Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tangled Skates: a Love Story


A perfect Indian Summer day, nearly eleven years ago. An afternoon in early September, sunny and warm, blue sky, a day for being outdoors. I had recently gone out on a series of dates—platonic coffees, pleasant lunches—with the man who would in time become my husband. And just a week or so before, he had upped the ante significantly: he told me he'd be going home to France for a vacation in the fall, and did I want to go with him? At that point, although there was clearly a mutual attraction, we hadn't even kissed; I had no possible answer to a "meet the family" proposition. On this end-of-summer day, though, I didn't need to give an answer to that question, only accept an invitation to go skating around Central Park. At his apartment on East 92nd Street, we strapped on our in-line skates, and too little protective gear, and headed out. It had been about three or four years since I'd skated. Maybe not since I lived in Saint Louis, when I'd burn off stress by circling Forest Park. (It was there, in fact, that I first learned to skate in-line style—encouraged, if you can believe it, by a couple of married of senior citizens I'd met haphazardly in the park who were also wearing Rollerblades, and helmets.) I was a bit rusty. It should also be said that although I was confident on level surfaces, and comfortable with a certain amount of speed, I had really never practiced on hills of any major significance. Central Park was fine. It was more than fine, in fact. A perfect date, and I remember being extremely proud of the fact that I didn't fall down and embarrass myself . . . until we started the return to my husband-to-be's apartment. I never realized before, how hilly that part of Manhattan is, the low 90s on the East Side, sloping down to the East River from the park. My husband (I'll go ahead and call him that now), decided it would be best to head across 91st Street, because where it got real steep, between 3rd and 2nd Avenues, this part of the street is blocked to traffic. It's a nice, calm pedestrian way, with benches lining each side. At the top of it, I hesitated. "It's like skiing," my husband said. "You just slalom down. Going side to side allows you to control the speed." Which I'm sure was great advice, except that I don't ski—and there's a reason for that. But there was no way I was going to take off the skates, so I took a deep breath for courage and started down. My husband was quite solicitous and charming, doing his best to accompany me slowly back and forth. And it was working out fine until about halfway down. I'm not sure what happened exactly, but as if in slow motion (which it certainly wasn't), I see the replay: how we got out of sync somehow and when he went right, I was going left; how we were weaving back and forth past each other, crisscrossing, and I was clearly picking up more speed than I could handle; how he was downhill from me, and at some point, it was inevitable that we would crash into each other. We did, or rather, I crashed into him. I remember that I landed smack on top of him, a tangle of limbs and skate boots and spinning wheels. We provided a very entertaining spectacle, no doubt, for the people who were sitting on the benches. We laughed about it and helped each other up, dusted off our grazed elbows and knees and made it back the remaining two and a half blocks to his apartment. The end result? Our roller derby escapade sped us up in more ways than one: my final memory of the day was on his apartment terrace, a champagne cocktail to dull the sting of the cotton pad soaked with rubbing alcohol to wipe the grit from our joints, and finally . . . a first kiss of many.

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