Posted by: alegra22 | May 22, 2011

the after party

The Magic Playhouse

I don’t expect the noise. It rushes at me from all directions. It drops down from the ceiling and clings to my hair. It vibrates beneath my feet and snakes up through my bones. I don’t expect the light. The small silhouettes, arms outstretched, fingers spread. They appear to be stacked, rows upon rows of children reaching and screaming.

Dan grabs my hand, his body possessed. Just as quickly it overtakes me, too – this desire to move forward into the beautiful, orchestrated chaos.

“I don’t remember prepubescent boys being able to scream like this,” I shout as a whistle blows and the small feet pound the bleachers. A basketball flies through the air and the thump thump thump of bass shoves us forward to our seats. It is past 6 p.m. standard Rapture Time and some people might argue that our lives were weighed and found lacking, but as Dan’s colleagues turn to us in greeting, I know the universe is unfolding exactly as it should. The whistle blows and the basketball game resumes.

 
A young woman sits at our table, the daughter of a teacher, and there is something in her flowing black hair, long limbs and gentle smile that reminds me of my friend Charisse at that age. I know this girl is being bullied at school – Dan has shared some of the stories.
 
 I remember those days. I remember the rumors (apparently by the time I was 15 I’d contracted AIDS, been sent to drug rehab, and had been spotted engaged in some lascivious act with vegetables in Safeway). I remember the attacks both physical and verbal.  I remember being locked in the dark room at my junior high. I remember being shoved to my knees in the gravel with my arm twisted behind my back and groped in front of my peers. My locker was vandalized, my house egged, my possessions stolen, destroyed, and my clothes lit on fire. For years, I would cross the street rather than have to walk past certain types of people because something in my throat would tighten and I’d forget how to use my limbs.
 
 I want to pull this beautiful girl near and whisper, “You’ll look back on these years and realize most of those girls were just drowning and desperate. They’re clawing at you to save themselves. They don’t want to hurt you, they’re scared. If you’re lucky, you’ll all meet again at a later date and they’ll tell you this. You’ll love them more for their honesty, for the fact that you survived a war. The other ones? Never mind them. They’ll be the same type of miserable forty years from now. Leave them to their fate.”
 
I know this because I was on both sides. I was tormented and when I couldn’t stand the torment anymore, I decided to try my hand at joining the bullies. I was one of the girls scrambling to keep my head above water and always sinking. One day, I stopped trying. I couldn’t stand the pain anymore. What I had done to others, what was done to me – it all became mixed blood, all crisscrossed scars.  I found that by surrendering to the fear of drowning, I learned to float. Slowly, over time, I learned to swim.
The girl smiles at me and I can see that she will get through. Her father and mother sit across from her at the table. She has good friends. Teachers who are protecting her. She has talents. Faith in God. She is not alone. Still, I lean into my husband and whisper something about how his colleague might be handling this issue of bullies and his daughter with a calm, gentle spirit, but Dan better not expect the same from me when it comes to our children. “War,” I whisper, watching him shake his head and smile. “Pure war. Especially if they mess with Zaviera.” Dan leans over, kisses me, and says. “Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less. That guy has Hawaiian blood, you’re a Spaniard.”
 
On the court, men sweat, their eyes locked on the ball. Basketball is the one game I love watching, regardless of who is playing. There is a wit about the game that I get caught up in. The ball is dunked, the player hanging from the rim, that piercing scream rising up from young boys standing on the bleachers, their biology leaping to the tips of their fingers, making their hair stand on end. I laugh and shout and stomp my feet, letting the background music ride through my body until I am bouncing in my chair, moving my shoulders, drumming my hands on my thighs as the game continues. I’m thinking about nature, how we’re all perfectly what we are, even when we’re young and believe we have to hide ourselves, whether in trying on uncomfortable fashions and relationships, or hiding in a classroom at lunchtime to escape cruelty.
 
 I didn’t really understand this until I had three children. Each child emerged a unique creation. Each year I watch them grow more into their essential selves.
 
Years ago, I huddled on the couch with my friend Shea. She made a joke about the ‘after party’ – the gathering together of all of our people when the curtain falls on the last act of our lives and we’re all backstage celebrating. We greet one another as kindred spirits, beloveds, laughing and congratulating one another on how well we played our roles, what a fine show we put on. This idea took hold of me. Soon after that night, I stood by a friend while he took his last breath. I made a commitment to find all of my people and say the things that needed to be said. I wasn’t going to wait for the after party.
 
