Sunday, October 26, 2008

the tell-tale twin

Riding my bike to work up 6th Ave. the other day, I noticed the local gymnastics studio was feeling the Halloween spirit. Each of the space's four windows featured a smiling, tumbling skeleton.

Creeeee-peeeee. And so loaded where do I even start?

To me, this spooky festooning bellows, in the rigid, outlandish directives of the infamous olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi,"Happy Halloween! NEVER EAT CANDY OR YOU'LL BE FAT AND BAD AT GYMNASTICS!"

On decidedly less eerie occasions, I pass by that studio thinking to myself, "One of these days I'm gonna sign up for a beginning tumbling class."

From the moment I watched Mary Lou Retton nail two perfect 10 vaults and clinch the gold in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, all I wanted was to enroll in a gymnastics program. I, too, wanted to be really strong, adorable, and airborne.

"So I can learn how to do a flip flop," was the solid reasoning I offered my skeptical mom.

She didn't bite. Ever. To my chagrin, my mom quickly and summarily relegated gymnastics to the Fat Chance Pile, stacked on top of playing ice hockey, taking drum lessons, and getting a dog. "You play soccer and violin and we have four gerbils. That's enough as far as I'm concerned."

This edict ensured an always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride relationship with a few of my favorite things. It also ensured that I would continue to be vaguely haunted by my memory of the one gymnastics class I attended two years earlier with my friend Justine, when I barely cared a whit about the sport.

The Memory. Justine was actually enrolled in the class. I was just along for the ride, because we just got out of school and had a play date immediately following. Justine's mom dropped us off saying, "I'll be outside in an hour." I walked in and roosted in the bleachers with a couple of moms, watching and waiting while Justine stretched and did handstands.

At the age of eight, I was a tried and true tomboy, acting and pretty much looking like a little dude with longer hair. At that moment in time, gymnastics fell under the same "Kind of Girly" genome alongside ballet and Brownies. It didn't repulse me, per se. Just didn't interest me at all. In my spare time I enjoyed riding dirt bikes, all things Star Wars, and, notably, episodically experimenting with telling gigantic lies.

So while Justine balance beamed and cartwheeled, I found an opportunity to strengthen one of my skill sets with a mother in the stands.

"So what brings you here today?" inquired a woman patiently watching, waiting for her daughter. I vividly remember thinking, "This lady is a hippie." This according to my very, very narrow understanding of the word "Hippie." She had long, straight brown hair, round wire rimmed spectacles, no make up, and invariably wore some version of a turtleneck, quilted vest, pants and sandals.

I looked straight at her and replied, "My twin sister Justine is in this class. I'm just waiting for her."

Right out of the gates.

Justine, my dear friend to this day, is *actually* a twin. She has a fraternal twin brother named Derek. As a second grader I found this riveting. My siblings were considerably older and having another someone closer to my age felt "lucky" to me. I thought I'd be king for a day.

"That's her over there [pointing to Justine]. We're fraternal twins, that's why we don't look alike."

She smiled and nodded, "Oh, well that must be fun to have a twin! What is your name?"

"David," I rejoined without skipping a beat and with a good measure of "yeah, i guess it's fun, but I'm so used to it I don't even think about it" nonchalance.

No biggie. It's just who I am.

She nodded, unfazed. "David, David, David.... That's a very important name. Do you happen to know the tale of David and Goliath?"

I stared at her blankly, wondering where on earth was this going. I had no fear of being found out. I felt positively fearless, in fact. She seemed to be sitting well with my stats. Mostly I worried she was gonna tell me a boring story. After all, I had a lot more fabulous tall tales to tell her before the hour was up.

"Well, David, it's a tale from the Bible of a fearless young man who fought a Giant and won."

I nodded my head hoping we could leave it at that and get on with the show.

"There's a song about this brave battle... and it goes like this, [pause, pause, pause] 'David and Goliath, David and Goliath...'"

And off she went, quietly, endlessly singing a Sandy Denny era Fairport Convention-style song, epic both in proportion and dirge-like melody. Just for Fake Me. I immediately felt bored and antsy. Didn't she want to hear more about *my* David life? Like the fact that I didn't do gymnastics because I played ice hockey instead? And that I was a really good drummer? And what about all of our adorable dogs?

Though distracted, I felt satisfied she had bought my story hook, line, and sinker. My remaining goal was to get out of there without her actually meeting Justine or Justine's mom.

I sat there for what felt like an eternity. Listening to the singing story, then the spoken story. Class ended. My exit was seamless. We got in Justine's parents' passenger van and headed off for our play date. To Hippie Mom I remained David, fraternal twin sister of Justine. All was well in the world....

Until the next week when, during the frantic, grab-and-go routine of lower school dismissal I spotted Hippie Mom picking up her daughter from the fourth grade class room. SHE WAS A MOM AT OUR TEENY TINY SCHOOL. How could this be?! I was supposed to never see her again!

From that day forward, I saw her absolutely all the time. For years. Literally, years.

Hippie Mom never ever said a word to me. Never called me David. Just very occasionally gave me a polite nod or a middle distance smile that left me sort of relieved and sort of tortured with the wonder, "Did she fact check? Is my secret safe? Or am I still David? Does she actually even remember me or is she just acknowledging me because I am often frozen in my tracks staring at her?"

Until August, 1984 that episode categorically defined my opinion of gymnastics as: A Topic to be Summarily Avoided. "I shall take this to the grave" was my mantra.

Spotting the Skeleton-dancing-in-a-graveyard decorations in the 6th Ave. gymastics studio windows gives me appropriate pause.

The second installment of Gymnastics Memory Lane to follow....

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