What it has been like to live in Montréal

If this city was something I could bite into, it would taste like prosciutto and wine. Like bread ripped apart by our hands.

I find myself invited to midnight picnics in the park.

Dozens of twenty-somethings gather in circles to talk about our past lives. We unlace our language under the blanket of sangria and nighttime. The people here are so easy to tell my secrets to. Maybe it’s because I know I am only here for a short while, but I think it’s also because I am surrounded by good listeners. They nod, and repeat, and pass us crackers and cheese.

“But what was it all like?” they ask (about skating, about relationships, about the different places I have lived).

I try to find the best metaphors to make them understand—it’s a habit I haven’t been able to let go of, not even in this new city.

The people in our circles speak to us in perfect English, but they also slow down their French when we ask. They repeat lovely phrases, and our anglophone tongues trip over syllables that they have never had to know. These new friends are so patient.

“We are just glad you’re trying to learn,” they say.

“I am trying. I am trying. How do I say that in French?” I reply.

“J’essaie,” they say.

“J’essaie,” I repeat.

One man in our group tells me that the people here are very passionate about their culture, their language. He tells me this is the only French-speaking place in the world that experiences winter, or at least a particular kind of winter. I think this is very a good reason to love a place.

I look to the surrounding picnic blankets, and I see couples passing each other cups, plates. This city seems like the perfect place to be in love. I text my girlfriend promises that we will visit again together—maybe next summer, maybe next spring. I find that long-distance relationships are largely about indulging in endless plans. Dreaming up extravagant dates, months away, is the next-best thing to holding hands in the park.

The truth is, I don’t know when I’ll see Montréal in the summer again. This summer has gone by like summers of my childhood—with the keen awareness that it will end much too soon and with the nagging feeling that I will never get it back.

It’s easy to romanticize leaving. It’s something I’ve done my whole life. I spent years waiting until I could leave my hometown, and then years waiting to leave Colorado Springs, and then I took a job that meant leaving to a new city every week.

But now, I find myself romanticizing staying too.

I calculate the days I have left in this place. I try to add up how many different coffee shops I can squeeze into three weeks’ time, and how many parks I have left to visit, and how many chances I’ll get to practice my broken French with strangers.

Maybe I have only fallen in love with this place because I know I cannot stay. Before I’m even forced to leave, I catch myself thinking of the metaphors I will tell to strangers in other cities.

Montréal was an affair. A greedy summer I knew would end.

Montréal was a longing. A place where other people went to fall in love. A place where I went to miss someone.

Montréal was learning French words to talk about winter.

Montréal was prosciutto and wine. Bread torn apart by our hands.

Saying Goodbye

Maybe you can tell from the title of this blog, but I’m joining the circus—

Which means a lot of things, but mostly it means Joe and I are stepping away from competitive skating.

It’s hard for me to say “retiring” because who knows if this is goodbye forever? We sure don’t. We do know that we feel like we need a change of scenery, and we were recently offered a really incredible opportunity to work with Cirque Du Soleil, so, in June, we’re packing our bags and heading to Montreal to begin working on an exciting project with them—I guess all ice dancers really do end up in Montreal one way or another.

While this decision has me feeling excited, and energized, and anxious, it’s also left me feeling pretty sad. I skated in my first competition when I was only 6 years old (in a bubblegum-pink dress that I made my mom sew feathers onto, nonetheless). Since then, my life has largely been centered around training for the next event and the next event…For as long as I can remember, competing has been my center, my home base.

Skating has filled up 17 years of my life. It colors nearly every memory I have. It’s hard to know what to say to summarize all that time—it feels impossible to decide what words to use to gather up all the feelings of joy, and disappointment, and everything in between that this sport has given me.

But if I had to pick out one word right now, it would be lucky.

I was lucky to stumble into that first ice rink seventeen years ago for a friend’s birthday party. I was lucky my parents had the means to sign me up for lessons when I begged for them. I had so many moments of joy in those Arizona rinks—those unexpected, chilly havens dropped into the desert. Skating didn’t become a job for me as a child—l was so fortunate to have a coach who drove me to and from school, who cared for me as more than just a competitor, and who, most importantly, taught me to always laugh through the process.

I competed as a singles skater for 11 years before I started ice dancing. When I decided I needed to leave Arizona to find a partner, I was lucky my parents were crazy enough to let me go. And I mean crazy. I could write another, whole essay on everything my family sacrificed to let me chase my dreams (My parents took on debt. My brothers gracefully supported the burdens my family carried for my dreams). My parents and my brothers have been my biggest supporters. They have cheered me on, and cheered me up, and they have selflessly given more than I could have ever asked them to give.

When I moved away at 16 and began skating in Colorado, I was lucky to find a new home with roommates, and friends, and training mates, and coaches who have become my second family. Moving away as a teenager was hard, but it was possible for me because so many people made me feel loved, and so many have continued to make me feel loved over the years. I got to piggyback onto your Thanksgivings, and Christmases, and become a part of your lives as you have become a part of mine. One of the most beautiful parts of this sport has been the connections I have made with all of you.

I am lucky to have been able to compete with Joe. I am so freaking lucky to have been able to compete with Joe. And—best of all—I am still going to get to skate with him every day, even after leaving the competitive world. Joe has been the most remarkable partner I could have asked for. Despite the challenges of working together so closely and so often, (I often describe skating with a partner to be like working on a group project with someone, forever) Joe has stuck by me, and I am pleased to say that in five years of training, we have spent most of those days laughing. I can’t help but feel so proud of what we have done together. We have put out some good performances; we’ve put out some performances we wish we could redo; but, through it all, we’ve always stayed authentic to ourselves, and we’ve always supported each other, and I can’t wait for whatever is next for us as a team.

I’ve been lucky to have some of my wildest dreams come true. When I first moved to Colorado, my roommates and I sat around our little, living room table, talking about the biggest goals we had for ourselves in the sport. At that point, I had not even made it to a national championships yet. I told my roommates, with all the hope in the world, that I wanted to compete on Team USA—that was the biggest dream I could think of.

I’m now ending my fourth season on Team USA. I have been able to travel across the world wearing those red, white, and blue jackets. I’ve been able to compete against some of my childhood heroes. I’ve received a holy freaking standing ovation at the national championships. My career has not been perfect. It would be wrong to ignore all the ways the sport was cruel to me…all the times I was left broken. But—at the end of the day, I’m 23 years old, and I’ve gotten the chance to do things that were once out of the scope of even my biggest dream.

I still can’t even wrap my mind around how lucky that is.

Finally, I have been so lucky in that I have been able to watch new skaters begin to emerge into the spotlight. You all have inspired me more than you know. I hope I am leaving the competitive world a little better for you all—particularly you girls in this sport, who might be starting to feel like you are getting yourselves into more than you can handle. I’m here to tell you: You can handle anything. This sport will be hard—impossibly hard—but don’t let it be hard for the wrong reasons: don’t let anyone tell you that you are too big or too loud or too strong (or if you’re anything like me…too queer). You are not too much. I urge you all to look into your mirrors and tell yourselves that you are lucky. Go out, and be even luckier than I was—go live dreams that are bigger than the biggest dream you can think of.

***

For me, competitive skating has always been—more than anything—the most beautiful way to tell stories. I see this point in my life as a transition and a chance to find new ways to keep telling stories. So, watch for me in Cirque; keep your eyes on the blog, and maybe even look out for a book in a couple years. The possibilities are really endless. I just know, I’ll still be out in the world performing, dancing, and telling stories—I’ll just be doing it in different ways.