Slowly, I’ve been finding those people from my past – most of you know who you are. If we’ve had the chance, I’ve handed you memories, I’ve tried to tell you that I’ve held you in my heart in a way that will be with me until my last moments and beyond. You will be part of the parade that carries me through to the other side.  Each time one of you has come back into my life, you’ve handed me a gift. I’ve met more of my people waiting for me a little further down the road. I’ve wasted no time in declaring my love for you with what I refer to as my ‘puppy-dog pounce.’
 
I think about all of this on the night the world was meant to end. I watch men striving for that moment when muscle and mind and breathing all blend into one and everything else fades into the quiet swoosh of a three-point shot. I know that feeling on the face of the wave – the moment when our nature is expressing itself effortlessly and we know we are good. 
 
Later, Dan and I sit in Starbucks talking. My legs are slung over the side of a chair as I clutch my coffee, my eyes heavy, my voice raw from shouting over all the noise. We discuss God, children, friends, nature, dreams, relationships – the usual.
 
In considering the last hour of my life, I can say this with confidence: I believe my days will be weighed by the people I have loved and what they have taught me. Standing at the gates, God will ask me, “What did you do with the family I gave you? How fearlessly did you love the people in your life?”
 
 
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Responses

  1. A girl just last week killed herself here after being bullied.

    Great piece Alegra, BUT I didn’t know New Zealanders could dunk.

    • My adolescent years were hell because of bullying. It took me a long time to recover from it.

      And I know, right? I was surprised, too! (Secretly I think the guy was an ex-pat)

  2. “Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less. That guy has Hawaiian blood, you’re a Spaniard.”

    I’ve let Nick know that there are certain situations in which I’ll let my Italian side loose. He smiles and accepts it.

    • Yes, I tell Dan: I fight with the aim of peace, but if our children are messed with, I will fight.

  3. How I remember this! There was a year in school where I was literally teased until I either cried or vomited, every single lunch hour. When you’re 10, hearing “Those girls are just jealous” doesn’t help, though, as much as I’d like to tell that little girl the same thing. “This, too, shall pass” doesn’t help either, as much as it is true. I wish I could go back in time to my little self and say “You survived!” And go back in time and squeeze little Alegra and say “You grow up to be one of the finest, most compassionate women I know!”

    • No, there isn’t anything that can be said during those years. It feels like an act of grace that we survive them. I am so sorry you had to go through that experience, too.
      Thank you so much for this, Emily xxxx

  4. Tears…

    I am trying to keep up here and there with your daily blogs and as you may already know, THIS is the kind of writing I would love to see in a novel. I didn’t realize you experienced so much bullying growing up. I had quite a bit of it too and as you say, I can understand about the criss crossing of scars. There’s a time, especially in early teens, where it gets really hard and is the most sensetive time that makes or breaks a person. Clearly you made it above and beyond. And you know one of my favorite parts of Waking Life is the part about connecting with the people, that’s all that really mattered.

    As always, beautifully written.

    I just bought Poisonwood Bible today and am about to read that.

    • I can’t wait for you to read Poisonwood (although for some reason, I’ve been convinced that YOU were the one to recommend it to me years ago!).
      Yes, I went through some really painful years but I am enormously grateful that I’ve been able to connect with a lot of people from those times and have some really good, healing conversations about why we did the things we did – but the idea of my children having to go through any of that devastates me. I’m so sorry you’ve had your own experiences. I often think of those teen years as a kind of rite of passage for some people – sort of like having to go through a certain kind of hell in order to be able to come out on the other side and live with a certain kind of compassion and joy. xxx

  5. War. I could not have said it better myself. I agree and will react the same when Jane is the age that girls start to notice her differences 🙂

  6. Alegra, for some reason I am reading this only now and it gave me chills at certain points and at the end. So honest and poignant, touching, beautiful as always… I feel like I understand you better after reading this; you really shared a piece of your heart and soul with us all. Thank you. And I agree with the above comment that THIS is the kind of writing that I would love to see in a book, and that will be published, I have no doubt… 🙂 Love to you and all your blessed, ferocious, beautiful loving! ❤


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