Thursday, July 14

learning to breathe

Astride my bicycle at a red light, I reached back to scratch my back and somehow hooked my, admittedly large, turquoise ring on the beaded strings that hung from the back of my tee shirt. Ok, I thought, no biggie, I just have to unhook whatever's been hooked. I moved my arm left and right, expecting the ring to quickly dislodge itself from my clothing, but after a few seconds of this, I was still tangled. I twisted my hand more vigorously. Nothing. That's when I started to panic. I clawed at the ring with my remaining fingers desperately whilst thinking how absolutely ridiculous this was, yet no less horrifying. What was I going to do when the light changed? I had no hands! My tee shirt was effectively martial-arts-style strong-arming me. I couldn't ride my bike without arms. If I managed to get off the bike without falling over, what then? Was I supposed to fling my torso over the handlebars and try to walk the bike, steering with my chest. Would I have to find some stranger and ask politely, "Excuse me, but I seem to have found myself in a bit of a bind; would you mind detaching my hand from the back of my shirt?" That was so mortifying it didn't actually occur to me.

Unnecessary goal achievement
What did occur to me was that I was on my way to the zoo to meet a cute guy I hadn't seen for a year, a guy I'd been waiting excitedly to see for some time...did I mention he was cute?...Is that how it would go down?––I would nonchalantly stroll up to him, hip popped to one side, arm twisted behind my back, pretending to be a contortionist? I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time. But just as I was moving into panic over my own stupidity, suddenly the beads released my ring, and my hand slipped free. The light turned, and putting foot to pedal, I was on my merry way. 

I wish I could say this was one isolated incident. But in fact, just a few nights before, I was sitting shotgun when I attempted to exit the vehicle only to discover that the strap on my purse had become entangled with the very same treacherous tee. Did I wash the shirt between wearings? Wouldn’t you like to know. Fortunately, in this case, Asif, who was sitting behind me, kindly responded to my pathetic whining and disentangled me. 

Getting entangled in your own tee shirt may not be a big deal to those of you prone to random klutziness or unhappy accidents. I am not. I’ve spent my life (mostly subconsciously) learning to be careful and precise. My fear was that any wayward movement or spill might be attributed to my handicap––people would say “Oh, must be because of her arm.” What my friend Michelle once called gracefulness, I call calculated movement. Specificity became my craft, and I perfected it. Whenever I do anything, particularly in front of people, it is efficient, deliberate, precise. Timing and balance are key­­––from turning a baby in my arm to opening a door with my foot while balancing any number of things on my knee.

In recent years, I’ve discovered this obsession with specificity has a side effect. When I am concentrating on a particular task, even pouring milk in cereal, I often hold my breath. This could be for two possible reasons: breathing creates a variable of movement that introduces space for mistakes, or I’m concentrating so hard, I simply forget to breathe. In almost anything I do, there comes a moment where something is suspended, book or baby, balanced between where it was and where it is going, when just a breath could cause a disastrous miscalculation. 

My life is a dance in which command of basic physics and spacial awareness is second nature. At this point, I couldn’t act haphazardly if I tried. So you might understand why finding myself tangled in my own clothes atop a bicycle was somewhat disconcerting. It wasn't in the blueprint; but then, beads rarely are.

But what you really want to know is whether or not I ever made it to the zoo. I did. And I met the cute guy, though just as he walked up, I discovered blood from a razor cut had run and dried down my leg. Hot. Thus, in the first few seconds of conversation, we greeted each other and then I said, “I think I’m bleeding.” To which he said, “Me too,” and pulled up his pant leg to reveal a large cut on his leg. 

Then we proceeded into the zoo, wherein I almost ran into a cement column while I was looking at a map, and later, nearly collided with and sat in the lap of an elderly woman in a wheelchair.

I’m a little concerned.