Roller Rink Reasoning

From September until now, somewhere around lunch time, I took a left on Highway 99 and headed North towards Santiam Christian Elementary.  As I drove; I rummaged around to find a whistle, predicted who would cry during the dodgeball game, and calculated how many laps and jumps I could squeeze in without too many complaints.  As I drove, I thought about the whats and whys, hows and whens of teaching PE.

I thought about those things until a quarter of a mile past Lewisburg road; when somewhere in my subconscious I slowed the car, kinked my neck towards the west, and caught a slow motion glimpse of the old roller rink.

Long closed and one wind storm away from collapsing, Lake Park Roller Rink really has not changed much.  Despite the fresh coat of brown paint; the roof is still caving in, the gravel driveway still full of potholes, the inside still smelling of sweaty socks and dry-rotten wood.  The only noticeable change comes on Friday night, when the parking lot stays vacant, devoid of all headlights and laughing tweens.

Unlike twenty years ago when streams of preteens would pile out of cars and race up the creaky wooden stairs.  Sliding through the metal door with peeling orange paint, they paid three dollars through a plexiglass window reminiscent of a gas station in East LA (but certainly not necessary for a roller rink backed up to a field of cows).  

Years away from the in-line craze, they rolled around on four wheels. Dressed in acid-wash jeans and anything neon, they sang along to Vanilla Ice and Milly Vanilly (even after they came out as frauds).  On couples skates their hands sweat while Boys II Men blared, everyone threw caution to the wind during the Hokey Pokey, but only the brave lined up for the limbo.

Between laps, they sat at bolted down picnic tables gossiping about who got caught making out in the party room.  For a nickel they chewed on gummy worms, fifty cents bought a small soda.  Nobody drank more than a small, nobody wanted to have to use the closet sized bathrooms with seats too low even without six-inch wheels. 

I was one of those kids.  Only I didn’t just skate laps around the rink, I got to stand in the middle with a whistle making sure everyone followed the rules.  I didn’t have to roll up to the counter and ask for a pepperoni stick.  I got to go behind the counter selling and eating all the candy I desired. 

I experienced all the privileges that came with befriending the owner.

“T,” owner and manager, was a petite man with a huge presence.   He drove a van with plenty of seats, always wore a black leather jacket with pockets full of twenty dollar bills, and he played the role of “coolest dad” effortlessly.  His oldest daughter was one of my sister’s best friends.  Though my same age, I was not naturally drawn to his other daughter, but at my sister’s insistence gave her friendship a shot. 

I spent countless Fridays enjoying the perks of that friendship, but dreaded staying the night at their mobile home just feet from the Rink.  In contrast to the colorful lights and booming music of  Lake Park, their home was a house of horrors.  Alcohol and drugs, yelling, hitting; the kinds of things we neither comprehended nor could process in our childhood. 

“T” and his family moved away after just a couple of years.  My sister and I, along with all the other kids who knew the secrets of that home, never actually spoke about them.  Not to each other, not to anyone else.  We never spoke of it until a few years ago.

One day my sister called me, a small crack in her voice.  She decided on a whim to google her old friend from the Roller Rink, secretly hoping that (despite rumors of meth addiction) she had somehow overcome all the junk life threw at her.  She had not.   My sister found a short article in a small town paper in which her friend was the headline.  She had died, alone in the woods, somewhere along the Oregon Coast. 

For the first time we talked about what we remembered, what we knew, other stories we had heard.  My memories of those Roller Rink days seemed a bit of a ruse. The victims of that ruse: the children who lived in the mobile home just feet away. 

As  I remember those kids, my friend, I have often wondered why THEY didn’t tell, why they didn’t run.  Of all the stories of overcoming, why did theirs end in tragedy. I have considered the whats and whys, the whens and hows.  As I have grown, I consider now more than anything, the whos. 

We were just kids, but who could have saved them and why did they never come.

When I think about all the good things in my life, there is a who behind them.  The job I love reminds me of Beth Lambright who guided me to it.  The strength I have to tackle a sometimes impossible schedule leaves me grateful to my husband and parents who pull up the slack so I can live my dreams.  The faith I walk in every day, began with a young man named Joe Claire who stopped in the cafeteria to invite me to have lunch with him and his pastor.

In my life, the reasons why are not a what but a who.

For nine months, I drove past Lake Park Roller Rink on my way to teach PE.    No matter how rushed or distracted I was on those days, that rink  brought everything into focus.  By the time I parked in the school parking lot, I was down to just one thought, one prayer.

“Lord, may I be the reason why.”

Today was the first day of summer vacation.  I miss my kids already.  I want to be their reason why.

There are people in your life that need a reason, they need you to be a fragrance of hope and the aroma of life. Whose reason why are you?