When I was 8 years old, I was involved in that girlhood tradition known as the Girl Scouts. To be specific, I was a Brownie – and only a Brownie – throughout my GS career. Scouting wasn’t really my thing.
Even though I wasn’t going to continue on to the next level, I still wanted to participate in the “flying up” ceremony with my friends. [For the unfamiliar, “flying up” is much like “graduating” from elementary school: An excuse to have a party while celebrating something that isn’t really a thing.] For my Brownie troop, it meant going to the local roller skating rink and acting like fools on wheels.
Have you ever been a wheelchair-using kid in this situation? It’s like coming with built-in roller skates! Here was a situation where I wasn’t just equal with my peers, but actually a cut above. I had many more hours wheeling my chair under my belt than they did on skates. Even the best of them couldn’t beat me.
The arrangement between my scout leader/mom and the owner of the rink was that I could basically do whatever I wanted so long as it was only my troop on the rink. If other patrons got on the rink, I had to pull back and behave.
Fair enough, since as far as the eye could see, it was only Girl Scouts and their parents.
At some point, another family showed up that was not involved in the flying up revelry. I don’t know when they arrived, or what their purpose was. Ostensibly, they wanted to skate. But, at the time, they were eating. They weren’t even wearing skates. Evidently, the owner thought that this was equivalent to actually skating. We were told that I had to either get off the rink completely, or I could skate by myself – ALONE. Not with my friends, not even if I stuck to the perimeter and didn’t do anything fancy like going through the middle of the rink.
Keep in mind, my mom actually talked to this family and they were totally fine with my gallivanting around like a typical 8-year-old – that happened to use a wheelchair.
It is striking me, as I write this, how absolutely horrific it was that this adult was dictating whether or not a child could play with her friends. I’m writing this from the perspective of an adult, but my memories are from the perspective of that 8-year-old girl. As an 8-year-old, it made some sort of sense that I would be given a different set of rules. I didn’t think to question it then.
Secretly, maybe my 8-year-old rebel self sort of relished the idea that this person found me “dangerous.”
Because that is what this came down to. I was a “danger” to these people who weren’t even on the rink. By the time this guy “offered” to let me on the rink alone, I had no more interest in participating. Who would?
Then the lights went off. Why? Because we wouldn’t leave. Why did the owners want us to leave? Because no one would prevent me from skating with my friends. Although, by this time, I had stopped on my own.
When cutting off the lights didn’t work, the owners called the cops. My mom retaliated by calling the local news stations. The reporter requested an interview with me, but I turned it down. I was embarrassed and angry. I do, however, vividly remember a shot of me sitting in the backseat of my family’s car outside the rink. I had recently cut off my very long, very thick hair, and it was in all its Orphan Annie glory – but brown. I was wearing a pastel T-shirt dress, most likely made by my mom. And, at this time, I was still wearing leg braces and the particular tennis shoes I had to wear with them. And I recall, quite distinctly, I was staring determinedly at said shoes because I very much did not want to look at the camera that was pointing my way.
Was this my first brush with activism? Possibly. It certainly set a precedent. If I could go back to 8-year-old me, I wouldn’t let someone who doesn’t know her determine whether she was dangerous or not.
I’d make sure they knew – she definitely is.