A Pushing Forty Woman Roller Skates Using Only Her Uncle Cleetus Body
(In the interest of transparency, I should begin by saying I wrote this a few years ago. I'm no longer pushing forty. I'm pulling it.)
In P.E. class, I was that kid. The Lucy from Charlie Brown kid. The one who always had the sun in her eyes, even at night. The one who got picked last. The one who, at the end of every game, stood silently while a barrage of angry objects were hurled her way by her teammates. Candy wrappers. Baseball caps. Baseballs. Baseball bats. During those dreaded P.E. classes, I would stand as far as I could in outfield, praying this simple but beautiful prayer to the gods of whatever sport I happened to be sucking at. “Don’t let the ball come to me. Don’t let the ball come to me.” Sports gods are sadistic. The ball always came to me. And inevitably, as I stood there watching that red or white or brown denizen of darkness catapult my way, my inner monologue would switch tracks to, “What do I do? Oh, god, what do I do? What do I DO?????”
At which point, the ball would hit me in the face, searing pain would shoot through my sinuses, I would fall to me knees blubbering, the other team would laugh and clap, and my team mates would scream things like, “Hackett, what the hell is wrong, with you!” “Why did we have to pick her?” “Let’s take her out behind the school and gut her after fifth period.” It was fun, and I was popular.
Now, had there been, say, sentence diagramming tournaments, I would have been the star every time. Had they had Algebra Day, as opposed to Sports and Field Day, I would have gone home with a hundred blue ribbons. As it was, I went home with black eyes and sucky yellow ribbons that said, “Also Ran,” with which I wiped my ass.
So, as an adult, I now have what my old therapist lovingly referred to as a “sports phobia.” Meaning that if you bust out any type of sports paraphernalia—a football, a tennis racket, a baseball card—I will run screaming from the room. I don’t do sports. But, because I am an expansive, ever-growing, open-minded human, I have decided that this self-belief is limiting me, and it’s high freaking time I got over it. I need to “trust my body,” as my therapist so delicately put it.
What my therapist doesn’t understand is that there are reasons, good reasons, I don’t trust my body. My body is the equivalent of your crazy uncle Cleetus who just got out of prison for trying to blow up the library and keeps a stash of rifles and badger pelts under his bed. Like Uncle Cleetus, my body is unpredictable. It will turn on me at any moment. I can tell it, “Go right, go RIGHT,” and it will laugh at me and go left. I can tell it, “Catch the ball, catch the BALL,” and it will stand there and let me get punched in the face by the ball instead. My body thinks that walking across an unfurnished room without tripping is too much to ask. My body thinks it is funny to make me face plant in the middle of oncoming New York City traffic. My body, dear therapist, is not my friend. My body should not be trusted.
Now, rewind. There was a time when I trusted my body. Not because it could be trusted, but simply because I had no idea it couldn’t be yet. Before there was school for me, when there were only Mommy and Daddy, who loved me very much and laughed and clapped at my antics, even when they involved me donning roller skates, mowing my parents down, shattering their glasses and cutting their faces wide open (I actually did this once), I considered myself to be a roller skating genius. I still remember the feeling of streaking around the ring, the wind in my hair, my little glittery hair ribbons billowing in the gusts created by my graceful motion. Now, stopping was a problem, but not a huge one, as when I needed to stop, I simply barreled into a nearby object. A wall. A snack bar. A parent. So, as a thirty-something open-minded human, if I was really going to expand my sporting horizons, roller skating seemed like a good place to start, considering my history as an aficionado.
However accurate or inaccurate your childhood skating memories may be, know this. When you are pushing forty, it will not be the same. The skates will be bigger and clunkier than you remembered, and your body won’t be able to figure out how to stay up. It will sway and stagger and sometimes fall, and when that last part happens, it won’t feel the way it felt when you were four. It will feel like someone dropped you off the Empire State Building. It will feel like your bones snap and your teeth shatter in your head. You will go home with bruises that look like you just got out of the ring with Mike Tyson. But you didn’t. You just went roller skating. Freaking roller skating did this to you. (I am using “you” in the place of “me,” because I can’t come to terms with what happened last night. I am “projecting,” as my therapist would call it. I can’t own my pain. “Own it, Tawni.” That’s what my therapist would say. “Own it.” Ok. Here goes.)
