I went rollerblading around Greenlake today.
Okay, you may be thinking that I have plummed new depths of mundanity now. Why is this a notable sentence? Well, here’s some background for you: I haven’t been able to rollerblade at all for two years. Two years of pain and lassitude, two years of headaches and back pain, two years of joint pain and brain fog. And actually, even before that, since it’s clear that my surgery in January of 2003 is what triggered the celiac the first time.
What a long, strange time this has been.
Wednesdays are my early days at school, so I was home by noon. It has been raining for days, after the sentient sunlight of this weekend. I was prepared to fall into bed for a nap, watch a little tv, work up the energy to do the dishes. Or think about it. You know, my typical afternoon for the past nine months. Along with the longing for more energy and clarity. Except, when I returned home, singing from the day and the easy banter with students, I realized I wanted more than a nap and a little tv. The sun had broken through the clouds, and I could feel the light in my body as well. Time to go.
Back in February, in the ten-day period of feeling okay I experienced before I plummeted into the celiac downward spiral, I went shopping at Value Village and found a pair of rollerblades. Six bucks for a brand-new pair. How could I resist? I had to think about it, though, because I already have a pair. I bought my first and only pair of rollerblades in the fall of 1997, fresh to New York City and eager to fly. Having wobbled down a sidewalk path only once before, I walked by a sporting goods store on 6th Avenue and 4th Street, then walked right in. Maybe it was the sun shining on my head, or the freedom I felt in my body at being in my new home, across the country from everyone I had ever known and still doing okay. I don’t know what made me buy them, but I’m certainly glad I did.
The first time I took my rollerblades to Central Park, I forgot to check the positioning of the brakes. I just took them out of the box, strapped them to my feet, and started to glide. Only problem is that the path in Central Park near 101st is steep and curvy. And my brain panicked, and then my feet, and I took a tumble into the grass. I stood up uninjured, leaving my dignity behind me. But that didn’t stop me. I stumbled and fell, learned slowly to glide back and forth without thinking, and eventually started to feel as though I had been born with blades on my feet. I bladed down the Hudson, starting at Chelsea Piers, and gawked at the blue water, the hundreds of people dotting the path, and the majestic ugliness of the World Trade Towers. (When they went down, that horrible September day, one of the first images in my mind was gliding past them on a late September day in 1998, looking up and seeing them soar, and feeling a part of it all.) For six weeks in the summer of 1999, I became one of those ridiculous people who bladed on the streets, swerving in between cars, wearing shorts and too much bravado. (Now that I’ve survived the car accident, I can hardly imagine the stupidity of it.) And mostly, I glided around and around Central Park. I lived on the seventh floor of a building on 101st and Broadway, and I rode down the elevator a full foot taller than I had been in my bedroom. On those blades, I felt powerful, balanced, delicately bounded to the floor beneath my feet. The elevator opened, I waved hi to my doorman, and I walked down the stone steps to the street. And I began flying, down 101st, turn right at Amsterdam, turn left at 100th, glide past the fire station, fly past the library, gaze up at the Frederick Douglass housing units, 25 stories above me, then grin as it came into sight. The entrance to Central Park. I’ve been inside that park a thousand times, and it still strikes me in the heart with its magnificence.
I don’t even want to write about those rides around Central Park: no cars to bother me, passing street musicians and children with balloons and sleek bicylists, the ugly black Trump Tower, then shallow pond with small sailboats as I approached 5th Avenue, past the zoo, then the Metropolitan Museum to my right, and the Guggenheim farther on, then the Latin American men playing soccer on the dirt field, the long passage down down down at the top of the park that always reminded me of the curve of road on Vashon, the swath at the top where I could see Harlem poking through the trees, and the long hill down to the place where I started. It’s mythic in my mind. I miss it so much.
When I moved to Seattle, rollerblading grew harder. I could no longer leave my front door with my blades already strapped on. I resented the loss of mobility, the same way I missed being able to walk out my front door and stepping into humanity teeming on the sidewalks. But I was learning to enjoy my new, quiet life too. I drove to Greenlake, and bladed around and around and around. I missed the Met, the feeling of flying in the center of the world. But I liked the faces I passed on my journey, and the breeze blowing my hair as I glided. And there was the beach at Alki, for the wide-open spaces and the grandeur of sky and mountains I never had in New York. I was starting to feel at home in my blades again.
And then I had surgery. I lost my energy. And then I survived the car accident. I thought I would never stop having headaches or thinking of death. Last May, I tried on my rollerblades and stumbled down 100 yards of sidewalk, but my back started to flinch and ache, and I had to admit defeat and walk back to the car in my socks. And this winter, of course, I was struck by lightning for the third time, with pernicious virus, and then the celiac diagnosis.
But really, it has all been a blessing. Because finally discovering this gluten intolerance has made me feel better than I have in years. Maybe in my entire life. Since I was ten years old, I’ve had bad knees. I could always tell when it was going to rain by the aches in my joints. But now, there are no aches in my joints. They’re gone. I haven’t had a headache in a month. I’m sleeping deeply, dreaming sweetly. Gone is the exhaustion, the nausea, the brain fog, the heartburn, the skin flares, the sore throats, the stuffed nose, the bone-tirededness, the lassitude, the easy bruising, and the confusion of feeling that I would never be well again. I’m a changed woman, and I still have six months to go before everything is fully repaired.
Watch me fly.
And so, today, I threw the blades in my car, no longer caring that I couldn’t just leave my door already rolling. I’ve given up the need for life to be the way it was. Now, it just is. I sang in the car. I found a parking place. I put on my helmet and strapped on the wrist guards. And I was fully expecting to stumble and hesitate, perhaps even fall. It had been two years, after all. And I didn’t need to be good. I was just there. So I started down the sidewalk, drifted onto the path at Greenlake.
And then I started gliding. And flying. The feeling of solidity and lightness at the same time came back immediately. My body remembered, even after two years. And I was going fast, out of breath, actual sweat streaming down my face, in just a few moments. After a lifetime of playing softball, soccer, walking, biking, lifting weights, and doing yoga, I have spent the last two years in perpetual stillness. Oh god, I’ve missed moving. I could feel my heart beating, and it felt like joy.
And I was home.