An Awesome Gap

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Around the corner, the lot opened up and the asphalt smoothed out. The rough patches disappeared and Patrick glided along, gaining speed as he headed for a concrete barrier. A half dozen of them sat angled in different directions, each with its own character and challenge. Patrick loved the soft roar of his wheels, the clack and rattle and bang of the other boards nearby, each skater doing his thing. A bunch of the guys were over checking out a gap beside the dumpster on the other side of the parking lot. Patrick wanted to check it out, too, but no way with his dad still nearby.

He couldn’t believe he’d let his dad drive him. He felt his heart speed up and it literally hurt his chest to think of his father waiting for him in his car, as if this was some lame soccer practice. Patrick first said no to the ride, even though he knew buses didn’t run to this part of town on Sundays. He’d have gotten here somehow, maybe hitched a ride. He would’ve figured something out. But then his dad turned it into a family outing and Teddy had to tag along.

“I’m happy to drive you boys to the skate park,” his dad had said as they climbed into his new car.

“It’s not a skate park, Dad. It’s just a spot.”

“All right then, skate spot.”

“Don’t call it that, either. It doesn’t sound right when you say it.”

“OK, I’ll call it that place you like to go.”

“Just don’t call it anything.”

His father offered a slight smile in the rearview mirror and Teddy let out a giggle. Patrick had pressed his forehead to the car window and seriously considered climbing out at every red light. A few blocks before they reached the spot by the river, he begged to get dropped off, but his dad said the neighborhood was too rough. As soon as he put the car in park, though, Patrick was out of there. He bolted with his board under his arm and hoped no one had seen him arrive.   

He shook his head hard now to get focused again. He went up one of the ramps, took it slow to start out, ollied off and landed it. A few more times, same thing, but then Teddy showed up beside him and said, way too loud, “That was awesome, dude!”   

Patrick wanted to ditch his little brother so bad. Skate off to the other side and act like he’d never met him before.

“Should we, like, go over there?” Teddy asked, pointing across to the higher concrete barricades where a few of the older guys were skating.

“Don’t point, man,” Patrick said.

Then he looked down at Teddy and saw him shrink to an even smaller size, if that was possible. Being Teddy had to be painful.

“Let’s just skate,” Patrick said. “That’s what we came here for, dude. You can do it.” He squeezed his little brother’s thin shoulder. “That three-stair over there is good. You can do that one.”    

Patrick offered a thumbs up before taking off again. He didn’t want to be mean, but he had to get into his own head. Too many fucking distractions, like Teddy and his father nearby. Patrick did a pop shuvit off a crumbling curb and tried to get his legs working. He started toward a gap, got psyched to do a kickflip, and landed pretty decent. Two more times, each one better, so maybe this day wasn’t going to suck after all.

He stopped and looked around and noticed one or two other guys standing above a drop, checking it out. They nodded. Patrick nodded back. He liked that. Each skater doing his own thing. He headed off again toward a curve of concrete that had been spray-painted with the words Skate and Destroy. He took the ramp and did a tail grab with decent air. It was better the next time and the time after that and the time after that. On the fifth time, Patrick landed it sketchy, so he stopped and shook out his legs.

The breeze off the river was cold, but it felt good on his sweat. Patrick didn’t pause for long, but went after another ramp and did a backside 180 again and again, each time landing it different. As the sun started to slip behind the boarded-up warehouse, he caught his breath. He spat on the ground and looked down at the brown river water, churned up and probably polluted as hell, but he liked it. He liked his town, now that he knew about places like this. Real places where real shit happened. Real people, too, not like in the suburbs where he lived. Not like his parents, who were stuck there twenty-four seven and boring as shit. They weren’t entirely lame, but they could stand to get a life.

Patrick’s dad had recently started trying to look hip and cool, which was worse than looking old. Patrick pictured his father pounding away on his laptop propped against the leather steering wheel. His mom said he needed to keep up with the younger guys at the office. They wanted to eat his lunch, whatever that meant. Patrick thought his dad needed to mellow out and stop letting his job make him psycho. Who gave a shit? He’d never be a slave to work like that, always worrying about the future and not doing what he wanted to do right now. Patrick didn’t think he wanted to go to college, though that was a long way off. Most of the pros never went. Teddy could go someday, but not him.

No one in his family got it that you had to live in the moment and do what you love to do. His dad’s old darkroom in the basement was filled with Christmas decorations now and he worked all the time to pay for stupid stuff like his new car and pointy shoes. None of those things mattered. It didn’t matter what other people thought, Patrick told himself. You just needed to fucking kill it, just kill it, because that’s what you did. That’s what he’d tell his dad if he ever asked. Then he finally landed one pretty decent.   

