Jennifer grinned darkly when she arrived at the studio gym to find no one there but her. She had the high ceiling room to herself. Good! she thought, since even she did not regard herself to be suitable company for anyone today. She paused, and looked up at high wooden beam where the weight and large carabiner were hanging empty. It was all hers for a few hours.
She dropped her large duffel containing her personal rigging with the ocean-blue drapes on the floor and stepped to the wall to released the line holding the weight and carabiner and lowered it from 25 high to her chest level. She returned to pulled her own mounting assembly from her bag and paused for a routine inspection.
Her mood softened when she came to the, still new, swivel. Holding it, she reflected on how life had let her down and how angry she was at so many people for a long list of offenses. But that swivel, There you are, my precious. It had become a single thing that represented the kindness of one person who understood and loved her enough to find a gift that would be as practical and as this simple as this device was; perhaps never guessing how it would give her a few moments of joy every time she used it.
Years earlier, she had seen an ad for the aerial silks gymnastics camp. She connected well with the course, the challenge of getting into shape for the harder moves and the strength and confidence that came with it.
She fell in love with aerial gymnastics at that camp and now, 8 years later, maintains an almost daily routine of this mid-air dancing, climbing and hanging in various yoga-like poses and moving with a careful choreography of flowing intricate body motions followed waves of almost misty-light fabric.
Afterwards, she had worked for, saved and paid for her own setup, this chain of metal loops and hooks, the aerial fabric rig and gym membership. It was her father who alone in her “biologic-at-best” family that came to see her compete and was always in the audience cheering for her efforts. It was dad, who had spoken to the coach about a gift to help her do more and was told about the swivel. It was dad, who bought her one thus opening a new level of possibilities for her practices and performances.
She held the swivel and lovingly tested its smooth rotation. She had learned to appreciate its engineering and how simply it supported her weight while allowing her to do all the moves she’d learned and added the magic dimension of smoothly spinning without worrying about twisting the cable or her silk drapes. Remarkable — Dad, you really nailed this one, but her thought was quickly pushed aside by the memory of her father’s death last month at the hands of a drunk driver, robbing her of her only truly safe relationship. Oh Dad… she thought sadly as another wave of emotional bile washed over her mind.
She shook off the memory and deliberately focused on the swivel. Who would have thought a simple little piece of hardware could be so therapeutic? She attached her rig to the ceiling loop and went back to the wall to watch it rise out of the bag and make sure there were no knots or twists.
After locking the wall carabiner into position, she stepped aside to look at herself in the large mirror. What’s wrong with me, she thought?
Why do I attract so much scum from life? I know I frown too much. I am developing frown lines. She tried to pull up her neglected smile, but it collapsed as she thought, It’s no use, I have too much to frown about.
Why do I have such terrible luck with men? I’m not so bad looking but I think my looks actually bring more grief. She straightened her back and turned slightly.
At least four guys have told me that I’m too tall. The girls at work tell me that my shoulders are too wide and legs too short. Men don’t like either. Jason at work calls me the prettiest linebacker he knows. How nice! My hair isn’t elegant or even cute. All the popular girls have long wavy hair – like I’ll never have.
Do I have such an awful personality? My boss tells me that customers like me, but that’s all on the phone. Too bad he’s so old, and married and has kids of his own…
Men always like boobs and mine are fine, ‘a whole cup larger than most gymnastic dancers’. Her frown deepened as she recalled her coach, Mark, making this statement . . . right before he crept up behind me after practice one afternoon and groped me before I could shake him off.
I knew no one would believe me over him and they didn’t, and then uncle Derek got drunk at Thanksgiving, grabbed and tried to rape me. It was easy find another coach, but you can’t just replace jerks who happen to be family.
Damn it! Damn him! Damn all of them!
She pulled out her phone and started her music app with her practice play list. The music was calming. When other girls chose popular rock songs, Jennifer preferred thoughtful classic pieces. It relaxed her and brought out her creative and artsy mood .
She returned to the awaiting drapes, took her starting stance, caught her cue, and swung her legs up into the drapes while lifting herself to begin her climb.
She had watched enough other gymnasts and studied enough videos of her own work to know when her results were good. Today, they felt overly aggressive and mechanical. I’m too angry, thinking too hard. Got to calm down and focus.
