain amount of free­dom, com­ing and go­ing from school to the ice, trav­el­ing on my own. The thought of go­ing back to the Skat­ing Club of Bos­ton was as un­wel­come as the

idea of shut­tling di­rectly from univer­sity class to the rink. Away from skat­ing, I wouldn't be vis­it­ing so many novel places—no more sum­mers in Vi­enna or Cortina, prob­a­bly no more trips be­hind the Iron Cur­tain—nor would I be “mak­ing some­thing of my­self,” as my fa­ther had told me re­peat­edly I should do. But I could never be told again ex­actly what to prac­tice, what to wear, what to eat.

Ig­nor­ing my year's univer­sity de­fer­ral, I de­cided to ap­ply to the in­ter­preter's school at the Univer­sity of Zürich. “Bad idea,” Ar­tur said, when I told him. “You should have your own thoughts, not spend the day in some­one else's.” Per­haps I would do bet­ter to study lit­er­a­ture, try my hand at writ­ing, but at the time it seemed safer to live in some­one else's head. The stan­dard for in­ter­preters at least was prob­a­bly some­thing shy of be­ing the best in the world. Af­ter a cou­ple of years in Zürich, I'd be em­ploy­able without hav­ing to ac­cept the thou­sand­plus dol­lars a week Ice Ca­pades usu­ally of­fered na­tional champions to per­form in their shows. The show con­tract meant some­times two or three per­for­mances a day, rain or shine, liv­ing out of a suit­case from one city to the next. Not that my fam­ily ever wanted me to be­come a show skater. They'd al­ways in­tended for me to get some higher de­gree. Still, even if I didn't feel the magic of lights and ap­plause, it was hard to come to grips with the idea of not do­ing any more shows or com­pe­ti­tions. For years, I'd been groomed to en­ter­tain.

De­spite his reser­va­tions, Ar­tur helped me pre­pare for the trans­la­tion exam. Even with his shaky English, he lis­tened pa­tiently as I at­tempted an English ren­di­tion of the se­ries of Ger­man texts—kleist, Brecht, Dür­ren­matt—that he set in front of me ev­ery evening af­ter din­ner. A big un­der­tak­ing for some­one who had barely be­gun to study the lan­guage and had pre­vi­ously spo­ken only a frac­tured di­alect. Be­cause I was a good mimic, pick­ing up re­gional ac­cents, peo­ple as­sumed I knew more than I did.

The test felt like a dis­as­ter. Ar­tur wiped the tears when I told him I'd let him down, that I wrote an hour of drivel about some hunger artist—what in God's name was a hunger artist? He shook his head, laughed, pulling from the shelf a vol­ume of Kafka sto­ries.

Sur­pris­ingly, I passed and could move on to the next hur­dle. Pa­tiently, he guided me through the ap­pli­ca­tion forms for the Univer­sity of Zürich and Geneva, coached me on prob­a­ble ques­tions for the phone in­ter­views con­ducted in Ger­man and French. I re­mem­ber stum­bling on one of the French ques­tions—my French, once rea­son­able, now limited to trans­lat­ing pas­sages into Ger­man—and won­der­ing if I had what it took to be an in­ter­preter, es­pe­cially since I'd be ex­pected to pick up a Slavic lan­guage as well. But af­ter a month, my ac­cep­tance to Zürich ar­rived.

Once I con­firmed my ac­cep­tance, the die would be cast. Be­com­ing pro­fi­cient in three ad­di­tional lan­guages would be more than a full-time com­mit­ment. Sit­ting on my bed, be­hind the closed door of my room, I took my skates out of their bag and ran my fin­gers over the white leather of the boots. They were not Moira Shearer's red shoes. When I hung them up, my feet would not keep

skat­ing. Was quit­ting a cow­ard's choice? One made by some­one too ea­ger to rid her life of chronic anx­i­ety? Would I be opt­ing for a dif­fer­ent life if I were skat­ing well? No so­lace in the bril­liance of yes­ter­day's per­for­mance. Could some­one put my head back to­gether so I could skate again as I once had? What would it be like to be part of an au­di­ence rather than a per­former? I had no idea. What I did know was that I was ready to ex­plore more of the world out­side the rink. The let­ter to my par­ents ex­plain­ing my de­ci­sion would be a tough one.

