This weekend my league is holding try-outs for subpool, the tiny team of no-longer-rookies who practice with the team skaters and sub on bouts in hopes of getting drafted to a team. It only happens about twice a year. It’s the first time there have been try-outs since I came back to derby last winter.
I didn’t sign up.
I’m not really one for announcing things, particularly right at their very start. Perhaps it’s from years of Hollywood almosts, where I’ve found myself shouting, “This is happening! Wait! No, now it’s not anymore! Sorry! Go back to what you were doing!” I tend to wait now until I really, really, really know it’s happening.
This isn’t just in my work-life. I’m this way in my personal life, as well. I’d rather you asked in three months why I look like I’ve lost weight, and then I’ll be more than happy to tell you all about this thing I was doing that worked. But if I was posting pictures on the Internet and blogging about some new exercise routine or diet, it feels like I’m just setting myself up for a lot of public failure. I didn’t tell too many people when I started roller derby for the same reason. What if I only did it for a week?
When you first start roller derby, particularly for the first six months or so, it’s all-consuming, and the temptation is to tell everyone all the time about every aspect of this new, exciting life you’ve got and all these friends you made and how exhausted you are from the commitment, and you show off your bruises and you basically become a person who can only communicate using two syllables: der and bee.
Because of this “jumped in” feeling once you’ve joined this world, it can become a huge decision to leave it. To even take a break from it. You guys, I tore a ligament in my knee and I still went back. If you’d asked me ten years ago if I’d ever go back to a place where I once lost the ability to walk for six weeks and be unable to crawl for seven months, I’d tell you that you have the wrong person in the first place because I don’t play team sports. I was, however, fully indoctrinated in the other cult of my life — a comedy troupe — and no doubt if I somehow shattered my tibia during a particularly rowdy rendition of “Party Quirks” (which, given my propensity in the moment to forget that even though I was given “Kerry Strug” I wasn’t actually a sixty-three-pound gymnast, was actually more than a little possible) I would have been right back on that stage pushing myself in one of those one-legged rolly-carts. (The comedy troupe would have delighted in having an actual gimpy girl in the troupe, because they were going to tell those jokes anyway, most likely about me.)
But I came back to derby at the end of last year because after all the book-touring, after meeting all those derby girls all over this country, I missed it. Much like when some of you other women decide to go ahead and have a second child grow inside your body and then fight its way out, I’d forgotten how much time it took out of my life, how much it hurt, how much it took over my entire body and schedule and required visits to the doctor and special equipment and advice from seemingly everybody and you stop caring about things like your nails and your clothes get simplified and suddenly one drawer in your dresser has outfits in only two colors.
I came back with the renewed interest that is important to make it through fresh meat. I had to try-out again because I’d been injured long enough that I had to start over. And I didn’t really write too much about it because I write about derby a lot, but what’s happening to me on my track is a little more personal. It would feel like telling you what I did when I went to the gym. But I came back feeling stronger, feeling better, and had a fantastic time meeting a mostly all new-to-me group of Fresh Meat girls, and I skated in another Baby Doll Brawl and then they moved subpool try-outs to three months later than they were originally scheduled and things started to fall apart.
I could list a million excuses here (I’m very work-busy and often prefer to write at night and on weekends, Sara moved to New York and a lot of my other derby friends have long since dropped out, it hurts more than it used to, at my last practice a girl broke her foot and I feel like it was maybe my fault, I don’t feel ready, I don’t feel like a strong enough skater to make a team, I like my non-derby schedule, etc.), but every single one of those excuses comes out of guilt. I feel guilty for leaving derby, so I’ve left it the same way I came in: like a secret. Most people don’t know how I mostly snuck into Fresh Meat three years and some change ago. I was just there and now I’m just not.
