Rental roller skates
When I was young, my family used to go rollerskating every Saturday at a place called Magic River Skateland. To us kids, it truly was magical.
As soon as you stepped inside, off to the right was a DJ booth, current records propped in the window. If you wanted to, you could make a request, although I seldom did (that was the realm of the older kids, usually to dedicate it to their significant other). Straight ahead was a snack area where you could buy pizza or pretzels, along with a few tables. Further around the corner lay a small video arcade, which included an automatic wheel washer. You could stand, one foot at a time, on the rolling cleaner and get the gunk off your skates (like, perhaps, spilled soda).
The main attraction, however, was the central oval, surrounded by walls of shag carpeting, that took up most of the space: the rink. A sign lit up to indicate special skates, such as the limbo ("How low can you go?") or a couples dance, or Shoot the Duck (a particular stunt where you sink to roll crouched, one foot outstretched like a gun, every time the music, "Disco Duck," would stop).
If you stayed afterward, instructors would teach you special moves, and you'd get a sticker for proving your proficiency. One of my friends had stuck them all around the edges of her bedroom mirror. Those lucky enough to have not only their own skates (like I did), but also cases to carry them in would decorate the cases with their stickers.
While it was a relatively small facility, it felt like home and we loved it. Often, my brother and I would take a friend with us to skate away a Saturday morning.
But if I had based it all on my first experience there, I might never have returned.
The first time we skated at Magic River, my brother and I didn't bring any friends. In retrospect, that's probably a good thing. We also knew nothing about roller skating. I'd occasionally used strap-on skates that my grandparents had given me. They could fit over the bottom of your sneakers. My parents hadn't yet bought me my own skates, so instead of soft white leather, I wore the rough, brown rental skates.
When I first put them on, I felt more than a bit awkward. My sense of equilibrium was compromised; just standing up took an effort of will. After a short while of practicing off the rink, my brother and I were ready to give it a shot.
We rolled up to the gap in the wall (which was lower at the entrance end, so that people could observe the skaters), and we pushed ourselves out into the surge of skaters. Don't ask me how my brother and I failed to notice everyone else was going counter-clockwise. My brother and I headed clockwise, right into the crowd of skaters. Wobbling on our skates like baby deer on ice, we struggled to remain upright while skaters, many of them two times our size, tried to swerve around us.
Miraculously, we made nearly a complete circuit when disaster struck. A big guy collided forcefully with my brother, leaving him crying, helpless on the floor. I, the big sister, just a foot or so away, clung helplessly to the shag carpet on the wall, which I used to make an impromptu stop.
I don't remember how we got my brother off the floor. Maybe the guy who crashed into him helped him off to the sidelines, apologizing to my parents. Or maybe my brother struggled up on his own. Or maybe one of my parents dashed out in their sneakers and grabbed him. I only remember maintaining a death grip on the shag carpeting, watching skaters whoosh by as my brother cried.
That moment is like a pause button that got stuck: me clinging there, watching my fallen brother, and feeling the guilt of an older sister who, despite my own incompetence, should have protected him.
I don't remember exactly what my parents said to convince us to give it another try. I don't remember if the other skaters gave my parents the kind advice that the rink was one way only. I don't even remember rolling out again onto that floor, heading the right direction, sticking close to the shaggy wall for comfort. I only know these things must have happened, because by the end of the day, everyone, including my brother, was laughing off the incident and making plans to come back.
Despite this moment, we became rink regulars, adept on our skates. We learned there is no greater pleasure than doing the arms for "YMCA" while sweeping around the corner of the skating rink.
I wish all my stories of failure ended that way. I wish I could always say, "There was a moment I'll never forget where I thought I was a complete failure. And yet, I got back out there and did it again, and now I'm successful." Whether a failed skiing trip (resulting in bruised knees) or a particularly bad work experience (resulting in me hiding from the work world in self-employment), I wish I could always say I got back up.
Maybe the most important part of the story is that, this one time, I did.
Before dashing out there, find out the rules of the rink.