Ar­tur helped with that too. Long af­ter Ruth and the boys had gone to bed, we talked late into the nights, hud­dled around the small ra­di­a­tor that made spit­ting noises. I would write a sen­tence in both lan­guages. He would of­fer a sug­ges­tion and I would write it again, won­der­ing if the scathing tone was lost in trans­la­tion, if he re­ally un­der­stood how ven­omous the let­ter was. At least twenty times I rewrote that let­ter, try­ing to state facts and not to whine, all the while know­ing it would not be well re­ceived. I was not sure what my par­ents would do when they read it. Most likely cut off my money. They'd in­vested a lot in my skat­ing. Maybe com­plain­ing about school events and par­ties I couldn't at­tend, Christ­mas in a mo­tel, and un­cel­e­brated birthdays was even worse than Seppi telling his mother he didn't like brown, af­ter she'd spent hours knit­ting that Christ­mas sweater. Mother, who had hap­pily spent her child­hood in the Bos­ton Mu­seum School of Fine Arts, would not see these missed oc­ca­sions as sac­ri­fices. En­deav­ors were al­ways first pri­or­ity. In the ac­com­plish­ments depart­ment, my fa­ther of­ten re­minded me, I was not even a close se­cond to Mother. At the of­fice ev­ery day, he was not as di­rectly in­volved in my skat­ing, but it was still crit­i­cal to him that I climb the lad­der to the top. And he be­lieved Mother knew the best route.

Today I can­not re­con­struct a sin­gle sen­tence from that let­ter, al­though I know its over­all scathing tone. A few years ago Mother men­tioned it to my younger daugh­ter, sug­gest­ing we would even­tu­ally find it among her ef­fects. Af­ter her death, I went through ev­ery pa­per in her file cab­i­net, hop­ing to find that it was less harsh than she'd re­mem­bered it, but the let­ter was not there. At some point she must have de­stroyed it. Had she for­given me over time? “My daugh­ter, the won­der­ful skater—na­tional cham­pion, US Team,” she'd re­peat­edly told her friends, bring­ing them into her apart­ment, a shrine of my skat­ing years. I would al­ways try to shut her up, be­cause my skat­ing wasn't won­der­ful then so it shouldn't be won­der­ful forty-five years later. Per­haps I should have let her ram­ble on about it without get­ting up­set. Maybe she'd cho­sen to re­mem­ber only my good per­for­mances.

Over time, I've thought about what I would say if I could re­write the let­ter today. How I might still de­clare my in­de­pen­dence but with a shorter list of griev­ances. I'd ac­knowl­edge what skat­ing had brought to my life, as well as Mother's kind­nesses: the Czech tu­tor be­fore the Worlds in Prague, the nu­mer­ous rep­tiles pro­cured for an al­ler­gic child al­ways in trou­ble for smug­gling furry things, the long drive to the Bronx Zoo just to see the tu­atara, the pri­vate teas ar­ranged with Pro­fes­sor Loveridge, where he schooled me in African gecko

tax­on­omy af­ter we sprin­kled his of­fice floor with straw­ber­ries for the plea­sure of our gopher tor­toises. I didn't al­low those mem­o­ries to sur­face as I wrote the let­ter. Re­cently I dis­cov­ered Kafka's Brief an den Vater among my Ger­man texts. Ar­tur must have grasped the tone of my writ­ing more than I gave him credit for at the time, pro­vid­ing the ex­am­ple of a master to for­tify the craft of my al­ready dev­as­tat­ing mes­sage. To this day I re­mem­ber how my hand shook as I fi­nally dropped the let­ter into the Davos post box. Ten days later, Mother was at the Brück­manns' door. She'd closed my bank ac­count and col­lected my pass­port from the po­lice sta­tion where, as a for­eigner, I'd been re­quired to leave it. Seven months shy of my eigh­teenth birth­day, I had no right by Swiss law to re­main in the coun­try against my par­ents' will. Per­haps I should have an­tic­i­pated this out­come and left town, but with limited cash, how long could I have lived on my own?

