Heartbreak doesn't discriminate, its only folly is loss. It preys on happiness, security and love, and strives to take them away. Sometimes you know heartache has been lurking beside you, lying in wait, but not unseen. Sometimes, it strikes out of nowhere without even a hint of its existence, attacking lovers, friends, families, parents, and even the most innocent of children.
I learned to roller skate during the heart of its heyday, when I was a pig-tailed, bright-eyed child of the 1970s.
The rink was one of those nondescript brick warehouse-like structures, which sat just near the edge of Saranac Lake. You couldn’t miss it, it was where the railroad tracks crossed by Lake Colby. (The tracks–like in so many small towns–are no longer used and have long since been covered many times over by years of pavement.)
During the summers of my elementary school youth, I would spend many weekends with my cousins Deanna and Georgie. Deanna was as close to me as a sister could be when we were little. Two years my senior, she was funny, gregarious, smart, and seemed to have a world of sophistication--in my eyes, anyway.
The two of us were just as I imagined twins could be. We could speak without talking. We understood our sometimes wavering moods, which at that age seemed to be nothing more than occasional brattiness or a sullen stubborn streak in one or both of us. She had a much better handle on her feelings. She was calmer and just a bit quieter than I was. But then again, I wasn't even a pre-teen. I was a little girl. But I do remember
. I remember her to the depths of my soul. She and I -- we were more than cousins. We were sisters.
I always knew that we would have hours of laughter and goofiness together, and I always knew that on those days where perhaps the mean reds were getting the best of me, she would understand that too.
I also adored Georgie. He probably goes by George now. But I haven't seen him in so long, I'm not sure we would even recognize each other if placed face to face. It's been so long that I'm not sure I could naturally call him anything other than Georgie. He was good to us too. He was much straighter and more practical, a typical older brother, but he was fun. Georgie left us alone to pretty much be girls when we were together.
It was the summer of 1979, and I was making my annual week or so stay with my Aunt Donna, Deanna and Georgie at their little house in Ray Brook. Their house was just around the corner from the custard stand that sat smack in between Saranac Lake and Placid.
Deanna was the one who brought me to that rink and taught me how to skate, and taught me about the thrill of speed, the fun of competition on wheels. I’m not good at sports, but on four wheels–on four wheels, I was an athlete. Quads were more natural to me than shoes; on foot I was clumsy, on wheels I was air. The day Deanna taught me to roller skate was one of the most memorable of my childhood. We laughed, we discoed, we played games, we raced, we drank lots of soda and we skated our little hearts out.
And we did other things too. We spent time at Grandma and Grandpa Daniels' house, we played outside, played with Grandpa's big lime green motorized reclining chair (it vibrated!), we played dolls--she had Baby Alive, which kicked ass because of its--you know--bodily functions. My stupid doll just crawled around when you switched a button on her back. Boring. She was much more fun when you'd tie her up in a brown bag, legs twitching and drop her off from the top of the stairs. What?
I hesitate mentioning what else we did, it was supposed to be a secret we'd never tell. (And to be completely honest...it's a tad embarrassing.) Well, I'll just say, somehow, brought on by spending the afternoon with Baby Alive, we had a curiousity about what it would feel like to wear diapers. Don't judge, man, don't judge. Umm. Not to, you know, actually use
them or anything...it was more of a...what does it feel like...thing. Yeah, I got nothin' here.
Anyway, we baked up a couple diapers using powder, vaseline, and lotion--and then did our experiment. Gross, sure. But check it, I was like nine years old. It was stupid and goofy. And we were freaking laughing our asses off and having a blast. We were laugh-crying. And that kind of laughing just reeks of pure joy and love. And it's those kinds of moments that we've all had that we always swear not to tell anyone else in the world, but then for one reason or another, someone spills the beans.... The reason I would even go out of my way to mention this little secret tidbit is just to highlight how intricately similar our inquisitive--albeit strange--personalities were. Two peas in a pod, for sure.
