Seven Short Tales of a Possible Body 4/15/18
1. Fear of Other Bodies
You thought it was intrinsic, genetic, unalterable to a great degree. You never considered glasses, fear, bad stuff that happened when you were a girl with two long braids to have any bearing on whether you could kick a ball, throw a ball, catch and dodge a ball, ride a bike, ride on skates, climb a tree, hang by your legs from a bar, hang by your hands from a jungle gym, swing around and come back out, go up to bat, go up to the basket, go up to the net, heart in full-on gallop, mortified, to serve the volley ball. // You do remember wiping tears and snot on the sleeve of your shirt in the parking lot of the elementary school, your mother inexplicably frustrated, enraged even, that you would not and could not learn to ride a bike. You went home defeated- you must have, but you don’t remember how it ended. Only that you were profoundly humiliated by not having a tissue, by people seeing you sob against your arm. You don’t remember having training wheels and you don’t remember taking them off and ever transporting yourself you a friend’s house. Your driveway was dirt and stones and the street you lived on was steep and without a sidewalk, so you stayed mostly in the woods making stew out of acorns, mud and water. If friends had bikes and wanted you to join them, you’d figure out a way to steer the play toward something else entirely. The Kapalbein family had foster kids and changed into play clothes when they got home and ate natural peanut butter and made everyone clear their plate at mealtime before they could be excused from the table. After dinner they’d ask, “Want to stay for soft ball?” In the back yard they’d gather like the Brady Bunch. “Oh, no thank you, I have to get home.” you’d say every time. At home you’d make draw and dress your stuffed animals and collect brown toads to take on walks around the yard in bubble wands . //
You loathed the way all eyes looked as you got up to bat. So immediately viscerally terrifying was it, that you could not keep your eye on the ball as per common advise. You could not hold steadily the bat and you had no idea how far to run even if the two were to miraculously collide. You managed to roller skate and figure skate decently enough and to dance and sing. Yes, you could sing. You could act. You taught dance to your dolls. You’d memorize commercials and monologues and do accents and play improvisational detective games in the back yard with Miranda Jutz, where you pretended to exchange bodies or minds or both, and games where you had to run through the woods rushing to erect a shelter to protect from the impending apocalyptic storm. You weren’t klutzy or unsure of where your body was in space but you were afraid of other bodies hurtling towards it, scuttling around a field or net with objects to be tracked and precisely aimed.
Steve and Doug could juggle. You watched them one summer in Steve’s parents’ back yard and you felt forever left out. They could dribble and juggle and play hacky sack. Hacky sack was beautiful you thought, mesmerizing, captivating, circles of people in chucks and vans keeping that tiny knit ball afloat. Steve and Doug, Craig and Lance and lots of people you knew who whizzed around on skateboards or roller blades with rubbery limbs and coordination you longed for. You figured it wasn’t yours to ever have. // Gordie skateboarded all over the hills of Ithaca. A group of people you were friends with did, punk kids, kids with fire engine red hair and septum rings before that was commonplace, people with vans and rings all the way up both ears. A boy friend of yours wind-surfed and taught others how to do it on the nearby lakes. He unicycled on winding vertiginous streets that were almost as severe as San Francisco’s hills, hard even for the rear wheel drive two door mustang you had to make it in the snow, hard to walk at a brisk pace with backpack on, smoke in your lungs; hard to imagine.
3. The Name of Art
That time in college someone was running after something (what prompted you to say this?) and you said to an older student you found intimidating and talented, someone whom you wished to impress as you were sitting on the steps outside Tjaden hall, “well I can’t run, I’m a smoker.” Grinning, you said it as if it was something to identify with, be proud of, the smoker-artist-cowboy-boot-ripped T-shirt-grunge-sweater-henna-haired-bidi-smoking-clove-smoking-camel-smoking-girl: expected trappings of someone like you. There were certain types of misty marriages you longed for, unions of suffering and forged-in-fire works on paper or out of steel, and you wore flecks of dried paint, badge-proud on nearly every article of clothing you owned. In this way, you could be lost for a reason. You could be unmoored and heartbroken and scared beyond belief but if you made something good, it was forgiven. In the name of art. It was going to be ok.
