Monday, April 18, 2016

I am that girl

What we remember from childhood we remember forever…
permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen.
Cynthia Ozick

After last Saturday’s snowstorm, I trekked to the gym for a little cardio since running at the park was a non-issue.   When I arrived, one of the trainers was at the desk and we ended up having a chatty conversation.  At one point Justin and I talked about the many possibilities for what our futures might hold.
“You’re at an age when the potential for marriage and kids is always in the background…mostly because your friends are doing it,” I told him.  “I’m at the point where I don’t know if I’d ever get married.  And really, the only reason I’d do it is to have a child, but that’s not going to be a reality in this lifetime.”
“Why not?” Justin asked.
“Because that ship sailed a long time ago,” I laughed.  “When I was younger, it was all I thought about, but now it’s too late…I can’t have kids.”
He shrugged.  “You could have a miracle baby.”
“Nah, it’s alright,” I said, shaking my head.  “I helped raise a bunch of children when I was teaching.  Every time there’s a pool party here for some kid’s birthday, I always see a child who used to be in one of my yoga classes.”
“Really?” Justin smiled.
“Yep,” I nodded.  “My pal, Satish, always says Wherever we go, we see someone you know.
Sure enough, when I walked into the locker room, there were two little girls changing into their swim suits, both of whom I had taught a few years ago.  The oldest one recognized me right away, but her younger sister needed a little prodding to recall that I had once been Yoga Katie at her Montessori School.  Then, when I headed out into the gym and hopped onto a treadmill, another group of kids passed by, one of the boys being a student I had taught when he was in kindergarten. 
I don’t need a child of my own anymore, I thought, revving up the floorboard.  Because my kids are everywhere.

I’m an avid people watcher and the gym is one of the best places to clandestinely notice the subtle interaction of a host of different personalities.  It’s a wonderful way for me to gather character ideas for a novel and allows me to witness the vast diversity in the world around me.  My friend, Tony, says to watch the interaction as if people are a bunch of marbles in a bag, moving and swirling around each other. 
I tend to resonate more with the ones who roll outside of the perimeters and stand on their own.  So, fifteen minutes into my workout, I noticed a man and his daughter walk past.  Being too old to go inside the men’s locker room with her father, the girl stood outside for a long time, waiting for him to change.  She pensively gazed around the gym, her eyes wide and somber.  Every once in a while, she’d look my way and I’d smile, but she didn’t return it.  Once her father appeared, they walked to the machines behind me and I didn’t see her again until I went into the locker room to take a steam and a shower.
I’m especially sensitive to little girls who are shy when it comes to undressing in front of others…or to have adults undress in front of them.  There’s a wonderful mother and her young daughter who often come to the gym for swim lessons when I’m there to lift weights.  Once when we were talking, I leaned over to tie my shoes.  When I sat up, the little girl had disappeared.
Looking over my shoulder, I asked the mother, “Where’s your daughter?  Did she get into a locker?”
“Yes,” the mother smiled, pointing to the lower one near her bag.  “Tess likes to put on her suit inside this one.”
Sure enough, out popped the child, beaming from ear to ear.  “I fit right in there!” Tess said proudly.
“You’re like a little Super Woman!” I laughed.  “I wish I could do that.”
“You’re too big,” she replied. 
“Too bad,” I said, nodding.
Last Saturday when I saw the girl who came with her father standing near my locker, I smiled at her again.  For the first time, she smiled back, her brown eyes searching mine for a moment.
“You remind me of someone…did I teach you when you were younger?” I asked, turning to face away from her as I undressed. 
She did the same.  “No…I’m from Delta.” 
“Oh,” I nodded, wrapping a towel around myself.  “What grade?”
“Fifth.”
“Well, it’s nice to see you here today,” I said, heading off to the steam room. 
“Thank you,” she quietly replied. 
A while later, I was standing at the counter combing out my hair when the girl walked by after having taken a shower.  I was careful to respect her space and stay where I was until she had dressed.  Then we introduced ourselves and talked a little more.  Moment by moment, Emily inched closer until she finally brought her gym bag to the counter where she stood next to me.  I noticed both of our bags were bright pink.  Our eyes the same shade of brown.  Our hair, long and straight.  Our expressions both quiet and open.
This girl could be my own child, I thought. She reminds me so much of the introspective girl I used to be…and still am.
When I slipped into my jacket, Emily did the same and of course, we both were wearing identical hot-pink fleece zip-ups.  “Look!  We’re twins today,” I beamed.
Emily nodded.  “Yeah…that’s cool.”
Together we walked out of the locker room and into the gym where her father sat waiting for her.  “Hope to see you again,” I told her.
“Yeah…me, too,” Emily waved.

Then again, if I truly want to see her likeness, all I have to do is look into the mirror, for Emily reminds me of the girl I used to be who's still there, remembering the ghosts from my childhood, the things that had a hand in creating the often-guarded woman I am today.  The girl I used to be remembers the boys who covertly punched her in the classroom just because she was quiet, the ones who teased her mercilessly because she developed early.  She remembers her older sister being resentful that she got her period first and the high school boys who callously pinched her on the school bus, leaving bruises on her legs and hips. 
“Those boys just like you,” she recalls her mother saying.  “That’s why they do those things.  They’re just being boys.”
So the girl I used to be mistakenly believed that anyone who showed any interest in her wouldn't be kind…they’d be cruel instead, crossing her fragile boundaries and thinking nothing of it.  She can still list the dates she had in college, guys who wanted nothing more than to use her, then throw her away.  She remembers the one she took to a formal dance who disappeared in the middle of the evening to hook up with someone else which set up a pattern of men who dangled a carrot in front of her, then pushed her aside so another woman could take her place.  And she knows the exact moment when she decided no one would ever hurt her like that again. 
But of course, as I grew older, I found myself in similar situations, for how else would I learn to break the pattern of my unconscious conditioning?  Even though the circumstances may have been the same, I’m infinitely changed, for I’ve come to learn that we encounter the same lessons over and over again until we’re able to make different choices that allow for healing and evolution to the next stage of life.
I’m no longer a little girl, and yet in meeting Emily, I've been wondering what I could share with that latent part of myself, what wisdom can I send back in time to repair the wounds of my childhood that often surface in the choices I make today?  Perhaps I’d say that no matter what happens, no matter how many times I’m broken or brought to my knees, I’ll always be able to make my way through it.  That my introspection is a blessing, not something to be feared.  That silence and solitude always bring illumination and mercy when I need them the most. 
It's a miracle to have children in my life who continually reveal who I once was, who I can still be today.  Like tiny Tess, I was able to magically tuck myself into a space in which only I could fit…then when I was ready I emerged, transformed into someone new, someone who can now venture out into the world as an adult, yet still cultivate a childlike curiosity about all that life has to offer.