Alone in an urgent care exam room–with a shoe on one foot and a makeshift paper towel tourniquet on the other–I have time to contemplate time and existence.
But I don’t.
Instead I stay glued to my phone reading the infinite Big Lebowski references my husband is punching into social media at my expense. He is safely nestled in the facility waiting room because he is prone to fainting at the sight of blood and it’s his birthday after all. Sometimes when you are married to me you get a print of Teddy Roosevelt pumping Sasquatch full of bullets for your birthday and sometimes you get to drive me to an Urgent Care. Don’t feel too bad, he knew all this when he married me.
I tuck my phone away when the nurse’s aide comes in to take my vitals and suddenly become self-conscious about the aesthetic state of my feet. I explain away the broken and blackened toenails, the healing calluses with my usual excuse: I play roller derby.
Which is sort of a lie. I haven’t skated in a month. I stumble trying to explain that I’ve retired, but the explanation comes out mush. So I perpetuate the lie when the nurse proper comes in to take a gander at my injury because it’s just easier.
The last time I was in this Urgent Care–six months prior I fell off my bicycle directly onto my head–I was a proper wheeled warrior. I was unconcerned with the momentary memory loss my concussion caused and eager to convince my attending physician that I was fit to play in Las Vegas at the end of the week.
Now in derby retirement I wonder why I am even bothering to save my baby toe. I don’t need it, I have nine other ones. It’s not like I have to skate in the weekend’s game anyway. It could rot off and my dog could bury it in the backyard and my life would go on pretty much as normal.
When the doctor comes in, I lay facedown on the exam table to give him good access to the underside of my foot. I use the time to think of other pieces of my body and realize my derby butt and skater’s thighs are once again beefy without purpose. I am just a person. When wearing civilian clothing it was always fun to pretend as if I were stuffing Superman’s bod into Clark Kent’s suit. It entertained me to shove Chewblocka into April’s discount rack wardrobe. Now I just get dressed.
As the doctor numbs my foot, he mentions that he works for the local community radio station as a DJ. He mentions it to draw a link to my derby family, but beneath the tacit connection I hear the sense of pride in his alter ego. I understand why, the radio station is one of the things that make my city great. Every two hours the programming changes so you can be kicking it to surf rock when you go into the grocery store and zydeco when you come out. My doctor can save a life or my toe and yet I get the sense that he’d rather be saving the world through his playlist.
As a fan of the sequential arts, I am familiar with the rhetoric of superhero secret identities. Whole dissertations get written about the balance between Bruce Wayne and Batman, Peter Parker and Spider-man, Hank Pym and Ant-man. But, some folks negotiate that same balancing act without the benefit of a utility belt or alien strength. While my derby career drew an easy mental parallel to masked men because of my goofy moniker and drawer full of shiny spandex, plenty of people like the doctor stitching my toe back together walk a tightrope between identities. Whether stockpiling canvasses in an attic art room, being the big foot on the kickball field, or covering the world with guerilla knitting, some of us find identity in what others would consider mere hobbies. My father has a great corporate job, but he is truly himself with his camera in hand documenting the delicacy of his surroundings. He doesn’t wear tights, but he heroically trudges through snow and the crowds at air shows to capture the world in his lens.
I started playing derby when I was 24. I am now much, much older. In the intervening years, I slowly let my spandex clad alter ego inhabit more and more space. Like some sort of late onset chimerism, Chewie started to take up all the room in April’s body, house, schedule, and brain. Chewie even sucked all of the air out of other potential identities. My latent fictionalist, illustrator, and swimmer selves all found little room to breathe as I allowed Chewie to suffocate them one by one. Even April proper, with a couple decades of pre-derby personal history on the books, eventually embodied less space. So much that even my fella still calls out Chewie to get my attention in crowded spaces.
I quit derby to start building the other half of me; to find a vocation outside of the rink and maybe reroute my spiritual life as well. But putting my skates away has revealed just how little there is left of me. Nearly all of my confidence and pride relates to Chewie and skating, without her I am a heap of insecurities and what-ifs. It’s a weird exercise to try to summon the confidence and composure you know you possess only to find that your shoes need to roll to access it.
Due to the numbing agent injected into my foot, getting three stitches from a community radio DJ feels like nothing at all. Even when the numbness wears off, I barely feel the stitches or think about my toe. After a month, it’s as though the accident never happened at all.
I’d like to think that even in retirement Bruce Wayne feels compelled to slip down the fireman’s pole to the cave beneath Wayne Manor and sport his cowl in private to remember his better half. In the shower or washing the dishes I still fight myself about resurrecting Chewie. And in my moments of greatest self-doubt, now that my toe is healed, I slip my feet into my dusty skates and pace the limited square footage of my basement to think about who I am–and plot who I want to become next.