I had a feeling my time skating was coming to an end about two months ago, but I didn’t tell anyone. Word spreads too quickly, and I didn’t want to become either an invisible skater (“She’s basically on her way out”) nor someone who needed saving. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure I wanted to stop, but I knew if I told anybody I was thinking about it, it could become A Thing. It’s only now that people are starting to notice. For the first time ever I didn’t make my attendance requirements. I’m having to make the transition from a skater in training to a skater in retirement, one who can play pick-up scrimmages in our wRECk league, but no more.
I could tell that I wasn’t as good as I’d been a few months earlier. And that feeling of getting worse instead of getting better (and by that I mean my recovery from injuries was taking longer, my steps were getting slower, my endurance was getting worse even when I was training harder) made me feel like an aging boxer or something. I’d never thought about my age as a limit before. Never. But there were times when I’d look next to me and see a girl in her mid-twenties and I’d just think, “I wish I got to start this when I was her age.” Because — and here’s what it all comes down to —
I don’t think I want to play full-contact sports anymore.
A million excuses, a million reasons, but when I made myself answer a simple question: “Do you want to keep doing this?” that was the only answer.
The only person who’s really going to be celebrating the end of my playing roller derby is my mother. But I’ve got a surprise for her. Before she can dance too hard and cheer too loudly, I’ve already set up her disappointment for the next couple of years: I cut off my hair. That’s right, I got the derby haircut after I stopped skating. (Helmets cause breakage.) The last time I cut it this short she never saw me without asking right off the bat how much longer I thought it would take before it grew out to something she’d like again. It caused her to say the now famous: “It’s just that this haircut makes your head look like a little girl. Like you’ve got a girl head on a woman’s body.”
Big life changes call for big hair changes. It’s easier to move forward when there’s lots of change in the air, when everything feels different.
If you can’t tell by now, it’s difficult for me to leave derby behind. So I did lots of things I wanted to do before I left the building. I helped set-up the new track. I helped with junior derby camp and got really excited about the future of roller derby. Those girls are going to take this sport to the next level. They’re the ones who will turn this from an underground, sometimes campy, extreme female sport to simply: another sport. One that has players and fans and sponsors and leagues and championships and you can find it on television and you can go to college on scholarship with it and you can learn to play it when you’re seven and you can keep playing it until your RoboKnees Dual-Action Quad-Grip Version 2.27 get rusty. Then I knew I had to write this entry, which I’ve also been putting off. Because now it’s real. Now it’s the announcement. When I hit “publish,” I’ll have told you, and that means I’ve taken a very real step away from that life. And it makes me really sad. I have tears right now, because I keep thinking back to the girl I was when I started out, when I first stepped onto that track, and how different I am now because of it.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been skating derby for six years or six weeks. Once you’ve done it, leaving it makes you ask yourself a lot of questions. Maybe because it’s so hard, maybe because it’s filled with women who want to talk to you all the time about everything you’re feeling, or maybe because in the end it’s all about what you can give it, and then somehow managing to give it way more than that. There are few things in life that can be so instantly rewarding, so personal and yet so universal.
It’s hard not to feel like a quitter. It’s hard not to feel like I’m disappearing from a place that’s been a home to me.
I keep trying to remind myself that I’ve gotten everything I could have asked for out of roller derby. I’ve gotten more than I could have dreamed. (OPRAH!) It’s changed who I am, what I think of myself, what I know I’m capable of, what I’ve done in my career, and what I can accomplish both when I’m alone and when I partner up with someone who’s got my back. I’m pretty sure I’m still not cleared to talk about such things, but there are derby writing projects in the works, so just like when I was on the injured bench, derby is still very much a part of my life. I just have to adjust to the fact that this is where I skate less and write more.
Every time one of you has written to say that through this site or the novel you’ve found your way to derby, or I talk to one of you out there who maybe already knew me and because you knew a dork like me could find a way out of the dark pit of sadness through this surprising answer, you tried it too and found a whole new passion, a new way to see yourself– that’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my derby career.
I never got to wear a team uniform, but you’re the reason why I have no regrets.
PS: To my fearless sisters trying out for subpool this Sunday: Kill it! Kill it! Kick it in the face!