About a dozen guys showed up just then, skating the ramps, doing 360 flips and hardflips off the ends. These guys were serious and sponsored by the skate shop downtown. Patrick knew them all—not exactly knew them, but knew who they were. There was Jamie Lawrence, one of the best skaters in town, and Billy Wilson, whose photo had made it into Thrasher, and Rob Knox, a skateboard legend in his day. These guys didn’t know Patrick, though maybe they’d seen him around.

Patrick hadn’t told anyone, but he wanted more than anything to skate for the shop team. He wanted to work there, too. And hang out there. Hell, he’d even sleep there. He went all the time, but not so often as to be a pain in the ass like the little boys who still had their moms take them in. He couldn’t imagine standing at the counter with his mother asking stupid questions, which she would, even if she promised not to.

Patrick always went in alone and a few of the guys who worked there had started to recognize him. He saved up for new trucks or bearings. On the way over today, he’d kept the extra buck and change from the frosties his father had bought him and Teddy. He’d put it towards a new deck. His dad hadn’t even noticed, that’s how out of it he was, his mind always on work.

Shit, his dad, Patrick thought. He whipped out his cell phone and looked at the time. Just over an hour. And where the hell was Teddy? He spotted his little brother crouched near where the pros had come in. He must have been sitting there when they swarmed around him, probably scaring the piss out of him. But they wouldn’t have noticed Teddy. Who knew why no body ever noticed Teddy, but they didn’t. Patrick headed toward him, dialed his dad, and wished he’d brought some water. He was thirsty as shit.   

“Hey, Dad,” Patrick said when his father answered his cell phone.

“Patrick? I can’t hear you.”

Patrick pulled up in front of Teddy and rolled his eyes at his phone. Teddy giggled. “So hey, can we, like, keep skating?” Patrick asked.

“Son?”

“Dad?”

The cell phone cut off.

“Dumb-ass phone,” Patrick said and tucked it into his pocket. “What’s happening, little dude?” he asked Teddy and offered a fist.

Teddy butted it happily. “This place is amazing. I did that three-stair.”

“Nice, bro,” Patrick said, letting his words roll out long so Teddy could soak it in. “I knew you could do it, little man.”

The pro skaters moved past them and were taking turns being filmed by a dude who skated along next to them as they did their tricks. The camera hung loosely from his hand like a wilted flower and he was drinking a beer, so maybe not a serious shoot. They were just screwing around.   

Patrick didn’t want to show off or anything, but seeing those guys doing cool stuff made him want to go for something bigger. He took off for one of the ramps and killed it. Then he headed toward the big gap that the skate shop guys had been doing earlier. He hoped they weren’t looking his way, or maybe he hoped they were, but he had to just focus as he booked straight up the side. He had an easy approach and was going to get some real air. He knew he could nail it. Patrick rose up the rim, flew off the end, spun his board, and tried to get his legs up high enough and long enough to land clean.

When it worked, he felt suspended for a crazy long time. His mind went clear and his body did what it needed to do. But this time, the moment of flying went too fast. He recognized this feeling, too, and hated it. Gravity fucking sucked. His body started to fall before he’d gotten high enough to make his move. His feet flailed as they searched for the board. Patrick came down and the rough surface bit into his hip and hands and shoulder. Although he tried to roll away from the fall, his face skidded on the asphalt and his cheek burned and he bit his bottom lip hard.

“Shit,” he moaned and curled on his side, pulling his legs up to his chest.

Teddy ran over and bent down. “You all right, Pat?”

Looking up at Teddy from the ground made him actually look big. Patrick wanted to laugh, but he had to swallow hard to keep from crying. His brother’s face looked seriously worried. After a minute, Patrick made himself sit up and everything went fuzzy, but then got normal again. Probably not a concussion, but a shiver rose up his body and he wondered if maybe he was more messed up than he thought.    

Teddy reached out and Patrick let him pull him up by his decent hand. He leaned against his brother and started to pick bits of gravel and blood from his cheek and his palm. It stung like hell to pull them out. Patrick shook out his limbs and decided that nothing was broken. His T-shirt was torn at the shoulder, but that didn’t matter. He looked around and saw that the pros were over by the dumpster on the far side. Patrick was glad no one had been watching.

“You want to get out of here?” Teddy asked. “Like, maybe go home?”

“Fuck, no,” Patrick said, though his voice came out jittery. “It’s cool. We’re skating, man.”

