Fall of 1980 was a strange, misplaced spring with rain and warmish weather right up until the end of October. Before the mutant winter set in with heavy snows and ridiculous lows, bad things happened in our little corner of Anchorage. Two women were raped in the dark track of woods between North Star Elementary School and our neighborhood stomping grounds, a favorite shortcut for students as well, which made it all the more scary. Violent crime isn’t a rarity in Alaska’s biggest city, but the fact that Abby had seen the rapist during his second stalking was enough to turn our world upside down. She didn’t see much, but a child’s memory was more than enough for a police composite on the evening news.
They never did catch him.
When Halloween arrived, it had yet to drop a single flake of snow that lasted longer than an afternoon. We were much too cool for trick-or-treating, so the place to be that night was the Anchorage Roller Rink. It was a soggy Friday afternoon when our small group of friends set out for the evening, freshly scrubbed and moussed. It had rained off and on all day but was off for the time being, so our jackets were at half-mast.
My ensemble was calculated to push all the right fashion buttons. Dark brown corduroy overalls by OshKosh B’gosh, one strap artfully undone, the other locked over a white baseball jersey with three-quarter length yellow sleeves. Sleek speed skates with low-cut black boots and white stripes down the side hung around my neck from extra-long red laces tied together at the ends in a huge, easy-to-release bow.
Friday and Saturday nights at the rink were a calculated series of events that moved between free skate and speed demon contests and the ubiquitous Snowball Dance sporting a huge disco ball and dimmed lights where boys and girls alternated asking a crush to skate with them. The Hokey Pokey and the Limbo added hysterical counterpoints of shaking skates and shaking butts and clumsy attempts at getting underneath a horizontal bar that started two feet off the ground and dropped a few inches each round until one skater remained. I was known to get down to the very end and even win a few matches.
The final height of the victories escapes me, though I remember the move that got me under – a sinuous roll with an abrupt drop to the floor, one skate kicked out horizontally behind me with the other leg impossibly bent over the skate still on the floor, torso pushed as close to the wood as possible without touching. The last bit of momentum before the drop was just enough to get underneath. Starting too early meant stalling before you reached the bar. Too late, and you wouldn’t make it at all. It was a delicate move only a few people could pull off. I was always proud to count myself among them.
Our group of friends skated until the house lights shocked us into reality around eleven, then rolled toward the lockers where our jackets and Vans were patiently waiting.
The storm had taken a turn for the worse in the three hours we lost to skating. We tucked our skates inside our coats and zipped them to the neck. Popping our collars and shoving our hands into our pockets, we turned into the teeth of the wind and rain for the long walk down the hill to our neighborhood. As far as our parents were concerned, we were all sleeping over at different houses that night. Our actual destination was a friend who was home alone and in the mood to mingle while the folks were out of town for the weekend. The plan was to hang out at her place, drink soda, eat candy, smoke cigarettes and play board games. A tame party by the animal standards we would set with new friends in an old town just a few years later.
It was nearing one in the morning when a particularly bright flash of lightening was followed almost immediately by thunder and the power going out. This added a spooky element to the dark and stormy night, so we lit a bunch of candles gathered from around the apartment and continued on. The game was Monopoly and I was well on my way to becoming a tycoon by way of decimating my opponents via subtle pilfering of money from the bank. The key was to keep the gains small enough to become pivotal at the precise moment but not so much anyone noticed the advantage. It would be many years before learning I would rather lose than cheat.
The bathroom was accessed via a short hallway that led to the bedrooms in back. One of the girls came hurrying back, the candle she carried bobbing and weaving on the walls. She swore she heard a noise at one of the bedroom windows. It might have been me or it might have been one of the other boys, but someone went to confirm. Whoever it was must have heard something, because we immediately extinguished the candles and plunged the room into an inky black smelling of freshly snuffed wicks and melted wax. Ears strained for any sounds from down the hall as our eyes adjusted to a total lack of light.
Sudden scraping at the kitchen window sent us scurrying blindly toward the back of the house. Whether it was real or just our over-sugared imaginations, we each took turns crawling out our friend’s bedroom window, an entire building away from where the noises were being made at the front of the house, and disappeared into the woods. It was decided we would seek refuge in our respective homes, claiming an argument made staying over impossible.
For Abby and I, we had the added complication of explaining the presence of our new friend from the recently vacated home. I don’t recall the exact excuse, but we walked away to lie another day. No one mentioned our missing skates.