Funny how things change. I couldn't help but think of this of excerpt from the forthcoming Overdue Apologies: a middle school memoir. It captures one of those ice skating nights from my youth, and hopefully none of those kids I caught kissing will stumble across this post.
Just before Thanksgiving the first snow of winter falls and the rink at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain opens. Jamie, Robin, Bianca, Kim and I plan to go Friday night and I'm pretty sure Mom will let me go. Anything can happen on a night up at the Inn and I'd be devastated if I missed out. We invite everybody, but Gabe, Cougar and Cody are hunting, so it's just us girls.
I'm surprised Mom agrees to drive us because there's already a trace of snow on the ground but she takes Robin, Jamie and me slowly through town and pulls up to The Inn. The little rink is lit up beneath a starry winter sky.
"Have fun," Mom says as we step out of the car and Jamie and Robin thank her for the ride. "I'll pick you up at nine, okay. Don't be late."
"OK, Mom, bye," I say as I slam the door. I can't get away from her fast enough. I sprint to catch up with Jamie and Robin and hope Mom pulls away before anyone sees our old beat-up car. Our station wagon pulls away and I feel free: three full hours without any adults around, without family watching my every move. The night feels electric with the possibility.
We rent skates and the brown boots smell like dirty feet. The leather is stiff and cold, but I shove my feet in anyway, lace up and wobble out onto the ice. I've skated before, on the pond at Shevlyn Park, and Dad's words echo in my ears, "Keep your ankles stiff; lean into your turn just like skiing." Jamie hasn't been on skates much. She shuffles across the ice with one hand on the wooden wall that surrounds the rink. Robin has actually taken a few lessons. She crosses her feet in the turns and skates backward, peering over her shoulder like a real professional. Robin manages to be the coolest again. I'm somewhere between the two of them, skating around the rink, occasionally pounding into the wooden walls, laughing, and watching the parking lot for Bianca and Kim and anyone else who might show up to tonight.
The rink fills with little kids and their parents and then Bianca and Kim, and a few other girls from school: Stephanie Troutman, Amy Oliver, Loretta Garretson, and Tara Transue show up. We spot boys from Cascade, not Duffy, but Ryan Combs, Todd Hoffman and Peter Moore. They fly around the rink on hockey skates until we have to clear the ice for the Zamboni. Everyone crowds around the counter to return skates. My feet ache and the warm, ripe room makes me claustrophobic. I yank my feet from the skates and hurry outside.
Robin, Jamie, Bianca, Kim and I walk to the café to get hot cocoa but Jamie and I only have a couple of quarters, so we hang out in the arcade. The boys from Cascade are there too and after watching me beat Jamie at air hockey, Peter Moore and Todd Hoffman challenge us to a match. We slam the slippery disk back and forth and even though I score first, I think Jamie misses on purpose. The air shuts off and Peter and Todd win 4 - 1.
We head back out into the cold and walk along one of the wooded paths. Kim and Robin follow Peter, Todd, and Ryan off the path to a small clearing in the dark. The tree branches have kept any snow from falling here and we kneel on a bed of springy pine needles. There is an empty Pepsi bottle in the middle of our circle and I look over at Jamie, unsure how to handle this. There isn't anything in that book Mom left about how to handle a game of Spin the Bottle, but Jamie's whispering with Kim about something so I shift on my heels and try to slow my racing heart. I look around the circle. I don't think I want my first real kiss to be like this. I pecked Jimmy Olson, my fifth grade boyfriend, and dreamed of really kissing Duffy or Shawn, but I never thought of kissing Todd or Peter or Ryan.
Robin is bold, fearless, and she spins the bottle first. It lands on Kim. They giggle and Robin pecks Kim on the cheek. Peter goes next and the first time he spins it lands on Ryan. We laugh but Peter immediately spins again. There must be some kind of divot in the dirt because it lands on Kim again and Peter kisses her on the lips. Everyone giggles and oohs.
It's my turn next. Thank God it's dark so no one can see how red my face is and my gloves conceal my sweaty palms.
"Come on, Nori, spin," Robin demands.
I spin the bottle fast. We watch as it turns through the dirt and then slows, slows, slows. It stops on Todd and I freeze not knowing what to do but before I can even think Todd leans over, his warm face in mine, and kisses me quickly on the lips before pulling back to his spot.
"It's 9:00, we've got to go," Bianca says glancing at her Swatch watch. Before there's the chance for any more spins we sprint through the dark to the parking lot. We laugh about what just happened on the forest floor and measure tonight against every other night in our lives. This might have been the best night ever.
As we reach the skating rink the headlights of our station wagon turn into the lot. We tumble into the warmth of the family car, and the excitement of the night fizzles away. I'm glad we left the boys behind us so they won't see our car. We climb in and Mom asks if we had a good time.
"Yeah," I answer as I peer over my shoulder to see Bianca, Robin and Jamie smiling in the dark of the back seat.
"Oh, good," Mom says as she navigates the streets of Bend, completely unaware of the girl I am with my friends, the girl who skates fast and hangs out with the cool kids. The girl who plays air hockey because she doesn’t have money for a hot cocoa, the girl who plays Spin the Bottle with boys in the dark.
I grin at my friends sitting in the back seat, all of us trying to hold on to the magic of the night just a little bit longer.