The Middle

In one of my efforts to keep fitness fun, I bought rollerblades. The Amazon delivery guy left them at my door, and I was already waiting in my tall socks on the couch when he knocked. It took me only a minute to tug them on and head out to my alleyway—the only non-car patch of concrete in Los Angeles. 

I clutched the courtyard gate for awhile, staring at the small drainage slope I'd have to cross. As soon as I let go, I skidded on a broken patch of asphalt and fell. I touched my thigh, pressing to test the depth of the damage. Small, red dots started to appear through the fabric and the brightness of the pain registered like scalding water down my leg.

I suddenly felt 12 years old again, biking to a friend’s early in the morning. Her parent’s new refrigerator had been delivered the day before and we planned to turn the box into a five-story Barbie mansion. I hit the curb wrong and my bike tires skidded sideways. Sliding on the pavement, I ruined my new Hawaiian-print summer shorts. I had to climb back on my bike and the mottled skin on my leg stretched and bled, staining my socks as I rode. When I arrived, her mother gave me Advil and a ziplock of ice cubes. My friend and I worked all morning, our palms and thumbs aching from cutting the cardboard for paddock dividers; we decided to make a stable for our toy horses instead.

That evening, I went to hang out with some friends from school. The cutest boy in my class would be there—mom was driving us all to the movies. I took off my shorts and bloody socks, surveying my scratched leg, and I stepped into the shower. The water stung the white-streaked, red flesh. I shaved my legs because it was still a right of passage into teen-hood. I carefully guided the razor around the scrape with the care of a sculptor smoothing clay. Looking closely at the raw rips on my shin, I could see the hair sticking up, soldier straight. Should I use fingernail scissors to cut it? It’s too big for a band aid. I knew in the coming weeks, hard scabs would mingle with the prickly hair, and I would touch it while I was in class, grimacing at the odd texture.

I covered up the scrape that night, not wanting my school friends to see my clumsiness. I’d tell them I was playing tennis, if they asked. I wasn’t sure any of them rode bikes anymore. We sat around and listened to music in someone’s house after the movie. I listened to them talk about who liked who, which teacher was a “bitch.” It was forced cursing, wielded like an awkward weapon, too heavy for their acne-ringed mouths. We all noticed but no one dared buck the system. When I got home, I slept in the bandage, the next morning I didn’t bother to change it. I was going back to finish the horse stable. I walked so I could hobble, rather than pull the scabbed skin with each flex of my ankle on the pedal.

Neighborhood friends are those you can stay young with, longer. Their house is close, so you run the risk of seeing them every day, and developing long-standing hobby habits. Things you’d have given up with puberty—like Barbies or coloring—you can keep alive with neighborhood friends. School friends are for aging up. They teach you about which of your shoes are uncool, and they pluck your eyebrows for the first time in the five minutes after gym class before the bell rings for lunch.

In those middling years, I’d bike to the pharmacy and spend an hour choosing a new razor—are four blades enough or do I need five? But I’d also buy a ring pop, or a small, poorly made, velveteen plastic horse.

In my alleyway, I stayed glued to the pavement with my legs still out, looking around for neighbors who were peeking through their blinds. I groaned when I moved and unstrapped the clunky plastic boots from my feet. That afternoon, I stood under the shower nozzle, feeling the stinging flesh, waiting for the sensation to go away. 

It had been a long time since I was stuck in that middle-school-middle, where I was still playing with Barbies, and playing at growing up. Now I'm in the new middle—building businesses and paying bills, still staying in youth hostels while traveling, my search history showing a hunt for the perfect wrinkle cream.

I grabbed my four-blade razor and hesitated for a moment, trying to remember how to shave around a scrape.