I’ve been taking my nine-year-old to the skating rink for several years now. It always brings back memories from when I used to skate at the Hickory Hollow roller rink in Tennessee in the ’80’s. My son has let me couple-skate with him maybe three or four times. Now you can forget about it. But I’m glad we had that short time on the parquet flooring. He was my second couple-skate partner.
The first, well I can’t tell you his exact name, but for early memory-loss purposes we’ll call him David. He was of average height, maybe an inch taller than me, and super skinny. His mom probably bought his Sears Toughskins in slim. I noticed him on the playground with the other 2nd graders. I think he was hanging around the monkey bars where me and my girlfriends were reenacting the movie Annie scene by scene. His dark hair tousled by the wind, he was alone, and seemed half content and half uneasy in his alabaster skin. I was immediately intrigued.
Since he wasn’t in my class I had to steal glances of him whenever all the second graders converged—story time at the library, where I think I saw him checking out a sci-fi book, in the cafeteria, where he slowly savored his PB & J sandwiches from home, or at recess where he might be found alone or with another “mediocre on the food chain” elementary school boy.
I don’t think he noticed me. Or at least he wasn’t looking at me when I was looking at him. I distinctly remember one day when it was pouring rain. Since there was no gymnasium we had our recess in a blue-carpeted double classroom. Written on the giant chalkboard was “Jumping Contest”. A long pole was set up lengthwise in the center. I was no athletic Einstein for sure, but I prided myself on my jumping abilities, which were acquired in the backyard with my more-than-athletically capable younger brother.
When David’s class entered my heart skipped a beat. He leaned against the chalkboard, patiently waiting his turn as the contest began. One by one each of us jumped over the thigh-high pole, and one by one, kids were eliminated as the coach raised the pole higher and higher. David was a fair jumper, sitting down somewhere in the middle of the eliminations. Each time I jumped I was proud yet slightly amazed I had gone on to be one of the last four. As the clock ticked closer to the end of recess, the pole was raised to meet my chest. I took a confident running start and made the jump without knocking over the bar! Smiling within, I hoped David was as impressed as I was.
A couple weeks later I went to the skating rink for kid’s skate night. There was something special about the skating rink—the smell of popcorn and worn, rented skates, the neon lights illuminating the slick, wooden floor, the blinking lights of the video arcade games, and the promise of finding someone to couple-skate with.
I was well-versed in skating at a decent clip to Michael Jackson, Van Halen, and Midnight Starr. But in all the days and nights I went to that rink I never did a couple-skate. No one ever asked me.
While sitting near the concession stand for a snack break, I noticed my crush-from-afar, skating awkwardly in time to that early-80’s rap beat. Excitement and nervousness set in my freckled body. His skates magnified his long, lanky limbs, and turned his slim jeans into high-waters. But there was something about him, the way he seemed content with being alone, yet slightly lost in the shuffle. I anxiously made my way to the floor to see if he would notice me.
Every time I passed him my stomach would flutter. Even back then I wondered what I looked like from behind as he surely caught a glimpse of my little round rump as I rolled by. After a few rounds the DJ announced it was time for “Couple Skate Only” so I returned to the snack bar to find my mom for money to play Pac Man. As she handed me a quarter, I felt a hesitant tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see David, my exquisitely gawky David, who quietly but fervently asked if I would like to couple skate. “Yes,” I replied non-reluctantly, and he clasped my hand in his.
We revolved carefully in clunky rhythm, our hair blowing and our mouths curled up in nervous smiles of relief. We made small talk. We tried not to fall. As far as I was concerned we were the only kids on the rink. When the song was over we thanked each other then he scooted away to leave for the night.
The rest of the school year when I saw him from time to time, we would smile at each other. I never saw him with any other girls, and I don’t think he came back to our school the following year.
I could say I picked him up like a stray, an unwieldy boy who needed someone to cling to, if only for a moment. Although I might have had the upper hand when it came to quiet confidence and certain physical skills, I think it was me who received that small rescue.