Sunday, March 29, 2009

Perfect Moments

When I was six, I learned to skate at a roller rink. It was a disgusting place. It smelled like old grease, it was unusually chilly, the music was too loud to hear anything else, and the main source of light was a disco ball. I loved it. You could pretend to not hear anyone screaming at you to go slower or to stop running headlong into walls as a way of braking. The rink completed its excellence by selling pizza slices and slurpees. I used to wake up some Saturdays determined to get there. And occasionally, I succeeded. Perhaps three times a year, my brothers and I were able to talk our mom into driving the half hour there, sitting on a bench covered in scratchy carpet for an hour while we skated in ovals, and then driving us back home. I'm sure she looks back at these times with as much fondness as I do.

As much fun as I had there, and as bouncy and chatty as I got about going there, I was usually paralyzed with a gripping fear the moment I got my skates on and had to venture out onto the scuffed wood floor. There was only one way in and out. The older kids skated at perhaps eight billion miles an hour. You were practically risking your life. 

I had been very brave the first four or five times I'd done it; I'd taken a breath and slid smoothly out to grip the railing. But one Saturday, I was just scared. I don't know why. It was just a scared kind of day. I spent ten minutes watching the other skaters whiz past from a three foot gap in the wall, feeling my heart race, wondering how I had done this before.

"Come on," Taylor, my older brother, said as he passed me for the third time. "It's not that scary. Give me your hands." He's always been a good guy, but he was a little impatient as a kid.

And for some reason, offers of help have always had the reverse effect on me that they're intended to have. We weren't a great duo in times of duress.

"No," I said. 

"Just do it!" 




"Fine. Stay there, then."

"Fine. I will. I like it here."

And he huffed and skated off. I was properly motivated now that he had gone. I would step out just as he was passing again, and show him I could do it on my own, and didn't need any of his help thank-you-very-much.

As he skated around the bottom of oval, and started the straight shot toward me again, I moved out onto the floor. Brave. Determined. And with no sense of balance. I fell down at once. It was more slippery than I'd expected, and a tad embarrassing. I pushed myself up, tried to take another step, and fell down a second time. What had they done, greased it with butter? It was very uncool. Totally ruined my entrance.

I looked back to see where Taylor was, and if he'd noticed. He was coming toward me still, looking vaguely concerned. Which annoyed me. This was my big moment to show him how awesome I was (and it had clearly been going perfectly up until that point). In front of him though, was a teenage girl, and she was skating backwards. 

Backwards. Unless she happened to have a rearview mirror handy, she couldn't see me at all. I tried to get up again, but failed again; I screamed at her to stop, but she couldn't hear me. I turned away and closed my eyes tight as I recognized the inevitable. She was going to run into me. 

Or, as it turns out, trip over me. I hadn't expected that. I was thinking she'd run into my back and maybe fall over, and then yell at me to get off the rink. Instead, she hit my back at a pretty good speed, and flipped right over me so her butt landed just beyond my feet. I can still remember the exact screech she made as she went down. It was brief, and very surprised. I don't remember anything else after that. I assume that as focused as she was on catching herself with her arms, she didn't pay much attention to controlling her weighted feet, which came down hard. On my head.

I woke up sometime later laying on the skate rental counter. It was playing the part of Exam Table for the doctor who'd watched it all happened and helped my mom snatch me out of the rink. I was playing the part of Concussed Child. Not my best role.

It hurt, but I wasn't so much bothered by the pain as I was by the mere fact that I'd been clonked over the head with roller skates. I mean, who could've seen that coming? The teenage girl was crying and apologizing nearby, which I thought was stupid at the time because it was obviously Taylor's fault (him and his offers of help. Pah.) The doctor man had a small light that he was shining in my eyes. My mom was intermittently comforting the teenager and rubbing my arm. 

"I'm fine," I told them all when I decided I could speak. 

"You're going to have a sizable bump," the doctor said. "We should find you some ice."

"Can I have a slurpee instead?"

"...No. You don't feel like you're going to throw up?"

"No," I said. "I really want to go home."

Nothing sounded better than my couch made up in sheets, and the TV on at a low volume while I ate Wheat Thins. It's what I always did when I was sick. 

It hurt like a mother, actually. But I couldn't even think about it. In retrospect, that probably had something to do with the concussion. But at the time, all I could think was, "Roller skates? Seriously? Concussion? What?" It made just as much sense then.

Fortunately, there was ice and Tylenol and some tests I can't quite remember anymore, and I came out of it fine. It was, at that point, the most physically painful thing that had happened to me, and I thought that nothing could hurt worse than the surprise of it happening, and the shock of pain.

I didn't know there were ways to shock and pain a person where ice and Tylenol and a day on the couch didn't help. And what can you do then besides sit and stew and feel the hollow ache in your chest get a little more helpless? 

I hate helpless. So in my head, I've collected a series of perfect moments in my life to use as a shield against the roller skate times. Even as the moment is happening, I know that someday, I will coax it close and hold tight to it. Someday, I will need it. This is my latest Perfect Moment, for anyone who needs to borrow one today:

Casey and I were driving in the first truly hot day of the year yesterday. We needed swimsuits and sandals all of a sudden, and had decided to go find them at Victoria Gardens. We were zipping down Route 66, and listening to country music that made us want to have boys to dance with or have shotgun weddings or keep driving until we came to end of the road in Chicago. Casey was drinking a Diet Coke and wishing it still came in glass bottles like it did when her grandparents were our age. I was rolling an orange cough drop between my teeth. The windows were down, and the air smelled like gasoline, and my hair was getting uncomfortably warm in the sun. Soon, it was going to be the same temperature as the seats in the car, and I would bake. 

"I'm not going to do homework today," Casey said, reaching for the Diet Coke as we stopped at our third red light. 

"Good," I said. "Me neither."

And Saturday afternoon was ours.

1 comment:

  1. Reading this was so much better than writing my paper. You made my day :)