Part VII: Soulful Legs Dance Studio has a new member.
The night before my audition, I break the nail on my big toe pretty badly. It bleeds heavily on my bedroom carpet. I stand amazed at it. I don’t even feel the pain. I had been dancing for a few hours nonstop and must’ve broken it while turning. Mama notices it and shushes me repeatedly. At that moment, I had not known I was breathing hard and loud. She asks me to sit down on the bed while she gets the first aid kit. I sit. I wait. She rushes to the bathroom in the hallway, rushes back to my room, and takes out the antiseptic and some cleaning cloths.
I watch Mama clean up my toe, wrap it in gauze, then place a large bandaid over it. She is careful but she is serious. She tells me to stay off my feet for at least an hour — this applies to dancing. Then she says, “tomorrow when I come in from work, we can practice one more time before the audition.” My routine is five minutes long. Mama would have to rush home from work, hop in the shower, run through my routine with me, then we’d have to get to the studio by at least 1:50 p.m. This is what she said.
I don’t like being rushed. Mama knows this. She doesn’t like being rushed, either, but her boss had already said she could not get off thirty minutes early, so this is what we have to work with. I know my routine like the back of my hand. I can jump. I can leap. I can even do the three dances in between. But . . . it hurts so much when I come back down on my feet. My toe stings — a burning sensation runs through my entire left foot. Mama says, “dance through the pain, baby. It’s nothing big. It’ll heal.” And I guess she would know. She’s danced through a lot of pain.
Mama is home. She presses me to stand in front of her, look poised. We do my routine together one last time and when we’re finished, there’s a tear coming down Mama’s face. She orders me to sit down on the bed. She rushes to get the first aid kit again and she begins doctoring up my toe. Some more antiseptic, gauze, and another large bandaid are placed on my toe. She wraps it securely with an ace bandage and tells me to do the last three moves of my routine. I do them and I don’t cringe.
“There. You’re ready, baby. You’ve got this. Let’s go and show them who their next dance member will be.”
I started school this past week too! I haven’t even told you that, have I?! I’d been so excited about this audition and preparing for it that I forgot to mention my first week of school. Well, first half-week. I like the school well enough. My teachers are nice. I have one I don’t care for, but the others are pretty cool. I’ve made only one friend so far — Selena. She dances for Soulful Legs Dance Studio. She tells me all the things to spot and look out for during my audition. I listen and learn. I want to be on this squad so bad. I take all her information with me and use it to my advantage.
I nailed the routine! Two of the instructors were there and three of the senior dance members. Everyone loved it! Mama was in the crowd. I heard her “Hoot” after I was done, then I saw her shoot from her seat, jump up and down excitedly, and begin clapping. I couldn’t believe I’d finished the routine and landed every turn, every dance move, and all of my lines were straight and perfect. I also think it helped that I had three of the best songs on the radio as a mix for my routine: Craig Mack’s Flava In Ya Ear,Total’s Can’t You See, and Method Man & Mary J. Blige’s All I Need.
The instructors were dancing. The senior dancers were getting down! Mama was grooving too. I had such a great time. We didn’t have to wait long. The instructors talked for about five minutes, then called me and Mama to their side and told me I made it! I couldn’t believe it! I made it! We hurriedly drove home so we could tell Daddy and that’s where we are now — home.
We get out of the car, Mama locks everything up and we hurry inside to search for Daddy. He is sitting in the living room watching college football. I half-smile at him and Mama leans in for a kiss and says, “Guess what, Paulie!” Daddy looks over at me, smiles wide, and says, “You did it, didn’t you, Sweetpea?!” He hops out of his chair, slides toward me, and lifts me up into the air. I feel like I’m flying — like I can touch the sky. I am so incredibly happy!
And then, my toe aches. It’s a pain that reminds me I probably overdid it during my audition. I signal for Daddy to put me down and sit on the floor. I take off my shoe, remove my sock, unwrap the ace bandage, and finally the bandaid and gauze. Blood has dried over my toe and half of two of my other toes. the gauze is yucky. Mama sends Daddy for the first aid kit and she goes through the routine one more time. She orders me to take a bath and leave my left foot hanging out while I bathe.
When I am clean, we have an early dinner — it’s 5:30 p.m. Daddy made lasagna, garlic bread, fresh salad, and sweet tea & lemonade combined. Mama calls it Arnold Palmer. Why? I don’t even know. Every bite of my dinner is delicious. I forget about the pain in my toe again. I slip into the mood of the day and relax in front of the t.v. while Daddy rinses the dishes, loads the dishwasher, and Mama tidies up the kitchen.
They join me and Mama gets up, places a tape in the VCR, and my face appears. My music for the routine plays. And she throws a smile my way. She recorded the audition, but how! She looks at me as if she knows what I’m thinking and says, “Todd, the other senior member you did not see, recorded the entire thing for us. I wanted your Daddy to see what you accomplished today, baby.”
