Hanako despised the way their conversations entered a freefall of chaotic words and too tender feelings. The way they could pick apart each other’s sentences like birds pecking at nearly bare bones. At these moments, Hanako often felt as though she would rather die than admit she could have said or done things differently.
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“I can’t,” I say, loud enough for him to hear but hoping the girls won’t.
“I can’t do it.”
“You can,” he says, equally quiet. “Just try it.”
I shake my head, taking in the sight of the other girls, their tight abs, their perfectly round backsides. Their shapely legs pull in unison against the ropes, their bodies bent in two like the legs of a shiny metal compass completing measurements. I’m flanked by them- out, in, out, in. Their tight bodies strain against the effort but the girls still manage to look like they’re filming a Beach Body DVD.
That would make me the –you can do it too person sweating in the background while the pros glisten and glow up front near the instructor. The sweat from my effort on the treadmill ten minutes ago is still evaporating from my skin and surrounded by these girls who can, I find myself choking on the humiliations of the past.
I see grade school me, shoulders slumped in defeat, eyes cast down and boring holes into my white Reeboks as I toe the blue tape of the shiny gym floor. I’m overwhelmed by a sense of ineptitude, of invisibility. I listen despondently as names are yelled enthusiastically from the team captains standing before me. Will they remember my name this time or will I be the last one called, my name then becoming irrelevant?
Then, as expected, the voices calling the names take on another tone. They deign to divvy up the lesser of the less. I can hear them roll their eyes and sympathize with each other on having to take that girl who plays violin and doesn’t play sports.
I try to lift my body in a similar fashion but land on my hands and knees. I feel as though the Beach Body girls are judging me from the corner of their eyes, already deciding to pick me last.
Before the grade school me becomes paralyzed on the gym floor I pick myself up and leave. I feel bad for the kids facing team captains all over the world but I’m not trapped in those situations anymore. My worth isn’t based on the number of people I can hit with a dodge ball. So I go, marveling that wounds from the past could still hurt in new ways.
I lean back in the passenger side of the car as the traffic lights flash through the windshield. We’re almost home. The time glows digital green from the dashboard of the car. We’ll make it back just in time to watch our new must-see Sunday night show, “Believe.”
I want to say something a loud to J but I hesitate. If I say it, that implied meaning it. Did I mean it or was I compelled because I always felt inspired when I left Mosaic? Well, mostly inspired, sometimes discouraged by the comparisons I drew between the lives I heard about and my own.
“I feel like I’m trying to preserve my life” I say a loud, like I mean it. “What am I saving myself for? ”
If I were a pre-recorded message my themes would consist of these phrases:
“That. Is. Full. Of. Germs.”
“That. Could. Kill. You.”
“Do. Ing. That. Is. Sue.I.Cide.”
I am apparently saving myself for some great cause and it’s a necessity for me to be without a physical or emotional scratch when the cause reveals itself.
When I ask my questions a loud, I realize that I’ve been aware of the cause most of my life. I may not have always been old enough, independent enough, or resourceful enough…but those are not excuses I can lean on now.
I connect the dots that have led to it- my cause; my birth in a foreign land, my adoption into a forever family, what I’ve seen as random skill sets accumulated over a decade of careers that just didn’t stick and the people who did.
As we pull up to our house and bring the car to a stop, my cause light goes from yellow to green.
I’ve been afraid to live. Afraid to get hurt, get dirty, or be unable to find myself home again, safe and sound.
I’d still like to avoid getting hurt and getting dirty but not at the cost of losing my life because I focused so hard on saving it.