When I was in tenth grade I got my mom to sign me up for a dance class at a local college. I had taken dance for four years between the ages of nine and twelve but since exiting middle school, hitting puberty, the theatrical release of Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck’s ‘Forces of Nature’; and all the other things that happened when I was thirteen…. I’d not been dancing.
The idea of my signing up for this kind of class was that I could use it as a monthly PE credit for my homeschool program. The credit had up until this point been my mom forging the signature of a fictious yoga teacher named Karen Medence, who…. according to her ‘teacher’s notes’ was really enjoying having me in her class.
I liked the idea of furthering my dance studies at a college level and in theory it seemed like a neat idea to leave the house every once and while.
We went out and bought the shoes, the proper attire, and I went to my first class. A jazz class. I forced on the tight black lace up jazz shoes which hadn’t been stretched out yet but come two years and two productions of ‘West Side Story’ from now would be as loose as a…. fill in the blank….. I was gonna say goose there but you could make it sexual if you wanted to. But like, I’m letting YOU do that. I can’t do all the work for you anymore, Richie. I’m not gonna be around forever.
The dance teacher, who was taking things verrrrrry seriously, led us through an awkward physical warm up. I don’t care how much of a dancer you are, there are very few situations in which someone looks more ridiculous than whilst participating in a ‘phyiscal warm up’. ”Roll up your spine like you have a string holding up your head!’. Okay, Elizabeth, but I DON’T have a string holding up my head and neither do you and the sooner we both realize this the sooner we can start treating each other like adult human beings.’
After the warm up which seemed to last the length of an average pregnancy cycle….. we began working on various ‘moves’. I didn’t look any different or act any different than the college students scattered around the studio but I certainly felt like the biggest outsider in the world. None of them knew who the fuck I was or why the fuck I was there. I spent the entire class wondering if they knew I was fifteen or if they knew I was homeschooled or if they thought I looked stupid. At one point on a break, I went to the bathroom and stayed in the stall for a full ten minutes, so as to avoid any sort of small talk, and when I reentered the room a very ‘2001 college-y looking type’ named Blue (like the color she informed me, as opposed to…. the traditional Irish name?) came over and said ‘I gotta ask! What year are you?!’
I told her a sophomore which wasn’t a lie. But it just so happened I meant of the high school sect. She asked my major and I threw up my hands and shook my head like ‘I’ve got as much a clue as you do! See ya at the Quad’. She chuckled. ‘I hear that’ she said and returned to the dance floor. Class resumed and we proceeded with our padaburays.
After class I waited behind the building for thirty minutes before walking to the parking lot so no one would see me getting picked up by my Mom in her Honda CRV.
Over the next week I remained in denial of how uncomfortable the class had made me. I knew that the following Tuesday I’d have to return to the studio for my second class and spend yet another two hours with Blue and all the others but I didn’t want to think about it. Come Monday I started to get a little panicked. I COULDN’T go back there. I simply couldn’t. I was far too insecure, scared to talk to people, not used to socializing, and all the other issues stereotypically linked to home schooled kids. However, I had too much pride to just quit. I knew my Mom would be the one to have to deal with it and I felt bad, like I was letting her and Karen Mendence, my fictious yoga teacher, down. So I wracked my brain trying to come up with a reason that would prohibit me from returning. I could get sick but I couldn’t sustain that for an entire semester….. I could lie and just never actually go, spend the two hours every week in the bathroom or wandering around the campus, there’s a soda machine in the Science building with really really cold Dr. Peppers.
Finally I decided to break my wrist.
In the moment it seemed like a sensible solution and I wasn’t really giving it much thought. More just panic and determination. A broken wrist is gonna take me outta everything…. especially anything physical. So. Perfect. I’d never broken anything or had any real injury before so I wasn’t really aware of the kind of physical pain that would likely be linked to such a thing, all I really cared about was getting out of what I didn’t want to do for a long period of time.
So that afternoon, while I was home alone, I got out a hammer. I placed my arm on a hardback book and attempted to swing the hammer hard enough that it would…. thats right, Magic Screen…. break my wrist.
I tried for a good hour at least. Taking noble wacks at my skinny boney arm. Sometimes missing, sometimes chickening out, sometimes actually getting in there for a good smack. Of course. I wasn’t strong enough, focused enough, brave enough, crazy enough, whatever enough to actually swing hard enough. I mean, I don’t know anyone who’s ever broken their own wrist with a hammer from their Dad’s tool box but I assume it takes some guts and guts is exactly what I was lacking in the first place. Not having the guts to spend an entire semester learning some Luigi dance moves with a group of eighteen year olds most likely meant I didn’t have the guts to do much else. Thankfully.
That Monday night, I returned the hammer to the toolbox where I’d found it, slightly bruised up and down my arm, I threw on a hoodie and told my mother that the college jazz class was just going way over my head and I thought it’d be best to return to fictious yoga. She agreed and I didn’t return to jazz class again. And I didn’t have to break any of my bones.
Sometimes I wish she’d been a less wonderful mom and said ‘No, you have to go. Tough it up. Be uncomfortable. Thats what high school is.’ But because she’d do anything for me, she didn’t. And so I didn’t have to. Now every day, the echoes of a boy who’d break his own wrist to get outta being around people close to his own age are still here. Whether its concocting elaborate schemes to get out of an appointment or social encounter or feeling an intense rush of anxiety anytime I’m around people I don’t know….. not a lot has changed. Maybe thats DNA or maybe thats the kid who tried to break his own wrist. Or both.
I guess either way, no matter what, we come outta high school with a bruise or two, whether we make them ourselves or not.