Growing up, there was a skating ring next door to my school. I spent many, many hours perfecting the hokey pokey while rolling around and rushing to get into one of the four corners without busting my other knee. I can still smell the acridity of borrowed skates and nacho cheese and cotton candy.
But most of all, I remember his hands.
I was in 7th grade. My friends and I sat together on one of those circular benches whispering and giggling about the couple skate we knew was coming up - would they play Mariah Carey? Boys II Men? That new guy with that one song - what's his name - Tony Rich? They decided they had to know and skated off toward the DJ while I stayed behind, guarding our spot. I didn't care about the song, my stomach was too busy playing hormonal pin-ball over the possibility of my crush asking me to skate with him. Rumor around the rink was that he was thinking about it.
A 40 year old man beat him to it.
When he came up and asked me to skate with him, I thought he was joking at first. I smiled and laughed under my breath - the slow uneasy laugh of one who suddenly feels unbelievably awkward - and he held out his hand. Palm up, fingers curled, wedding band shining.
"I'm serious, Elora. Come skate with me."
I never said yes. I might have muttered okay. I wanted to say no.
The DJ ended up playing Mariah Carey's Sweet Fantasy. And the whole time, I wanted to fall into a hole and disappear. I wanted to rip my hand out of his grasp and wash the warmth away. I tried not to freak out when he tightened his grip. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream.
But I smiled, and I skated, and when it was all said and done I found my friends and ignored their jokes and laughter and hid the pain of seeing my crush skate with someone else because our teacher got to me first.
I completely forgot about this story until last year. My husband came home excited one day because we were invited to a birthday party for one of his coworkers' kids. When he told me he was at a skating rink, I fell apart. After a few hours of him prodding me, I was able to tell him the story of the moment I wanted to say no but couldn't find the words. Of how cheap and used and guilty and stupid I felt for following through with the teacher's request.
Of how I felt stupid even then - sharing the story and seeing the shock on his face - knowing I should have said no. Knowing there should have been someone else standing in the gap for me - another teacher - a worker at the skating rink - someone - to reach in and look at a 40 something man-handling a middle schooler and force him away.
But most of all, it shook me to my core because it captured so much of my childhood - finding myself in uncomfortable situations, not knowing how to speak for myself, feeling cheap and used afterward as a result.
And even then, I wasn't sure there would ever be something different.
A few weeks later, we combed through Goodwill in order to find my husband an appropriately tacky velour jacket he could wear. It was the night before the party. He was giddy. I was hesitant. He kept talking about how much fun we would have and I would smile, raise an eyebrow, bite my lip and set my jaw.
On the way home, he squeezed my hand, “What's going on, love? Are you still nervous about tomorrow? Will you couple skate with me?”
And everything came back - the darkness, the suffocating shame, the invisibility. I blinked back tears and forced a smile, “you know my last experience wasn’t that great, right?”
“Yeah. I know.” he answered, glancing at me as we drove home. “But this time it'll be different. This time I’ll be there. You'll be safe.”
The next day dawned and all of the misgivings seemed quiet compared to the banging around they did in my heart the night before. I looked forward to the party - to the reminiscing and the laughter and the curiosity of whether or not I could even stay upright with four wheels attached to my feet.
The smell hit me first.
It was the same acridity - the nacho cheese, the cheap middle school cologne, the skates. I grabbed my husband's hand and held tight, taking everything in while he found the party. We sat down on the same upholstered benches and put on the same light brown skates and when my feet touched the rink it made the same rush of squealing and whooshing of skaters whizzing past me as before.
Nothing had changed. And yet, I felt my husband's hands wrap around my waist as he came up behind me and kissed me on the cheek.
Everything had changed. Including me.
We’d already been around the rink a few times, grabbing each other’s hands and giggling like elementary kids breaking in new sea legs. After the break of pizza and cake slicing and gift-opening, I heard the first few chords of a cheesy love song begin playing over the speakers. I grabbed Russ’ hand and leaned in to whisper, “will you couple skate with me?”
He looked at me and smiled.
And we grabbed each other’s hands and gingerly made our way to the rink.
Later that night, I remembered Joel 2:25 where it talks of restoring the years the locusts have eaten. I thought about my day - of how circular time can be when we stop and think about it - and in my heart I heard the whisper, "I make all things new. Even this. Even now."
- Check back on Friday for a continuation of this post. -