Thursday, July 18, 2013

Straight Sixes

At the request of a dear friend (love you, Deanna!), I'm posting a short story I wrote years ago. It's summertime and I can't figure out why rollerskating isn't on ALL our minds... maybe this will remind you of a time that you believed in both the power of skating-- and the power of YOU.

And yes, I still have them. And they still fit.

Straight Sixes

Another rainy day rolls through Houston. Another day that finds me languishing in a cubicle, scratching out an existence, toiling in relative anonymity—quiet desperation, I've heard it called. This day exactly like the one before it: gray, tedious and without soul. After work, in an effort to unclutter my life, I find myself cleaning out the guest room closet—and I see them, tucked in a corner.

My skates.

The tears in my eyes can't truly be explained away. The yearning in my heart, either. What those skates represent… well, there just aren't words. Later, I drift off to sleep with snatches of a song I once knew echoing in my ears, and when I wake to another gloomy day, I know what I have to do. There must be something wrong with my eyes-- because I don't see myself going in to work. Thank God for sick days.

As I skate out onto the hardwood floor of the rink, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirrored wall of the changing area. I look absolutely ludicrous. If I was a child and I caught sight of a slightly paunchy adult in this get-up, I would probably laugh until I soiled my pants. Although I feel strongly that I made the right decision by leaving my helmet at home, my knee pads, elbow pads and wrist braces make me look like a cross between a transvestite hockey goalie and a minor character from some futuristic sci-fi thriller. Still, better safe than sorry. Falling down when you're eleven years old is one thing. Falling down when you're forty-something is something entirely different.

I am determined to do this.

Fortunately, the skating rink is virtually deserted this morning. I think I might've seen the pimply-faced, flannel-festooned snack bar attendant smirking at me, but I'm not sure. So, ankles trembling, pride suffering, and thighs no doubt a-chub-rubbing, I step out onto the floor: A middle-aged woman, in thirty-five-year old skates. As I scoot along, getting a feel for the floor, finding a rhythm, my confidence grows. And by the time I complete my second shaky lap, my mind is doing some skating of its own.


"Surprise!" Mom squeals as I open the large, heavy box and remove the clunky skates. "They're the ones you wanted, right?" I nod my head in agreement, never taking my eyes off of my new red, white and blue roller skates. The other sixth grade girls at the slumber party have somewhat lost interest in the present-opening and are sitting on the white, deep-pile shag carpeting, chattering amongst themselves. The Captain and Tenille are singing about "Muskrat Love" on the eight-track system and my Dad is taking candid Polaroid pictures with his new toy. Tessa and Katie are sitting close together, as always, sharing some secret and giggling like crazy. I'm pretty sure they're talking about Steve Bradford and how Katie kissed him at the Spring carnival behind the dunking booth. Jenna and Danielle, dressed in matching outfits, are mad at each other again and are arguing about which one of them will have the honor of sleeping on the lemon yellow crushed-velvet sofa.

Hannah is the one who chimes in with her own "oohs and ahhs" over my biggest birthday present. "Now we can skate together!" she says. "This summer is going to be so cool!" I smile shyly in reply. I don't think that I'll ever skate as well as Hannah. I don't think I'll ever do anything as well as Hannah. But I can sure try. My Mom keeps telling me that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to… and I'm still young enough to believe her.

By the time August quietly and humidly announces itself with scorching heat, I'm skating circles around Hannah and everyone else in the neighborhood. I can't believe how good it feels to be "the best" at something—I'm faster, I can do more tricks, and I make it all look so easy. I gradually spend less time skating with the others and more time alone on my driveway, perfecting my technique.

One day after school, I bring my bright aqua blue plastic record player out onto the driveway and plug it into the utility outlet by the back door. My heart starts to beat faster as I lace up my skates—they're all broken in now and more than a little scuffed up... and I could not love them more. Today is a special day because I'm in the final stages of choreographing my new routine. I'm wearing my special skating outfit: High-water Levi's and my green "Star Wars '77" t-shirt. It has this iron-on of Han Solo and Chewbacca sitting in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon… and I think it's really cool. I take the scratched record out of its jacket and place it on the turntable. I drop the needle on the record and hear the delightful hiss that precedes the music… and then it begins.