I look over at Daddy, he’s dancing in his chair, Mama pulls him up, and they begin dancing together. I stand in the same spot — stuck, but happy. Stuck, but honored. Stuck, but connected to these two beautiful parents of mine who made a very, very happy Clover.
there are no ways of explaining I want the bigots of the world to feel something other than stacks of money lining their pockets or fantasies of distasteful uprisings at their command
I want them to feel . . .
I have lived for forty-one years in skin that makes authoritative figures overuse power — in a body that gravitates toward both men and women — and of a gender that loses every inch of reward as the years pile on
I’m three-times hated by the bulk of this nation and we want to talk about anger — the type of anger I have is bottled up, stored for the perfect moment — you get used to saving your energy when you’re living the way I’m living — you know, merely existing, trying not to die at the hands of a racist misogynist gone rogue — trying not to lose a sense of hope . . .
a sense of pride
I used to believe that if I loved another human being hard enough that intensity of love would be shared with another, then another, and again in strings of blissful divination, but times are harder now and love isn’t flowing freely as it once did for me
now, I rage silently, afflicted by a nation that would rather stake my body to a tree and call the hounds — feed my fragile flesh to their young — tell them, “She wasn’t what God wanted anyway,” and they’ll believe it they’ll even pass down those tongued lies to their children and another generation of putrid souls would roam this earth
black. woman. bisexual . . . three strikes before one foot leaves my bed every single morning you may think, “How does one live every day afraid to be who she is?” and I would say, “I have been afraid of living since the womb let me go.”
the eternally oppressed know of no other way
we are damned in the beginning and further damned as time presses forward anger? no . . . what I have in me for what this world is cannot be described as anger there is no word for it there never will be
We are all substantially flawed, wounded, angry, hurt, here on Earth. But this human condition, so painful to us, and in some ways shameful — because we feel we are weak when the reality of ourselves is exposed — is made much more bearable when it is shared, face to face, in words that have expressive human eyes behind them. — Alice Walker
it is Saturday morning before the birdsong ends, my neighbor tests his drone. he prepares its landing just before Jernee and I cross his path. he giggles excitedly at his accomplishment.
I say to him, “Like a little kid on Christmas Day.” he responds, “Almost.” the joy shivering through his skin is contagious. I giggle too. I watch him swoop his body through the air — throwing it at the sun, following the seeker.
this moment of happiness is logged into my memory bank. I’m blessed by its occurrence. he crosses over from his side of the complex to mine, plants his feet onto Autumn’d grass, and sets his toy free into the air again.
his smile remains. I pick up my stride getting close to our building I feel the pressing of air charging for my veins. this is my favorite season — it pulls my body out of mourning and we welcome the dead and the dying knowing new life is ahead.
the sun opens its eyes, clearing the crust of the previous night, and light kisses my face. I motion my eyes to my neighbor and he’s shooting his head in small spurts to the right, guiding his robotic friend to safety.
Jernee is a strutter. she attacks our walks with the vigor of a playful puppy instead of a senior and I am somewhat jealous of this gift. I pace myself, battling a shoddy ankle from a shower fall five years ago. the pain still lingers, but I fight it head-on.
the greatest love for me at this very moment is walking ahead of me, tags and metal identifiers clinking together — little random bells making their own music. a signal that we have arrived home and can now find sweet rest.
*Author’s Note: I am currently reading, Greatest Love by Dr. & Master Zhi Gang Sha with Master Maya Mackie and Master Francisco Quintero. It’s a great piece of literature in which to lose myself after a few stressful days of work.
She examines the tips of her fingers — her nails . . . she’d let them grow too long once again. Tonight, she’ll clip them. That’s what she’ll have on her schedule for a Friday night. Among watching whatever series her perusing eyes land on, courtesy of Netflix, and washing two loads of clothes — she’ll clip her nails. She lifts each finger closer to her eyes, scrutinizing them equally. The beds of her nails are splitting. There are hangnails on at least three fingers on each hand. What do they say about hangnails?
Most people experience hangnails when their skin is dry, such as in the winter or after being exposed to water for a prolonged period. A hangnail can become infected if exposed to bacteria or fungus. — Healthline
And this is what she gets for pruning in the tub several times this week. Mika’s body had been aching — her left leg shot twenty seconds of intense pain through her entire lower limb hourly. Her old high school athletic days were coming back to haunt her: iliotibial band syndrome, arthritis, headaches, and neck cramps. On top of all this, she and Zee had broken up just two weeks ago. She promised herself she would not sit around and sulk on her days off. But what is she doing? Sitting around . . . sulking . . . on her days off.
Just as she was thinking about Zee, her phone rang. The Rolling Stones’ Miss You blared through the device’s speaker louder than normal. She’d changed the ringtone three days ago. It seemed fitting at the time. She blows a huff of air out of her weakened body and answers the phone.
