It’s always with a tinge of sadness that I enter the old brick building east of town that houses my storage locker. The building’s broad, barreled ceiling and hardwood floor—painted turquoise green around the edges—tell a tale of its former glory. This place used to be filled with laughter, bruised knees, and mullets. Van Halen, black lights, and the musty smell of damp socks. Yes, the exact spot where my spare furniture and boxes of winter clothes now live is the spot on the floor where Sunset Roller Rink used to set up the limbo bar.
I was always hideous at the limbo. As I assumed bizarre positions to pass underneath the ever-lowering stick, I’d last maybe two or three passes before ending up on my hiney. Nonetheless, the hoppin’, jungly Chubby Checker song they’d pipe in on the loudspeaker—“Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack go undah limbo stick …”—filled me with nail-biting glee as I lined up with all the folks (mostly kids) across the center of the floor to wait my turn and test my fate.
“Don’t move that limbo bar, you’ll be a limbo star! How looooow can you gooooo?” Insert monkey sounds here: “Oooooh Oooooh! Haaaah Aaaaaah Aaahhhhh!!!”
There were full-grown dudes in tiny little cutoffs who, despite their age, could duck the bar by leaning waaaaay over sideways, somehow balancing on one skate—with the opposite leg hovering parallel to the floor. But in the end, the victor would always be some shrimpy second-grader who could hunker down so low he was barely taller than his skates. “All around the limbo clock, hey let’s do the limbo rock!”
I didn’t go roller skating once between 1988 and 2013. For the majority of that time I was living in Chicago, and although the city’s got great outdoor ice rinks in the wintertime and an impressive lakefront path for inline skating, by the time I arrived on the scene the roller rinks had all closed down, one by one. Were the days of backwards skate, moonlight “couples” skate, and “shooting the duck” gone forever?
One summer evening three years ago, my friend Dave and I stumbled upon a rink in the Northwest Chicago suburbs. Would I like to go, he asked. Um, yes. Yes, I would. It was scary at first, all things considered. I’m fairly tall, yes, but after adding a set of three-inch wheels, it felt like a long way to the ground. (I can only imagine how Dave felt at a lumbering 6′ 4″.) I hadn’t been to the gym in months, and I was days away from turning the dreaded four-oh; could my body even handle a fall? I didn’t know. Not to mention, I was swiftly remembering that skating around and around in circles—in the same direction—was a sure-fire recipe for some really disgusting blisters. But my eight wheels and I ventured forth, and about an hour in, I had a magical moment out there on the floor when my body knew exactly what to do.
I was finding confidence in crossing one foot over the other and was now mastering the curve at the end of the rink. There was an exhilarating thrill that came with my perfectly timed passage down the sea of people who were hurtling through the lane at different speeds. And I experienced uninhibited bliss as I discovered that I was able to glide for a long, long time on one foot, then the other, taking huge, powerful strides. I was feeling the rush of cool air against my face. I was drinking it in. I was flying.
Now, some of you might not be into anything “woo woo,” so if you get squirmy during this next part, I apologize. Not long after that skate night, I had a profound experience while working with a clairvoyant healer friend of mine, Paula. She was able to tune into events in my past where I had experienced some challenge or trauma and had become “stuck,” still holding an emotional charge around that event whether I was aware of it or not. She zeroed in on some of these stresses and, one by one, helped me usher them out the metaphorical door.
When we were done, she took a minute to share a strong image that was appearing in her mind’s eye, “a visual representation of the healing that had occurred,” she said. I sat there with my eyes still closed, listening, feeling gratitude and an open heart.
After a brief moment of silence, Paula started laughing under her breath and said, “Oh, this is really interesting.”
“Yes?” I said dreamily, still surfacing from my deep dive.
“I’m seeing you move through the night sky … as a … ” She was laughing again. “As a cosmic … skater.”
Did I hear that right? “A skater??”
“Yes … I see you as …” she paused to find the right words, “an Olympic-quality skater, shooting through the stars. I am not kidding you.”
Paula had not known about my recent suburban excursion. She hadn’t known of my experience of being “in the zone” on skates, flying through space with twinkling lights all around me. And man, I’m getting goose bumps as I write this, because I’m remembering just now that this particular rink was called Orbit Skate Center, and there was a huge mural of planets and stars on the wall. It was cosmic, all right. There are some things in life that you just can’t explain. And some things you just don’t want to.
Skating is my happy place. That’s all I need to know.
Even though I moved back to town a few years too late to enjoy the Sunset Roller Rink before it closed its doors, I was recently delighted to discover that there is still a skating rink in the vicinity. In March, I joined some friends for a birthday party at CARE Roller Rena in Kahoka, Missouri (just 17 miles south of Farmington, Iowa), and it felt a lot like the old Sunset. Same tan leather skates. Same disco ball. Same smile on my face.