Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Falling Down

I'm not a good roller skater. When I was younger and we'd go to Tar Wheels for skating parties, I was always the one scooting along behind, wobbly kneed, doing the skate equivalent of dog-paddling. After a while a while of practice, my speed would increase with my comfort level, but, without fail, I'd be knocked to the side by some bulky 15-year-old with something to prove. This interlude often played out as the DJ blasted "Owner of a Lonely Heart."

Once, on a skating trip with my church's youth group (my parents lead the youth fellowship, of which my older sister was a part. The perk was going on trips with the older kids.) disaster struck. For some cruel, unknown reason, the rink had located its bathroom on the other side of the the skating area. I had tasted concrete a few times earlier that afternoon and did not relish edging my way to the women's restroom through the expanse of unwieldy teenagers. I might as well scoot through a field of swinging baseball bats. So...I waited to go to the bathroom.

I waited too late.

When the urge forced me out on the floor, I clung for dear life to the marigold shag carpeted wall. "This is an All Skate." the DJ announced. He might as well have been the herald of the great apocalypse, for as soon as he said that the floor swarmed with sweaty wheeled adolescents ready to boogie down to "Jump (For My Love)," the disco ball whirled, and spotlights searched the room like a jailbreak in 1932 Alabama. My fingers were rubbed raw, clawing at the carpet. My legs scuttered back and forth. The blaring music, the lights, those infernal teens, my panic...everything was an enemy.

Then, the very, very thinkable happened.

It was not unexpected. I believe now that I would have been more surprised had I made it. The hell was soaked out of my maroon corduroys.

I stood, in near hysteria, kids flying past. Occasionally one would make eye contact, unsure of my purpose...why was I facing opposite of the flow? Where did you come from, little salmon? I thought...maybe I can just wait.

After a couple of songs, I started to edge my way again, determined to AT LEAST GET TO A PLACE OF CALM, away from the shag and disco, and Pac-Man, and the gangly, unwashed meat sacks flying around the rink. A handsome young fellow soared towards me. By his name tag, Jeff, I could see that he worked there.

"Are you okay? Do you want some help?"

There was no way I could have disguised my distress. Giant, alligator tears were running down my cheeks, by nose was ruby red. My pants darkened. But I was still gonna make it if it killed me.

I shook my head. "No."

"Really? You look like you need some help."

I didn't answer. My worst fear was that he'd pick me up and then he'd be dragged in with me. I'd become his story for the day - The little pants-wetting girl. I just wanted to go it alone.

I gave him a more furious head shake.

He shrugged and skated away. To his credit, he did make the effort. But I just couldn't let him near me.

By the time the DJ had moved on to The Thompson Twins "Hold Me Now", I had made it to the irresponsibly tiled bathroom (It was the bumpy, small kind of white square tile, lined with tan grout.) I stayed in there forever, until, at long last, someone came looking for me.

I don't remember the ride home.

The thing is, I think the whole incident could have been avoided if I had been less afraid of falling down. Of hurting myself. Of breaking something. If I had learned how to skate properly, and learned how to fall (and thereby not be so afraid of the tumble), I could have gotten to the bathroom. I would not have scratched my way around the perimeter of the rink. I would not have sobbed. I might have enjoyed skating to Laura Branigan's "Self Control."

Falling down, to me, constitutes a lack of mastery that I have never tolerated in myself. But how does one become a master of anything unless a few bones are broken? This sort of fear, an avoidance of potential pain, is stultifying and ultimately, crippling.

I was reminded a few weeks ago by a friend, L. (Not yesterday's L. Different L.), of the Jung quote:
"The foundation of all mental illness is the avoidance of true suffering."

I'm sure he didn't mean the "avoidance of true suffering" as the "avoidance of roller skate wipe out". The spirit of the quote strikes a real chord. Any time I have dodged action for fear I would cause pain to myself or another, the greater negative impact has been farther reaching than I could have originally conceived. To cower on the 70's era wall treatment in wet pants is so much less fun and exciting than a couple's skate. And much more damaging that a mere trip and subsequent bruise during "Say, Say, Say."

To be fair, I would not trade this event for anything. It's a melancholy and funny story, an admission of a different kind of falling down. I'm not so hard on my eleven-year-old self as one might think. But I will be hard on my 34-year-old self if I refuse to learn from it.


Crazypants said...

You are awesome, pants wetter.
God, "Owner of a Lonely Heart" was a fucking fantastic song.

Jan Smelk said...

I understand. It was all too much and you had too many pancakes. Ease up on yourself a little, dude.

Ben Compton said...

Usually mastery doesn't come without some degree of bruising. Falling gives you an appreciation for standing up. Also, sometimes people drop change on the floor, when you fall, it's easier to pick it up.

And finally, as Mark Twain said : "If you wet yourself at while rollerskating, just pretend your water has broken and call the ambulance. Then when you're on your way to the hospital, score some free pills from the ambulance and jump out at the first red light. Sell some of those pills and buy yourself some new pants. There's no better reason to buy new pants than soiling the old ones."

-j-j- said...

It's a little know fact that this quote was stripped from the original text of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County". Clemmons never forgave his editors.

In my opinion the final "clean" edition never recovered from the loss.

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