Memoir: Roller Skating

I love to watch Gene Kelly dance. He’s so smooth, so confident on his feet. When I saw this video I was totally amazed, especially considering my own experiences on roller skates. How could anybody tap dance (at the 2:18 mark) on four little wheels?

My father met my mother at a roller rink, so I was excited about a date with Beth, a girl I’d just met. She and I were talking and she asked if I liked to roller skate.

“I’ve been on roller skates just once in my life when I was about twelve. Fell off them, slammed my shoulder into the sidewalk. Hurt so bad I never dared get on them again.”

“Too bad,” she said puckering her lips in a way that seemed to say she was sorry I got hurt, but that I wasn’t the kind of guy she could be interested in.

“I take it you skate a lot.”

“A couple times every week, maybe more.”

“Do you think maybe you could teach me to skate?”

“That would be fun,” she said and the smile on my face told me it was worth the taking a chance

“Maybe tomorrow?” I asked.

“About six,” she said nodding her head. “We could get something to eat, then I’ll teach you how to skate.”

I thought because we were going to go roller skating for our first date it had to be a sign from the universe that this girl was the one I’d been waiting for. I thought I was in love.

When I picked her up the next day I thought she looked more beautiful than she ever had before. Of course, I’d think that. Doesn’t every guy who thinks he’s in love think the girl is always more beautiful than she was the day before?

Since it was a Saturday night, the restaurant was crowded and the skating rink was crowded. At least the food was good and we talked. I think we could have spent the rest of our date at the restaurant, but she loved to skate and wanted me to like it, too. If I’d known what was going to happen, I’d have tried to talk her into having a desert and use that to keep us away from the skating rink.

When we got there I was immediately intimidated because there were so many people there, going around and around, obviously knowing what they  were doing. Most of them were skating in a counter-clockwise circle. Some were skating backwards. Some were doing spins and twirls. Others seemed to be dancing to the music. I thought if I was lucky I might be dancing with Beth before the night was over. As I laced up my rented skates I thought I might see someone who looked like he didn’t know what he was doing. I didn’t want to be the only one. A few people wobbled here and there and some looked a little unsure of themselves, but no one looked like they were in the midst of a disaster. I would soon to be the only one.

I carefully shuffled out onto the rink, holding onto anything that seemed to be solid – mostly the benches and walls. Beth held my arm and guided me toward the middle of the rink. I don’t think I’d been out there more than twenty seconds before my skates moved faster than I did and I crashed. Beth helped me up and I fell again and again and again. Every time I managed to shuffle a few feet she tried to encourage me by telling me I was doing really well.

After I fell for the eighth or ninth time she said, “Wait here.” as she skated away she turned back toward me and said, “I’ll be right back,”

The ice was old. My hands and knees were wet and I was starting to shiver. I decided I was going to get up on my feet and try to move a little on my own. I thought she’d be very proud of me if she returned to find me back on my feet. That as my plan. I probably fell another half dozen times before I managed to get back on my feet. I stood there with both hands on my knees.

Maybe I was up about ten seconds before I thought I might try to move. It was a good thought, but I never got a chance to act on it because someone slammed into me, knocking me to the ground. I was face down on the ice. Someone was standing over me, laughing. “Here let me help you,” the laughing voice said. Someone grabbed my arm and started pulling me up. I could see it was a boy, about eleven or twelve.

“Thank you,” I said, but just as I managed to get one foot under me he shoved me, spinning me away. Again I was on my face. Again he was laughing. I tried to get up again, maneuvering myself into a half sitting, half lying down position when he skated around me and shoved me again.

That was it. I was finished. It was bad enough not being able to stay on my feet, but I was not going to be embarrassed by a ten-year-old kid. As I crawled toward the wall he pushed me again. Then skated off. I think he saw Beth returning. She was carrying some kind of support thing.

“Here,” she said, “This should help.”

“Thanks, but I’m done. I’m not going to skate anymore. I’ll just sit there and watch,” I said pointing to the small cafeteria I was slide crawling toward.

I told her about the kid. She wanted me to point him out so she could ask the management to tell him to leave, but I’d never gotten a look at much more than his feet and in roller skates, they all looked about alike. She thought it might be good for me to rest a little before I tried again. I rested, but I never tried again. It was embarrassing enough to be falling every minute or so, but to have a ten-year-old kid relish in my embarrassment was too much for me.

Beth and I dated for almost a year and she still skated a couple times every week. Sometimes I watched. She was really quite good, but I never put roller skates on my feet again. That’s probably too bad. I like to dance. Maybe I could have gotten good enough to tap dance, a little.

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