When John Lennon was shot, I turned thirteen and could’ve cared less. What did some hippie white guy bleeding on West Seventy-Second have to do with me? The only thing it did was block off some fine railage, the kind the skateboard barely glided on that made you feel like you could fly. Now it was all wrapped up in police tape. What a waste. Out on the grind, with a board beneath your feet, the world blurs by and everything fades out of focus. Like diving into a beloved book, the only solid thing is you and for a moment, you’re all that matters. I used to think birthdays were the same way. Not that I craved attention, but I spent the rest of the year with my head in pages anyway and one pinprick in the fabric of things would suit me fine. But it figured Lennon would get himself shot on my birthday.
My luck always choked like that, with breaks I could never catch. The time Bobby C said he wanted to kiss me and never showed behind the bleachers after school. The time my friends forgot to hold a place in line at the record store and I missed meeting Donna Summer. The time I tried to nosegrind Rockefeller Center in a skirt and flashed a group of tourists (never again). Yep. That was my life. I was a loaf of bread, rising with expectation only to settle into the real. And reality bit a big one. You only get to turn thirteen once and I don’t know. I wanted something righteous to happen. Instead, Mama spent the night in tears, crying on the phone to her friend Greta about how they wanted to take everything away from the flower children, whoever “they” were. I’d be damned if I was going to spend one more second kicking it in SoHo with nothing but waterworks and ‘way back when’s.
Nights were the primo and I intended to make that night a great one. With a curled up copy of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected stuffed in my hip pocket, I rode beneath the lights of Broadway and felt the concrete snap after each seam and I knew this was living, not cooped up and crying over spilt memories. By the time I broke from Chatham Square and dipped into the slipstream down the cradle of Lower Manhattan toward the Brooklyn Banks, I felt in like company. The streets were filled with creatures caught in the throngs of sick lines and fancy footwork. A distressed wonderland of our own making ripped from fiction and populated by the greatest characters I’d ever know. We swapped tales of our parents frozen in mourning over their dearly departed and we refused to get so stuck. The cops had their hands full with riot control. People were up in arms all over, like, grody to the max. We took advantage, making the entire city our playground. We skated through alleys and ollied off makeshift ramps of milk crates and skids. We ran rings around the rinks beneath boardwalk fortunes, made and spent while the Wall Street wolfpack swilled their hatorade. The rhythmic beats of our firecracker Ghettoblaster went boom off the pier edge. Waves of Lipps, Inc. and Shalamar sang along the East River and we skated on the one, a trick per track, diphthong in the tide past the shore without a shit.
Between beats, we made snack runs. Malt balls at a buck a pop from some corner five and dime. Rushed headlines were already stacked out front by four am. I skimmed them for a moment between chomps off a Butterfinger. Something Catcher in the Rye, something-something shattered sternum, something lots of pain. As if. What would a cushy musician know about pain? He didn’t know nothing, just like Mama. Pain wasn’t some Hollywood glam murder or wailing into a phone receiver. Not for me. I wanted pain I could see and I could feel. I wanted a pain that was entirely mine. The muscle aches to keep from eating pavement and the scraped skin when you did anyway. That was real.
We spent daybreak on the banks, watching for the sun to peek from behind the skyscrapers on the horizon. A street performer stumbled upon us and wished me a happy birthday. He took his guitar and strummed, standing in the middle of our skating cornucopia like the center of an atom. We worked our boards beyond their limits, laughing hysterically when Tyrone’s broke from the strain. Bobby C turned up and after a few cherry cokes and sweaty palms, he worked up the nerve and we made out. Guitar string kisses plucked to pucker up beneath Brooklyn Bridge. We swirled and twirled on four-wheel drive and lifted off in kickflipped flights towards the future. I read a page ten times just for the way it sounded and I watched Nikki, that gnarly mother fucker, pull off a three sixty Gorilla Grab over a burnt car chassis, her trench coat fluttering like wings and in the spirit of my forthcoming womanhood, they clapped me a bitchin’ beat to groove to, balanced on the asphalt in center stage:
Kickflip, Pogo, Railstand, Street Plant
Switchfoot, Spacewalk, Tre Flip, Handstand
G-Turn, Shove It, Caspar, Kickback
Walk the dog, J-Roll, Gingersnap
Godzilla Flip. Coco Wheelie Slide. Poppin’ Tail and Manual and Darkslide No Comply.
Toc Spin to Varial Flip.
Finish on a Carousel slip.
The applause erupted through the caverns and I launched onto a high I never wanted to come down from. I knew I oughta call Mama, the wreck she must’ve been. But that was my own special night. I had one shot to make it right. I tugged on my ball cap, whipped back my weave and flashed a lip gloss smirk with a bow.
“How did I look?” I asked.
“Alive,” they said.
Chas Blankenship is a creative writing major attending Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX. His poetry has appeared in the sixth issue of HUMID, SFA’s undergraduate journal and he’s recently been nominated for the AWP Intro Journals contest. He’s been writing for the past thirteen years and has slowly but surely come into his own with enough confidence to start working towards discovering his place in a community full of incredibly talented people. He also collects autographs from actors who’ve appeared in Stanley Kubrick movies which are, frankly, too awesome not to share with everyone.