She cleared her mind again and tried to move only by memory, letting her arms and legs just do what they knew well how to do. Her muscles now knew how to wrap the fabric around each of her legs and waist to keep from falling, but her mind kept dredging up memories of men and even some women who had wronged her, cheated her at work, and one who stole the one boy friend who had not abused her.
She bit her lip and forced her focus back to gather the drapes and whip them to start a spin. The swivel and music began to transform her morning exercise into a meditative flow of movement, a rotating show of lightly floating drapes that followed her like magnetic smoke as she slowly flexed and sent ripples down each drape.
As she rotated through her three dimensional ballet, she found her sweet spot for her entry to a move she really liked on her videos. Her mind settled and the anger melted, diluting into her thoughts of where her arms and legs were without loosing oversight of staying safe so high up.
If only I could find a team where I could just do this without always being afraid. That would be sooo, very nice. . . and her spin continued with the drapes smoothly following.
Phillip and Lance almost walked past the window in the darkened hallway that looked out into the gym where Jennifer was practicing.
Lance paused, “Hey, did I hear that you know this gal? She’s here almost every morning.”
“Yea, her name is Jennifer, Phillip answered, “and, trust me, you want to stay clear.”
“Oh – why’s that? She looks like she knows her stuff. I helped Charlene with her team last year and I can tell you – those are some difficult moves – wow! Did you see that? Phil, do you know how hard that is to pull off? She made it look so easy.”
“No argument on her skills, but socially, she’s a mess. Always angry. I think someone hurt her but whatever it was, she can’t or won’t let it go.”
“Sounds like you know her pretty well? Did you date her?”
“If you can call one screwed-up dinner a date. It did not go well. It was like she arrived mad at me, which makes no sense because other than meeting and agreeing to have dinner just before Thanksgiving, we had not really talked. I saw how good she was and decided to ask her to a simple dinner, no come-on, just dinner. She agreed but but we couldn’t find a date until afterward Thanksgiving, so almost 2 weeks went by when we finally had that dinner. And man! She showed up but went out of her way to be miserable through the whole meal.”
“Well, that’s too bad. Oh wow! That was amazing. That might be a move of her own. I’ve never seen it before.”
“See that pinched looked on her face? Take it out of the context of her being in the middle of a tough routine and what do you see, determination or anger?”
“Umm, I’m going to go with, yea, anger, no wait, she’s changing it. Now she doesn’t look so mad.”
“Ah, that’s because she’s doing one of her spins. Watch this carefully. You’ve seen other girls do their spins with fast with hard to follow tricks that look like an explosion of arms and legs. Jennifer never does that. She only does these carefully thought out, almost meditative rotations. And you’re right, she does like to spin, and there she goes again. Isn’t she just perfect?”
“Yes – she’s nailing it. This I could watch her all day.”
“Careful Lance, I’m telling you, I would not advise even trying to meet her. She’s got something weird and bad going on. After our mess of a dinner, I’ve seen her here a lot and tried to find a way to redo how that dinner went but I was never allowed past whatever she’s mad about. I finally just let it go. She’s pretty. She’s amazing with the aerial gymnastics, but there is some kind of poison in her veins. She’s safe to watch from behind this window only because she can’t see us. But you’ll only get your head bit off if you try to meet her. She won’t even believe you if you compliment her routine.”
“Do you ever see her with friends?”
“No, and that may be part of the problem.”
Lance back turned to look through the window. “Well, it’s too bad. I was starting to think she might be a good prospect for Charlene’s aerial team. Char, told me that her current team may be good enough to have a shot at nationals. Jennifer is easily good enough, but if she’s such a psycho, I don’t know.”
Phillip shrugged. “Yep, I wish I knew the formula to reach her, but she has to want to be part of a normal world. I bet she’s only happy when she’s spinning out those great moves all by herself, making great art, but actually going nowhere.”
“You know Phil, I think I am going to try to talk to her. Maybe she’s getting tired of being angry and alone. Who can live like that? I think she’s worth the risk. Okay, look. She’s getting ready to start another spin – yea, there she goes – excellent!”
Jennifer was fully synchronized with the music as it approached a powerful high point. She almost was the music, as she rolled and pirouetted upside down and facing straight down the funnel of spiraling fabric as it obeyed her hands to ripple and spread the drapes in time with a gentle violin and flute flutter.
This is where I want to stay, she thought, high off the ground, in control of everything that matters, distracted and insulated from painful people and memories. Nothing to worry about; making soothing, living, spinning visual art – safely beyond anyone’s reach.