Contrary to the flat, thud design of these caveman feet, I was a dancer once. What began as an opportunity for my mother to get an hour-a-week break from my spazzing self transitioned into an hour-a-week chance for my spazzing self to put a rhythm and heartbeat behind my moves, to believe just for a second that these wild limbs made perfect sense.
It was a year into this artistic career when I sat, jittery-kneed and drooling on grain-rich dance floor. The older girls, the pristine team of competition dancers practiced for an upcoming performance. Eyes darted to catch the tall blonde leaping- splits through the air!- another girl’s delicate point bending high, high, higher. Limbs slicing and gliding, neck twists and flicks of the wrists in tempo, I marvelled. Dance teacher hollering at this lazy flex or that too-slow turn, but I couldn’t listen. This was the day I realized I could become the dazzling thing I’d seen.
I interrupt my son as he plays with a plastic fire truck. He clutches the truck’s driver, a stern-faced figure with an authoritative mustache who he calls Jimbo. ”We’re going to visit Uncle Jimbo at work,” I explain. He eyes the tiny Jimbo in his palm, unsure of what weird game I’m playing.
We drive, the boy quiet and contemplative in the backseat. I can see cords crossing, wheels chugging along inside his head. There can’t be two Jimbo’s and One Jimbo works in the toy room, just as Mom’s name can’t be Tori, and broccoli can not possibly be good for anyone. He gets still for a moment, and I hear his thought cloud thicken, heavy in denial: This is all false.
We park deep in the belly of the city and I announce that we’ve arrived at Jimbo’s job. I hear the sharp inhale. I know he spied with his little eyes all things red and shiny. I glance back and yes, there I are the wires short circuiting, sparking like crashing lightbulbs over his brain. This. This is what a dream looks like. And I can put that face of his into words. Those words are panting, awe-shivering, and teary-elated, ”Oh. My. Gods. This is not K-Mart“.
He tucked and rolled from our almost parked car. I trailed off a few words into my explanation of genealogy, my enthusiastic lecture on how Thomas comes from a family of actual life-saving bad asses cut short as he sprinted across the lot. I left it at “You got the hero’s blood in you, boy”. Watching him stare awe-smacked at the flesh and moustached face of an authentic, fire-fighting Jimbo, I think he got my point.
My uncle feigned offense as I hauled three dozen “Police Pellets” into a break room. I stayed busy getting rid of the evidence… with my mouth, while a young boy’s mind was being blown with each honk and holler of real fire engine’s siren outside.
Poles were scaled and horns honked. Manual windows were rolled up and down and up again, because even the most basic aspects of this wonderland are exotic and exciting. We clenched all major body parts as we soared high above Nashville in the 100-Foot Boom. (Calm down. I’m pretty sure it’s ranked #2 on a list of Totally Safe Toddler Activities. I read it on Pinterest. It must be true). Somewhere between firing off a hefty water hose and viewing with much fascination the twin bunks and cinderblock walls of real firemen’s real living quarters, I spotted the adrenaline jitters, the drool sneaking from my son’s mouth, and I knew. I remember this moment for what it is for him, what it was for me.
We are at home. After many protests for the kid to ”Stop Munchausen-ing me!” I’ve relented and agreed to one more harrowing experience getting lodged in a play tent’s tunnel. “Something needs to get wescued, Moms,” he scolds, and I am just the victim this hero is looking for. I’ll hide the matches. Maybe put out a disclaimer that should the neighbors find small lawn blazes and stuffed animals suspiciously trapped in drainage ditches, they need not worry. Yeah, yeah, yeah, my boy did that. Chill out. He’s on the way to save the day.
For a boy who faithfully clings to last Halloween‘s flimsy fireman costume, a boy who commands a fleet of big and small toy engines every day from his playroom Captain’s chair, a boy who- until this very minute- was content with the tiny wailing of battery-operated sirens, the phony mustache of an imposter Jimbo, these are the blindingly brilliant moments of inspiration.
I’m not a dancer now. This is shocking. I know. Eventually my sturdy frame couldn’t wield itself into art. I mean leotards. Really. Go shove an elephant through the front door of an ant hill. But I still tendu at the kitchen sink, sweep the old leg into arabesque to pick up a dropped sock on laundry day. I remember the day I saw a truth better than what I could have imagined, and I remember the sparkly years that followed. Lit up like stage lights, the red flashes atop a fire truck, I remember becoming ,just for a little while, the dazzling thing I’d seen.