Correcting My Walk
The boy stares in the mirror: the posters on the ceiling stretch back behind him like tall oversexed flowers whose elongated backward faces pull his eyes away from his fists, which pump at his side.
“You should practice,” his mother had said after they finished their walk. She offered him water, he wanted soda. “Make you fat,” she sighed as she pulled the glass from the cabinet and gave it to him to fill, as if to say make your choice.
She had made the suggestion as they had walked round the highway at the back end of the hospital, the oaks fat with serum, and plump crows. “Pump your arms, or your fists, and don’t put your feet in front of each other.”
The boy had only blinked back. He couldn’t see what she was talking about, as if what he was looking for was just out of his line of sight, as if it floated under him like a jellyfish under a boat.
“And don’t put your feet in front of each other,” She added, working extra hard, walking extra fast, looking back over her shoulder as if to say, hurry up.
He nodded and trusted his mother, and stared off at the line of crows.
That night he tried to relearn how to walk.
He detested staring at his doughy pale skin. He wished he had a sunburn at least, and instead looked to the ceiling lacquered with posters. And as usual the boy looked beyond the movie posters, beyond the drywall, into the bones of old sleep, in where he once dreamed of being small, lost on a rolling wave of mud, and debris; a wall that eventually overtook him. He looked into the dream as it wormholed into other old bones of his childhood, the first time he was mistaken for a girl, the way the cat had fallen asleep in his arms, the afternoon his mother was so sick she collapsed on the floor, and being so young all he could think to do was run to the door and call for Daddy.
When he looked down his hands were white, his knuckles like eight wrinkled stones.
The boy returned his eye to the mirror, the ceiling above him, and pumped his fists and marched, careful not to alternate his steps, to not move with his hips as his mother had coached.
Sharp spring sunlight arcs through the warm air of my mother’s bedroom
where one by one
the costume pieces slipped, clipped and rolled
in my palms like toy dice.
The Halloween wig upon my head,
the pale red lipstick I stole from the downtown drugstore,
smacked and dabbed on tissues
as my mother and grandmother had done so many Sundays
on their way out the door.
Sun & heat floated the air.
At that moment, in my mother’s nightgown and heels,
the world became a hot wine glass, refracting light
and warming skin and voice like balm.
From then on when my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up
I would say anything
But would think only this:
Transforming, existing in sunlight, my skin bristling under fabric and disguises,
the small matters of attending to beauty cluttered about me like dime-store treasure.
When spring nights were not so humid and my mother did not have schoolwork to accomplish she bullied me from the basement couch to walk up and down Farmville’s hilly neighborhoods of magnolia lined homes, the sloping green of Longwood’s campus below us like a pool of green felt. And on these walks she began to press upon me the most awkward of talks: sex, girls, pot, self-esteem, the future, all of which was as fuzzy to me as the haze that shimmered upon the blacktop.
“I’d rather you smoke pot, than have sex before marriage.”
She was adamant about this. I didn’t get it because I had done neither, and they had not exacted their gravity upon me yet. If her talks were the sun, I was Pluto. Not paying attention.
And it was upon these walks my mother would try to correct me.
“You swing your arms too much. Don’t walk with one foot in front of the other.”
“What?” I was never listening, usually thinking about Tina Dimocalli, the Filipino girl in my class, whose photo I kissed every night before bed. As if that would make her love me.
“You walk like a dork. Your arms, swinging as they do.” I remember rolling my eyes at her emphasis of “dork.” She continued, breaking into a weird cacophony of elbows and hips and feet that was supposed to be me.
“It’s how everyone else walks.” I said. So she was saying I walked like a spas?
“No it isn’t.”
And so I would try, modeling her graceless gait, only to eventually step back into my own stride, which now memory only rewinds to awkward: lanky, with the light sway of the hips, like a girl, like I was excited to be going somewhere.