Of all the lessons I have learned in motherhood, the most important one has been this: My sons need me to be exactly who I am. In marriage, I forgot that. I thought it was the ultimate act of love to bend and fold and fit into an idea of who I should be based on my husband’s needs and desires. I wasn’t happy doing that but I thought it was the price I had to pay to create and maintain a happy home for my children. However, once my sons came into the world, I realized very quickly that Ioving and caring for them meant loving and caring for myself. They needed their mom to be the laughing, creative, dancing, writing, adventurous, curious, daredevil that I have always been in order to be comfortable with those same aspects within themselves. They definitely did not need me to be a Stepford wife—and dear God, I didn’t need that either.
When I gathered the courage to love, care for and celebrate Nikki again, I gave myself permission to have a momcation in Southern California. As I was driving from my favorite beach at the end of Sunset Boulevard on my way back to my Orange County Air BnB, my sister called.
“You sound good! You sound happy again,” she exclaimed.
“I am happy again. I really needed this,” I replied.
And then we got to talking about what I had done on my trip, the places I’d seen, the Rage Ground I’d visited, the concert ticket I’d bought, and the favorite SoCal foods I’d eaten, when Big Sis reminded me of something.
“I remember you telling me how you used to love rollerskating at Venice Beach to Girls All Pause by Kurupt,” she said. I cracked up at the memory. Yeah, that was my rollerskatin’ shit back in the day. So before returning to my accomodations, I decided to track down the nearest rink in Orange County and get my skate on.
It had been well over 15 years since I’d strapped on a pair of skates and I was all but certain I was going to break my ass, but I didn’t. After making several tentative circuits around the rather sterile and amazingly racially homogeneous (except for me) rink, I became comfortable on wheels again. Wobbly but comfortable. I made a mental note to take myself skating in Atlanta once I returned. I’d neglected to go before because my ex never learned how to skate and I thought I needed to be attached to him in all things. I was wrong. I didn’t need to be attached to anyone to do the things I loved. Also, why the hell would I deny myself the exquisite bliss of skating at one of America’s most renowned roller rinks?
I’m talking about Cascade Family Skating. The true star of the movie ATL. The disco-balled, strobe-lit, skating-fun-for-the-whole-family institution that has been an Atlanta mainstay for the past 40 odd years. Skating at Cascade is perhaps one of the Blackest things you could do in Atlanta. Because it ain’t just racing around the rink at top speeds with music in the background. Naw. At Cascade, it’s as if Black folks once asked, “Yo, where can I go to dance my ass off while also heightening the risk of a hip break or spinal cord injury?” Cascade is the answer. Not to say that there aren’t other skating rinks in the metro that provide this same atmosphere—but Cascade is “that real.”
The first time I went to Cascade was on Sunday Adult Night and I wasn’t ready for what I experienced. Based on my Californian upbringing, I assumed that any attendees would be mostly casually-dressed women and girls who would lazily drip, in a pair or group at a time, to hit the skate the floor with all the speed of a drowsy turtle. But at 8pm, the parking lot was already half full and I was glad I’d gotten there on time! I stood in line with incredibly eager gender-mixed attendees all gussied up in matching t-shirts and disco tights and booty shorts, their personal skates slung over the shoulder or tucked away in their official skating gear bags. This clearly wasn’t a game.
I’d never been on such a packed skating rink floor before in my life. I saw hand-holding couples—men with women, men with men, and women with women—dancing intricate routines with each other as they floated around the rink. Skilled athletes in the middle of the floor break dancing on skates as if they’d hopped out of You Got Served. Skating crews executing the slickest unified shuffles to a nonstop offering of authentic Atlanta trap sounds. Triads and quads of skaters in each corner experimenting with new tricks and skills.
What had me tearing up though was the fact that all were welcome. Gays and lesbians. Trans. Curvy and slim. Tall and small. It was Ernie Barnes’ Sugar Shack on skates. What’s more, I didn’t see a single skater fall that night. In fact, I constantly witnessed skaters reaching their hands out to support and catch each other and I had to go and sit down to keep myself from ugly crying. It was just that beautiful because that, to me, is what it means to be Black.
Last night, I had the opportunity to attend Wednesday Adult Night with my fellow sister-writer, SCAD alum and friend Karon. Big shout out to her especially since it had been years since she’d skated.
“I just stopped,” she said before sparing no time to get back out on the floor. Big ups.
Having grown up in Atlanta, she’d explained to me why rollerskating was such a big deal as we enjoyed Pineapple Fantas. In short, skating was a reliably non-discriminatory safe, secure, family-friendly, cost-effective social activity.
“Growing up in the Vallejo, we didn’t really hang out at the rink. We’d do parks or the mall or somebody’s house,” I shared. “And later when we got cars, we’d rather drive out to San Fran or Oakland and hang by the bridge or at the pier then drive to Fairfield for skating.”
“We didn’t have options like those in Atlanta,” Karon offered. “We’d get dropped off at the skating rink. We’d already have our skates. It was the thing to do.”
Last night featured a slightly older crowd, lots of granddaddies on wheels, old heads in Cross Color tees, camou pants, and cowboy hats. Righteously Afro’d ladies rocking Kobe Bryant jerseys. Folks who’d come straight from the office in slacks and button downs, sheath dresses and stockings. And a random woman in a camel-haired trench coat who kept that trench coat on as she skated. Thinking back to my first visit, I’d seen somebody’s momma in a sun dress zipping around the rink.
Again, I couldn’t help marveling at what I saw, what I felt, what I loved: Black folks having a good time, doing the most amazingly brilliant things, as if by reflex, and making it look as cool and easy AF.
By 10:30, Karon and I had to call it a night. Personally, my toes were screaming and I think that Fanta I drank had caused my ankles to tighten up. We said our goodbyes and made a note to get together soon to enjoy more “mature” beverages. On the drive home, I promised to purchase skates for myself as well as for my boys. I figured I could teach them to skate at home on my laminate flooring with pillows strapped to them—just as my mom and siblings had taught me on our parkay floors in the Palisades apartments. And then when they were ready, I’d take them to family night at Cascade as many times as they wanted so they too could eventually be reflexively amazing on skates.