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Skater Girl Illustration
Original artwork by Anthony J. Powers

I Wanna Be a Skater Girl

Lizette Roman-Johnston

I have a customized skateboard. It’s pink on the underside and topped with grip tape in the shape of a Roman numeral three, also pink. It has a pointed tip, leading the way as I shred through the streets of Berkeley, my sick-nasty shadow passing through the glow of each streetlight lining the small porched houses off Shattuck Avenue. The nighttime USPS workers can’t help but watch as I roll by in my white Vans and vintage denim jacket, adorned with pins and patches from all over the country, along with a big Z stitched on the back—again, pink. The late-night walkers, their kids, and their dogs all nearly shit themselves watching me weave between menacing street pebbles by shifting my weight back and forth from toe to heel. In other words, I am a God.

That being said, I am not good at skateboarding. Recently, my boyfriend Robert asked if I ever skateboarded. I told him that I own a skateboard, back at my parents’ house in Connecticut. It was a gift from my college boyfriend, who fancied himself a skilled craftsman, which he was, considering he built me a skateboard and also made the ‘Z’ patch on the back of my denim jacket. But the source of these aesthetic-defining pieces no longer matters. They are mine now. They are, according to my friends, soooo Lizette.

I don’t remember using my skateboard much since college, though I’d keep it in the back of my car in case I needed any cool points. One of the times I did ride it was for a music video I made, in which I played the role of a liberal arts fuckboy. I shot the video while visiting my college campus months after graduating. The parking lot outside the dorms was flat enough for me to roll with enough stability, and my video editing managed to disguise any dweeby wobbling.

Robert has seen this video and referenced it when he asked if I skated. “You looked like you knew what you were doing,” he said. Cha ching, I thought. Fooled ‘em. His next words made my eyes twinkle: “You seem like someone who’d skateboard. It fits your aesthetic.”

Oh, hell yeah.

Within minutes, I texted my mom asking if she’d be able to ship my skateboard to California. She replied within minutes, saying she could ship it out the upcoming Friday. I put my phone on the coffee table and told Robert, “I have decided to be really good at skateboarding.”

In the week waiting for the package to arrive, I did a lot of skating-related Googling:
Adult large pink skateboarding helmet
Backpack that holds skateboard
Skateboarding tether so it doesn’t roll away when I jump off

Before I decided I would adopt skateboarding as my new personality, I had been shopping on Facebook Market for a bike and even drove to West Oakland to test-ride a pastel blue bike that would have taken my aesthetic game to new heights. Seconds after straddling the tall seat, I teetered in a very uncool manner, nearly falling to the cracked asphalt in front of the seller (and everyone else in their neighborhood) because I never knew how far away the handlebars were on a city bike. Because of how adorable the bike looked, how much pastel blue complements my signature pink, I am very proud of myself for driving home without it. I’ve never really seen myself as a bike person anyway.

Soon I really didn’t mind being bikeless, because I had a cooler form of transportation on the way. I’d still have to run tedious errands, like go to the post office or the pharmacy, but how much cooler would I look waiting in line for my antidepressants with a dope-ass skateboard at my feet? I’d soon be rolling past all the suckers on foot, all the stray cats who’d watch in awe and go Meowee, that’s one cool girl. Hopefully they wouldn’t think I was a complete square for all the padding I’d be wearing. But I was set on buying cool-looking pads from Zumiez or… does Vans sell padding? Wherever the real skaters go to party.

Instead of doing grad school homework one afternoon, I used my time to shop online. Turns out the nearest Zumiez has curbside pickup. I checked the time and decided that I could make the trip before my evening class on Zoom. But when I browsed, nothing I saw was sooo Lizette. Nothing was worth driving ten minutes to interact with strangers who knew everything about skating and might have made fun of me for whatever ignorance, whatever uncoolness, I let seep through. So I ended up buying nothing.

