Tuesday, April 5, 2011

slouching toward Jerusalem on roller skates

If you hopped in a time machine and selected  March 18, 2011 2:00 am, you would find me struggling to roller skate beneath a disco ball.  Supposedly, I am supervising fifty teenagers as they speed past me, my arms windmilling trying to catch my balance.  The lights are low and the speakers blare Third Eye Blind’s “Jumper,” which sounds like it would be a happy song, but its not.  I find myself wishing that my middle-school-nostalgia had a more compelling soundtrack, but there’s nothing to do about it now except enjoy it against my will.  The popular kids have mostly paired off, skating and holding hands.  The rink has become a status centrifuge of sorts.  A few of the guys are attempting tricks in the middle and a group of girls sit outside the rink giggling at them.  On the side, a larger girl desperately clings to the bar as friends who truly believe in the power of pep-talks surround her and wait for a miracle of self-confidence to manifest.  It amazes me that the guys in the center are allowed to fall down a hundred times and yet for this girl on the margins falling down means the deepest humiliation.   I’m tempted to say it’s just a mindset, but I’m not that naive.  There is a lot at stake socially at these kind of events, and as an adult I can tell games are being played, even if I can no longer see the chips.

There is one boy in particular that I cannot stop watching.  No one has talked to him all night and he seems used to that.  It looks as though he has just gone through a growth spurt.  His gangly limbs dangle at odd angles from a skinny torso and his back is hunched over in a last ditch effort to reverse the effects of time.  This sounds cruel to say, but when I watch him walk I almost feel embarrassed myself, almost voyeuristic, as though I opened a door on someone changing.  Which I have.  It’s just that the door is perpetually open.  However, when he gets on skates something surreal happens.  And no, it is not like a penguin who struggles on land but swims with mastery.  In fact, his gait which in shoes seems painfully awkward becomes infinitely more so on wheels.  There is not so much gliding as a stammering forward motion maintained with bizarre yet consistent compensative undulations.  His movements are marionette-like as though a novice puppeteer controlled his body.  Each part, elbow, hand, thigh, seemingly move independently and yet behind them a definite will and even a certain grace that marionettes have as they alternatively defy and succumb to gravity.  It is a triumph of the human body.  It would take a professional modern dancer years to perfect such movement, and still, their perfect proportions would prevent communicating so powerfully.  For two hours he lurches defiant in the face of high school protocol and the mutiny of his body, determined to fulfill his circular pilgrimage.  

There is a decade between myself and my former self, the song, the teenagers, the struggle this boy embodies.  His dance becomes the prism and the prayer through which I see the whole scene, and I hope hard for him and for all of them.  I feel my body awkward in its own way join in, time traveling slowly moment by moment beneath the disco lights, changing until changed.  

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