Teddy nodded, but Patrick could tell he didn’t really get it. Of course you fell, Patrick wanted to tell him. You fell and you got up and skated some more. But that wasn’t the kind of thing you could explain to a person. You either got it or you didn’t. Patrick let go of Teddy and leaned on his board. The breeze was up and he noticed shadows creeping across the skate spot. Everything had gotten darker, but maybe that was just how it felt after a fall.

“Son!” his father’s voice slapped Patrick with its closeness. “What’s going on here?” His father stopped running and leaned over to catch his breath.

The pros skated past just then, right when his dad was acting so lame.

“Dad,” Patrick hissed.

“Christ, look at you. What happened?”

Patrick thought he saw Jamie Lawrence and the camera dude snicker and Patrick  turned away from his father as fast as he could, but there was no way to make him just disappear.

“Did these fellows bother you?” his father whispered hard, his face red and still panting. “I knew you were in trouble. I saw those guys arrive and then you called and we got cut off.”

“What? No. I’m fine.”

“If they bothered you—”

“No one bothered me.”

“Then what happened?”

“I fell. It’s no big deal. Really, I’m cool.”

Patrick ’s father turned to Teddy and Teddy went all quiet and fidgety, like he did when their dad was getting ready to flip out about stupid stuff, which was always. But his dad just turned back to Patrick and said, “You look terrible. We need to get you home and clean you up. Those cuts need antibiotic ointment. It’s time to go.”

No, not time to go, Patrick thought. Time to stay. Time to fucking say the thing that his father needed to hear so he’d let them stay. Patrick made his eyes go big like Teddy’s and his voice went up high.

“Isn’t this place awesome, Dad? See those ramps?” He nodded toward them like he was letting his father in on a secret. “These same skaters poured the concrete themselves and moved those barriers around to make it a cool spot.” Patrick was pointing like crazy just to show his dad the way it was out here. “See that three-stair over there? Teddy did that today. Isn’t that great?”

“I nailed it,” Teddy said, standing taller.

“And over there, the nine-stair? I nollied it twice last week.”

His father nodded a little, still not getting it.

“And that other gap, the big space next to the ledge? These guys do a monster gap like that all the time. Like it’s totally normal.”

His father looked at the groups of young men skating nearby. “These fellows here?”

Patrick hoped his father wouldn’t point at the other skaters, and he didn’t. He stepped closer to his father and talked lower now, his voice going deeper. “Those dudes are am. skaters, you know, amateurs. They’re practically pros,” Patrick said.

“What does that mean exactly? Do they get paid to skateboard?”

“No, but they’re sponsored.”

“By the skate shop downtown,” Teddy chimed in. “They’ve got an awesome team. Patrick ’s definitely good enough to be on it.”    

Patrick watched his father closely and hoped he was starting to understand.

“And what do you get if you’re sponsored?” his father asked.

He and Teddy looked at Patrick like he was some sort of expert, which Patrick  had to admit he kind of was. “Free decks whenever you need one.”

“And how much is a deck?”

“Fifty bucks.”

“That’s something.”

“Shirts, shoes, stuff like that.”

“Cool!” Teddy said.

“You could get Teddy a new baseball cap and me some new sneakers?” his dad asked with a smile and roughed up Teddy’s hair.

Patrick swallowed. It wasn’t a baseball cap if it had a skateboard logo on it. And if his father started wearing skate shoes, Patrick thought he might have to move out.

“Sure,” he said, “If I’m good enough to make the team.”

Then his father turned and looked at him hard. “So are you good enough?”

Patrick stared down at his torn shoes. After only a few weeks, rips began to appear in the same spots in every pair because he slid the same way with each trick. Hours and hours out on the driveway in the cold and then more hours in the heat of summer. Close to two years learning to do a kick-flip a few years back when he was ten. That was how long it took. He could feel a trick now in his body before he did it. He could feel it in his sleep. At the end of a good day he hurt all over, hips, legs, and back. That’s what it meant to skate like he did: hours, days, weeks, months, even years. It’s what he did. He skated a shitload and he loved it.

“He’s super-good, Dad,” Teddy said, beaming up at Patrick.  

“Thanks, dude,” Patrick said softly, because he could tell Teddy wasn’t just saying it to keep their dad mellow. He meant it.

“Your mother and I have noticed you work hard at this, son. We’re proud of you for sticking with it. You’re learning important life lessons that you can apply to anything you do. Hard work pays off and important things don’t come easily.” He squeezed Patrick ’s shoulder and Patrick nodded again at the ground.

“Thanks, Dad.”

