The Way Back Tonight
Written in 2023 inspired by Pink video with the roller skating
Something happens to a person as they age. They slow down, they understand risk a bit better, and they look older. Most people can handle the first two with grace, but the third is hard to deal with.
The problem with looking older is that the mind still recognizes all the risks and all the fun that was had as a kid, not as the distant past, but as recent. The average person does not look at themselves in their forties and say I'm older now, time to slow down, time to be responsible and start being boring.
No matter how much the mind will fight the fact that age has taken a toll, the youth of the world will make sure it is obvious. Maybe some kids are nice and respectful and they will not outright laugh and goad a person. But, their style, their music, their radical ideologies will point it out for them.
That is where Dillon is in life. Driving his seventeen year old daughter home from work because she had her car taken away. One night of drinking underage and sneaking boys into her room resulted in what hopefully will keep her on the straight and narrow for a little while.
Dillon eyes his daughter in the rear-view mirror not daring to make conversation knowing it will end in teenage insolence. Instead, he taps his phone to play a song that he thinks is "bitchin'". He bobs his head while watching the cars in the other lanes for a chance to get over. When the bass hits Dillon pumps his fist and turns up the volume.
His thoughts flip back and forth between cruising around town with his friends in high school and how the song is so much deeper than the random music his daughter listens to.
He starts to bang his head a little while checking on his daughter in the back seat. She sees his glance towards her in the rear-view mirror. She rolls her eyes and turns to look out the window.
She says nothing, but the idea is obvious. The question that is on the tip of the conversation, "How old is this music?" He knows she is thinking it and it drives him mad because now that he thinks about it, the song is ancient. The song is thirty years old. An aggravating thought because Dillon cannot believe he is that old himself.
He turns the volume down and sulks in his own form of moodiness. 'It's not like I'm that old. I still have a lot of good times to come.' His thoughts are almost mocking him.
Arriving home Dillon's daughter runs to her room to spend as much time with her screens as she can. Dillon is left to make dinner for the both of them so they can “eat dinner together”, otherwise known as sitting in silence for twenty minutes.
The cabinet is full of options that twenty years ago Dillon would have jumped on. They have macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, Chef Boyardi... There is little in the way of protein, vegetables, and fruit.
He moves to the fridge while cursing his ex-wife in the back of his mind. She always got onto him about eating healthier, now, with her gone he has fallen back on old habits.
The fridge is not much better. Lots of soda and beer, some pudding cups and expired milk.
He opens the freezer and immediately grabs a couple frozen pot pies. He knows he is not serving his daughter a nutritious meal, but he keeps trying to convince himself of it by thinking a chicken pot pie is the same things as baked chicken and peas.
His phone dings bringing up his reminder to pay the mortgage. Another thing that only got done because, Donna, his ex-wife had a schedule. After he tosses the frozen pies into the microwave, he swipes through his phone to get the mortgage paid.
After a few minutes Dillon pulls out the pot pies and plates them onto old plastic serving dishes he got at some Walmart in some past decade.
His daughter comes to eat after he beckons her with unintelligible shouts. She speaks to the air while holding her phone, "I have to go. Having dinner with Sunday Dad." She pulls the small earpiece from her ear and sits down at the table across from Dillon.
He stabs at his pie trying to mix the goo with the food. "I wish you wouldn't call me Sunday Dad."
She deepens her voice mimicking her father, "I wish you would see me more than once a week."
The comment stabs at him, but he understands. He is not the father he thought he would be. In his mind he is happy there is no step-father he is contending with because he seems like a poor option for a father. In fact, Donna seems to as eternally single as he does.
They both play with their food pretending that they can stomach it, but neither one feels it should be referred to as food. To break the discomfort, Dillon asks what she is looking at on her phone. She slides the phone across the table to reveal a drawing of a black rose and a drawing of a stitched heart. She looks up and says, "One of those is going to be my first tattoo in a few months when I turn eighteen. Which is better?"
Dillon wanting desperately to be the cool parent and understand the fad, "Where are you going to get it?"
She points to the side of her forehead and draws a line with her pointer finger around to her temple, "Flower". She then places her palm on the side of her neck, "heart".
