I’ve never been an athlete of any sort. As a kid, I enjoyed playing in the outdoors, but at recess or gym class I was the proverbial last kid to be chosen for kickball. I had no natural talent for sports, nor any inclination to learn. I didn’t like the inherent competition, since I inevitably came up short. I know sports are praised for instilling a sense of being part of a team and working well with others, blah blah blah. I’ve never been much of a team player.
In a previous post I wrote about my love for my first bike and the explorations I undertook while riding it. Between the ages of 7 and 10, this was my primary way of getting exercise and having fun. But from ages 10 to about 13, another physical activity called to my soul: rollerskating.
I remember my first pair of skates. They were white with red wheels. I had saved up my birthday money to buy them. I can’t tell you how excited I was to clomp around in those things, teetering down the neighborhood sidewalk as I learned how to balance, stride forward, turn, and stop with that big rubber stopper at the toes dragging behind me like a big eraser. As with the bike, there were many falls, numerous bumps and bruises documenting my learning curve; but eventually I managed to stand up without falling, and push myself forward at a pretty good clip. I could stop without stumbling, turn without tumbling.
I was ready for the skate rink.
Lucky Rollers was a skate rink in my town housed within an old manufacturing building on Wells Street (my grandfather used to work in this building decades before; now, decades later, my mom lives there in a converted apartment building called The Millhouse).
Every Saturday, I’d set off with a group of neighborhood friends astride our bikes, skates stashed in our backpacks (or rented from the rink), and for a few bucks we skated for a solid 3 or 4 hours. The rink was smooth cement, with fat, round pillars here and there left over from the old tool shop days; a snack bar stood in another section, but I rarely had enough money to buy the salty or sugary snacks there. I was often hungry, but that was all right-I was there for the skating.
Bobby C was the DJ (he DJ’d at my wedding years later), and we’d skate endless hours to popular 80’s songs: I particularly remember Hall & Oates-“Private Eyes (clap), they’re watching you (clap, clap), they see your every move.” REO Speedwagon. Billy Squire. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
There were “backward skates” (you could only skate backwards during the song), and I was proud that I could do this, too. There were “couple skates”, when boys would nervously ask girls if they wanted to skate to the slow song playing (usually the Cars’ “Drive”, or Journey’s “Faithfully”). Alas, no boys ever asked me, but I gladly joined hands with a girl friend or my sister during these skates. We didn’t care. We just wanted to skate.
I remember the colored, flashing lights, the music, the sound of the ball bearings as they turned in the wheels, the feeling of freedom I experiences as I flew across the floor. Oh, and the blisters. After 3 or 4 hours, the blisters were inevitable. Big, painful bubbles on my heels or under my big toes. They often burst, gluing my sock to my flesh. Pulling my socks off later was a painful, harrowing experience. It didn’t deter me. They healed, and I eagerly laced up the next week, ready to conquer the rink again.
Who needed sports? Skating was where it was at. I was good at it, at least in my own mind. I probably was no better than any other kid on the rink, but in my 12-year old mind, I was a Skate Queen. It suited my solitary personality-not a part of a team, but free to ramble where I wanted, to explore and set my own goals.
I haven’t skated in years, but that sense of freedom stuck with me. It was another experience that nudged me to become a writer, to explore life on the page, to live it on my own terms.It taught me to find my own talents, rather than feel like a failure in what others did.
I skated away down my own road, and I’m still there, not sure of the destination, but enjoying the journey.