The roller skating rink was on the second floor of a large wooden building. The arcade was on the bottom floor directly underneath the roller rink. The wooden building overlooked the rocks that formed the shoreline and the horseshoe shaped pier. It was very rustic and charming in a waterfront sort of way.
It was during that time in our culture when girls ’without’ reputations didn’t go into arcades or bowling alleys unless they had an escort. So, although my imagination could conjure up dark and mysterious things that happened inside that forbidden place, I had never actually gone through the large open doors on the ground floor of the wooden building.
My sister took dance skating lessons in the roller rink. As her older sister, it was my responsibility to escort her. Twice a week she and I had to walk on the sidewalk that passed in front of the arcade. And more then likely there would be a group of young men lounging against the open doors; smoking cigarettes, running their eyes up and down the bodies of the young women that walked past, and making sexually explicit comments that they thought were hilarious.
One of the loudest of these young men was a large, good looking Mexican boy. He had graduated from the high school that I currently attended and for some reason he felt that gave him reason to lay claim to the ’blonde with the limp’. Twice a week, come rain or sunshine, when my sister and I passed the arcade he would be standing there as if he had been waiting. His gestures, comments, laughter and sexual innuendos made my walk from the arcade to the rink a living misery. Teenage girls can conjure up resentments and I conjured a heap of them for him.
Two decades later a Mexican family bought a house for their widowed mother. The house was directly across from my parent’s home. One of the married sons bought the house next door to my parents. One of the married daughters bought a house down the block. The unmarried daughter and the unmarried son lived with their widowed momma. They were a nice family and a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Except, in my opinion, for the unmarried son ... he was the man that had made my journey from the arcade to the rink miserable.
The married son that lived next door to my parents eventually had a son of his own. He was a wonderful father and because my son didn’t have a live-in dad he often took my son under his wing. His son and my son became best friends. My son grew up with the Mexican family a prominent part of his life. He called the unmarried son that lived with grandma ’Uncle Mike’.
One afternoon Uncle Mike parked his car on the hill in front of his house. The car began to roll and Uncle Mike took off running to catch it. He tried to jump into the driver’s seat, and the back wheels ran over him. He landed in the local hospital for a couple of weeks.
In the meantime, I was in another other local hospital with a bone infection in my foot. I was just well enough to start pestering the doctor to let me go home. I still had to have the intravenous antibiotic, but it was decided that a home nurse could be contracted to do that for me if I went home to my parent’s house. I wasn’t happy with the conditions. I wanted my independence back. But my parents home was far better then the hospital so I agreed.
It was the middle of summer and we were having a heat wave. Often, in the early evenings I would get in the wheelchair and my mother and I would sit on the front porch and enjoy the breeze that came off the ocean. One evening we watched as Uncle Mike came hobbling out of the house on crutches. He waved to us and asked why I was in the wheelchair. My mother, the sweetheart, told him the history of my recent hospitalization. They chatted and exchanged neighborhood pleasantries while I silently hissed at her to not encourage him.
The next evening we watched as Uncle Mike slowly made his way across the street to our stretch of lawn. He stood on the sidewalk and made small talk, mostly to my mother. Primarily because I sat there quietly and wished he would continue walking. Finally he finished chatting and started walking down the street to his sister’s house. I turned to my mother and begged her to quit encouraging him. She just laughed and said “aw give the poor guy a break.”
“A break! I’d like to break his other leg! He made my trips to the rink miserable.” I loved my mother, but there were limits to my graciousness in the face of my teenage tormentor.
The next evening I held my breath, but my mother and I were just about through with our ice tea when the door to his house opened. I groaned and my mother laughed. Uncle Mike stepped outside. He had on a nice white shirt, a tie, and a suit. He was carrying a bouquet of flowers. I breathed a sign of relief. He obviously had a date. He was going to leave us alone. BUT he walked right by his car, across the street, across our sidewalk, across our grass, and handed me the beautiful flowers. My people-loving mother kindly got up and offered him her chair. And then she went in the house and left us alone on the front porch.
I can laugh about it now. But at the time I felt like I had been rolled in cement. My graciousness felt heavy, my words felt heavy, and my head felt heavy. I sat there feeling trapped by my memories of him and his buddies. He sat with me until it got very dark. I listened to his stories of his accident. I listened to his suggestion that when we were well it might be nice to have dinner together. I listened and I listened and for the life of me I never did figure out if he remembered that I was the woman that he had tormented when she was a girl.
It’s not in me to deliberately cause hurt so I had not brought up my memories and feelings. And when my son came out and told Uncle Mike that his mother needed to go in the house I was actually able to smile and thank him for the flowers. But from that day on I went to the back yard when I wanted to get some fresh air. My son and parents thought it was funny enough to tease me about, but I will never be able to reconcile that man in the suit holding flowers with the man that stood in the doorway of the arcade.
I wonder if I would have accepted an adult dinner invitation from him if we hadn’t become aware of one another in front of an arcade twenty years earlier.