"You should put tattoos where you can cover them up." His words are meant to be constructive, but it is just another example of his age.
"No cares nowadays, Sunday Dad!" She storms out of the dining room.
Dillon sighs as he cleans up dinner. Knowing what a mess it would be to clean up later he gets everything in the dishwasher.
The clock says it is seven in the evening. He eyes the whiskey bottle and the couch. As much as he would love to have a fun night, he knows it will consist of drinking himself asleep on the couch by nine after watching a few sitcoms from his teenage years on TV Land.
His phone vibrates and he glances at it not expecting to answer. The image of Donna appears on the screen and he reluctantly answers.
"What now? Did I forget an alimony check?" He knows initiating a conversation this way will most likely result in a fight, but he does not care at the moment.
"Shut up!" Donna was never one to take an insult. "I heard about a thing going on tonight. I want to go, but I don't know anyone. And don't take this to mean anything, but do you want to do something tonight?"
Five years earlier Dillon would have jumped at the idea and used it as a way to save their marriage. Now Dillon is suspect of any courteous gesture from Donna.
He hesitates before answering, but his mind is pleading for a break from their daughter. "You know what Donna? Yes, let’s go to whatever it is you are wanting to do tonight."
Details are discussed and Dillon agrees to meet Donna there. He spends more time than he has in a year trying on clothes trying to find the right ensemble for the occasion. He thinks how amused his daughter would be to watch him get ready. Not only has she never seen her father try to decide on apparel, but, to her they would all look the same. Baggy jeans, band t-shirt and blue flannel? Maybe, baggy cargo pants, old retail shirt, and grey flannel? He finally makes a decision on baggy jeans, old retail shirt, and red flannel. He likes the contrast of the red on the blue of his decades old Blockbuster Video shirt.
He knocks on his daughter’s bedroom door. "I'm going out tonight. Call if you need anything." He starts to leave, but hears the door open from behind him. His daughter peers out of the slightly opened door. She intends on pouting, fishing for sympathy she can bank away in case she needs it tomorrow. But the second she lays eyes on her father wearing clothes too big for him she burst out in laughter. "You look homeless."
Dillon rolls his eyes, "I'll be home before midnight."
"Where are you going?" She demands.
"You don't need to know where I am twenty-four-seven." He smiles internally because she said those exact words to him two days earlier. "Out with a friend." He gives in letting the exhaustion of life become vocal in his breath.
"On a date?" She was mortified.
"No. Just going to a party with an old friend." He looks at her as if he wants her to challenge him.
"Then have fun." She continues to talk to herself as she closes the door. "I hope it isn't a date or you'll be home way sooner than midnight."
Dillon laughs at the ridiculousness of the situation. His daughter is staying home and laughing at his idiotic clothing choices while he hides the idea that he is going out with her mother. The tables seem to have turned.
He arrives at Quad Academy. It is a small, old building just outside of a forty-year-old neighborhood. He scans the parking lot for Donna's car. Usure if she is there, he decides to head on in rather than sit and wait. He is afraid the longer he remains outside, the more likely it is for him to go back home and return to his adult life right away.
Inside the building is a woman at a window. She has seen better days, but through all the premature wrinkles and thinning hair she half smiles at the customers while she continuously smokes her cigarette. She points to the flyer next to her. Dillon takes it, noticing the twenty-dollar cover, and hands her his debit card. The older woman finally speaks with a voice beaten up by the tar sticks, "Size honey?"
Dillon walks through the door to reveal one of his old stomping grounds. The size ten quad skates are on the counter next to him. The old snack bar is to his left and the right houses the old roller rink complete with mirror ball. In the corner a DJ sits in a booth high above the floor on a pillar of short wall carpet.
Dillon walks to the benches with the little cubbies for the patron’s shoes and he starts to put the roller skates on.
Donna runs up behind him and covers his eyes.
Before she can ask the question, he blurts out, "Donna!" She comes around and they exchange a quick hug.
She sits next to him and tries to clear the air, "I hope this isn't weird. I saw the flyer on Facebook and how could I skip a nineties party, at our old roller rink, when it is eighteen and up?" She smiles hoping it is a friendly gesture.
