It was the summer of '82, my first year at Saint Vincent's. I'd just arrived in the city, a newly minted nurse from the Midwest, and taken an apartment on Perry Street with three other nurses. He was ... [+]
My new neighbor was a hoarder. She hoarded everything. Crystals, pink bakery boxes—she even took in children. Each one was flawed: too restless, not bright enough, a daisy-shaped head. The sound of giggling, which carried in the wind, was punctuated by wails. It just didn't add up that there could be so many new arrivals. It was only a three-bedroom house. She had once given me a tour, Natalie had: there were internment-like rows of metal bunk beds, a wall of eyes. A strong aroma of bubble bath. Suddenly my hands had been pulled by smaller ones and I was led to a dungeon. Leaning against God-knows-what were bicycles with flashy training wheels and streamers. Natalie said they had been impounded. I could see she had her work cut out.
The trampoline in her backyard was an eyesore, as well as a danger. Oh, a child is meant to fall, to soar, Natalie would pleasantly tell me. Or perhaps "pleasantly" is not the right word. Perhaps she said this in a superficial way, as though she was above it all, no child of hers would ever succumb to scrape or bruise, and yet that was not true: a number of them turned up on my porch with sober looks, and decorated with Band-Aids.
I was reminded of that old nursery rhyme:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
But they did not stay in bed. Wearing pajamas, the daredevils snuck into the yard, and she allowed this. Most nights I couldn't sleep for the ruckus. As I lingered by the bedroom window, I felt pensive, querulous, my body broken by the men I'd loved. There was also the loss of my parents, which unsettled me at odd moments, making me into an orphan myself. In the moonlight the trampoline glowed like a spaceship. As if in awe, they approached the round apparatus with its dangerous springs. It quickly turned showy, chaotic, the children in all different colors—bouncing like gummy bears or embryonic people. What a small world it was, cruel to despise, yet treacherous to welcome. The sound of them jumping would fast annoy me, that feeling would build, yet if I strode outside with my mean face on, there wouldn't be a soul in sight.
The rumor was that Natalie had once worked for Cirque de Soleil, I am unsure in what capacity, she did not seem the somersault type. I warned her about the verge of poison oak growing right beside the trampoline, but she was unconcerned. Child after child plummeted into it, only to emerge with a horrific smile, as if to say: The world cannot take away this pleasure, cannot punish me.
It surprised me how sad I was when they all moved away. Now there was no thunk thunk thunk in the dead of night, nothing really to worry about but the state of the world and my own particular life, which was going nowhere. Why Natalie had left behind the trampoline became a full-on mystery. There it sat, in rain or sun, the odd squirrel bounding across it.
Months passed by. Meanwhile the trampoline beckoned. Its synthetic will, or force field, was doubtless stored with potential energy. I desperately wanted to jump on its disc of black netting. The smart angel on my one shoulder advising that I would surely break a bone, the other angel whispering, Go for it!
It was after midnight, and again I couldn't sleep. I suppose a part of me had never accepted that the children were really gone. I wondered where they were now, if they were still being fostered by Natalie or if they had found their permanent homes. I watched over the derelict trampoline with the intensity of Joan of Arc.
Not that I heard any voices. Nobody told me to go out, and tiptoe past the dahlias. Mounting the trampoline via the stepladder was not that hard at all. Soon I was wobbling across, as if at sea. I gently bounced. There was my house, prim and grey, ruin of childhood. I had never really seen it before, remaining so solid while I was flung and flung again. The thrill of it, the jolt to my senses, the way the deep dark horizon became something other, large and all-encompassing. A feeling of lightness and invincibility came over me, even as I was aware of the verge of poison oak nearby.
I jumped as high as I could, up and up, right out of myself, into the sky.
I would never come down.