For a few seconds I thought I’d finally done it. I was going to land it.
Swooping through the curve on my skateboard, Zen man, wind in my face, trucks rattling and wheels hissing over asphalt. Then - shit - I felt the moment fade. I lost that sweet smooth rasp, the sure steady sound of me and my board knowing where to go. I felt the wheels zig, and that was it. Next thing was my palms slapping the pavement, followed by the rest of me. Fuck.
My shame is hot in the shade. I’m swilling water, willing myself back to control. The fleshy parts of my hands sting. Tiny droplets of blood bead on my knees and hands, probably my chin too from the feel of it. That’s not the part that’s got me rocked. It’s the false triumph felt before the inevitable failure. I knew I was going to land it. Trust your gut, people say, but it’s no more trustworthy than a roll of dice. Sometimes a moment of ‘truth’ is just another lie.
I don’t much care about being banged up. War wounds, man. One more story of the jump that got away.
I need a Slurpee. A walk might calm my nerves.
Sometimes I shake after I fall. Not when I know I suck and I will have to risk falling to get better. When I think I’m hot shit and I’m so going to have a ta-da moment. I try to tell myself that I’m not that good, that I’m not some hot chick in an Etnies ad. I try to take myself down a peg or two, because honestly I’m an egotistical bitch and I’d rather be the one to take me down if it’s got to be done.
Gravel crunching under my shoes. Got to reapply the duct tape on the toe. I don’t buy expensive shoes. I have a habit of dragging my right foot behind me when I want to slow my board down. The thrashing isn’t any easier on $100 shoes than $20 ones. I buy ‘em cheap and wear ‘em until even the magical silver power of duct tape isn’t enough to keep the sole and upper together. Looks like these ones will have to be replaced soon.
There’s a 7-11 only a few blocks from the skate park. Here in the ‘burbs no one walks who can drive. The sidewalk’s mine except for a couple of teenyboppers in push-up bras and tight shorts trying to eat ice cream without smearing their lipstick. The ice cream’s the soft kind that comes on a stick, coated in hard chocolate. The chocolate has cracked and is drifting down their sticks like ice floes. The girls push the fragments back up the melting white bar with their little pink tongues, giggling and swearing in chirpy voices. I watch the men and boys in passing cars crane their necks to watch the Lolitas walking towards me. I am dirty and bloody and grumpy. The girls grow quiet as I approach, then resume their titters after I pass. They think themselves cats, these canaries.
I may be a skater chick, but I’m no one’s bird.
The doors to the 7-11 hiss open for me. Before I’m ten steps inside I’m covered in gooseflesh. I resent it when stores crank up their air conditioning in summer. It always makes it seem even hotter when I step back out into the sun.
The store is busy today. There’s a lineup for the Slurpee machine. A large glop of banana Slurpee is melting into a sticky mess in the middle of the floor. Already people have tracked it up the aisle. It looks like someone pissed on the speckled linoleum.
I pour myself a small Coke Slurpee, thrust exact change at the harried clerk and walk out. The lineup for the cash winds around the counter, and as far as I can tell it’s entirely due to an old lady with orange hair who can’t decide which lottery ticket to waste her twoonie on.
The heat outside packs the predicted wallop. My Slurpee cup and I immediately break into a sweat. I take turns anointing my scrapes with cold condensation. It feels soothing at first, but worse when I take the ice away. I keep doing it, even if the relief is fleeting.
By the time I make it back to the park, my drink is just flat, watery pop but the shakes have stopped and so has most of the stinging in my hands. Others have come to the park to skate. Failing in front of them would be too much right now. I pick a spot in the cool sun-dappled grass beneath a leafy tree, and watch the newcomers. I’ve seen them around but I don’t know them. They’re very good.
Two guys, tall, lean and strong. One blond and shaggy, the other dark with a shaved head. A barefaced girl in loose army surplus and a long, impossibly red ponytail fluttering behind her like a banner. They move like salmon, leaping in their own current.
They are how I imagine my father to have been. I was five when he died in a freak accident downtown. He wasn’t even 25. I am told friends came to his funeral in jeans, carrying longboards. Apparently Dad said that was what he wanted shortly before he died, in one of those hypothetical conversations you have with a pack of friends when you’re sitting stoned in a smoky basement, at the end of your beer.
I can picture it, rows of people fidgeting in their stuffy blacks, and among them the mohawked and the spiked, the bedraggled and the shaved. Boards both badges of membership and monuments to friendship.
Fear weights my limbs, but I push myself up from the grass. My hands tremble and my stomach feels sick, but I’m going to try this again. I push off into the concrete gully, seamlessly entering the skaters’ stream.
I poise myself to leap.