Ugly's Couples Skate
It was snowing on the morning of my thirteenth birthday. February snow wasn’t unusual at all and I actually liked the snow. It always seemed to sing a softer melody than other kinds of weather. Calm. Sometimes sad. Mostly just quiet. Quiet against a loud world, making it almost special and unique by comparison.
“We won’t have sunshine today.” Mother announced as she bustled into my bedroom.
“Maybe it will stop snowing soon. Before the party.” I said hopefully.
She stopped, looking confused for a moment. “I meant, your friend Sunshine. She’s not coming to the party. She moved last night. Vegas. To her grandparents’.”
Sunshine had been my best friend for three years. We were the kind of best friends that had sleepovers without sleep, spent hours on the phone watching and discussing Ghostwriter, considered each other’s parents and siblings our own and wore those silly plastic broken heart BFF necklaces – just in case anyone dared to doubt the seriousness and commitment of our friendship. She was, without a doubt, my other half in some seriously demented and co-dependant sort of teen-drama formula.
And she was gone.
No goodbye. No last phone call. Just gone.
On my birthday.
My day dragged on as I moped around, irritating Mother and making messes that she had to clean, but it eventually came time for my party. The snow had let up, but not without earning several party cancellations, and as Dad cheerfully dropped me off at the skating rink, my planned party of twelve had been whittled down to three.
Mike, Ashlee, and Adriana met me just inside the doors of Handsome Dan’s Skating Rink. Everyone I knew semi-affectionately referred to it as “Ugly’s” due to it’s outdated and neglected appearance. It had a scratched blue-floored rink, carpeted walls splashed with early 90’s neon designs, out-dated and mostly out of order arcade games, and a worn out old disco ball. It smelled a little like stale pizza and oranges and was staffed by bored teenagers, but to us Ugly’s was a mighty kingdom of parent-free social freedom.
I tried to hide my disappointment about the small turnout of friends and the abandonment of my best friend as the four of us strapped our skates on and began looping endlessly around the rink to the smooth vocals and bouncy beat of some early 90’s pop band.
There was something strange that always seemed to come over me when I was on the rink. The ratty surroundings would fade away and I would somehow lose myself in an autonomous melody of my own limbs propelling my wheels forward, heart beat, laser lights and disco ball sparks. The steady left-right-left-right, breathe-pausebreathe-pause, round and round and round, remixed with strings of melody and shouts of commercial pop, swallowed me up and away from my own thoughts. Disappointments and regrets were muted by bass lines, inferiority complexes and the politics of middle school mercilessly drowned in drum beats. On the skating rink I conducted a mighty symphony in my head and nothing else could touch me.
I noticed Ashlee on the sidelines and was by her side before she noticed me. Her face was a sickly shade of green, which made her dark eyes seem to bulge out of her face like a scared Chihuahua. I guided her toward the bathroom and held her long black hair away from her face and rubbed her back while she was sick. She called her Dad to come pick her up soon after, and before the first hour of my party had passed, I was down to two guests.
After Ashlee had gone, I joined Mike and Adriana on a bench near the “party room.” Two days earlier, Mike had confessed his feelings for Adriana to me in hushed whispers while our English teacher lectured about Moby Dick. He was smitten. Adriana also had gushed about her crush on Mike in a colorful note with heart-dotted i’s and smiley faces that had been slid into my locker before third period Honors History. Neither of them knew of the other’s affections. I alone held this magical piece of information that could change both of their little worlds. My party gave me an excuse to play matchmaker and I was just waiting for the right moment to do so.
Adriana leaned forward to tighten her laces and I watched Mike’s eyes follow the curves and angles of her small frame. He paused and his eyebrows raised as her short shirt crept slowly up her back, revealing her pale skin.
“Holy crap!” he exclaimed suddenly. Mike had never been one to understand the concept of an ‘indoor voice’. “Your back is so hairy! It’s like a fur coat! Gross!” Nor was he one to understand tact.
In a flash, Adriana was on her feet, her hand connecting with Mike’s face with a sharp crack, and I was chasing after her into the bathroom that I’d already spent so much time in that night, where anger and embarrassment imprisoned her until her Dad arrived early to take her home.
Mike, furious with himself and with me for attending to Adriana’s hurt feelings and not his stinging slapped face called an older sibling to collect him from the rink as well, and with two hours left of my thirteenth birthday, I was alone.
Alone as three underpaid employees brought my cake into the party room, giving me sympathetic looks as they sang me an offkey happy birthday. Alone as I ate one piece of overly sugared cake, pretending to be much more confident and unaffected than I actually was. Alone as the rink DJ announced a “couples only” skate and I took to the ocean blue floor, hungry for my symphony to save me from the night. Alone as my Dad returned to take me home.
Alone as the snow fell again and the melody ended in quiet sadness.