It’s strange the memories that stick out in our minds.
One of my most vivid memories hails from 1990s. The event took place at one of the more exciting places in southern Maine for pre-teens in those days. There was a small roller-skating rink semi-close to my home called Happy Wheels, and truth be told, it was one of my all time favorite ways to spend a Saturday. All the rest of my friends and family had switched to using roller blades long before me, but my fear of speed and nervousness regarding anything with wheels had me clinging on to my skates for dear life. So while the people I was with would always have themselves rapidly strapped into their blades, I always lagged behind at the benches tying my laces. I also lagged once I got onto the rink (due to my aforementioned concerns about speed and wheels) but I LOVED the music and didn’t mind to be skating alone.
This particular afternoon, Changes by 2Pac came on and I was overjoyed. It was a fabulous song, and even better, it sampled The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby, which had always been a family favorite. I got really into the music and started flapping my arms as I attempted to skate dance and pick up my pace. I’d made about one rotation around the rink, when I noticed something in my peripheral vision. There were a couple teenage boys making fun of me. I caught them mimicking my chicken-like arm movements as they pointed and laughed. I tried to be strong and ignore it, figuring I couldn’t keep them that entertained for much longer, but after the mockery continued for a couple more laps, I caved. I skated off the rink and didn’t get back on. My mom was concerned and kept asking me what was wrong, but I brushed her off with excuses about my feet hurting and feeling too tired to skate. For a while I didn’t want to go back to Happy Wheels. Eventually, I did. It was nearly impossible to live where I lived and not end up back there. Honestly though, it never really held the same magic for me as it once did. I never told my friends about the event (though at some point I revealed my experience in pieces to my family). I feigned excitement about returning to the rink and giggled and gossiped with other girls about who they would do the couple skate with, but I never quite skated quite so hard or as vibrantly as I had since Changes.
Now around 20 years have past and I still feel a little bit sick and sad when I think about that moment. Maybe I always will. The memory doesn’t stand alone though. It is just a small piece of a long string of self-preserving moments. I’ve spent so much time doing my best not to attempt something if there is a chance I will fail. Making sure to say the right things, to be strong, to be good… Even when I would do wonky things or wear quirky outfits, I’d be sure to always apologize for, defend, or make fun of myself before anyone else had the chance to.
Sure, I’m strong, respectable, interesting, and have a firm sense of justice… Try as I might to veer from these things, most of these descriptors are just core to who I am. However, what I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize, is that I never had to hide or excuse the soft, gooey part of me that wrestles with concepts like confusion, inadequacy, and imperfection, which are also such a strong part of my core.
I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had in recent years to work on acceptance. Accepting how I’m feeling and not judging myself for it, accepting prayers, help, or support, accepting failure… More than anything, accepting God’s love for me and accepting myself as human rather than some sort of robot who successfully completes every challenge with a smile that makes it all look so easy breezy. What acceptance has helped me realize is that if I could go back and talk to that girl flailing her arms to the music of the roller rink, I wouldn’t tell her to tough out the song, flapping her arms even more wildly, giving her mockers spiteful glances that communicate, “Ha, you couldn’t bring me down! I’m having fun anyway!” anymore than I would tell her to sit down and miss out on the magic of Happy Wheels. I think I would let her cry and tell her it makes sense to feel hurt to be a young girl being made fun of by teenage boys. Then I’d put in a special request to the management requesting they replay Changes and I’d take her by the hand and say, “It’s gonna hurt, we’re gonna look silly, we might even cry, but let’s go ahead and flap anyway.”