She barely ac­knowl­edged the Brück­manns, who were stand­ing stiffly in the front hall­way, her ap­pear­ance more than they'd bar­gained for. In her hand were two tick­ets for the noon train. I couldn't stay in the clutches of a Ger­man philoso­pher who did not ap­pre­ci­ate the value of the Olympics, she said, fig­ur­ing they couldn't un­der­stand what she was talk­ing about. Turn­ing my back on her, I trans­lated part of her spiel, skip­ping the bit about my be­ing in their clutches, but Ar­tur and Ruth got the gen­eral pic­ture. I took per­verse plea­sure in the fact that Mother could not un­der­stand our lit­tle ex­change. She didn't be­long in this apart­ment where I'd spent hours sort­ing out my feel­ings about skat­ing and what I wanted to do with my life. I told her I didn't want to go. “You haven't got a choice. I'll be back in two hours,” she an­swered. “You'd bet­ter have your things ready.”

In the con­fines of my room, I packed my Ger­man texts be­tween lay­ers of cloth­ing, my hands work­ing in slow mo­tion. Care­fully I wrapped up Seppi's Bavar­ian doll, my book of pressed flow­ers, and the two black-and-white pho­to­graphs of Davos. Head­ing to­wards Landquart, I wouldn't see the Frauenkirche with its lit­tle rooster on the spire, nor was there time for a last walk on the Höhen­weg. Life un­der Thomas Mann's Magic Moun­tain had come to an abrupt end. As I packed, I tried to con­jure up Parsenn, won­der­ing if it would still hold its magic when, in my mind's eye, its shape be­gan to blur. All too soon, the door­bell rang. In the front hall, Ar­tur gave me a hug, press­ing a book into my hand.

As I boarded the train, I thought of Moira Shearer in her role as Vicky Page, ly­ing blood-splattered on the train tracks, with the red shoes still on her feet. But even at seven­teen I knew I was be­ing melo­dra­matic. In real life, peo­ple did not throw them­selves in front of trains. Not any­one I knew, at least. I was not be­ing asked to choose be­tween art and love. I was just not be­ing al­lowed to give up my art.

“Where are we go­ing?” I asked once we were seated. Two benches faced

each other; she was on the aisle, I was turned away, as close to the win­dow as pos­si­ble, the glass flat­ten­ing my fore­head.

“Out of Switzer­land. You can train in Cha­monix.” She spoke highly of the coach of the French cham­pion. “I've had enough skat­ing for a life­time.” “If you in­sist on wast­ing your tal­ent, you can spend some time at the Univer­sity of Nice while you think about it. They're do­ing Proust this sum­mer.”

I didn't want to switch to French. My dreams of in­de­pen­dence be­longed in Ger­man, moot now, since I wouldn't be go­ing to in­ter­preter's school. With no money, I hadn't quite fig­ured out how I would man­age there any­way. Many nights I'd lain awake, try­ing to vi­su­al­ize my life in a Zürich gar­ret, won­der­ing if I'd pass the ex­ams the first time around, where the next meal would come from. Be­hind Amer­i­can ivy walls, I'd likely fin­ish in a timely fash­ion and at least I'd have lunch. Or I could al­ways come back in seven months, pro­vided I could scrape to­gether the cash. But un­der­neath I knew once this train pulled out of the sta­tion, I wouldn't be back for a long time.

From my bag, I pulled out Ar­tur's part­ing gift, Keller's Klei­der Machen Leute ( The Clothes Make the Man), and looked at my mother in her prim New Eng­land suit. I was not sure why Ar­tur chose a tale about a poor tai­lor in a fur-trimmed coat, but it would keep me oc­cu­pied on the ten-hour ride across Switzer­land, as I had noth­ing to say to my mother. My nose was still pressed against the glass as the train started up. Af­ter five min­utes of si­lence, Mother tried to start a con­ver­sa­tion. A state of siege was just be­gin­ning in Iran, she said; in Eng­land, John Pro­fumo was re­sign­ing as Min­is­ter of War be­cause of Chris­tine Keeler. Could I imagine a Bri­tish states­man brought down by a pros­ti­tute? Un­in­ter­ested in Iran and Bri­tish pros­ti­tutes, I ig­nored her, open­ing the first page of Keller so I wouldn't have to see the En­gadin Val­ley fade into the dis­tance.

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