June 2018 (21 years old at the time of writing)
“Kel, that’s not how you do it!” I cautioned him
“Who cares? I’m going faster than you!” my brother responds snarkily, laughing as he runs off in an awkward sort of tip-toe manner. And there we were, learning to skate for the first time. We don’t remember how we got there or who else was present. Still, I’ll never forget the happiness and security my brother and I shared that evening. Kelvin and I have always looked to each other for confidence, and it seemed we had found a safe place to talk about our lives and laugh about our struggles. The combination of disco lights, buzzing and blaring from the arcade games, and the rink DJ spinning the hottest tracks of 2008 was enough noise to drown out our voices. We had to experience this elation again. My brother began mowing lawns to earn a little cash, and I the same through domestic duties. Once we had been able to save consistently enough, we’d run off to the roller rink once, sometimes twice a month. From my mother’s divorce to her remarriage, and then the birth of our younger sister. Through our parents leaving to serve overseas, splitting us into different homes in the process. The rink was where we could escape together. Plans and dreams were thought up there because no one could tell us our hopes were foolish. The roller rink was our secret spot.
Two weeks ago, after my mother paid us an eventful visit, I felt a little unlike myself. Time passed much more slowly than usual, and my temper was the shortest it had ever been. I had become so preoccupied with daily tasks and household duties that I neglected my sanity. I wrapped up my shift at work and attempted to sleep the frustration away at home.
My brother knocked on my bedroom door, and upon permission, he entered and said, “I’ve got an idea.” I looked at him with an apathetic stare hoping he’d leave. Instead, he continues. “The rink’s open ‘till ten-thirty. Our skates are in the truck, so let’s go.” I got up and threw on my usual ripped skating pants, meeting my brother downstairs in our ninety-nine rust bucket of a pickup. We live so much closer to it than we used to, so Kelvin plays one agreeable song to pump me up on the ride over. Honestly, whatever he plays sets the tone for the entire evening. That night’s selection was R. Kelly’s Ignition ( Remix). My excitement grew, and when we arrived, I thought to myself, “This is a good thing; I need this.
About five steps past the doors and we notice new faces at the front desk. But the big grins, slightly yellowed teeth, and laugh lines the same as the staff that welcomed us ten years before. You could smell the combination of fresh hot pizza from the concession stand and disinfectant spray from skate rentals. The journey from the rink entrance to the lockers was a battle between teenage aromatherapy and a pending asthma attack. As we grew to own rather than rent, we had our skates and didn’t dent our wallets (I have my brother’s frugality to thank for that)—no more knots or frayed laces to combat.
As soon as we were strapped in, we put our duffle bags away in the same lockers we always have, right by the DJ booth so we could keep a lookout rather than pay the fifty cents to pull the keys out. Right before getting out there, we wrote our song request for the night though it’s relatively pointless these days. Now no one even looks at what you put because now they mostly play top forty hits on a loop. It’s not all bad. The last half hour is still throwbacks and slow jams as it should be. The rink no longer holds lovers’ dances for the grown folk, but that’s fine since they still have a pretty great time without it. However, the courtesies of this once innocent haven have gone down the drain. What happened to playful races around the cones and sibling teams against others in air hockey for a wager of four tokens? During our most recent visit, a race against the local hockey league for four laps around turned into a roller derby match right before my eyes! But I don’t worry too much about my brother in these situations anymore. He surpassed my level of skill roughly two years ago and got better every day. That evening we spoke about all the things that were killing me inside.
“I’m tired. I’m sad. And I’m flat broke.” Venting to Kel felt so good. It was almost out of character how attentively he listened.
“And? That’s nothing new, so why does it bother you now?” I knew he was too quiet, but he had a point. My troubles haven’t changed, but I’ve grown, and my appreciation for the bright side is so much greater. I love our secret spot; It brings us close like nothing else could.
It’s strange to see how my little brother has grown. As the duo’s observer, I’ve often floated by the other skaters, offering help to the younger girls just learning to balance on their blades. My brother was always the kind of boy to stay by his big sister’s side, but now he’s sixteen, and I’m fascinated by his new behavior.
The boys we see here now grope the young ladies and run like robbers from cops. And the preteens dress in revealing, scandalous attire, unlike how my mother and father taught us girls should when we were growing up. These girls have caught my brother’s eye, and he theirs. He’s not by his big sister’s side as much anymore, and that’s the only change I mind.
So, I sat there on the seats by the lockers, nervous about losing our safe space.
I can’t lose this place. I can’t lose my brother.” I thought anxiously. We grew up here. We’ve met each other’s friends by bringing them here. Kel and I learned some of our favorite songs and moves here; I could not give it up to the inevitable event of my brother’s shell cracking. I looked up from where I sat to the dirty blonde, tight-curled fro and crooked smile that was my brother holding my favorite blue raspberry flavored slushy.
“Hurry up and drink, our jams coming on!” He lifted a weight off my shoulders. Kelvin reassured me as the best brother I could ever have hoped for. My fears have been put to rest for another night. In Woodbridge, the back of the community center held a significant piece of my childhood. The roller rink, though no longer a secret, was still our spot.
Until next time,