Letter to My Younger Self

Dear Dorothy,

Go to the magic place.

I know — you were just there. I know, I know.

But don’t be shy. I promise.

Go there again.

Go there, to the magic place, and forget about not feeling accomplished, like your brother. Forget about not feeling cool and beautiful, like your sister and her friends.

Go there, whenever you want to, and forget about feeling stupid and clumsy and bad at school.

Go there, today, and feel less depressed than you’re used to.

Go there, as many times as you like, and feel the whoosh, the whizz, of being in the presence of your most liberated and most talented self.

Go there, Dorothy, to the magic place, where you’re good enough.

Dorothy, you’re good enough.

Go to the magic place.

Go to the ice.

Go to the ice and fall in love.

Go to the ice and learn to accelerate forward. Learn to glide … backward … just … like … so. Learn, and learn, and learn, to spin. Go to the ice and understand exhilaration. Understand practicing, morning to night, into exhaustion and back. Go to the ice and watch the sun rise over you; let it calm you. Watch it settle and set: the day of skating, your day of skating, dwindling with the light. Knees to elbows, clavicle to chin.

Go to school the next morning but keep the ice with you. Keep it close to you at all times. Keep it as a thought, in your pocket, as your therapy in disguise — for when you’re ever feeling less than, or far from home. Go there, to the ice, and feel the air against your skin — feel the rush of cool, and the rush of warmth.

Go to the ice and feel safe and strong.

Go to the ice and become one of the best.

Go there, and go there, and train for competitions. City-wides, state-wides, nationals, worlds. Keep entering them, and keep winning them, as they grow larger in scale.

Go to the ice and train for Innsbruck — for the Olympics — in 1976.

Go to your mom, and listen to your mom (listen to your mom, Dorothy), when she suggests coming home. Leave the training facility in Denver, leave your worries, leave a spat with your coach — and come home, sweet home, to train on Long Island. Come home, and be home.

Go to your old magic place, and get into the best shape of your life.

Go to the ice, and go to the ice, and go to the ice.

Go to Innsbruck, to the Olympics, and soak it all in. Soak in every square inch of that tiny athletes’ village. It won’t seem like much — no larger than a New York City block or two — but I promise: It will be pure magic.

Go to the cafeteria.

At first glance, it will look like any old cafeteria. But then you’ll walk inside … and it will change your life. What you’ll find, Dorothy, is a room — packed to the gills — with people just like you. Well, no. On one level, of course, they’ll be nothing like you at all: Soviet hockey players … British speed-skaters … German skiers … these daunting, chiseled giants. And then look at you.

But on another level, these giants — they’ll be your long-lost soulmates. They’ll be people who have worked toward one goal, toward one moment, for their entire lives — just like you. They’ll be people who understand solitude … and feeling less than … and going somewhere, to work on something, over, and over, and over again.

These will be people who understand the magic place.

These will be people who go to the ice.

Go to the ice and overcome your nemesis.

No, not another skater — the “compulsory figures” part of the competition.

Compulsory figures will be almost like scales on a piano, or Barre work for a ballerina — these baseline, building-block, “artistic” components. And they will require a completely different skill set from your strength, the free skate. In the free skate, you’ll have everything that you love about figure skating, all combined into this flow of elements: the dancing … the spinning … the music … the choreography. The free skate will be your moment, your moment of freedom, to express yourself.

The compulsory component will be almost exactly the opposite: studious, motionless, unathletic. It will be this poetry of yours … reduced to nothing more than an alphabet.

Oh, you will hate it.

And, going into the Olympics, you will have never done well in it. Fourth, fifth, tenth — finishes like that. You know how a putter, in golf, can get the yips? That will be you with your compulsories. The skating yips — all discomfort, and strangeness, and nerves.

But on that night in Innsbrook, Dorothy?

Go to the magic place. And your nerves will disappear.

Go to the ice, for your short program, with confidence.

You’ll be in second place after compulsory figures — your best finish ever in that component. You should be so proud of yourself for that, Dorothy.

I’m proud of you right now.

But like I said: confidence. That’s the key. The short program won’t be, strictly speaking, a free skate — a little more rigidity, still, with a small selection of required elements. But they’ll be elements you can handle, and you’ll be ready.

You’ll enter the short program in second place.

You’ll leave it in first.

Don’t go to the ice.

No, that’s not a typo.

Don’t go to the ice, Dorothy. Not this time.

You’re going to have, of all things, a day off — a one-day break in between the short program and the long program. At first, that will seem like the most inconvenient day off possible. You’ll be in first place, in the Olympics, with the weight of the world on your shoulders — one skate away from having a chance for the gold. And all you’ll want to do is complete that skate. The wait will be unbearable. The wait will be all you’ll have.

So, my advice? Don’t go to the ice.

The next day, you’ll go. You’ll go to the ice, and you’ll try your best, and you’ll skate your program.

But on this day, don’t go.

Instead: When your mom suggests that you take a train ride, and go to Salzberg, to take your mind off of things — say yes. Resist that urge, however strong, to want to skate, or think, or wait. Just say yes, Dorothy. And go.

You’ll go. You’ll take the train, with your whole family, and leave the Olympics behind. And there, in Salzberg, I promise you: You’ll have one of the best days of your life.

Dorothy — you know how you are the biggest Julie Andrews fan on Earth? How The Sound of Music is your all-time, no-doubt-about-it, favorite movie? Well, in Salzberg, you’ll take the most amazing tour — of all of the sites where it was filmed. The gazebo … the church where Maria was married … the Von Trapp mansion … everything. You and your sister will sing, and dance, all day long. You’ll act out all of the best lines. You’ll mimic each little gesture. You’ll perform every one of the musical numbers. You’ll be so happy — and hardly think about the Olympics at all.

It will be the perfect day. It will be the magic place.

It won’t be the ice.

Go to the ice.

It’s finally time, Dorothy. It’s time for your long program — your free skate. The last skate between you and an Olympic gold medal.

You draw an early number. (That’s good; you prefer it.)

You see the crowd, and your family in it.

You see the judges, and their notes.

You see the boards, and the glass, and the lights.

You hear your music start.

You feel your muscles tense.

You feel your heart — as though it were filling your entire body — beat, and whoosh, and whizz, through your chest.

You accelerate forward. You spin. You glide … backward … just … like … so.

You think, Dorothy, you’re good enough.

You’ve always been good enough.

Go to the magic place.

Go to the ice.