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Confessions of a roller skater.

Steve walks warily down the street

With the brim pulled way down low

Ain't no sound but the sound of his feet

Machine guns ready to go

Are you ready? Hey, are you ready for this?

Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?

Out of the doorway, the bullets rip

To the sound of the beat, yeah

Another one bites the dust

Another one bites the dust

And another one gone, and another one gone

Another one bites the dust

Hey, I'm gonna get you too

Another one bites the dust

It is 1980 rather than 2023.

One beat of this song and I am immediately seven rather than a fifty-year-old mom tucked into fancy skates on a Saturday night. As a wee Robyn, I would spend almost every afternoon fine-tuning my skate choreography to this number. After meticulously sweeping the back patio, I’d pop THE cassette into my tape player (a fuzzy recording made by placing my tape recorder next to Colleen’s speaker’s when our favorite songs came on the radio). The radio call sign warbles through to cue me up, I drop my toe stopper on the right foot, pivot my heel into first position, and crinkle my face into a smirk. No smiling. No emotion. I dance it cool for the first lap with a subtle bob of the head, building into shoulder sway, and finally a full spin so that I can get low and skate backward to truly demonstrate my mad skills. I tinker with my moves, perfecting sequences for a Saturday night of lights and drama at the skating rink.  

In the late 1970s and early 80s, weekend skating got us through the school week. We would obsess about our outfits, shoelaces, and the pizzaz we would add to the hokey pokey. This was the one place we could be extra and no one would judge us—a huge gift for us Catholic kids. We could move our bodies and sing to racy lyrics. Our skate skirts were short to intentionally show off our limbs, made powerful by our soccer, gymnastics, and skating repertoires. We oozed strength and ambivalence to rules. This was not a place for the meek or the goody goody—a fortification of our autonomy.

And yet, from time to time, there would be a crossover of these worlds. I remember one night the music went from a banger, Devo’s Whip It (“Crack that whip (give the past a slip) Step on a crack (break your mama's back)” Are we allowed to break mama’s back? That’s a baddie; I like it.), to my most behated moment of the night: the slow jam. Couples would join hands and float across the floor. I hated them and looked around, hoping that Stephen McGill would find me and want to link fingers for the ultimate dance of love under the lights. I thought by remaining on the floor, this might be the night. I inched away from the wall and prayed, “Dear God, I know that I am a bad kid and can’t always be trusted, but I promise to be good if I could just skate with someone tonight.” I skate a few more feet forward, enshrouded in the darkness reserved for slow romantical songs. And then it happened. I felt the smooth grasp of boy hands. BOY HANDS. I was linked with another. A BOY! Could it be Stephen McGill? Was he drawn to my spark from across the rink? We rounded the corner, still linked. A strobe light illuminated our union. Perhaps it was karma for my blasphemous request, but instead of Stephen McGill’s gentle face and soft curls, I found my fingers entwined with a handsome bespeckled man with dark slicked back hair. Uh oh. I know who this is. I should have been more specific in my prayer. My eyes wandered downward, resting at the white clerical collar that could only belong to one person. Father Foley. 

“Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s been two weeks since my last confession.

  • I socked my little brother every day this week.

  • I lied about how I got this scratch on my face (fighting with my friend’s brother). 

  • I had mean thoughts about Cheryl D. 

  • I stole a pinto bean from the store. I put it in my pocket without paying for it and then put it back. So technically, I didn’t steal it, but I wanted to. I am a thief. 

  • I coveted Alan’s Clash cassette (sidenote: Alan lived across the street and had the best music taste). Wait, I did more. I snuck into his room and listened to it when he wasn’t home. I am a thief. 

  • I’m a really bad person.”

This had been our last exchange just a week ago in the dark confessional booth. He knows. He knows I am a very bad person. In his strong Irish accent, he had given me a penance of ten Hail Mary’s, two Our Father’s, and suggested an apology to my brother was in order. I was not sorry for any of it, so only did one Hail Mary, no Our Father’s, and most certainly did not apologize to my bratty brother. And now here we are, hands clasped, bodies swaying together as Bill Withers croons “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone. It’s not warm when she’s away…” Father Foley knows a thing or two about skating, his feet scissoring around the corner with ease. I stop looking for Stephen McGill and settle into our rhythm, our moves dazzling around the other couples, lights flickering across my body like stardust. In my seven short years on the planet, I might have been the biggest sinner, but I have never been more beautiful or talented. Just as the song ended, I bravely looked up at Father Foley’s face and smiled. He squeezed my hand, one sinner to another, and let me go. 

A few years later, Father Foley will disappear. It will be many, many years later that I will learn the devastating why. Another Catholic priest bites the dust. But this is only a surface “why” — the real why in hiding, similar to the what’s and why’s of all our “sins.” Had confession been more an open discussion about what prompted our thoughts and actions instead of a shameful rattling off of misdeeds, would we be different today? Could we have learned to dissect our impulses and adaptations without judgment, better understanding ourselves in proximity to our bratty brothers (not sorry, Ryan) or the need to rifle through our cool neighbor's music collection (I’m so sorry, Alan, you really had the best collection on the block)? Would we have arrived at compassion for ourselves and others sooner, tempering damnation all around? 

It had been about forty years since I last skated, so my body was surprised by my ambition when I bought skates a few months ago. Every time I lace up, an internal high five jumpstarts my heart.  “Look at you, you dancing queen you.” I bob my head and sway my shoulders with ease. My smirk is still strong. Getting low and skating backwards are out of reach…for now. I watch my daughter weave in and out with speed and finesse, her six months in roller derby making her an unstoppable rink beast. My good friend, Sarah, nods her head and picks up speed to the music. We are eternally young, I decide and silence my aching knees. We are eternally able to sprinkle ourselves with stardust and begin again, bringing others with us into the light. And that, my friends, is what I hope for all of us as 2023 turns to 2024, to shake off what holds us back and roll forward into the strobe lights. We are allowed to sparkle.

There are plenty of ways that you can hurt a man

And bring him to the ground

You can beat him, you can cheat him

You can treat him bad and leave him when he's down, yeah

But I'm ready, yes, I'm ready for you

I'm standing on my own two feet

Out of the doorway the bullets rip

Repeating to the sound of the beat

“Another One Bites the Dust”




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