Updated: Oct 17, 2020
At 6 I play all day on the monkey bars. I lay in bed at night and run my fingers over the callouses on my palms. I earned this. Pride.
My tiny biceps developing tiny muscles.
I have purpose. Perfect my technique. Feel my strength. Taste my sweat.
Swing and sway. I am alone with my body on the playground.
When I open my mouth to talk to other children, rocks fall out.
But this. This exertion. This is freedom.
I wet my pants the day the teacher won’t excuse me to go to the restroom. An hour it took me to garner the courage to ask. To speak in front of the class.
I sit in my little red plastic chair in a puddle of urine and pray it dries before anyone sees.
I can’t think. I can’t learn. I’m here in a body I can’t control. I only know I must bend it to fit a structure I don’t yet understand.
Somehow, somehow I must commit my body to complying.
I skin my knees once a week soaring over asphalt on rollerblades.
More speed. I attach a jump rope to a bicycle so the neighbor kids can pull me.
I scoot through the kitchen on blades and slurp gatorade from the fridge, press some bandaids to my wounds, and I’m back outside. How easily I glide over that wood floor. I’m in and out before my mother can scold me for wearing skates in the house.
Itchy scabs. Itchy heart. Something happens to it when I skate to music. When I can make my body match tempos. Sounds that drip and fall with the cubes I can make on skates. I can feel those sounds living in me.
At nightfall I’m knocking on my neighbor’s doors asking them to pull their cars out and turn their headlights on so I can keep skating in the dark. I’ve never spoken to these people. But they know my parents. Blind courage strikes when we need something badly enough. Movement was air.
On a Saturday morning, still sleepy-eyed, I strap my skates on, and peel out of the garage and down the driveway bashing my face into the passenger side mirror of my father’s car. It lays me out flat. My father insists ice is a good idea. I rebound fast. Insist that what I need is to find an extension chord for my boombox.
I ride my bike down the steepest set of stairs in the neighborhood. Bump, bump, bump. I love the sound of the clanging gears as rubber smacks down on the next step. I learn to get the chain back on when it shakes loose. Black grease on my hands.
I fight my mother who tells me I have to wear a helmet. I fight my mother when she tells me I can’t wear a dress to ride the horses at the stable down the road. The horse’s hair will chafe my thighs. I fight my mother when she tells me I have to ride the school bus. Pinned next to the window with my face in a book.
I fight my mother when she tells me I have to go to school. Make friends. I have a friend and her name is Honey and she lives in the barn.
Hours with a brush in my hand after we’ve had our ride. Both of us sweaty and smelling of earth. Admiring her muscles. Her quiet sweetness. Her strength.
I fight my mother when she puts me in ski school in the the Sierra’s where my parents lived until I was born.
I’m skiing backwards down black diamonds without poles. The thought of spending the day with children I don’t know is impossible. But I can push my body. I can push it in order to stay with my tribe.
See mama, I can ski with the adults.
In the slope side cafe they order beers and I burn my tongue on hot chocolate made from powder and hot water. I could use a nap. The sugar keeps me going. In the evening I fall asleep on the couch in my sweaty long underwear with a sunburn on my face, save the area where my goggles live.
I smash my glasses on the playground every couple of months. Tetherball, handball, dodgeball, handstands. In one crash or another, they break. Back to the eye doctor where he fits me for glasses with little rubber bits that loop behind my ears to keep them in place while I’m at play.
I’m teaching my brother ballet lifts in my pajamas in the living room. He’s tiny and I play the male role and lift him. Little pointed foot poking out of his power ranger PJ’s. Later we ride a mattress down the staircase and my mother will begin wrestling me into bed. My body knows that the closer I get to sleep, the closer I am to being back on that school bus. Cacophony of voices and pencils flying through the air and boys in backpacks and jeans hanging off their asses wrestling in the aisles.
For now I’m the menace sliding down the banister.
By morning I’ll forget my voice again.
Last picked for dodge ball.
But in this house, I am a giant.
In the classroom, I watch a clock that tick, tick, ticks down seconds until I am running through a field again.
Hello adrenaline. Hello sweat.
I think you are an animal.