October 11, 2018

Energy to Dance

For as long as I can remember, I’ve let anything mean and hurtful said to me stick.  I’m like a 5’5’’ strip of flypaper that has been hanging from the ceiling for 41 years. There is barely a space where there isn’t something, long dead, that I’m holding onto.

See? Over here by my eye are the vicious words of 11-year-olds who had learned, at the feet of their activist parents, that all white South Africans are racist and, therefore, this little white girl in a new country must hate them and their Maori skin. Their words are glued there by the thick spit that they lobbed at me before running away.

Woven between my toes, are pink ribbons from my dance teachers. “Such a beautiful point. Such expression. Graceful arms and rhythm.” The ribbons cut into the wounds caused by an overheard conversation; my mother to her friend. “She’s not going to be a ballerina. Look how she’s built.” Middle-aged hands held out indicating breasts and hips. Up until that point, I thought I was a ballerina.

Here, on my stomach, where I grew two babies, in a body that was barely adult, the cruelty of the man who said “well, at least I can close my eyes and remember what you used to look like.”  Those words are stuck there with breast milk and tears.

So, when, at a recent writers’ forum workshop, I asked a question and the answer was a personal attack, I immediately looked for a place to pop this one. I could see the words, typewritten, tapped out a letter at a time. I looked for a place to bash “where did you get your education, the internet?” into my skin.

But, I couldn’t find a permanent place for the humiliation, although I’ve tried.

It seems I’m full up.

So, I’m going to leave the words here because cruelty is cheap, easy and chickenshit. It doesn’t deserve my energy or engagement. (Brene Brown, page 21, “Dare to Lead”).

Besides, I’m going to need that energy for dancing.

Wait Here

“Why did you scream like that?” I asked, my voice wobbly with a fright-giggle. Jay’s scream was loud, right in my ear, and was set off by the click of a door closing behind us.

The waiting space we had been left in was a shipping container. It was cold and the bench seats hard. The scent of pine permeated everything as if someone had sprayed it from a can. Instead it was wafting in from the magnificent vista outside where a deep ravine cut through the middle of dense green. 

“I can’t believe you convinced me to do this.” He dropped his face to his hands. “You’re the worst friend ever.”

“Bollocks, you love it.” I jostled him with my elbow. When he was weighed, as part of the booking process, I told him that being light was better. I had pictured his thin body in flight. He’d be like a bird, I told him. But when the sharp corner of my arm met his ribs, he felt more like blown glass.

“He said I could stop at any time. You heard him, right?”

“Yeah. But then this afternoon, they’re going to put nuclear waste into your veins and you’ll be happy you did something a bit more interesting today.”

“It’s not nuclear waste.”

“May as well be.”

He sat, head still in his hands. His breathing went deep down and then left his body with a little whimper.  “I’m scared.”

The container became an echoing chamber of all the things he hadn’t done yet. It vibrated with lost opportunities and a future which was as hazy as the layer of cloud we came through on the drive up.  It resonated right into the parts of me which want to take life and shake all the unfairness out of it. Drop it all down that ravine, the way we were going to but without the coming back.

I was doing this for fun.  He was doing it because time was running out.

Mac, who booked us in, opened the door letting a gust of cold mountainous air in. “Ready?”  His face was ruddy, his eyes clear. He looked like someone who was on top of his game. Vital and full of life. Exactly the kind of person you want to be in control of a life-and-death situation.

Jay stood, not with the creaking bones of someone fighting a war in his very cells, but with sudden determination.  “Let’s do this.”

Jay wanted to go first and so they left me at a thick yellow line which ran the width of the bridge. WAIT HERE. NO CROSSING UNLESS WITH STAFF.

Adrenaline had taken the strength out of my legs and I leaned hard against the rail, my palms slick, my heart beating out a staccato rhythm.

Mac strapped the bungy cord to Jay’s ankles, double and triple checking it for comfort and security. Jay’s face got whiter and whiter. His hands were shaking, hard, as he signed the final consent.

Mac led him out onto the platform. Jay shuffled to the edge, closer, closer, then his toes were hanging over in space.

I wanted to say he didn’t have to do it. He didn’t have to prove anything. I was wrong to suggest this. I wanted to say it’s okay to not be okay. But his focus was on the ravine, the fall, and the flight, ahead of him and I was stuck here at the “wait” line, useless.

All I could do was watch as Jay turned his palms upward, lifted his face to the sky and let himself go.