"Not weird. We had an amicable break. Everything is fine. Lets just forget everything and let it be 1996 tonight."
They agree and put on their skates. By the time they hit the rink they look like an they belong together. They accidentally brought matching flannels although Donna's is tied around her waist. She has the big hair, the scrunchie, and a babydoll dress with baggy jean underneath. They look like they just stepped back into the 90s. Anyone who was around back then would see them as adults playing dress up, but they believe they are back in their youth.
They both remember how to skate, maybe not as well as before, but there is no falling. The crowd that shows up is sparse, but all people hoping to forget their day life and just be a kid again.
They skate through songs by Michael Jackson, Ace of Base, Smashing Pumpkins, and Vanilla Ice. They take a break and Dillon skates up to the snack bar getting him and Donna some nachos and a couple of large Cokes.
She is waiting for him on the benches. He skates over to her handing her a large cup. She reaches for her purse in the cubby, but he shakes her off, "I got this."
She smiles at the childish form of chivalry. They each eat some nachos until the yellow goo starts to upset their stomachs.
Dillon gets up to go back to the rink when Donna pulls him back down. She reaches into her cubby and pulls out a pint of rum. She splits it between their cups.
Dillon looks around feeling the rush he did as a kid when he was breaking the rules. He sees no one paying them any attention so he starts to drink.
The activity, although not dangerous as an adult, is still fun and adrenaline filled at since they are at the roller rink. Wanting to finish their drinks before they get back on the rink, they skate over to the corner where the rink has three old video game cabinets.
A couple is wedged behind the Donkey Kong arcade cabinets sneaking a cigarette. The man is wearing all black with chains and ties hanging from his pants while the woman he is with matches with a tall black mohawk.
Donna jokes, "I don't think you are supposed to smoke in here."
Mohawk girl laughs while keeping an eye peeled for any workers, "We are rule breakers!" They both make devil horns with their hands and stick out their tongues.
Donna responds, "Kick ass!" She hands her soda over to the woman who takes a small sip.
Her mohawk bounces with her head movement, "Smart! But this is a nineties party, should have gone with Zima or Goldschlager."
They all laughed at the memories the comment brings up.
After finishing everyone's chosen disallowed activity, they end up on the roller rink. They skate as a group feeling the fun and excitement of the speed under their feet.
There is a short moment of feeling those butterflies in everyone’s stomach when the DJ calls out couple’s skate and plays Unchained Melody.
How naturally Dillon and Donna fall into the correct role and hold each other’s hand as they roll in circles is proof that time is not as linear as the world assumes. He feels lucky to be holding her hand and she feels safe with him by her side.
As the song slows to an end and the night is coming closer to its finale, the DJ turns on YMCA by the Village People. Everyone in the room starts with the hand signs.
They are all screaming the words, skating as fast as they can, dancing to the music, and perfectly choreographing the chorus with their arms. It is the perfect moment of belonging to a group and a time. They are all children again and it is the mid-nineties.
Donna and Dillon drank their drinks a bit faster than they should have. They end the night in the corner next to the Donkey Kong machine, in each other’s arms making out like two teenagers in puppy love.
When the lights come up signaling closing time everything slowly comes back into focus of their real life. Dillon pulls away from his ex-wife laughing at the idea they ended up kissing each other. Everyone puts their shoes back on and returns their skates.
The new friends whose black hair dye becomes obviously sprayed on in the light and the woman's mohawk is largely fallen into a fairly normal looking style of long hair.
Phone numbers are exchanged, hands are shaken, promises of meeting again are given. But after it is all over everyone goes home alone.
Dillon and Donna do not need to discuss the night, they both know it was not their adult selves in that moment. It was them as children given the opportunity to make one new memory.
When Dillon arrives home he calls out to his daughter, "I'm home."
She comes in the room to greet her father and notices a bit of lipstick on the corner of his mouth. "Dad! I think you might have just come back from a date."
He smiles at her appreciating all the times in her life she still has to come. “Nope. Just a relic of a memory.”