From the time I was 13 to 16, my Friday nights were divided into categories such as Boy’s Skate, Couple Skate, Girl’s Skate, and All Skate. Like so many others my age in the mid 80’s, Friday night was skate night and I spent as many weekends as possible at one of the two skating rinks in Clarksville. Occasionally I went to Rainbow Roller Rink (which was much closer), but I usually begged my mom to drive me across town to Magic Wheels, mainly because I had Discovered Girls and the ones most likely to actually talk to me skated there.
The skating rink was the first place I ever remember getting ready for. I always made sure I dressed well, splashed, or rather doused, on some cologne (my preference was Yardley of London, because it was, um, from London), and brought my own skates. No generic, sad looking rentals for me. My skates were fantastic – jet black with midnight blue wheels and stoppers. I would toss them nonchalantly over my shoulder so everyone could notice as I pretended not to care. Of course, I never admitted they were hand-me-downs from my brother, I said they were worn because I was a real skater.
Amazing things happened for me at that rink. Since no one there went to school with me, I got to be a different person. I would re-invent myself over and over with no worries of someone calling me out come Monday morning. While I was attempting to be new, new things would happen. I was offered drugs for the first time (speed, which I didn’t accept) and also my First Kiss (which I did accept from a girl named Candy – please feel free to make your own joke). I got my introduction to guy code and my first lesson in the Semantics of Relationship (which I often still don’t completely understand).
Two nights really stand out from those few years. One was the First Kiss of course, and the other was a lesson in humility.
It started when I wasn’t actually skating. A few of us were huddled just off the rink where it was darker. We were just talking, but all being 13 or 14, our conversation was positively dripping with angst. I was already angry and confused because the girl who said she was interested in “going with” me the week before now had a boyfriend. This apparently happened while I was out during Boy’s skate, leaving the field clear for him to make a move. I miserably watched as they took to the rink for Couples’ Skate, thinking she should be holding my hands as she skated backwards. To make matters worse, her friend Candy (who had not yet given me my first Real Kiss, that was still about three weeks away) seemed to have also completely lost interest in me. I knew this because I asked her if she wanted to Couple Skate and she replied, “I’d rather give away all the buttons on my jean jacket!” At the time, having buttons (the plastic and metal with a picture or witty saying type) on a denim jacket was a Really Big Thing. If she’d rather get rid of them than skate with me I was out of luck.
Couples’ Skate ended and the newly minted couple, 50% of which should have been a couple with me returned. They were so happy with one another and enjoying themselves. It made me sick.
I talked about this with my mom later that night. Her exact words were, “You’re making mountains out of mole hills.” This was absolutely true, but I was much smaller then (and so was my world) so those mole hills were gigantic from my point of view.
I was upset and needed to clear my head. I remember thinking I should find something to do to just take my mind off of it, something mundane and repetitive. That was when I remembered I was at the skating rink. I immediately stepped off the raised carpet onto the varnished wood. I paid so little attention to the other skaters, I nearly caused a few collisions as I wove in and out of them, listening only faintly to the loud music. Instead, I focused on the rumble of my skates and felt the false wind blow against my face (it was the 80’s so a half can of AquaNet ensured my mane of hair couldn’t rustle in the breeze). I closed my eyes, relying on my knowledge of the rink and the over confidence particular to adolescence to keep me safe.
Eventually, I became aware of two girls (!) skating close behind me. I didn’t know them, but their conversation slowly pulled me from within myself. I opened my eyes again, almost tripping as the rush of sight and sound invaded. I struggled to hear them over cacophony because remarkably, they seemed to be talking about me.
” . . .but he looks too cute!”
“I know, but I can’t ask. You do it.”
“I can’t, what will I say?”
“Well, one of us has to ask.”
Suddenly it all became clear. These two girls were interested in me. The ones I had come to see would be so jealous when they realized other girls wanted to talk to me. In fact, my looks were apparently so overpowering, neither could get up the courage just to talk to me. I stole a backwards glance and both of them were cute as well! Better, what they said next absolutely made it clear they were discussing me.
“Crap, we got noticed. One of us has to ask. You do it.”
“No, you do it.”
“I can’t, you’re the brave one.”
Ladies, I was thinking to myself, there’s plenty of me to go around. You can both talk to me. As if reading my mind, they skated a little faster and caught up to me, one on each side. My heart began pounding. Now that the moment was here, I wasn’t quite sure what I should do. I tried to calm myself as the girl on my left began to speak.
“You’re a boy right?” Uh, wait a minute, this didn’t exactly mesh with what I thought would happen.
“Um, yeah,” I replied, my voice refusing to sound confident. I knew I had to regain control and take charge of this conversation, so I said, “You couldn’t help but notice, I suppose. Of course I’m a man.” I was not just a boy after all. I was the Adonis they had obviously been admiring as we skated.
“Oh, well you know this is Girl’s Skate, right? You’re not supposed to be out here.”
I replayed their overheard conversation. Oh . . .Oh! Utterly humbled, I stepped off the rink as soon as I could. Fortunately, I managed not to stumble, but I heard them laugh as they skated past.
I desperately wanted to leave, but my mother wouldn’t be there to pick me up for at least another hour. I didn’t have any money for the arcade, so I was forced to wait on the carpet. The group I was originally with were pointing and laughing (and had been the whole time probably). The two girls I thought were talking about me also pointed and laughed every time they lapped the rink. I hunched down a little more each time they passed, suddenly desperate for a dirty looking pair of beige rental skates, for anything that would help me blend better.
I stood in my humiliation, thinking I would have to tough it out until it was time to go. Then the music shifted and the DJ uttered two wonderful words, “All Skate!” Quickly, everyone around me poured into the rink. I couldn’t find anyone I knew or the two girls I overheard. This also meant they couldn’t find me. I laughed aloud and stepped back in to the rink to lose myself in the sea of skaters. At first I was timid, afraid I would run into someone I didn’t want to see, but soon I realized I was practically invisible (which for once was what I craved) and slowly increased my speed. Before long, I was again weaving in and out, lost in the crowd, insulated from all that happened that night. I let the music fade away, smiling at the rumble of my skates.
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