By Ryan G. Murphy
I always thought long division was going to be the hardest thing about fourth grade.
Then the teachers told us we were going on a class trip to Roller Magic at the end of the year. “It’s like we’re having our own prom!” one of the girls said. That single comment changed the course of fourth-grade history. It turned what should have been a nice day of wholesome fun into a six-month soap opera starring 10-year-olds.
The trip was still months away, yet the only thing anyone wanted to know was: “Who are you going to skate with?” As in, slow-song couples’ skate. Rumors about crushes and budding romances took over the schoolyard. Proposals, in the form of handwritten notes, circulated around the classroom. Hearts were broken. Love triangles formed. It got pretty messy. I couldn’t help but think the teachers picked Roller Magic for our end-of-year trip just so they could watch all the drama unfold.
I already had enough on my plate trying to stay away from the bees. Now, I had to convince a girl to hold my hand for three to five minutes. Not wanting to be further relegated to the fringes of fourth-grade life, I decided to get in on the action and see where I stood romantically.
Like any wise investor, I diversified. I decided to ask every girl in the class. I ripped out pieces of paper from my marble notebook and wrote down a simple question: “Will you skate with me?” The options were “Y” and “N.” The girls were instructed to circle one.
The first response I got was from the prettiest girl in the class. I opened the folded paper. She had crossed out both the Y and the N and wrote “Never,” which stung, but it actually made the next few rejections a bit easier to swallow. Those were simply “Ns.” At least these girls were kind enough to reject me per the instructions.
Of the 15 or so girls I proposed to, three said “Y” - Michelle, Holly and Jackie - amounting to a .333 batting average, more than enough to put me in the Hall of Fame. For comparison, Andre Dawson made it to Cooperstown and he finished his career with a .279 batting average. I was well on my way to greatness if I could keep this pace going for the next 21 years.
My clear victory, while setting a new high watermark for anxious ginger kids worldwide, presented a number of unexpected dilemmas including, but not limited to: “Is the person I skate with first going to be my wife?” “Will my Bugs and Tazz T-shirt set the right romantic tone?” and “Will these girls notice how much more I sweat from my right armpit than my left?”
Amid these questions, I found that the hardest part about going on a roller skating class trip is not knowing how to roller skate.
When we arrived at Roller Magic, it was clear there were two cohorts of people - those who were comfortable with their feet bolted to miniature death wheels and those who were not. I spent the first five minutes of the trip learning that you do not, in fact, put your feet into the skates with sneakers on.
Once I figured that out, I got up from the bench wearing my rental skates. I guess I must have been on a decline, or maybe the kid behind the counter really greased up my miniature death wheels, but the next thing I knew, I was sailing full speed into a Coca-Cola machine.
As I was staring up into the fluorescent lights, Mrs. Perry, our teacher, entered my vision.
“You alright there, Murphy?”
“Yeah. Just, you know, wanted to get a soda,” I said.
I made it to my feet and pulled a dollar from my Jordache jeans to validate my alibi but then the lights dimmed and a baritone emcee announced: “Couples skate. Couples only now. We’re looking for all couples. Grab that special someone.” And then “She’s Like the Wind” from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack started playing and who knew a saxophone could induce a panic attack?
The rink cleared and everyone was too shy to be the first on the floor. Even the popular kids who had been whipping around the rink like Wayne Gretzky were too bashful. I thought I might be out of the woods. If everyone was too shy, I might never have to set foot on that God-forsaken polished floor for a couples’ skate.
That’s when I felt someone grab my hand. It was Michelle, one of my “Ys.”
“Do you like this song?” she said. Before I had the chance to answer, she pulled me toward the rink.
I’d like to say we were the first couple courageous enough to skate at Roller Magic that day but only part of that statement is true. We were, in fact, the first couple on the floor but I did anything but skate.
I’ve looked it up and “She’s Like the Wind” is just under four minutes long - it’s three minutes and 53 seconds. During those four minutes, Michelle and I made it around the rink zero times. When Michelle first pulled me onto the floor, I lost my balance, flopped into the air and came crashing down on my tailbone. To this day if I sit for too long in a chair, my tailbone writhes in pain.
Michelle picked me up and we shuffled over to the rink’s side wall. Since I was committed to this budding romance, I told her I wanted to finish the song. She took my hand again. I told her I didn’t think I could go forwards, only sideways, and it would really be best if I remained in contact with the wall at all times if she didn’t mind.
For the next three minutes I sidestepped laterally in my skates, clicking along the floor and holding onto the side wall. Since it was a couples' skate, Michelle was trying to stay in contact with me. She put her hands on my waist as I clicked along and, if you really think about it, we’d fast forwarded 80 years into our relationship where I was the geriatric husband losing his motor skills and she was the able-bodied, committed wife who just wanted me to know she was still there for me, which is actually kind of romantic.
The song finally ended. We’d made it halfway around the rink. Thank god there was an exit on the far side. “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch came over the speakers.
“Want to grab some pizza?” I asked Michelle and then she skated away.
It took me about 10 minutes to make it back to the other side of the rink where everyone was hanging out. I actually missed the next couple's skate and saw the second girl I’d asked, Jackie, skating with another boy, who was gliding so beautifully he might as well have been Scott Hamilton. I was jealous.
For the next hour or so, I practiced skating on the outside of the rink. I learned that, rather than try to walk on skates, you have to push and glide. Let the wheels do the work. A few kids were kind enough to give me some tips and before long, I was getting the hang of it.
When the emcee made the call for the final couples’ skate of the session, I knew I had to leave Roller Magic that day with a win. Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” came on over the speakers. I found Holly, the “Y” I liked most by far, and asked if she wanted to skate. We took hands and made our way to the rink.
For the entirety of the song, we didn’t say a single word to one another and our hands were so sweaty they looked like raisins on the bus ride home. But we made it around the rink (multiple times) and for the first time in my life, I realized that romance was a possibility for me. I was just going to have to work for it.