A gymnastics leap across the padded floor, pink and light blue leotard, the squeak of springs from the trampolines pulsing in the background. It smells like sweat and powder. Wide open cinderblock paradise, pink scrunchie pulled into dirty blonde ponytail, she confidently waltzes to the top of the balance beam. Could-be 1986 Olympic champion, she looks the part.
I tumble out of bed to face cheap carpet floor, startled by my abrupt transition into waking life. Saves The Day song on In Reverie. One of my absolute favorites.
But this past gymnast raises her arms, counts to herself in her head and takes two tentative steps before cartwheeling alone the balance beam. She cannot get enough, running over to the high bar and wringing herself out, rotating over and over like she is her own planet. She is a star. No one watches. No one notices, but she beams bright. If one would cast a glance, they would be absorbed by her beauty in motion. Handsprings on the blue mat, forward roll tumble, tucked chin, and launching forward. Intentional. Daylight dream ender – unintentional.
Unconditional. A song by The Bravery. One of my favorites. Tony Hawk Soundtrack. My youth; Was it wasted? Simple syrup clarity, sticky but worry-free. PSE&G. Who powers it all? Who can I call to complain? Is it even worth it?
An animator, an artist sketches in pencil of that gymnast tumbling, going through the motions one frame at a time. He is older and grey, absorbed in this task. The girl is faceless and silhouetted. I think I’ve seen her on a school handout advertising Tumbling. But I opted for soccer instead, even though I hated it. No one really talks about the art of fitting it and how it effects us our whole lives.
We all tumble through life, some with more enthusiasm than others. For some it’s more accidental. There’s no way we walk the balance beam without a misstep or mistake. Especially when our bodies are not built for that environment. It’s hard, it’s really tough.
Fall in slow motion and you can lean on me. I’ll be your table. Down on all fours, I’ll support your back. I won’t let you fall even if it means you having to fall on me. My strong back will keep you off the ground and keep you safe, especially when the ground is lava. I won’t mind if it burns my hands, I will stay rigid and strong. Until all I have are the stumps of my wrists and ankles. But I will be your table. I will be there for you. The gods of Mount Olympus will transform me into well-sanded and polished walnut or mahogany or cherry. I will be smooth to touch and smell like I was just carved, I was just sanded. I am more than driftwood, but even if I was driftwood, I would own it I would rock it. It wouldn’t be so bad. I will hold this shape until I know you’re alright and if you’re never alright, I’ll hold this shape until the death of you or me. I am strong and supported. All my energy concentrated. I’m concentrating on it. Do you smell trouble on the horizon of a cold, frigid sunrise? Does it smell like no trouble at all? I taste the woodshop, flecks of bark and tree flesh dust my feet as I walk across. I see nothing but the space right above my hands. I close my eyes more than I open them. I need to get balanced get right. Blisters will form at my hands as I hold this shape, even though my hands will likely go numb. I can’t feel them. Cold tingly fear, like I’ll never feel them again. And it gets like this in meditation, well – without the pins and needles. But when you close your eyes, your hands just (my hands just) disappear. Where are they if I can’t feel them? Phantom limb with it all still attached? The smell of woodworking gets caught up in my nostrils. Sharp, but mellow. Sweet, but still sharp. To take one of the shavings and put it to your lips would probably taste just like a communion cracker. No flavor, but a wheat aftertaste. Bland and disappointing. But these wood shavings are not for eating. Imagine running your hand opposite the unsanded grain get deliberately getting splinters. I could karate chop this thing in half. I could throw it at the wall. I remember flipping the coffee table in a blind rage when I didn’t get accepted to Drexel.
I take the smooth paper between my hands and read it. It’s trash; terrible, horrible, I can’t stand it anymore. I crumple it up so it becomes rough and compact, wrinkling its contents, squeezing it in between my angry hands. I dominate over this piece of paper, this piece of nothing. But then – regret, remorse, doubt. I take this crumpled ball and start to slowly unravel it. Now it’s a leathery texture, wrinkled and worn like an old pirate’s map. Give it a couple more years and it will yellow and fade like one. I sigh. Smooth it out. Maybe it’s not all that bad. A bad grade, a letter to a friend, a letter to a lover, a telegram that someone’s just died. A note you weren’t supposed to find, written about you. And not so nice things. I am in an empty classroom with open windows. It is a 0% humidity spring day. The kids are playing at recess outside. I’m old enough to be their teacher, but insecure enough to be outside with them. I miss the smell and feel of empty classrooms. It’s a private moment that will be.
George Washington jumps the gate headfirst into wooden rowboat. Out on the Delaware the creaking of the oars in the ice cold river. There must’ve been lanterns lit so that when the artist sitting dockside took out his paints and paintbrush to paint nightside could have had adequate lighting and painting a man in his heroic prime leading a war in freezing cold temperatures. I am soldier feeling the strong breaths of wind invade my too thin jacket. Every assault is traumatic. Feeling like a block of ice, glacier on the water. I’m not even a person anymore. My brass buttons are so cold if I brought the tip of my tongue to it, it would surely stick. Fly paper afternoon, stoned to the couch. Stuck. Like sticky sweet caramel brownies that Gretchen Janeway will always be making. Jeri Taylor with the details. Me with the details. I stick out my tongue to catch a snowflake. Melting upon impact I pretend it is a chicken dinner that I, a soldier, would kill to have. Literally kill to have. I’m killing to have it. When will it come? Willy Wonka Gobstopper where art thou? I’m waiting for my mashed potatoes with gravy and blueberry pie for dessert. I don’t care what color I turn or how big I balloon up. Roll me away forever, but give me solace and comfort in the food I feel like I’ll never have again. Smelling the frozen water dispels the stinking of other soldiers. The air enters my nostrils so cold it’s like cocaine clarity. My nose runs and I can’t stop it. My hands are on the oars. I must row on. Let the snot freeze icicles. I don’t care as long as I’m not left in some unmarked grave by the enemy. Redcoats are just as good as dead as the skin on an old injury. As I wiggle my numb toes I imagine a beach and sunlight and it takes me out of the present moment, but not nearly long enough. Lantern leading the way, showing time and promise me you’ll never leave. Maybe I could imagine being in the flame. Allowing it to consume me. Feel the heat licking at my heels now. What I would do to be that flame encapsulated and ensconced in that holy glass chamber. Where do I sign up? I see nothing but the black water around me, hear the dip and splash of the oars, feel the splintery seat upon my rear, trying not to move too much.
Small little hours ticking by the back of my hand in tennis back and forth hearing the grunts of players and cries of defeat as shields come crashing down on rainy Normandy beaches so many years ago. Ages of death and defeat and peat and freshly mown grass. Holding a moment in now. Letting it out so it completes a cycle of photosynthesis and evaporation and precipitation and gets its day on the periodic table of elements. Class then was only an hour, maybe 45 minutes. Was it ever embraced? Was it only dreaded? I’m not sure I can’t remember. All I know is an hour ago I was somewhere else. Confined in the blissful suspension of time. Gravity is suspended and it all just hangs there, hangs out. Jackie Wilson Said to just be chill. Freezing hours melt into minutes and evaporate, catapult up into the clouds and hug the Sun. The light is so bright and hot that the molecules transform on impact. I am transforming now. We are all in a state of transforming. Hours grow mold into days, weeks, years. But if time is a social construct, maybe we can take the 2x4s of our life, take out the nails connecting it to everything else and burn the wood to keep our soul warm. And have our anxiety evaporate on impact like those molecules.