So last night, after I donned the roller skates, I tried to stand up. Very quickly, I learned something. Roller skating is like dying. When you are falling, and your hands are flapping, grabbing for something, anything to hold onto, and your feet are floundering madly, doing that little “whoop, whoop, whoop,” cartoon character slipping on a banana peel motion, there is a break in the time space continuum. Everything slows down. You think a million thoughts, deep thoughts, things like, “Who in the name of all that’s holy thought that strapping wheels on people’s feet and herding them en masse onto an ice-slick floor while blinding lights flashed and disconcerting hip hop blared was a good idea? I mean, seriously, I don’t know if I could stand up in here, even if I didn’t have wheels on my feet. Oh, dear God, I hope I don’t fall on that small child. Crap. I am falling on the small child. Go right, body. Go RIGHT. Oh, no. It’s going left. I freaking hate you, body. You stupid, crazy Uncle Cleetus body. My therapist lied to me. You are not to be trusted. You are not to be TRUSTED! Sorry, small child. I hope you survive this. God knows I won’t. So this is how I die.”
And then I hit the floor. And it hurt. The small child crawled out from under the pile of shattered bones that was my body, looked at me with bewildered eyes, blinked twice, righted himself, and skated off into the crowd.
I, on the other hand, sprawled there, waiting for death. I tried to think peaceful thoughts, loving thoughts, zen thoughts. “Thank you God for the gift that was my life.” Whiz. Whiz. What was that sound? Whiz. Whiz. Crap. It was roller skates. Angry, inflamed, hungry roller skates, descending upon my fallen body like flies. Whiz. Whiz. I tried to think more zen dying thoughts. “I love you, Desi and Tim. May your lives be beautiful. I will always be with you.”
“Mom, what the hell are you doing? Get up before you get run over!” I looked up at the source of the angry voices drifting to me through my stupor. Whaaaaaaaaaa? It was Desi and Tim! I had summoned them with my zen dying thoughts. Even in death, I was a psychic power to be reckoned with. I stared into their faces, which were now looming above me, wrinkled with—what was that? Concern? The agony of watching their mother die? “Don’t worry, kids,” I managed to choke. “Momma will always—"
“Mom, get the hell up.” Tim, my 6’2” hulk of a son, grabbed me by the hand and dragged me to my feet. It hurt. Desi grabbed my other hand. “Here, mom. We’ll help you,” they said. Which was kinda sweet. Sweet enough to make me forget my near death experience. I shuffled along between my two grown children, holding their hands, swaying to the sounds of Miley Cirus singing “Party in the U.S.A.,” lurching and pitching, but managing to stay upright, mostly by virtue of the fact that every time I started to fall, my children yanked my arms out of their sockets in an effort to stabilize me. After a couple of songs, I started to get the feel for it. I wasn’t skating, exactly, but I was doing this sort of scooter thing. I kept my left foot firmly in place and shuffled my right foot every few seconds, thereby creating forward motion.
Finally, my kids decided that it was safe for me to hold only one of their hands. So they got this bargaining system going, “Hey, Tim, you take mom during this song, and I’ll take her during the next.” Ok, it was still sweet, but I was staring to feel like an Alzheimer’s patient. So, I cut the kiddos loose. “Run free, little ones,” I said, or something like that.
And then, I was on my own. Hurtling through that rink was like hurtling through hell. Raucous noise. Blinding lights. Shrieking, streaking human forms everywhere. Speaking of human forms, there are several varieties of people of the floor at a skating rink, all of them potentially lethal human landmines.
The first is: The Small Child. Small Children are fearless. They trip forward, blissfully unaware of the danger they are in, and sometimes, they manage to achieve great speeds. When this happens, they get scared. Their policy when they get scared is:
A. To fling themselves onto the floor in front of oncoming skate traffic (Usually me. It was like elementary school all over again. Don’t fall in front of me. Don’t fall in front of me. What do I do? What do I DO? Bam!)