The author in her skating costume. And without boobies.

I've selected "Going the Distance" from the "Rocky" soundtrack. Everyone else likes the theme from the movie—but not me. It's too predictable. My song has infinitely more soul, a sense of longing that somehow speaks to me. It begins with the tolling of bells, and as I begin to skate, I imagine that I am competing in the Olympics. When I do this, I always see myself as Dorothy Hamill—who I've really admired since the winter games. I sure do wish I could have her haircut, but Mom says my curls just won't cooperate. I know that roller skating isn't an Olympic event yet, but I'm pretty certain it will be in the future. And I'm equally as certain that I will win the gold medal in this event someday. After all, according to my Mom, I can accomplish anything.

Me & Mom, who still believes I can accomplish anything I set my mind to... and my sister, who clearly had her doubts. If you look closely, you can see the skates between my feet. Also pictured is the dog who taught me to love dogs, Shangri-la.

"Today," I tell myself, "I'm going to do it. I'm really going to do the death spiral." I've been very intrigued by this move ever since it was introduced in the Pairs event. And since I'm skating solo, I've created my own variation. As the music spins towards its climax, I pick up speed, circling faster and faster around the driveway, the wind blowing through my golden curls, gaining momentum until at last I throw myself into the air, spin and land perpendicular to the ground, one hand supporting my weight, legs together, toes pointed. It is incredibly painful—but makes for truly dramatic skating. And at 11 years old, I'm already all about the drama. The crowd is going wild in my head and the judges hold up their score cards. I have skated a perfect program… Sixes, straight across the board.

The music stops and the afternoon is very still. I can hear the thump and hiss of the needle as it scuffs to the end of the record again and again. I am panting, spent. I gradually become aware of the vibrantly green smell of the freshly mown grass and the achingly sweet aroma of the pink blossoms of our Mimosa tree. I sit alone on the hot, late afternoon pavement, reveling in my triumph. Then I slowly unlace my skates, take the record from the turn table, unplug the player. I enter the house to help Mom set the table for dinner, and I am aware of my own peculiar scent for the first time—not sweaty or musky like a teenager yet-- just a hot, damp smell. As the screen door squeaks closed behind me, I think that nothing in the world could ever feel better than roller skating.

Of course, in less than a year I discover that boys are even more intriguing than death spirals. Soon my love for skating is all mixed up with my feelings for Billy Bishop. I'm not sure how it happened, but Billy makes my heart race and my stomach feel all tight. I now favor skating at the Bellaire skating rink, more concerned with being cool than with dare-devil, death-defying leaps. My "Star Wars '77" t-shirt is now forgotten at the back of my closet, my high-water Levi's have made their way into the Goodwill collection bin. "Going the Distance" is all but forgotten—Disco is king.

And much sooner than I would have ever thought, I abandon skating all together. It seems that around the same time, I begin to think that my Mom was stupid for ever telling me that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. I begin to feel that I will never accomplish anything… Zeroes, straight across the board.


"Hey lady, watch out!" a small voice cries, bringing me back to the present. I realize I have very nearly plowed over a little girl who has unwittingly strayed too far from the railing. A smile touches my lips when I realize that the girl has called me "lady." So old, I think to myself, far too old for death spirals. But am I really? I might look ridiculous in all of my padding, but I think this old girl may have a few moves left in her, after all.

I skate closer to the center of the rink and begin to gain speed. I circle once, twice, a third time. Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" is blaring from the speakers, but I'm oblivious to it—in fact, I can hear "Going the Distance" pounding through my head. I can feel the wind in my hair, smell the sweet, tangy scent of the Mimosa blossoms, and as the music comes to a climax, I throw myself in the air, spin…

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