Saving Tricky

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Apr 152011

Gustav. One of two that hit me that year.

“I grip the painted cement floor with the eight wheels on my feet, sweating, breathing hard, eyes forward and struggling to see a way past the skaters ahead of me. I’m new; I have much to prove. Suddenly a body makes contact with my left side, a body that feels more like a car in its solidity and force and speed, and I don’t feel pain, but embarrassment for being thus caught, so completely blindsided. I’m new; I’ve forgotten to look behind me. She’s gotten me just going into the first turn, so her hit is assisted by centrifugal force – I’m flung entirely off my feet. I land hard just on the edge of the track, my own hip bone drives against my soft flesh, and then I roll, twice, across the floor and out of bounds. My elbow and knee pads clatter. When I stop rolling, I haul myself off the floor and hustle back onto the track, before the pain in my hip catches up with me. The entire pack is now ahead of me; I’ve lost any ground I had gained. My hip begins to hum and my right leg won’t move as quickly as the other. The girl who hit me looks back, weaving side to side, ready for my belabored approach. She outweighs me by at least fifty pounds, has been playing this game for a year longer than I have. She smiles wickedly, and in this smile I see hunger – the pure pleasure of hitting bitches – and I see respect – the pleasure of discovering that a new skater can take it.

When I get home and peel off my sweaty tights, I see the beginnings of my first real roller derby bruise, which I name The Hurricane – appropriate enough, as I’m living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I could also have named it after a galaxy: over the next few days, purple and blue and lavender and then yellow and green and rust swirls spread over my right flank, starting near my sharp hip bone and curling towards the rear, extending down to my thigh. I wear short shorts to the gym, and one arm of The Hurricane extends below the spandex hem while I run and lift and get stronger and leaner, so I can better defend myself, so I can, someday, be the girl imprinting the newbies with my massive hits. Burly men peek sideways at the bruise while they lift barbells. The area remains swollen and tender for weeks, during which I’m slammed back onto it multiple times. But I don’t complain. I’m in love.

I remember that practice as the day I truly became a derby player, the day I proved that I wasn’t one of the multiple girls who show up a few times in cute skirts and fishnets and then disappear, concluding that the sport is too much work and too much pain. It was the day I really became Tricky La Rouge.”

Two years later, I write these words in New York, where I’ve moved to attend graduate school. I’ve had little time for anything other than writing and reading, so I’ve spent the last seven months off skates, with the exception of a wonderful visit to my team (my former team?) down South. After months of being called my legal, given name, I walked into a bar after practice and a civilian said, “Hey Tricky, when’s your next bout?”

My next bout is never, or at least that’s how it feels at the moment. But still, I glowed, high from skating, and rattled off the details of the upcoming Red Stick bout proudly, while making it clear that I wouldn’t actually be in it. I returned to New York hungry to be Tricky again, so when my next piece of prose was due in class, I veered off my usual writing topic and introduced my fellow classmates to roller derby and to Tricky La Rouge. The response was amazing – when I asked them what they wanted more of, the answer was: everything. More derby history, more bout details, more stories about other skaters, more Tricky.

Researching that piece meant that I had to delve into derby websites and derby books I’d been avoiding for months, because really thinking about the sport had caused me pain. I could feel my identity as Tricky slipping away as my kneepads gathered dust in my closet. And if you skate, you know how important that derby-name identity is; see also Villanelle’s recent post. But then I threw myself into the essay, and while checking up on the date of the tryouts I’d purposely missed on the Gotham website, I discovered, just in time, that they were beginning their very first rec league practices the next weekend. I’ve been twice now, and that time on the track is literally saving Tricky’s life, as well as making me a better skater (already – our head coach, Surly Temple, and all her co-coaches thus far: Luna Impact, Ariel Assault, and Hela Skelter, have been amazing!).

That's right. Even Steve Martin knows Tricky now.

What’s also saving my life is those requests for more derby info from the non-derby friends I’ve made here at school (you can read one of these kickass people here). I do get frustrated occasionally, like when I invite people to come to a Gotham bout with me, and then they get excited because they think they’ll be seeing me skate, even though I’ve told them I’m not on a league (way to rub it in, People!). Or when people I know to be smart and awesome ask about derby and accompany their words with that horrible elbow-scissoring gesture that we’ve all seen from dudes in trucker hats countless times. But I’ve managed to pass some of my passion on to them, and I’m excited about dispelling any lingering confusion (especially since it indicates that my writing might have been unclear – what do you mean “how do you get points?!” Argh!). So what I thought had pulled me away is slowly reeling me back, and in the case of those rec league practices, in a concrete manner. I’m beginning to actually think (rather than desperately mumble to myself and others) that I will return to the track for real, and that I won’t have to give up my non-derby life to do it. I’m finding a way to be Tricky again, in his new life, even though it’ll take some time.

Photo Credits:; writer’s own.