Skates & Cake
I prepared this story for a live storytelling event with The Moth here in Los Angeles. The theme of the event was, “Birthdays” and my mother’s birthday just so happened to be the same week so I wrote this for her, for The Moth and for you to hear. Enjoy. ❤
I spent most of my birthdays as a kid at the roller skating rink in my hometown named, “The Rolla Rama.” I grew up in a town too small to hold any secrets. Any good ones at least. There wasn’t much to do in my hometown back in the nineties when I was growing up and even less to do there now.
So I spent most of my youth learning to skate backwards or trying to master a move skaters called, “shooting the duck.” That’s when you crouch down really low, and then you stick one of your legs out — you know what, it doesn’t matter.
Both of my parents, my aunt and grandmother all had worked at the Rolla Rama at some point in their lives. I feel like everyone my parent’s age did. It was like a rite of passage. Jobs are limited where I’m from. As a teenager you either roller skated or life guarded. Then once you got old enough to officially join the workforce, your choices were between three factories. You could assemble washer and dryers, package popcorn or clock in over on the east side of town at the Marion Power Shovel which I still have no idea what they do there. I assume something to do with electric powered shovels?
My mother assembled washers and dryers, and my father drove a forklift at that same factory. I was an only child — and not only that, I was a miracle baby. My mother was told she would never have children. Not by my father, or the government. No, a doctor told her this. She was 33 when she had me, which is just two years shy of being considered advanced maternal age, and three years over the age for most women to still get acting jobs here in Hollywood.
My mother and I were very close. Ironically, one of the last times I saw my mother alive was just a few days before her 66th birthday. We were sitting out on her old wooden porch swing when she confessed to me that she had finally sold off my cemetery plot. Yes, my mother had already picked out and paid for my grave. I hated that. It felt like I would be eventually moving back in with my mother after I died.
A few years before that, I told my mother I wanted to be cremated because I believe that one day we will all be living in some form of artificial intelligence simulation thing. I won’t need my body once we all live in the cloud and I don’t mean heaven; I mean like Dropbox.
My mother spoiled me. She would go above and beyond for my birthday parties. Endless pizzas, multiple homemade cookie trays. She would buy so much soda pop you could swim in it. She was like a middle class Willy Wonka. She would tie so many balloons to the corner booths at the Rolla Rama that they would literally float a few inches off that dirty checkered linoleum floor. The final item I could always count on was a custom made birthday cake.
Every year my mother would have a themed cake made that matched whatever life event was happening with me that year. For example, when I moved from Indiana to Los Angeles, my cake featured a cartoon version of me surfing on a tidal wave with “Have fun in California!” in delicious bright yellow icing.
When I got cast in my first film, my mother had the cake shop transform the movie poster into a giant sheet cake. “Congratulations” was written in blood red to honor the low budget horror film.
When I turned thirty, she had a cake made with the Man of Steel himself proudly displayed in riveting colors and sprinkles in the sky because her little man was turning into yup, you guessed it, a “Superman”.
I haven’t had one of my mother’s custom made cakes in six years now. However, I do have a voicemail of her singing me happy birthday one last time and I think that’s better than cake. Fewer calories too.
When someone dies, we are the ones who are left to decide how we will carry that person with us. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, the weight of loss and how heavy grief can be. How do you let go of someone without forgetting them all together? How do you carry the memory of someone with you without letting it hold you back? I think you do it just like you do everything else. Little by little. Day by day.
Each day, I let go of a little more anger, loneliness, fear. I let go of the heavy stuff and I keep what’s important to me; My mother’s voice, her laughter, the aspirations she had for me. This process feels a lot like learning how to exercise properly. I’m learning how to carry the weight with me so that it makes me stronger.
My mother’s birthday is coming up in a few days and I’m not quite sure how I plan to celebrate it yet, but I think I’ll go roller skating.