When you were twenty-five you worked as a teacher at an after school program in the gym of a public school. A girl named Amelia ran in each day she saw you and slid on the floor as if onto base, so happy to see you and wearing her older brother’s hockey shirts, all tomboy with delicate chiseled beautiful features, freckles, red hair. She was thin, small, affectionate, your little familiar. At christmas time you helped the kids decorate wooden spoons to hang on a huge tree for the auction for Project Hunger and you made marbleized paper and played games of tag and ball and ran around the nearby playground. A high school kid named Josh worked part time there, shooting perfect baskets, repeatedly, from extraordinary distances with a kind of serpentine ease. You found it captivating. You were envious. He asked you once, slipping you cash, “Could you do me a huge favor and get me a bottle of absolute lie-mon?” He said it exactly that way, emphasis on lie. So you did, at a local liquor store, asking for it the way he had until you saw the label at the register and realized it was limon, french. Had you known- how embarrassing- you would have pronounced it correctly. Every movement of his was soft, sprite, impossibly graceful. He was short but he could get the ball into the basket every time and he took that bottle home in a brown paper bag, thanking you. Perhaps you even dropped him there. You don’t remember.
A living stereotype stood before you with a brown helmet of shiny hair, whistle around her neck (a sound you found spectacularly jarring) some kind of ball under her arm, regiment, seriousness. Mrs. Benson. After all these years you remember. You had to sit in neat rows on the ground for attendance and then choose teams, delineated by the color of the silken, sweaty smelling mesh tank tops you pulled out of a bag, red or yellow, to be worn over your clothes. On school photo day you deliberately dressed in unsuitable shoes and a dress expressly to get out of class. Dodgeball, square-dancing, gymnastics, calisthenics, parachute games. Tall ceilings, auditorium, too much light, echoing sounds of yelling and the screech of sneakers. Red bouncy balls you sat and jumped around on. Dodge ball in crab walk. Mrs. Benson got really angry when you forgot your sneakers on picture day.
6. The Other Girls
The other girls played field hockey after school. The others were everyone but a small gaggle who hid in the art room and wore torn fishnet stockings, doc martens, vintage boots, oversized thrift store sweaters; who made mix tapes, were mixed up, had single parents, were singled out, left out, worn out, jaded. People with names like Kristy and Kerri wore rugby shirts and boat shoes and carmexed their lips. They had shiny hair and clear trajectories. They were the ones in plaid skirts and white shirts and cleats who were followed around by the androgynous coach, the gym teacher, the mother hen of jocks. They deftly scooped, scored, ran, lacrosse sticks catching, feet dancing up and down the field while you and Kim laughed and ducked or clowned around to make it funny- your distinct inability to contact the ball. Your stomach churned, every time, every game, every class.
You might stand on your hands one day, walk on them across the room, spin them into a complicated dance. You might catch, throw, juggle, swing from a bar, swing from a rope into a pond, learn how to swim without gasping for air, hike around the world. Some of the fears at this old, old age are getting fainter, lighter, fading; brain fizzing and firing with new options. Some stories should sink back like clouds behind the trees, like wind in a valley, water down a drain. Some should be invited to change their clothes and come to fancy dinner. Some make good company, or teach you something surprising as a squall, sharp as a sudden prick, a chance reunion. Some are told for hope. Some whisper and some belt it out broadway-brave, shimmering, vital. These stories? They are for you, for all of that. You’ve lived at odds with weight, beliefs, genes, choices, food, size, image, clothes, capabilities. You’ve tried to see who you could possibly be if possible was a choice. You’ve wanted more. You always have. // In part, you are an unlikely candidate for helping others with bodies and movement when both were so historically fraught. But surely if monarchs can liquify in their chrysalis and turn in no uncertain terms into primordial soup that will in three days become a butterfly, then you have perfect right to reinvent yourself. That transformation is far from switching out a few parts, adding and subtracting here and there-- it’s complete dissolution, a real annihilation. Resurrection. Chaos. Order. If that can happen, from soup to flight, then you-- you are invited to believe. If you can love the trail, the crest, the horizon holding you in its sweep, in the trees showing you how to arc into the light, then you are going to be okay.