It was a great way to end the summer, especially since when school started, we wouldn’t be able to see each other as often, we didn’t live in the same town.
As I drove away, I was grateful that I had the chance to spend that time with her. The reason my feelings had become at times sad was that it was my first experience with the tauntings of depression. I needed Deanna desperately then. Mom and Dad had just separated, and this would be my first year in a new school, with many changes--that ended up being not quite so graceful. Deanna had been through this before, she knew. And even if she didn't...she knew me
Indeed, that fall of 1979 was anything but easy. I guess it's hard to follow up such a fun end of the summer -- but handling the changes was difficult, and for some time I became withdrawn into my then favorite book Watership Down
. I would read it over and over. It's all I did. But eventually, time started ticking away. The dawn of 1980 arose, and soon the promise of Easter loomed, which also meant that summer was right around the corner. I was so excited. So excited. She had been writing to me about some of the fun things she'd discovered for us to do together around town, oh, I couldn't wait. She was the only person I believed to see me for who I still was. Who could understand. Who knew that while I was sad, I could still laugh, and while I was happy, I could still feel pain. I think she even knew that my certain amount of goofiness would help create the person I'm proud to be today. I counted the days. Literally counted them until I could finally see my sister.
Why is mom picking me up? S'wierd....
She never picked us up from school, unless we were sick. We also lived very close to school, so rides weren't at all necessary. She came to the school early and, without a word, we walked to the car.
"What? What's wrong?"
My mother paused and began to speak, her voice cracking a bit, tears filling her eyes.
Something is very wrong
. The fire I felt in my heart kept me from breathing. I didn't know what it was, but I felt my mother's pain, and it hurt like nothing I had known.
I don't know how to tell you...." She shook. But what words needed to be said? How do you tell your 10-year-old child that her dearest cousin and best friend had been killed? A 12-year-old girl of beguiling charm, and the closest thing to a sister I had at the time, the innocent victim of a drunk driver as she crossed the street with her bike.
This was the first death -- and last one for a very long time -- that I had experienced by loved ones in my life. I went with my mother to the wake. Although I was only 10, my mom understood how close we were. It almost didn't seem real. Not until the next day when the postman brought a letter that was addressed to me, written in big purple bubble writing -- telling me of her day's adventure and some of the things we needed to do that summer together. I can still see the letter -- she must have mailed it the very same day she was struck -- my hands shaking. It remains in a photo album at my mother's house, the ink smeared with tears.
My first heartbreak.
I’m not quite sure if it was her death and the lasting memory of our time at the rink together that drove my young obsession with skating, but I loved everything about it. Not to sound, like, super weird, but I was haunted by it--by skating. My Grandparents had given us each a necklace with a roller skate charm the previous Christmas, and it was my most prized possession. When I would skate, if a favorite song came on, I would touch the charm and shut out the world, building up as much speed as I could finesse–and during those moments of solitude, I would talk to Deanna in my head and tell her this skate was for her. In fact, I talked to Deanna quite often in my head, when I was feeling down, or confused…and I did this for a number of years. What can I say–I missed her, and her ghost made me feel strong.
I tend to keep my emotions to myself quite often, and I’m not sure that anyone ever knew how deeply I mourned for the loss of my cousin and friend in my youth, or how much I think the event of her passing influenced the woman I grew into. Here it is, 30 years later–and I still think about her. I still hold her dear to my heart. And I even look to her for strength when I need it, just as I did when I'd get lost on skates as a young girl. Thirty years later, and I still remember her laugh. Thirty years later, she lives on very much, every single day, within me. She's there. A guardian angel, proud as she watches me be strong, independent, urging me to be free, happy, and helping me understand that my pain does not mean that I'm broken. And when I feel a peice of her there like that, I can do anything I want and be anything I damn well please. I can move through life with grace and I can feel the air kiss my face as I proverbially skate.
Those who touch our hearts live on forever.