“But, you know,” his father continued, taking his hand away. “You can’t make a living as a skateboarder and you could get seriously injured. Though it’s always good to get exercise.” He pulled in his stomach over his expensive belt. “But no point getting too serious about all this.” He stretched an arm toward the skate spot and sucked in air between his teeth in that way Patrick hated.

Patrick kept his eyes on the asphalt as it caught the light. It sparkled, as if gems were hidden beneath the surface. His dad could be such a douche. He kicked himself for thinking they might see things the same way. Patrick slammed the end of his board with his heel and it bounced on the concrete and popped upright. He caught it fast and held it at his side like a club.

“Skating isn’t exercise, Dad. And I don’t do it because it helps prepare me for something else. This is what I do.”

His father’s face froze for a moment then he let out a loud laugh. Patrick looked around to see if the other guys were watching.

“I offer you a compliment and a ride to the skate park and you give me back talk. It’s time to go, young man. Your mother can deal with you.”

Patrick squeezed his board to his chest and mumbled into it, “I didn’t exactly want you to drive me. I could’ve taken the bus.” His dad wouldn’t know the bus didn’t run on Sundays because his parents never left the ’burbs and didn’t know shit about the real world.

His father shook his head. “I can’t wait til you out grow this stage.”

Now it was Patrick ’s turn to laugh. “You too, Dad.”

“That’s enough. Get in the car.”

Patrick dropped his board and stood on it. “I’m not going.”

“Oh yes, you are, and you’re not coming back here, that’s for damn sure.”

Patrick did a kick flip right in front of his father. Then he turned and started to skate away.

“I forbid you to come here again,” his father shouted after him.

“Chill out, Dad.”

His father let out a long, low sound, more like a growl than anything else. “You can get yourself home. Come on, Teddy, let’s go.” Patrick’s father headed towards the car.

Patrick gave his father’s back the finger. Then he noticed Teddy standing there. As their dad disappeared around the corner of the old warehouse, Patrick skated back to his brother and said, “Psycho, am I right?”

“You got him really mad, Patrick. You shouldn’t do that. You sure you don’t want to come home? It’s getting dark.”

“No, I’m cool,” Patrick said and did another kick flip. “Actually, I’m great.”

“I better go.” Teddy hopped onto his board and pushed to join their father. “Come home soon, ok?” he shouted back.

As Teddy slipped around the side of the warehouse, Jamie Lawrence and the camera dude skated up to Patrick. Just like that they were there beside him. All the other skaters had left by then. It was only Patrick and the hard-core guys. Let’s skate all night, Patrick wanted to say, though of course he didn’t.   

“Hey, man,” Jamie said, tossing back his hair. “Saw you eat shit earlier. You OK?”

“I’m good.”

Patrick ’s voice came out shaky. He coughed and hoped they hadn’t heard his father being such a dick. He glanced real quick in the direction of the parking lot and wondered if maybe he should get a ride after all. The twenty-minute car ride home would save him a couple hours of difficult skating. Patrick had to admit he didn’t exactly know the way home from here.

“Listen, man,” the camera dude said. “We wanted to catch you before your old man left. That was your dad, right?” Jamie asked.

Fuck, no, Patrick thought, but he had to nod.

“We should have talked to you earlier. We want to get some footage,” the camera dude said.

Footage? Patrick wanted to ask.

“But it’d be good if we got, you know, parental permission since you’re still a pretty young kid,” Jamie said and then asked, “You are still a kid, right?”

What a totally weird question, Patrick thought. Wasn’t it obvious he was a kid? But maybe not. Maybe the fuck not. Patrick nodded again.

“How old are you, man?” Jamie Lawrence asked.

Patrick talked to his board. “Fifteen.” Might as well tell the truth, or the truth in a couple of years.

The camera dude said, “You ever land that kickflip down the gap you were trying a few weeks back?”  

His heart started beating fast as it hit him that these guys had been watching him, not just today, but for a while. The blood started going wild in his head and he felt a little faint. He nodded again and knew he had to make himself talk. “Yeah.”

“Sweet,” Jamie Lawrence said.   

“What’s your name, man?” the camera dude asked.

“Patrick.”

The camera dude offered a fist and Patrick lifted his, but they could see it was too messed up to bump. “You should get that cleaned up and bandaged. Antibiotic ointment could be good.”

“I will.”

“So, like, we’re filming this video, but you look so messed up, man, and now your dad’s gone, we’ll do it another time.”

“A skate video?”    

“We’re starting a second team with some of the younger guys,” the camera dude said. “College kids, a few high-school guys. You know, your age.”

