My daughter decided a few years ago that she would learn to skate and compete in the roller derby. She had seen Ellen Page in Whip It, a movie about an alienated young woman who works out her frustrations in a nearby roller derby league. She starts with no experience and works her way up to the level of roller derby star.
Sydney thought she’d do the same thing. We thought it was a good thing. Try as we might, we just couldn’t get her off the couch. Nothing physical interested her. Getting her to walk the dogs was like a root canal. I would take her for hikes in the woods and sometimes take her camping, but physical exercise was not for her. So, when she came home and announced she was going to get into the roller derby, we were thrilled.
She did what she set out to do. For the first year or more, she went to practices and scrimmages every week, a couple of times a week. She was starting from zero. The first time she went to practice was the first time she put on skates.
With effort, she got into shape. Eventually, she passed her skills test. She continued to go to practices. She began to make friends and socialize more. She lost weight and became more active around the house. When she finally made the team, we had a celebration. She set out to accomplished something and did it.
She’s not the best roller derby skater, but she’s good, and considering where she started, she’s good. Herr teammates enjoy her participation. She’s made lasting friends. Roller derby skaters are a tight knit bunch. They stand by each other. Their loyalty amazes me.
But there are dangers. She’s had shin splints. Her feet don’t always cooperate, becoming so painful she cannot walk. She has had to take it easy after falling during matches. One time, she had to go the hospital for an x-ray and some care because she thought she broke her leg. It turned out not to be a break but it put her out for a few weeks.
Recently, she started street skating with her roller derby friends. They take out from the house and skate sidewalks and streets through the city, going miles. Sometimes they take on too much. We have had to pick her and her friends up a couple of times when they’ve worn themselves out.
She and her mates have also been using the skateboarding park for workouts. During one of these outings, Sydney skated in the bowl, a huge concrete depression similar to a swimming pool. Skateboarders get in there and show their skills rolling around the bowl and skating up to the rim. The skaters take advantage of bowl for their tricks. I’ve watched them perform in the bowl. It’s thrilling.
But a couple of weeks ago, Syd and her friends were in the bowl and Sydney fell on her skate. At first, she said, she looked down and her foot was at an unnatural angle. She forced her foot back in place but it was clear that she had broken her ankle. They had to call the EMT’s who needed the fire department to pull her out of the bowl on a stretcher. The ambulance took her to the hospital where she found out just how badly she’d shattered her ankle.
It’s funny what you learn about your adult kids when they become dependent on you. Syd’s almost helpless. Her mom and we take turns putting her up, getting her things she needs, and feeding her. She doesn’t do well being dependent. She moans and complains. Every move becomes an ordeal. When she has to use the bathroom, she hobbles around on crutches and use a walker. We had to buy her a shower seat like the ones I’ve seen in old folks homes.
In the meantime, we tend to her cats. The little animals scoot around Syd’s studio apartment by themselves. We go over once a day and feed them. We scoop out their litter boxes and take a few minutes to stroke them. They seem to be very happy to see us.
The apartment is a studio in an old Midtown building. The security doors are ages old. The dark hallways smell like dust and mold. Whoever has owned the building, probably more than one person or company over the years, has slapped paint on the place every now and then to freshen it up–the result is everything is covered with thick layers of cheap paint. Decades of neglect have left the creaky hardwood floors scarred and bare.
Syd’s apartment is three rooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a bathroom. The appliances and cabinets show their age. They were the cheapest when they were bought in the 1950s. The place has plenty of windows and light, which are its saving grace.
I knew my daughter lived on the edge. She works at a downtown movie theater, where she barely makes a living wage. She owns the barest of necessities. Her bed sits on the floor in what used to be a large closet. In one window sits an air conditioner that doesn’t quite fit. Her cabinets are bare but for some spices and condiments.
But the place is hers. She has asked no one to help her pay the rent or give her things. She has made a life here. The place may be Spartan but I can see how she could be happy with it. There are no roaches that I can detect. The place doesn’t have rats. It’s quiet. As long as the refrigerator works and the place has water, as long as the toilet flushes, then it works and is a humble place to live.
I sat on her bed today, letting her cat Hannibal run itself back and forth across my hand. I thought that I could live here. I might arrange things differently. More chairs, perhaps. A television, though that’s not necessary. I could see myself writing at the table. Paints and an easel to add color to the place. I imagined myself sitting lonely nights in the one room. I wouldn’t have cats. I might walk more and find myself out socializing, going to poetry readings and music events. I would definitely go to more AA meetings.
I thought about my daughter here, the life she lives. It’s her own. She has made it for herself. Humble as it might be, it belongs to her. She doesn’t have much but one really doesn’t need a lot. I look around my house and realize just how much stuff I have and how those material things sometimes, many times, get in the way of the things that are really important. Just how often do I avoid writing and waste my time watching television?
If Virginia ever leaves me or makes me a widower, I will shake off the trappings of my middle-class life and move into an apartment just like Syd’s.
I know the kind of life that Syd can look forward to after she gets back on her feet. It will be sooner than she thinks, as she will have to learn to get around without her truck. She will shuffle to the bus stop. The bus will take her to the store and to work, if she still has a job, until she gets her cast off and can drive again.
I feel for her but envy her, especially now that I’ve seen up close the life she’s made for herself. I miss the simplicity and humility of her surroundings. I would like to get back to that someday.