“Hey, Zee. Did I leave something at your place?”
“Hello, to you too, Mika. No, you did not. I called to see if you wanted to go to The Ladies of Neo-Soul concert on Sunday. Regardless of what we are now, we still love a good time.”
“This Sunday?! As in two days? Who’s headlining?!”
“Yes, Mika. This Sunday . . . Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Cleo Sol, Alex Isley, India Arie, and Amel Larrieux.”
“Are you shitting me?! Of course, I want to go! How much are the tickets?”
“The not-so nosebleed seats are $115.00 each. If you’re up for it, truly up for it, I’m on the promotional page now. I can buy the tickets.”
“Yes! Lock it in, Zee, please! I’ll get the money to you next week.”
“I didn’t ask to be paid back. I offered. You accepted. Let’s leave it at that.”
The tone . . . It’s always Zee’s tone that crawls up the spaces of Mika’s temples and crushes them until they throb. Why is there always a snide attitude? It’s not just with her — it’s with everyone. But it was also this same tone that attracted her to Zee — Zinobya Adamson. She fell for her within moments after meeting at a Funk Festival four years ago. At the concession stand, she’d purchased a corn dog, waffle fries, and an iced tea. She turned around to get some napkins after crowding her food on her chest and ran right into her. Iced tea, a mix of ketchup & mustard, and waffle fries’ crumbs landed on Zee’s The Roots’ T-shirt.
Mika apologized profusely, but Zee dismissed it simply with, “It’s no big deal. I have two more shirts just like it. I purchase multiples of my favorite things for this very reason. I mean . . . you just never know, right? I can change after I get my order.” Mika recalled that day just as it was yesterday. She jumps out of her mind and back to their current conversation.
“Zee, do you always have to be so dismissive? So . . . whatever-ish to people? I know you offered, but it is also good manners for me to offer to pay my half, especially since this isn’t a date.”
“So whatever-ish?! Mika, please don’t start. This hypersensitive shit is one of the main reasons we aren’t together anymore. For the love of God, you’re from Yonkers! You can take a few blows to the chest and give them just as well as I can. Let’s not act like you can’t.”
Mika sighs into the phone. Another argument. Out of nowhere. And it hasn’t even been ten minutes. She licks her bottom lip, sucks in a full breath — straight from the diaphragm, and quickly gets the details for the venue, time, and where to meet for the concert. She doesn’t want to waste her night seething in anger from this conversation.
“I’ll come to pick you up. The show starts at 7:00 p.m., so I’ll be at your place by 5:30.”
“Nah, Zee. I’d rather drive myself. So, we can meet up at the front entrance of the venue and I’ll spot you unless you spot me first.”
“What the hell, Mika? I can’t come to pick you up now? Wouldn’t it be wiser to take one car, get there, get parked, and already be with each other instead of looking for one another?!”
“Just the same, I’d rather drive myself.”
“Okay, fine. Meet me by the two columns in front of the center by 6:00 p.m.”
“Cool. I’ll see you there. Thanks for offering.”
She tries to remind herself what caused her to fall for Zee — it comes in and out. The reasons hover over her and she remembers: she’s confident, smart, independent, originally from Miami, FL, can cook like her late grandmother, and never hesitated to show her public affection. When she was with Zee, people knew it. They had been a beloved couple — there was no hiding — no sneaking around. They were free, and she loved that feeling.
Sunday arrives quicker than she imagined. She has belly butterflies, a nagging headache, and her sinuses decide today is a good day to be annoying. She will let nothing keep her from this show. A chance to see Zee again so soon after the breakup — a chance to be near her . . . she wants this. She even thinks she needs this. The headache and sinus issues will be combated. She is going to this show.
Mika steps out of her midnight blue SUV. Her multi-colored Dunks match her tie-dye Peanuts T-shirt. Her jeans are fitted with patched holes in the knees. She has medium-sized bamboo earrings in her ears and is carrying a rust-colored clutch. She spots Zee just as she locks her car. Zee struts toward her — body wrapped in a sky blue sassy romper with matching color stilettos. She is carrying a black clutch with accompanying black accessories. She looks amazing! Mika nearly trips over her own feet, walking to meet her.
“You . . . You look good, Zee. You look damn good.”
“Thank you. You look good yourself, Mika. But then again, you are always sharp in anything you wear. I like the Dunks.”
“Thank you. I like that romper. You better be glad we aren’t the same size cuz I’d be raiding your closet for that one.”
“Ha! Your words only. Are we gonna be civil tonight?”
“I think we can manage that.”
“Okay, then. Shall well?”
The ladies make their way to the entrance. Zee presents the tickets for scanning. Their clutches are briefly but thoroughly searched. The night is young, and the music settles into their hearts. Zee locks her arm around Mika’s and plants a kiss on her cheek. Burdened by their past, could they be stepping into a future?