No way was Patrick going to admit he was only in seventh grade. His eyes shot over to the real pro, Jamie Lawrence. With his pockmarked face and hair streaked with faded red highlights, he didn’t look as good as he did in the skate videos, but Patrick supposed that was how it was. Jamie nodded at him again, but he didn’t smile and Patrick was grateful. The guy wasn’t treating him like anything special, because he wasn’t. He was just a skater, like Jamie, just a guy who liked trashing his body day in and day out on the concrete.

“Hold on,” Patrick said. “I’ll go get my Dad.”

“I don’t know, man, you look pretty messed up,” the camera dude repeated.

“I’ll be right back,” Patrick shouted over his shoulder, as he took off. “Don’t leave!”

His legs felt super-weak and he couldn’t get a full breath. His hurt knee was killing him and he could feel a trickle of blood running down his shin and pooling in his sock. The wind had picked up off the river and he was cold all over, but he rounded the building and kept on. His dad’s car was still there. Patrick was suddenly psyched to tell his dad and Teddy what the skaters had said, but the engine was on and the car was shifting into reverse.

“Dad!” Patrick shouted and pressed harder, pushing himself.

The car started to pull out of the parking spot as Teddy, in the backseat, turned and noticed him. His father would stop when Teddy told him Patrick was coming—but the car kept moving, driving away from Patrick and toward the exit.

“Teddy!” Patrick shouted. “Dad!”

Patrick could see Teddy lean forward and motion behind the car, his arms flailing up and down, trying to make their father stop. Finally, the brake lights went on and the shiny new car halted. His father threw open his door and stepped out. He stood on the asphalt facing Patrick with his hands on his hips. Patrick skated up fast, stopped and bent over, seriously out of breath. His legs were shaking and his hands were shaking, too. When he looked up, his dad had that look he got, and had never seemed so big.

“Get in the car,” his father said.

“I’m sorry, Dad.”

“You bet you are. I need respect from you, young man. You need to think before you speak.”

Patrick nodded. He picked up his board and hugged it to his chest. He was trying to think before he spoke. “Those guys,” he started to say, “the pros over there—”

“I don’t want to hear another word about skateboarding.”

“They want me to try out for the team,” Patrick blurted out. “I could get sponsored. Maybe not right away, but eventually, if I skate a lot.” Patrick glanced at his brother in the backseat.  “And I really want to.”

“No way!” Teddy called through the shut window. “That’s awesome, dude!”

Patrick grinned at Teddy and Teddy grinned back—big, major grins like when they were little. But when Patrick looked back at their father, he wasn’t smiling.

“Dad,” Patrick said softer, but he didn’t know what else to say. He’d given up trying to get his father to understand. “They need your permission to film because I’m still a kid. Please, Dad?”

His father pulled back his shoulders and his chest got wider. Patrick could have sworn he was trying to look bigger and meaner than he actually was. He knew his dad wasn’t a dick, not really, he just thought he should act like one.

“I don’t think so, son. Not the way you’ve been behaving.”

Patrick placed his skateboard down on the asphalt as if it were a fragile thing. He flicked it with the side of his foot and it rolled away from them. He stepped closer to his father and bent his head. They were practically the same height now. Patrick knew that, but it still surprised him. He wondered if maybe his father was just getting used to it, too, because he bent his head in close so their foreheads almost touched.

Patrick had this weird feeling that his dad was going to do something like hug him. Something totally dorky, though it would have been OK with him, too, so long as the older guys didn’t see. But then Patrick noticed that his father’s jaw muscles were bulging and his breath was still steady and fierce. His dad was still fucking furious. Patrick wasn’t sure he’d ever seen him that way before and it made him wonder if maybe he was wrong about his father. Maybe this was who he really was, deep down. This guy with the hard face and the mean eyes that stared right through you. He looked not just cool, but cold, totally cold, like he didn’t give a shit about anything or anyone, not even his son.    

Patrick sensed an awesome gap opening up between them there on the asphalt. He recognized the feeling in his gut as he looked across the space. The distance was frightening, but there was no way around it. The truth was, you wrecked yourself more times than not. You didn’t make it some days, but you had no choice but to try again the next day.

Patrick searched for something to say to his dad that would turn things around and tighten the gap. He wanted him to understand so bad. He knew he had to go for it and not quit until he had done it right. The only way was to bend your knees low, square your shoulders to the ground, and propel yourself upwards. You launched from wherever it was you had started and whoever it was you had been. Every trick tore a hole in the sky and carried you to safety in a bright pocket of air. He told his body, his legs, his whole being to take him across to the other side. It was time to show his father how it was done.

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Image: “tunaboat” by Cody Backtail, licensed under CC 2.0

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