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Still Life with Zamboni (the flawed tracings remix)

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Perfection was what skating demanded. Hours tracing figures on the ice, until the edges were clean and consistent, until the judges couldn’t see the slightest flaw. Landings without the slightest wobble, spins that travelled not an inch across the ice. The perfect program, the perfect music, the perfect costume, the perfect body, the perfect partner. It all had to line up. It all had to be right. It all had to be perfect, or it had all - all - been a waste of time.

Perfectionism: a combination of a desire to be perfect, a fear of imperfection, and an emotional conviction that perfection (not “near-perfection”) is the only route to personal acceptance by others.

The trophy room made it obvious, even when she was very young. She was a skater, and she had to be the best. That was what her father wanted – that was what her mother would have wanted.

She was a model little girl, her father’s little trophy in her knee socks and plaid skirt and cardigan and pearls, who greeted his friends with a winning smile and knew how to chat gracefully with businessmen and their wives when Daddy had guests for dinner. She knew how to stay out of sight when that was what he wanted, and she knew how to skate. She knew that hard work would bring results, and that results required absolute perfection. And she knew that absolute dedication to the cause of perfection was the only way to live.

That was what Daddy taught her. That was how Daddy lived his life, and that was how she would live her life, too. Tracing over the lines of her life until the edges were consistent: until the judges couldn’t see the slightest flaw.

Perfectionism (pathological form): a belief that work or output that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable.

Rick coached by yelling and insults. Which was fine. It made her better. If she knew her flaws she could make things better. She could correct her mistakes – she could work harder. So he screamed at her across her rink, and told her that her loops were sloppy and her edges were wobbling. That all her daddy’s money couldn’t make her ass smaller if she kept eating ice cream, and that she’d just have to work harder if she wanted to fill that God-damned empty box in the middle of the trophy room.

And when Jack was at the rink one day and heard it all, Kate told him she was fine, that Rick was just motivating her to be the best that she could possibly be. That the yelling and insults didn’t hurt, that they were part of what she had to do to be the best.

And then she went for a five mile run, and asked the cook to meet another sports nutritionist to review her diet.

“Perfectionists tend to dissociate themselves from their flaws or what they believe are flaws (such as negative emotions) and can become hypocritical and hypercritical of others, seeking the illusion of virtue to hide their own vices. The greatest fear of perfectionists is to be flawed and their ultimate goal is perfection.”

Calgary.

Something went wrong. Everything went wrong. Why Brian chose that moment to lose the ability to lock his grip in the lifts – why that oaf had been running down the corridor; why he had to insult her as well, without even asking whether she was hurt or upset.

But then, what could you expect from a hockey player?

She expected better from Brian. Everyone had expected better from Brian. It was their moment, and he lost it. One slip of the hand and down it had all tumbled. And instead of being able to bask in the glory of that Gold medal, finally in its display case, there were four more years of work ahead of her. If only she could find a partner who could measure up.

“The greater the emphasis on perfection, the further it recedes” – Haridas Chaudhuri

The simple truth was that she didn’t know what to do. She had worked as hard as she could before Calgary. She had done everything right. She and Jack sat and planned out the next four years until Albertville: a new coach, a new partner, a new choreographer, a new trainer. She would work as hard as she ever had, but something around her had been wrong.

So she ran in the mornings and then ate and skated and studied, and met her dance teacher after lunch and then read for a while before she trained again. And she got out all her old favourite books, and read ballet stories and skating stories: Hans Brinker and White Boots and Eloise Skates, and then she worked harder, because that was what she knew how to do.

Perfectionist: "persons who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment"

They found Anton, and hired a new choreographer on his suggestion. And then they began the search for a partner. It was endless. Kate would have rathered have nothing to with the process but she had to skate with them. Too tall, too short, too fat, too weak. Too skinny. None of them had any guts. They wouldn’t meet her eyes when they spoke.

She began to wish that she had been trained in singles rather than pairs. A partner was just someone else who could get things wrong, someone else who could fail.

No one could be allowed to fail. Not this time. Certainly not Anton. Definitely not Doug. And absolutely, positively, not herself.

“Out of perfection nothing can be made. Every process involves breaking something up.” Joseph Campbell

Hale was a perfect gentleman. The perfect boyfriend. He was there when she wanted to go out, when she needed an escort to dinner or a party. He suited their world, knew Jack’s friends and business partners, fit in with their social circle. He wasn’t quite so comfortable with skating people, with the coaches and partners and the spotlights and the kiss and cry and the sequined costumes, but he rarely let his discomfort show. Fitting in where he was needed was part of what Hale was all about.

Hale spoiled her. Petted her. Brought her flowers on holidays and cups of coffee on cold evenings, and did his best to remember when she was in training and couldn’t drink, and which parties they couldn’t go to because of her schedule. And if he asked his secretary to keep track of all those details for him, she wasn’t telling.

Hale was just what Kate had always wanted. Someone to support her and protect her and taken care of everything for her. He never asked her to change, never asked her to understand his work. He was there when she wanted him and faded gracefully into the background when she didn’t.

It made it that much harder when she realised what was happening. That Doug, the great oaf who had knocked her down in Calgary and caused so much heartache ever since, was somehow a friend and a partner and a support and someone she wanted to please and knew she relied on… that Hale was so nice, and so perfect, made it all that much more difficult.

 

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” – Anna Quindlen

It wasn’t until the three most important men in her life – her father, Anton and Doug – were yelling about her over her head that she realised the truth. It had been creeping up on her for a while, but while Doug and her father bellowed at each other and Anton attempted to be diplomatic, it hit her in a blinding flash. She’d been blaming everyone else for her own failures.

It wasn’t until they were practically on the ice, Doug all flat-faced and cow-eyed, mooing at her about being in love, that she realised what was even more important. He knew her flaws and loved her anyway. She didn’t have to be perfect to be accepted.

That didn’t mean, of course, that she wasn’t about to try her damnedest. She still wanted her lines to be clean and she wanted to nail the Pamchenko and dammit, she wanted that Gold medal, not for her father but for herself and for Doug. But the miracle she saw in Doug’s eyes was that he’d love her anyway. Because he already loved her, even though he could see her flaws.

And because of that, Kate Moseley was in the mood to kick a little ass.