That One Time That I Wanted to be a Derby Girl

There’s a photo of me somewhere falling down in my first pair of roller skates: I’m about five years old, probably.  My sister isn’t born yet and we’re living up on Mesa in Eagle Rock.  It’s Christmas morning and it’s dark out because I always woke my parents up before the sun came up on Christmas morning, eager for the excitement of all of the gifts.  It’s dark outside.  I’m wearing a pair of sweatpants and a wee little hoodie for my wee little self.

I’m pretty sure that my dad took the photo because, in the photo, it looks like my mom’s hand holding mine.  Mom in a new Christmas negligee (which was both French and didn’t fit), me falling into an almost perfect split, my left leg flying forward, the photo taken right before my left-wheeled-heel hit the cement. Semi-Charlie-Browning it.

Christmas morning in Los Angeles.  Maybe 1979 or 1980.  My first pair of skates.  The sun not yet up.  My mom in her negligee in the front yard, holding my hand.

A click and a flash.

Ultimately, I was good on those skates!  I probably only fell a handful of times, scrapping just a small amount of flesh off in the years that I rolled around on the pavement, and, occasionally, on an actual rink.  And the rink years existed somewhere between 1990 and 1992.

My town had a rink then, and it was kind of a big deal.  Those were the weird years between jelly bracelets and jelly shoes: we couldn’t quite figure how we wanted our jelly accessories, but we knew that we wanted them. And that we wanted to skate.

Sans jellies and several years deep into living in Boston, I visited my sister back in SoCal one year.  She’d asked me if I wanted to go to a Derby bout.

“Sure,”  I said.  She and her then-girlfriend were getting along and I was looking for a vacation.  Away from the Boston snow, I’d trade my own falling down on the sidewalk for watching some other girls fall down whilst skating around in a circle.  “Sure,” I said, eager for some SoCal distraction.  Maybe a late-night taco truck, and a free ticket to boot!  “Sure,” I said.  “Sounds great!”

And it was the coolest thing that I ever saw. Those girls on that track.

The coolest. Thing. Ever.

If I hadn’t known that we were in the middle of Los Angeles, I would have sworn that we were in a converted barn somewhere in in Middle America.  With good music and lots of neon.  Like, we went through these doors and the whole atmosphere changed.  Away from traffic and attitude, all that LA stuff, and away from worrying about parking meters.

There was a taco truck, too, yeah.

Mostly, there were a whole bunch of seriously badass chicks rolling around on quads: smokey-eyed, leg-warmered, thigh-barred, ripped-shirted.  Bitches on skates.  Tough.  So strong.  Also?  Incredibly nice.

They rolled.  They jammed.  They blocked.  They bank-skated.  They had a super cool MC.  A great DJ. They smiled at you.  At me.  And I wanted to be just like that.  I wanted to be that cool.

************************

“Get on the track!  Get on the fucking track! GETONTHETRACK!” she screamed at me.  “YOU WANT TO ROLL OR NOT?! GET ON THE FUCKING TRACK!”

“NO! NO! Fuck you, Roller Girl!” I yelled back, my hands gripping a bench, shaking, palms sweating.

“I’m scared,” I whispered, looking down.  I sat in the middle of the Doll’s banked track shaking and not being able to skate, looking up, looking for a quick way out.

Because I had fallen.  Hard.  I had fallen hard a couple of weeks before.  All Charlie-Brown-like: my feet up in front of me like I was going for that football that Lucy moved at the last minute and then smack onto my back on a smoothed-down cement rink and then I couldn’t walk for three days.

Three days.

Do you need help? she asked.

Yes. I said. But not just yet.

You can’t just lay there! she said.

Well, I can’t move yet! I screamed.

I didn’t know her.  And I don’t usually scream at people.  But, I screamed at her.  She was either (a) just trying to help or (b) just trying to move me so she and everyone else at the rink could do some fancy moves.  Regardless, I finally moved up off of the rink after screaming at a stranger and then drove home that night with my abdomen seizing, crying even more with every crack that I drove over on the 405 North, from Venice, CA to the ‘burbs, and I lie in bed for three days, not walking, not working, not earning, and dreaming about skating.

My mom helped me up to my bed that night. Up the stairs and into bed.

************************

I met The Guy and I told him that I’d teach The Little Girl how to skate.

“Go practice falling down first,” I said to her, handing her a new set of skate gear: wrist, elbow, knee pads.

“Really,” I said.  “Put these on and go fall down.  All over the place.  Trust your gear, Little Girl. Learn how to fall first.”

And she did. She fell down all over the place. The Guy and I were drinking beer in the kitchen and listening to The Little Girl fall down all over the place, protected, of course.

Fallumph as she dropped onto the kitchen floor. Fallumph and fallumph. An urgh or two mixed in there. He and I just looked at each other and smiled, listening to her, cheers-ing our beers to her awesome falls. A simple umph as she fell into the carpeted living room floor: “I’m going to go outside with my gear!” she chirped in her nine-year-old voice. “My wrist guards are cool and I want to show them to my friend!”

“Cool. Go show off your gear. But, fall down for me first, Little Girl. Fall down,” I said.

She did.  With a big ol’ sigh, backing up off of the pavement and then walking hesitantly again toward it, falling down. Her knees first and then her elbows, she fell.

“You trust your gear?” I asked.

“Uh-huh.”

“You know how to fall now? And that you’ll be protected?”

“Uh-huh. You know how to fall, too?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I know how to fall. I wouldn’t be able to teach you if I didn’t.”

**************************

I think that my palms were sweaty the first time that I took her hand at the rink.  Pain memory takes awhile to leave.

It was the middle of the day and I hadn’t been back on wheels in about a year. We both had gear on because we’d made a pact that neither of us would skate without gear: it was mostly for her, but maybe it was kinda for me, too.

“Don’t touch the wall,” I said to her. “You know how to fall, you’re know you’re protected, just hold on to me. Knees bent. Back straight. Head up. Don’t look at your skates. Head up.” And, she did. And, she didn’t: she never touched the wall.

When she got going, was listening to the music, was gliding the rink: she, at moments, didn’t even seem to be thinking about it. She was just doing it.

“I love your skates,” she said.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. Red and black. They’re cool.”

And we linked around and around the rink, her little hand on mine. Around corners and through straight aways, she held my hand sometimes.

“I love this song!” she said.

“Oh, ye…” not getting it all out before her singing commenced. Rolling around that rink, not touching the wall, holding my hand sometimes, but mostly skate-dancing, and singing. The Little Girl had some fun on her wheels.

And my palms stopped sweating.  I pulled myself hard around the corners in those moments when I knew that she was okay, finding my own feet again.

******************************

I watched The Little Girl teach another little girl how to skate: Bend your knees, head up, hold my hand, she said. Don’t touch the wall. It’s okay! Hold my hand.

They did the Hokey-Pokey together.

They totally owned the place.

*****************************

Her favorite color is blue.

For Christmas, she got a pair of Riedells.

Skates

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