Instead I daydreamed:
I am in pursuit of the park, skateboarding, either on the sidewalk or in the bike lane (I don’t know the rules yet… for daydreaming’s sake, let’s say I’m on the sidewalk). I expertly weave through pedestrians, dodging even the most unpredictable of children and chihuahuas. They all wish they were me, including the dogs, who now imagine themselves rolling down Bone Street wearing a bandana that reads “Supreme.” The early evening glow surrounds my silhouette like a halo, and the flash of denim and pink grows smaller and smaller as I leave them in the dust and they watch me use my big, long legs to pump my way into the sunset.

It was seven p.m. on a Thursday night when I opened the front door to see a long box. When I saw my name and address written in my mom’s weird loopy handwriting, I gasped and ducked my head back inside. “My skateboard is here!” I told Robert. My mom said it would come Friday, but here it was, like Christmas coming early.

I dragged the box inside, allowing it to take up nearly all the walking space in our tiny one-bedroom apartment. Robert smiled at my excitement — “You’re so juiced, I love it!” — and went to grab the scissors.

Before he could find them, I started digging my nails beneath the packing tape and tearing it off (“the monster method,” I call it). And, once I stood over the open box, red-faced and panting, I saw it: my ticket to Cool Town.

My grad school friend Nick and I play tennis at a local park every now and then, and soon after I got my skateboard, we made plans to test it out on the blacktop next to the courts. Nick watched as I velcroed all my pads on, the ones I had settled on because a Walmart Instacart order meant I didn’t have to interact with real skaters, nor did I have to wait more than an hour for a package to arrive. Nick and I laughed because I looked like one of the little kids gearing up to ride their rainbow-tassled bicycles and plastic roller skates. I didn’t feel particularly cool, but I settled for silly. It was all part of the process.

The late-autumn sun was setting and the LED lights had flicked on like spotlights looking down on me and my board. “So, uh, ya know,” I said to Nick, “if at any point I look cool and competent, feel free to take a picture of me.”

He nodded, knowing what this meant to me. “Oh yeah, I gotchu.”

I bent over to reposition the board, setting myself up with the least precarious launching angle. I stood back upright, squinted at the board, then crouched down to adjust the tip once more. I said “okay” a bunch of times and nodded while Nick said, “You got this.” Soon, I was ready to place my left foot on the deck and take a deep breath. I bent my knee slightly, planted my right foot on the asphalt, and pushed off. And it went fine. (No good pictures, though.)

Since my skateboard arrived in California, I have only taken one selfie with it. Or I took maybe ten selfies but only posted one on social media. I took them on my street, next to my candy-red Jeep. I was wearing one of my dad’s old Hawaiian shirts he had shipped to me per my request. I had on white clout sunglasses (very Harry Styles circa 2018), with my blonde hair in a low bun under the brim of my backwards camo baseball cap. Until I realized how lame it would look in a selfie, I was wearing my helmet, because, yes, I had actually been skating.

My intention had been to skate to the convenience store to pick up a RedBull and a pack of American Spirits, but, after failing to roll myself up the five-degree incline, I resorted to walking while holding my skateboard, entering the convenience store with a too-small Walmart helmet sort of perched atop my head. On my way back, though, gravity helped me roll a few blocks down my street. I probably looked pathetic jumping off my board at every stop sign, but I earned that selfie.

My next trip to the convenience store was the day I dyed my hair pink. I considered bringing my skateboard then, but decided to leave it in my car; one set of wheels on the passenger’s seat, the other on the floor, among cigarette butts, expired CVS coupons, and broken aux cords. I felt the skateboarding fire dwindling down, before I got good at it, before it truly became part of my aesthetic. Kind of like when I was eighteen and wanted to know everything about astrology and dreamt about getting a tattoo of a crab on one shoulder and a lion on the other because I had just learned I was a Cancer-Leo cusp. Or like when people told me I should model because I’m tall and, for three months, my entire Tumblr consisted of photos of runway models wearing Balmain, Valentino, Fendi — designers I don’t like now and probably didn’t like then either.

When I walked to the convenience store with pink hair and no skateboard, I tried to smother the voice in my head that told me I’d never ride my skateboard again. That I was just doing that thing I do. That some neurodivergent people do. Fixating on new hobbies. Searching for an identity. Piecing one together based on what others say.

I entered the convenience store and texted Nick: It’s fine that I am without skateboard. I have cool hair now.

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