I am standing by the water fountain at the rink where my league practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I am gulping down H2O after a tough set of fresh meat hitting drills, and my teammate (fellow fresh meat) Rawkus Bacchus is standing behind me. She is recovering after successfully absorbing a rough hit courtesy of Skunk, our fresh meat coach. Just as I am making room for her at the fountain, Skunk skates up next to her, congratulates her on taking the hit so well, and says, “I know I hit you hard. And I would say ‘I’m sorry,’ but there are no sorries in derby.”
I am approximately seven years old, sitting on the floor of my room with my best friend E. I am crying and she is crying. We are two tiny balls of devastation. My mother enters the room to ask what’s going on, and I immediately blurt out, “I’m sorry!”
“What are you sorry about?” she asks.
“E slammed my hand in the door and it hurt!”
My mother appears puzzled. “Why are you apologizing for getting hurt?”
“Becuase,” I sniffle, “When I got hurt it made E sad!”
This will not be the last time I apologize for being hurt, to the person who committed the injury. Sometimes I apologize to those who hurt me accidentally. Other times I cry tears of sorrow for getting in the way of someone who hurt me on purpose.
It is a Tuesday night, near the end of practice. Much of our team is away at Rollercon and we are taking advantage of the fairly empty rink by playing Queen of the Track. In this free-for-all hitting game we knock each other down or out of bounds without mercy or pity. No packs, no teams. Last woman standing gets the glory.
I am holding my own, getting low, pushing and shoving. My head on the swivel, I see Rock Bottom skating close behind me. She is grinning. She is maybe even snarling a little. Suddenly I remember that not two days before I mentioned that I’d so far avoided opposing her in a scrimmage, that I had not yet been taken out by her formidable hip check. I know what is coming, and I grin back at her. She slams into me so hard I hear the muscles in my neck pop.
I go down. I do not apologize. Neither does she.
I am dating someone new.
I am enjoying myself immensely.
I am also apologizing. A lot. About nothing.
I do not notice it until he points it out. But once he does, I realize how much apologizing has become a reflex for me.
I treat apologies like boundaries. I am a person who can be manic and intense. I have a great deal of passion and anger and sensitivity stored up inside myself, and I have spent my life suspecting that those feelings are somehow out-of-bounds. I know that people have difficulty handling the more volatile aspects of my personality; I know that they prefer the sweetheart face and the easy manner. I know that they do not know how to react when the passionate side comes out – the side that really matters.
So I regulate that side of myself with apology. I say “I’m sorry” when I step over an imaginary line of sensibility – when what I’m feeling somehow seems too overpowering.
I apologize, in other words, when I break the rules. I apologize when I am most human. I apologize for existing.
But I do not apologize in derby. Because, as Skunk told Rawkus when teaching her to hit, “There are no sorries in derby.”
In derby we do more than just exist. When we are at our best we burn a hole in the world with our enthusiasm, with our passion. Boundaries exist only to be taken down. Apologies are a foreign language that serves only to temper-down the world. When I put on my skates I am made up of all the things I have ever apologized for: I’m in the way. I take up space. I knock things down. I get hurt. I hurt others. I stand up for myself. I fight for my friends. I am all rough edges and overabundance.
In my non-derby life there are still days when I am full of apology. Habits like that don’t change over night. But I know the day is coming when I will blend my derby life and my everyday life together – when I will wear a broad grin as I slam into the world full force.
And I won’t be sorry.