when i was a child, a group of adults made me show them the hair on my back and how far my arms hung down my legs. they marveled at the dark hair that swirled across my neck and back, took eye measurements of my hands to leg ratio. then after discussing it amongst themselves, they informed me that my hairiness and long arms indicated my close relationship to the apes. i was different, unusual, apelike, because i had two parents of different races. and when two people of different races fuck, they make little animal babies that are a sin against god.
on a different occasion, an adult informed me that i couldn’t be a dancer because i was fat, which was bad enough. but also because dancers have lovely long necks—swan necks. swan necks highlight a dancer’s gracefulness and beauty and make others feel happy when they look at them. this adult then looked at me and with those measuring analytical eyes, said, you don’t have that.
i don’t have that. i don’t have the long swan neck that makes others feel happy just to look at—i have a fat hairy ape neck. i have the neck that proves why race mixing is bad.
that i am a sin against god doesn’t bother me much, as god and i have never really been all that close anyway. but that i can’t dance? that nearly destroys me. i’ve always danced anyway. i’ve always cranked up music and after carefully composing my own choreography, twisted and turned and swung my way to a standing ovation from an audience of adoring fans. but always in basements. always behind closed and locked doors. even my dear partner, Mr. Toast, has only seen me dance my imagination dance once or twice—and just quick glimpses. i know i don’t have a right to be dancing. i am a thief, not a dancer. a thief stealing a few moments from the swan necked goddesses who dancing belongs to.
i’ve always known the link between emotions and body. but as i’ve gotten older, i’ve learned that it’s not just “emotions” and “body”—it’s far more specific than that. it’s repressed violence and illness. your liver and gallbladder are intimately linked in much of non-western medicine; when you don’t have boundaries or can’t protect the ones you do have, the gallbladder falls apart, and the liver gets angry. when you can’t tell adults to leave you alone, when you cant see any other choice but to believe you are an ape-like sin against god, your body becomes the only way you can say no. the only way you can be angry, and then say no.
unfortunately, nobody but you can hear your body saying no. and when it is so normal to hear ‘no’ you stop listening after awhile. and then you find yourself like i was. twisted up from the constant spasm of my gallbladder and poisoned by my broken liver. unable to get out of bed most days, never dancing, not even in private.
the ape-child was trained as well as the swan necked dancer. stop stealing what was never yours. and shut up about it. even if it hurts. shut up.
eventually the pain gets so bad, i begin to understand that the deal i’ve made is not just to ‘be quiet.’ but to not exist. i read those words, ‘we were never meant to survive,’ and it puts the deal i’ve made out on the table, out in the open for the first time. i poke and prod at the deal, wonder if what it threatens could possibly be true. i feel the oozing burn in my stomach, the twisting claw around my liver. i remember that i suffered thru the agony of yet another gallbladder attack, silent, on the couch, so sleeping family aren’t bothered. and i realize the threats are actually true. threats no more.
and i just can’t accept that deal. i reject it. not forcefully, or even happily. at least not at first.
but i do start working with my body, working to unlock it. i go to healing sessions (acupuncture, reiki, limpias, never ‘The Doctor’), and i can feel my body working to push my brain to the side. my brain, the tyrannical prison guard that took over for those adults, kept me in line even better than they did. as my body frees itself from the death grip control of my brain, my body begins to recalibrate. in little ways at first.
a little way: mr. toast tries to talk to me while i’m working, i usually stop everything and listen. today i snap at him without even thinking—i’m WORKING. do I bother YOU at work?
a little way: the kids demanding food food food WE’RE SO HUNGRY! but i am sick. usually i get up to make them something anyway. this time i tell them there is cereal and milk or bread for sandwiches. make something.
the guilt creeps in—and my body revolts. but this time, not against itself. the kids make their own food, then ask me if i want something. mr. toast asks if i am busy the next time he sees me at my work table. it’s ok to say no. i relax. take a nap. and keep adjusting.
in big ways: I listen to a live broadcast episode of This American Life—it features a story of a man who, because of different operations to deal with his cancer, has lost the use of one of his arms. he talks of being gay and getting old and having cancer and being a person who used to dance. how much he loved dancing. how much he misses it, even though he was never any good at it. even though. he starts dancing on stage while ira glass softly describes his movements to listeners. he is old, gay and has an arm that doesn’t work. and he dances. so he is a dancer.
of course I cry. and am glad that nobody is home, because the tears quickly turn into The Ugly Cry. the stretched open mouth, the deep wrenching throat gasps, the snot leaking down the face like melting ice cream. The Ugly Cry for the little girl that just accepted without a fight that she was not human. The Ugly Cry for the grown woman with a tummy full of poison and no way to spit it out.
you reach a certain age, and you just know that there are some dreams that will never happen—you’ll never be a rocket scientist. you’ll never fuck somebody famous. you’ll never play the guitar in front of stadiums filled with screaming fans. you reach a certain age—and you just let those dreams go and it’s a bit sad—but it’s ok.
except i reached that age—and it wasn’t even that i decided to let go of the dream of dancing—it was that I never allowed myself to dream at all. i had let go of dreaming, erased it off my bucket list under the methodical eyes of adults that supposedly loved me. and then spent a lifetime apologizing for even daring to have “dream” on the list to begin with.
i cry so hard i almost throw up. out comes the poison, out comes the outrage, out comes the decades of no no no no…except i see the ‘nos’ now for what they are. the answer i was never allowed to have. and then the answer i learned to never give.
the dog walks over from his pillow, sits with his head on my lap. the cat moves to the back of the couch, so his body wraps around my head. i trust that the universe is letting me know it is ok to live life. that it is ok to live.
i decide that it is time to trust the universe.
that night after my kids get home, we watch the opera Carmen. It’s a catchy opera that is a lot more accessible than other operas are, but even so, it’s still an opera and both kids sneak upstairs after a while. I am ok with them leaving, because as soon as they leave, i stand up. first i just pace in front of the radio. but soon, the music wraps around me, lifts my arms, and i dance. i swirl and twirl and practice angling my fingers with delicate precision. i think i am being quiet—but kids have bat-like hearing, especially when they think their parents are enjoying themselves. almost immediately, they are downstairs doing that kid thing… what are you doing, what was that noise, why are you doing that, what is going on, i thought i heard something, can i do it too?
i stop at first, and start to tell them to mind their own business. but then my body takes over.
that body that is the universe.
that universe that i trust.
and then i am dancing. right in front of them. they’ve never seen me dance, except to slow dance with mr. toast. they are stunned for a minute, sharing astonished glances with each other. I turn up the opera and twirl a tight pirouette. then one kid laughs and dives under me. rolls around on the ground and finishes with a brilliant head toss, hair flying everywhere. the other child laughs and sort of tackles the first one, but elegantly. they both get up and kick their legs and hop around to the beat of the music. they are dancing. they are dancing because I am dancing. they are dancing with me.
i am a dancer who has changed the world.
i am a dancer.