As trite as this sounds, roller derby is like that ex you just keep going back to, which is why I tweeted last week that going back to a league practice somehow felt like I was fucking an ex-boyfriend – familiar and comforting, but somehow still just wrong.
It’s been a year and six months since I skated in my last bout, which was the evening of my grandmother’s funeral. At that time, only two months back after my first ever “offseason” (which only lasted several months anyhow), I was dragging my feet. My body was in a place where it could no longer withstand the rigorous training needed to be an All Star, yet my mind wasn’t happy skating home team, and on top of all that we had known for several months that my 93-year-old grandmother was nearing the end. Truthfully, I hadn’t been feeling it for a while. While I knew I loved roller derby, I knew I needed a change but I couldn’t figure out where I fit. Then, just as I had mustered the energy to come back and try on some different hats, we got the devastating news that my closest aunt was dying – my mom’s sister and lifelong best friend. Every moment I spent not alone and not doing something with or for my family I felt guilt, so I pulled back entirely and officially retired from roller derby, a sport I had played continuously since 2005, barring the random off-time for injury.
Retirement has often been more difficult than the worst times I’ve ever spent on skates. While my aunt was dying, I was focused on her, her immediate family and my mom, which took my mind off derby in the interim, but after she passed her words from not a year earlier echoed in my mind: “Why are you quitting? You love it so much!” Why was I quitting? I was broken, more mentally than physically, but physically as well, but what really kept me away was the same fearful thought circulating in my mind – I felt, and still feel like, I cannot possibly live life without derby, and this scares the hell out of me, because I know that even if I were to go back now, I am only postponing the inevitable. At some point I’ll have to learn how to deal with not skating, and I’m concerned that I might not be in such a good place to manage the permanent separation later on. So, sticking to my guns I remained involved at an admin level and found a tiny bit of comfort in that, until last month.
In June I was feeling like I was finally getting to a place where I was happy with the level of my derby involvement. The hubs and I went on our belated honeymoon to Jamaica, I came back, and not a week later I was turning right back around to travel for work in Oregon, getting home just in time for our monthly bout that Saturday. The honeymoon was great, the trip to visit with our author group in Oregon went really well, and I was looking forward to watching our ladies take on the B.A.D. Girls the day after we got back. Exhausted from all the meetings, but still riding the good-meeting high, my coworker and I shared a meal in the airport when my heart stopped. All it took was seeing two rollergirls at first standing in line for food. “What team are they?” my coworker asked. “Bay Area,” I said. “We’re playing them tomorrow.” As we turned the corner to arrive at our gate, there was the rest of the team – sharing our flight back to Baltimore. I felt like I had died inside. I literally had a panic attack as I sat at the gate with my coworker, nodding and responding politely to the cell phone pictures she was showing me of her kids. I wasn’t even paying attention to her, but I knew that in order to get through this I’d have to appear normal. If she had any inclination something was wrong, she’d ask and then I’d lose it right there at the airport.
So what was it about seeing BAD that had me so worked up? Well, I really cared about my last season as an All Star, and consciously or unconsciously I think I had held myself at arms length even from our own All Stars, because I knew how much I missed it, and I knew that being around it would devastate me. What I didn’t know was how much. Being in the airport and sitting in the plane seeing the stewardess ask the skaters the same questions I had been asked over and again when traveling to an away game brought me right back to that moment I was traveling as an All Star. Being part of a team that spends so much time together practicing and traveling and generally fucking around in their spare time is an amazing experience that you can’t know until you’re in it, or in my case, until you’re out of it. Seeing BAD made me miss the aspects of derby I loved so much and that I wasn’t currently getting. I wore my sunglasses on the plane to disguise the tears I couldn’t hold back at times, and I prayed to be out of there as quickly as possible. When we landed in Baltimore I didn’t even wait for my coworker to deplane before I sprinted to catch the bus back to the parking garage. “Just wait until you’re in the car,” I kept telling myself, but when I got there I couldn’t even cry. I raced home, got into bed, and didn’t get out for 3 days – I missed the bout, and I called out of work.
I was 100% honest with my boss, a rugby player in his youth, because I knew he’d understand. Luckily, I was right and the days after I emerged from my bedroom I did a lot of thinking and talking with those people close to me about what I wanted: to skate. I could finally admit that I wasn’t happy completely off skates, holding myself at arms length from the rest of my league, but I also knew I’d have to figure out how to make some version of on-skates derby fit with the rest of my current life and abilities, while also making me happy, hence, The Retirement Plan.
The Retirement Plan is me attending a practice or so a week with the league and choosing to not skate with a team, while eventually helping out the coaches with the Fresh Meat skaters. I have a lot of knowledge and a lot to offer new skaters in the form of one-on-one help when it’s needed. The other day I attended Charm School, our open practice for aspiring skaters, and I had so much fun helping to teach those ladies basic skills. I knew after that practice that I was home. I’m still retired, but through The Retirement Plan I’m trying to carve out a place for other retirees who can’t or don’t want to skate on a team, but who still have a lot of knowledge to share and who still want to skate and be involved in derby. I hope this makes me happy, and I hope I can contribute toward the greater good of our league. As for the derby/ex-boyfriend analogy, I guess only time will tell if this new plan means derby and I really can remain “just friends”. I certainly hope so. Relationships are all hard, but like anything they thrive when you work at them.