Oh the lure of the skating rink! Firecracker had her birthday party here last weekend. Magenta-colored lights reflecting off the worn wax of the wooden floor, the steady, heavy whir of wheels, everything from Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” to the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Apache” reverberating off the cement-block walls with green diagonal stripes directing one’s eye to the spinning disco balls.
For the six years I’d lived in San Antonio as a kid before moving back as an adult, this place was my hang out for every school function and birthday party, as I informed just about everyone within arm’s-length at Firecracker’s own party: “And it looks exactly the same! I mean the carpet and everything!”
I’d sent Hannah, fourteen, off with her cousin to scope out the arcade. They came back almost immediately.
“It’s all old stuff,” they informed me.
“Like, what old stuff?”
“Are you kidding me? That’s the best!” It probably still has my initials on the leaderboard from 1983. I have officially become that old person who goes on all the time about the way things were and delights in the few things that are exactly the same.
I didn’t roller skate at the party, but I really, really wanted to as I watched the kids wobble their way around and around through the lens of my camera while I leaned to the half wall on the carpet side. I really wanted to. I once owned jeans with roller skates embossed on the back pockets. I had a golden rope belt that buckled when two little golden roller skates clamped together over my jeans button. I wore white boot skates with pink iridescent stoppers. And I had dreams. Dreams!
Last spring, when I’d sat in the middle of a group praying at a women’s retreat and one of them reached to touch my wrist and gently said, “God wants you to know you might have given up on your dreams a long time ago, but He hasn’t,” I am, like, ninety-nine point eight percent sure God meant my roller skating dream.
My kid sister Alicia and I would have our dad move the cars from the garage while we turned the radio to an oldies rockabilly station. Then we’d skate in graceful, glorious circles around the oil stains, executing turns, maneuvering backwards, all in the hopes that the thankless, weary talent scout that surely combed the grid of our neighborhood in search of the new “It” girls would spot us. A car would rattle around the street corner, and I’d say, “Is that the scout? Quick! Arabesque!”
I didn’t skate at Firecracker’s party, but I did take her back the next day. She’d grown fairly agile on her roller-clad feet, so I thought the chances of her making me fall were now minimal enough. While I’d worn my lovely new wig to the party, as I do most of the time anymore, I had this fear that if I fell, it’d flop off vaudevillian style, so on day two I wore my fedora fitted with an inner band that keeps it in place. So there I was in my fedora, my Admiral Twin Drive-In shirt, and cuffed jeans, asking for two skate rentals at the glass window in the skating rink entryway with Firecracker already yanking on the second door before being buzzed in. The clerk looked at me without looking at me, sort of looking behind me, or off to the side, and I made a point to catch her eye.
“And parents get in free, right?” I asked her, thinking maybe she was uncomfortably trying to decide if I was a parent or a weirdo in a fedora.
I suppose it was both, but nonetheless, she finally said, “Just so you know, sometimes they’ll ask on the intercom for all hats to be removed from the skate area.”
“Oh,” I said. “Oh! But mine’s for chemo-”
“I get it,” she whispered.
There’s some movie I’m not remembering right now (is it Terms of Endearment?) in which a woman whispers “cancer” every time she says it. I don’t have cancer, by the way. I’m declaring it right here and now. I don’t have cancer. Say it with me: “No more!” It was removed last surgery, and now I’m on chemo because my oncologist is a torturer. That’s all. At any rate, it amuses me when people think it’s a secret because I tell the internet about it all the time. I’ve gotten better, though, about not blurting it out to random people I pass in the grocery aisles.
Back to the story. In order for me to skate with hat firmly affixed, the clerk shuffled off to the DJ booth where she stood on toes to tell him not to make that usual request because of special circumstances. They were being as discreet about it as anyone can be in a DJ huddle, but I walked past with Firecracker, our skates in hand, and waved at the DJ booth.
“Hello!” I loudly called out to them. “I’m the chemo lady who’s going to leave her hat on!” And we kept walking in search of an empty bench where we could swap out our shoes for skates.
I’ll tell you something. Just because you may have been a supreme skater at age nine does not mean that as an adult you will magically be able to skate again. I spent an hour hugging the half wall while Firecracker lapped me. I got mad at her just like I used to get mad at my little friends when I was her age.
“Stop! Wait for me! You’re not waiting for me!”
You learn a lot of things while hugging the skating rink half-wall.
You learn there’s always that one guy in a track suit and his own skates who waits for the “fast round” before rolling over the lip of the wood floor to skate so fast his gold chain flaps behind him. You learn there’s always that one preteen in all black, pretending not to notice how his nonchalant slump at the DJ booth, where he’s requesting Slayer for the fifteenth time that hour, trips every small child that tries to clomp around him. You learn there’s that one mom in hot-rolled hair and a push-up bra who does not want a bald lady in a fedora clinging to a wall to be in the background of a photo she’s snapping of her kid clinging to the wall just inches away. You learn they created “advanced backward skate time” for the sole purpose of driving everyone except the track suit man off the rink and over to the snack shack to buy hotdogs that curve out of their buns like a shredded tire tread in a heat wave. You learn the carpet smells funny. You learn draping yourself over a wall looks a lot like failure, so you straighten up and skate like a lame camel in a trot to Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”
And you know what? It took maybe three times around the rink before I was skating with ease. I caught up with Firecracker, and I did this thing I do when confronted with something from my youth, this mental trick in which I try to imagine little me seeing present me, little me trying to decide what she thinks. Little me would have thought this woman gliding (finally!) past her had a friendly smile, a cute kid, a cool hat, and a sense of fearlessness she wished she had. Not bad at all.