“Are you all right, Dan?”

The room was spinning. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the garish lights reflecting off the mirror ball suspended from the ceiling, the blaring techno-pop music or the fact that I’d just done an epic seat-of-your-pants pratfall in the middle of the roller rink.

Feet were not meant to have wheels.

“Did you get hurt?” she asked, looking down on me with concern. Her name was Maddie … “Maddie with an i-e” she pointed out the first time we met.

“I’m fine. Fortunately, the floor broke my fall.”

She rolled her eyes and made a tsk-tsk sound that I could hear over the sound of the music.

She held out her hand. “Can I help you up?” I was pretty sure that a 7-year-old girl who couldn’t have weighed 50 pounds dripping wet wasn’t going to help get me back into an upright position, especially with both of us on roller skates.

I flopped over awkwardly onto my hands and knees and tried unsuccessfully to get my feet under me; if one foot wasn’t rolling off in some random direction, the other one was. The only time I was close to getting them to work together, I had to pull my hands out of harm’s way so a kid skating backward while trying to stuff a few more Milk Duds into his mouth wouldn’t roll over my fingers. I still had fingers, but I was back on the seat of my pants in the middle of the floor.

The kids were having too much fun at my expense: “Hey, Dan! Did you have a nice TRIP?!” and “So long, Dan … see you in the FALL!!” Memo to self: Never again chaperone an elementary school field trip to a roller rink.

“I think I’ll just stay here,” I said.

“You CAN’T stay here!” Maddie protested.

“Why not?”

“This is where they do the limbo contest!” She held a hand horizontally against her hip: “I can go this low! Let me help you up …”

The Power Puff Girls were flying defiantly across the front of her sparkly pink T-shirt. Her skates were the same shade of pink, and her blue jeans had flowers embroidered around the cuffs. I got back onto my hands and knees, then managed to lean back so I was squatting on the heels of my skates. My knees were not happy.

“Take my hands,” she said. “Then put one skate on the floor, then the other one!”

She was small but stronger than she looked, and after nearly pulling her to the floor on the first attempt she managed to help me up.

“There! That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

I had to smile; it’s the kind of comment grown-ups use on kids after tricking them into eating liver, getting a flu shot and kissing an elderly relative who smells like mothballs.

“Not too bad,” I said. “Thanks for the help.”

“Are you going to skate some more?”

She was just being kind, using the word “skate” to describe what I’d been doing.

“Maybe I’ll just sit and have a Coke,” I said, hooking a thumb in the direction of the concession stand. It was halfway across the room; I probably should have stayed on my hands and knees and crawled there. “I’m just not getting the hang of skating.”

“It’s easy!” she said, and as an exclamation point she skated a couple of circles around me and ended with a rolling pirouette.

“Easy for YOU …” I pointed out.

“Skate with me,” she said, holding out her hands again. “Just once around … then you’ll know how to do it!”

I wondered how many times Emergency Room doctors have heard patients say “I was just going to go once around …”

“OK,” I said, against my better judgment. “Once around.”

I put my big hand in her little one.

“Your hand is sweaty!” she said. I wiped my hand on the front of my shirt and gave it back to her.

“We’ll go slow,” she said. “Like baby steps.”

We stayed next to the wall and inched along as the other skaters sailed past us. But we were moving, and I stayed upright.

“You should really wear a helmet,” she said as we rounded the corner at the far end of the rink.

“YOU don’t wear a helmet.”

“I don’t fall down.”

Touché.

I’d never join the Roller Derby, but we finally coasted to a stop where the skating rink transitioned to thin carpeting that had long ago given up under the pressures of roller skates and spilled pop.

“See? That wasn’t so hard!”

“Not too bad,” I agreed. “But I think we’d better go again … just once more around.” And we did.

Memo to self: It’s OK if you fall down, especially when there’s someone there to help you get back up.

Sometimes it’s a 7-year-old girl named Maddie … with an i-e.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.

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