W Bruce CameronWhen I was in sixth grade, I didn’t understand what girls were supposed to be for. They seemed to have been put on the planet to bother me, which they accomplished by doing irritating things like looking at me.
I wanted nothing to do with them and spent all my time on the playground trying to get their attention so they could see I was ignoring them and suffer the way I was suffering.
When I learned that a lot of the girls went to the roller-skating rink on Saturday nights, I was like a salmon contemplating swimming upstream: I felt compelled to go, though I had no idea what would happen if I did.
I’d never really skated before, and once I was rolling, my technique could probably have been best-described as “spastic panic on wheels.” A roller rink is like a vast circulatory system, and I was drawn into the bloodstream and swiftly rejected as a defective fat cell, thrown against the walls by centrifugal force. I clung to the rails like a drunken sailor in heavy seas, pulling myself along, painfully aware of the girls who were gracefully sliding past, leaving me forever behind, trapped in preadolescence.
I was eventually able to stand upright using the same force of male willpower that causes a hoofed animal’s forehead to burst out in antlers. I began describing a box within the oval – that is, I could change my straight-line direction only by crashing into the walls and then relaunching myself at a 90-degree angle, so each circumnavigation resulted in four separate collisions. Each impact left skin – I’d invented a new sport, “roller scabbing.” But at least I was doing it, I was playing in their reindeer games.
I’d been too nauseated over the prospect of meeting girls to eat any dinner, and the effort of smacking repeatedly into the same four spots on the walls was making me ravenous. Unfortunately, a trip to the snack bar revealed that all I could afford to buy was an immense garlic dill pickle, as big as an ostrich egg, floating like an alien in a suspension of milky swamp water in an aquarium by the cashier. I attacked the thing so swiftly I scarcely had time to register how much I loathed it.
Within seconds, the salty pickle drew down all my liquid reserves, which added a new dimension to my precarious trips around the rink: Each pass led me to the drinking fountain, where I slurped tepid water until my stomach was tight as a drum.
Suddenly the lights went low and a disco ball sparkled overhead. “Couples skate!” someone, maybe God, boomed in a huge voice. Boys fled in panic, but I was just starting a trip down the long leg of my box and wasn’t able to leave the floor, which is why I was caught so off guard when a girl my age appeared at my side and sneaked her hand into mine.
Her name was Susie. Using her as my mother ship, I was able to complete my first turn, a graceful arc carved out while tethered to her arm. I flashed a quick, triumphant grin at her. We would name our first son William.
I was trembling, nauseated and thirsty, my stomach and bladder were bloated, and the hand I shared with Susie thought it was in a sweat lodge. I had never been happier in my life, weaving around in reckless circles in the dark, avoiding Susie’s eyes as I adored her.
The belch that erupted from me at that moment was strong enough to cause property damage, the garlic pickle coming back to life with a terrible vengeance. I suppose Susie is to be forgiven for snatching her hand away so that she could clap it over her mouth in horror, though it meant that I hit the wall when I’d been expecting her to turn me. By the time I clambered to my feet, the lights were back up and Susie was gone.
Next time, I decided, I’d skip the pickle.
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