Ode to an Ex-Derby Wife

by Clara Nipper


Ode to an Ex-Derbywife

By Cat OwtaHell

When it happened, I thought it would never end. The blissful euphoria of first falling in love with the unlikely soul mate: roller derby and then finding The One. My future derbywife. Fortunately, derby and I are still together, happier than ever, but my derbywife and me? Splitsville.

Now I am not a flake who has drama and feuds and a new best friend every week. Yes, I am a glamourpuss but also a secret goober and I am still close with childhood friends and I married my partner with our first kiss seventeen joyful years ago. So when I agreed to be a derbywife, I took it as solemnly as a judicial swearing in and thought it would last a lifetime.

When I first met-let’s call her X-we worked together and we felt a spark and a bond as a minority of sanity at our jobs. We were allies against the injustice and abuse of our workplace. X and I felt a sisterhood immediately, having identical politics, life philosophies, beliefs, values and humor. It was such a rare gift; I was convinced it was permanent. Shallow know-it-alls, egomaniacal pinheads, self-involved jerks, igmo redneck hillbilly white trash, inconsiderate tools, chatterbox chores, twisted attention vampires-all of these are too ready and available for friendship every hour of every day, but finding someone who is smart and funny, who totally gets you, who laughs at all the right times, who is so scary on the outside and so gooey and sweet on the inside, someone who is one of the two vegetarians in cattle country, who is one of the few atheists in the Bible belt, who is sex-positive, feminist with the same likes and dislikes, loves and hates and who adores cats? That happens once. So when X told me she had just started skating roller derby, I had to try it. Less than a month later, I had my own skates and we were Fresh Meat together.

We attended our very first skills boot camp together, driving four hours to another state and marveling at those skaters in the advanced skills drills. How would we ever get that good?

We had our first bout together, our jitters making our teeth chatter for the whole two-hour drive.

We upgraded to custom skates simultaneously. I got Sirens and X got Minxes. We both tried Jukes and Dubs and Turbos and Strokers. We were inseparable at practice. All the other skaters knew not to break us apart for drills or training and if we were split up to scrimmage, we became very sad like a tiny death had occurred.

We discussed equipment and practice and derby gossip and bouts so much that no one else could tolerate us; it’s like we had our own twin language. We had endless inside jokes and during every practice and bout, one of us would say, “Noggin!” and we would slam our helmets together. Yes, was my idea and yes, it’s from Finding Nemo; and yes, I warned you I was a goober. I will never forget the sound of her laughter each time we did it.

Because it is so difficult to capture good bout action photos, X and I had a ritual of taking pictures of just the two of us after every bout. In each of the photos, we are squished together like we’re on a crowded subway. If we could’ve blended skins, we would have. The happiness shining from our faces is evident-as if we’ve both come home. And slowly, but surely, over the series of pictures, we became carved into dangerous derby animals.

We took all the derby road trips together and I could convince X to do absolutely anything if I told her it was “for the team.” We hung out together away from the rink (the only skater for whom I made that exception) and shared countless meals. She was a night owl but once, just once, I managed to get her up and drag her to the farmer’s market where she walked around like a zombie in a coma. But she came all the same. When my second novel was published and I had book readings all over town, she was there every single time, front and center.

When her car started giving her problems, I planned to help her buy a new one; I was constantly on the lookout for places to rent near my house so we could be even closer; when her beloved cat had to be put down, we went to the vet’s together and whenever she got a new tattoo, haircut or lover, she showed me right away.

When we decided to make it official and become derbywives, we bought matching rings and we were eventually going to get matching tattoos, which was a huge deal for me, as that would have been my first, last and only tat. We even started planning a trip to Rollercon together.

So what the hell happened? You tell me. Your guess is probably better than mine.

Our derby team went through massive changes and it became intolerable for me to stay. So even though X begged me to remain, she knew I couldn’t. We discussed it for hours and she finally agreed and in the end, she supported my decision. She was with me when I burned all my jerseys and memorabilia. We held each other and cried. She was by my side when I picked up my skates from the rink and left forever. She remained with that team, which I supported because she had to make her own decisions, but I assumed that wouldn’t affect a bond like ours.

Later that same fateful week, I resigned from my horrible job and again, X was there, sympathizing and helping me carry my stuff to the car. And again, I assumed our relationship was stronger and bigger than our workplace and would stay intact.

The New Year came and my texts and emails were answered slowly and sporadically. I joined the derby team across town and half-heartedly hoped X would come with me but I knew she was entrenched, however unhappily with the other team. To her credit, she tried practicing with us, but ended up in an anxiety attack and weeping, saying, “it just didn’t feel right.”

I went to a home bout of our old team’s to watch her skate, but she appeared heartbroken in the lineup and never looked at me. We didn’t speak.

Then we ran into each other at a skating event and we ended up collapsed in a heap, tangled together in the center of the rink and catching up until they threw us out. She had also left her job at that toxic workplace and wasn’t really skating derby anymore.

After that, my texts and emails went unanswered for weeks and then months and I gave up.

Now, it’s a year later. I am at job heaven with a dream company; I am building a derby team from scratch and am now training our own Fresh Meat. I have just appreciated and let that time with X go as a collection of lovely experiences and a gilded era. I assume she still lives just across town but there’s nowhere farther than that if it’s over. Magic can’t be forced. I’ve lost the beautiful ring and am grateful I wasn’t foolish enough to get ink.

But I think of her-when I go to the chiropractor for the treatments we both loved; when I see anything “Hello, Kitty,” when I eat at our favorite restaurant, and most especially, those occasions in the car that catch me off-guard when I remember that time we were riding somewhere together when I said suddenly, “I can’t imagine my life without you.” She nodded and said, “I know. Me too.”

So I no longer have a derbywife and I no longer wonder why. I just know that I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Thank you, X.

Cat OwtaHell began skating derby as a Fresh Meat ‘tard with her first team in September, 2009 and by 2010 had earned the title of Captain. With two Rollercons, countless clinics and boot camps under her jamming belt, it is safe to say it’s derby until death for this Jammer Assassin. Outside the rink, Cat writes fiction (claranipper.com <--under construction), makes desserts (andyscandies.org <--under construction) and enlarges her certified wildlife habitat gardens.