B. To grab onto the legs of the nearest adult and take the adult down with them, cleverly using said adult as padding for their fall. (Usually me.)
The second variety of person on the floor is: The Mostly Naked, Angry, Pubescent Girl Gang. These humans don’t travel alone. They travel in packs, snarling, showing off their pierced midriffs and killer moves. Sometimes, they form trains, twenty Pubescent Girls long, so that people like me can skate into them and break their necks. Also, they skate fiercely past women they deem to be threatening and forcefully shove them. (I put in that “deem to be threatening” part to make myself feel better about getting repeatedly shoved by pubescent girls with sexy midriffs. Actually, I think they deemed me to be old.)
The third variety of person on the floor is: The Horny Teenage Boy. Horny Teenage Boys travel alone. Unlike the Pubescent Girls, they do not sport sexy midriffs. They sport acne. Also, Lord of the Rings T-shirts. (I’m just gonna say it. I’m pretty sure the proverbial “cool kids” don’t hang out at the skating rink on Friday night.) When the Horny Teenage Boys aren’t playing Guitar Hero in the snack bar, they are on the floor, showing off their killer moves. These moves involve whizzing in and out of oncoming skate traffic, wooing women with the hokey pokey, and doing back flips.
Ok, I lied about the back flips, but these kids are pretty good. I watched them enviously, longing for their flare and finesse, and what I noticed is that all of these boys did something when they were skating. They moved both feet. By now, I had managed to stay upright most of the time, as long as I didn’t try anything too crazy (like moving my left foot.) But these boys, damn them, they inspired me. So, I tried it. I moved my left foot. I almost fell the first time, but then I heard the voice of my therapist. “Trust your body,” he said. And I did it. I loosened the tension in my legs and started to skate, really skate, using my right and left feet. I felt like that scene in Titanic. “I’m flying Jack!” It was dizzying, just the way I remembered it being when I was four years old. I felt graceful and beautiful and—WHAM!
Something like a truck struck me from behind. I started to fall forward, but loving arms wrapped around me and held me tight and. . .grabbed my breasts? I was falling, so time slowed down. I had time to think. I thought this. “Is this seriously happening? Did some kid just wham into me and grope my breasts? Are his hands still on my breasts? How do I shove him away? If I shove him away, I will fall. But if I don’t shove him away, his hands will remain on my breasts. God, he has bad breath. I am starting to feel violated. What do I do? What do I DO???” Mercifully, I didn’t have to do anything. The hulking presence behind me released my breasts and muttered sorry and skated away, and I thought, “Maybe it was an accident. Right. An accident.”
I tried to trust my body again, but having just been violated, I was a little unsure. I used my left foot, and I started to fall. Time slowed down. “I’m falling. That little freak grabbed my boobs and threw off my groove and now I’m falling. If I die, I’m suing his ass.” Just before I hit the floor, another pair of loving arms wrapped around me and grabbed my boobs. I only know it was another pair because the first ones were white, and these ones were black. This time, I knew what was happening. “Oh, crap. These stupid Horny Teenage Boys made some kind of sinister Horny Teenage Boy pact to repeatedly slam into me and grab my boobs. I am going to spend the rest of the night being violated by acne scarred Lord of the Rings buffs. I cannot do this. I cannot do this. Screw you, therapist. Screw you for telling me to trust my Uncle Cleetus body. If you had not filled me with your lies, I would not be hurtling forward on a spit shined floor, being groped by teenage boys.
And then, the hands let go, and the kid said, “My bad,” and I said, “Yeah, it was,” (I told him!) and skated off the floor into the wall, after which I hobbled to the snack bar to sit with my dear friend Tonya and eat nachos and discuss all the reasons men suck. (We are divorced, thirty-something women. That’s what we do. We may not have sexy midriffs, but we can out-angst those Pubescent Girls, any time, anywhere.)
This is me being smug because I didn't break any bones while skating, and also, I think I'm funny. The end.