Saturday, August 07, 2010

Balance--a novel excerpt from Disappearing


Travesty's third grade notebook was set up in a similar way to the
5th grade notebook Terry had been studying earlier. Faded blue mimeos
of the assignments were taped to the left side of the notebook pages
and the assignments were completed by Travesty on the right side, and
sometimes continued on to the next pages. Perhaps all the teachers at
her school had attended a conference or a school meeting and had been
taught or had agreed to do it that way.

In third grade, Travesty's writing had been larger and more awkward
than it was two years later, but at the same times, more care had been
taken with each letter. Terry found drafts in the notebook at the
back like the ones she'd discovered in the later notebook. Terry
couldn't believe how much effort Travesty had put into her work, for
such a young child. There were notes and vocabulary suggestions in
the drafts, which helped explain to some extent Travesty's seemingly
above average writing skills, but not entirely.

Terry flipped past the essay on summer vacation and the next couple,
eager though she was to read them. She knew she didn't have much time
before Travesty returned, and was looking for something a little
different, possibly with some fresh information about the girl.
She stopped flipping when she saw the 4th assignment, which read:
"Something New: Tell us about something you have just learned, not at
school, but at home or somewhere outside school. Use specific sensory
details from your five senses.

Yes, all the teachers must have gone to the same workshop, or they
were using some general system or something, or taking handout
material from the same books. Terry turned to the right to see what
Travesty had written. How old would she have been then? Maybe nine?

Look Ma, One Hand, by Travesty X Brown

Just last week, I learned to do headstands and handstands. I started
with headstands. They were hard at first. My mother showed me how to
put my forehead on the ground, then put my knees on my elbows, and
then slowly lift my legs over my head. At first, I would sometimes do
a somersault, which I'd only just learned to do last year. Or I'd get
partway up and lose my balance and crash down. Or my legs would
wobble all around and I would do a split if I didn't come down right
away. I practiced on the rug in the living room so I wouldn't get

After a few days or maybe a week, I got so I could do it. I was so
excited. Then my Mom said, "Okay, good, now, how about a handstand?"
We walked over to Balduck Park. First Mom demonstrated how to do it.
She put her hands down onto the ground and kicked her feet above her
head and wobbled around a moment and then got steady. She balanced up
there, put her legs together, arched her back, smiled at me and then
dropped down. When she came down, she landed on her feet. My mom is
pretty athletic. She used to do gymnastics before she had me.
She showed me two more times, and then told me to do it. When I tried
it, I started losing my balance. She grabbed my legs and held them up
in the air until I was able to balance by myself. It only took me
five times to get the hang of it. The first time she didn't catch my
feet, I did a nosedive into the grass, and the smell of grass and
greenness was in my nose all day long. I could even taste it, sort of
like spinach.

Now I can do it almost every time I try. I don't even hear my heart
banging in my ears any more. I've gotten used to the way the world
looks upside down. I can do it in the gymnasium--I showed the gym
teacher. I'm so excited about it I want to show everyone. I will do
a show and tell for class if you want me to. The best thing is that
once I get into a handstand with two hands, sometimes, I can lift one
hand up and balance on just one hand.

Terry laughed. The teacher had given her an A++. She wondered if
Travesty could still do headstands and handstands. She remembered
when she had learned to do a handstand. She was in 9th grade,
fourteen years old. She'd been able to do headstands since she was in
second or third grade, but handstands she thought she'd never get.
Hah! She had gotten it, finally, and the pictures to prove it. She
was so proud of herself and happy. The pictures were at her parent's
house in upstate NY. She could picture the cabinet where her
childhood the albums were stored, and was sure they were still there.
She hadn't tried a handstand on land in years. She wondered if she
could still do it. She probably could do in water, but that was
easier, water was thicker than air and helped one get balanced. And
if you fell, you fell more slowly and just floated back to the
surface. Handstands in the water were fun and easy. But then again,
when was the last time she'd even done one of those? Not for a while.

Terry thought about balance. It took balance to do handstands.
Balance was something she had in short supply. Oh, she could walk
along a fence or stand on one foot for ten minutes. But her life was
out of balance in a much deeper way, and Terry wondered briefly how
she could fix that. What would a balanced life look like? She didn't
have a clue.

Terry had a feeling Travesty's life was out of balance, too, no matter
how good she was at handstands.

She heard Travesty coming, running into the house and then up the stairs.
Terry remembered her mother saying, as a joke, "Wipe that smile off
your face, you can cry, if you try." Terry wiped clean the expression
of sadness she'd felt overtaking her face as she thought about her
life, and replaced it with a welcoming smile for Travesty, who burst
through the door grinning widely.

1 comment:

Kirstin said...

Wow - Love this. Especially the questions "What would balance look like?" That's a good one to ask yourself occasionally.