My Army-supply-store sneakers squeaked against the lacquered wood floor as I sunk into the locker room. I hid inside a stall until everyone was gone and hoped by the time I emerged I’d be at the end of the line of 5th grade girls preparing to climb the ropes. Maybe the bell would ring before it was my turn.
In the entire Permian Basin, rife with tumbleweeds, fried burritos and grasshopper oil pumps, I was the biggest loser when it came to climbing ropes in gym class. I’d have rather given up a month of recess or found a razor in my apple. The stains and stings of mercurochrome were kinder.
Most of the time the long ropes stayed wound in their apparatus, but at least once or twice a year they uncoiled like snakes ready to tattoo me. And, of course, the bell never rang. Not in time anyway.
I never touched the tambourine at the top, but what about you?
The year I could not climb the ropes in P.E. was the same year I rode the suicide swings at the Winkler County Fair, and the same year I skated hand-in-hand at the roller rink with Sandy Walker, the cutest boy in 5th grade. Once while I was riding my bike he stopped me to ask why I was so fat. I told him I didn’t know and I pedaled away and I never saw him again.
But, I heard he flunked the 5th grade, so I got over him very quickly because I could never have a crush on a flunky.
That same year I crossed busy Highway 115 with my best friend Cynthia Williams. We were on our way to the convenient store to buy a pack of cigarettes for her mother. Cindy, who made it all the way to the top of the rope in her blue polyester dress, felt the same way about buying those cigarettes as I felt about failing at rope climbing.
Cindy was long and sinewy and her legs moved in braid-like fashion as she climbed the rope. When she was done and so happy I whispered in her freckled ear, “I could see your underwear.” My words crushed her and I hoped I would never crush anyone again, even though I did. I hadn’t intended to steal her joy, but I could not put the happy back on her face.
W h o k n e w ?
When I was little and got skinned up my father always reached for the bottle of mercurochrome. He swathed it on me, and the pink-orange cure was worse than the cut. Then in 1998, the FDA halted distribution of mercurochrome in the United States over fears of potential mercury poisoning. And, I read somewhere that West Texas town wanted to turn the school with the ropes I couldn’t climb into a community center, but they couldn’t afford the expensive asbestos removal. Who knew carcinogens were floating above the tambourine?
It turns out, that sometimes the things we think are bad for us turn out to be good and the things we think are good turn out to be bad. But, one thing we can be sure of is that life is full of uncertainty and nobody knows what’s going to happen next.
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