At the gym, the soundtrack of my younger days is spilling so loudly from the speakers it erases thought, and everybody seems to be running in place. Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time, Nirvana’s Come as You Are, and then — Good God Almighty! — the theme song from Friends.
I am lifting weights, but really, what I am doing is remembering, the soundtrack from the speakers conjuring up the day of Kurt Cobain’s death, a friend’s apartment, an ashtray squared companionably on the table and Come As You Are on the radio. That was the year I was starting to have just enough intimations of mortality that wishful thinking had made me read the label on the pack of American Spirits we were splitting as Addictive — rather than Additive — Free.
Were we grieving for poor Kurt Cobain as we sat there at the table? Not much. So many rock stars, drowned or shot or suicided! We had cut our teeth on them. We were contemplating a day off from work; we were overeducated and underemployed, we had postponed adulthood with graduate school; we didn’t realize how good we might have things.
And just like that the music has done what it was meant to do, and I am transported. Away from this tiny gym lacking bells-and-whistles in a stripmall where at least half the storefronts are empty, it having been built in those halcyon optimistic days before the bubble burst.
Alternate mornings, I lace up my sneakers and head out, silver oblong of ipod nestled in one hand; I nod at the neighbors I pass, we are all of us sealed off, the music loud. In our own worlds.
When my daughters hear music, they can’t help but dance. In the cereal aisle of Whole Foods, while the childless edge past them, wishing I had my offspring under better control. In our living room; on the front steps; on the walkway leading to the car. At the Arts Center, weekly, where one of the instructors recently pulled me aside and whispered in my ear Like it or not, I think you’re going to be bringing kids here for classes for years. You’re the mother of dancers.
It’s one of the joys of my life, to sit on the waxed floor of the hallway at the Arts Center outside the classrooms, while on the other side of the door, my daughters are dancing to Debussy, the ballet mistress’s voice counting time.
The Art Center was built in the twenties, was once the residence of the son of a Coca-Cola magnate. The downstairs is paneled with mahogany pulled from Pullman cars. Eighty years ago, the magnate’s son’s private menagerie roamed the grounds. Now girls clad in leotards have the run of the house. They are beautiful in the late afternoon light that streams through the Arts Center’s stained glass windows. I could eat them up; I could sit there forever while my daughters dance right where the daughters of the Coca Cola magnate’s son slept in ornate beds.
Is it cold comfort, the way that as we reach adulthood we replace that effervescent joy in movement with running in place to music that’s become “the Oldies” — or is that as good as things get?
Better than nothing, I think as I walk, earbuds nestled in the rosy, still young coil of my ears. This morning there was a two-degree drop of temperature, signal enough to the hopeful of a change of seasons. Butterflies hover over our zinnias, making hay while the last of the sun shines. In front of a particular house, chartreuse balls dropped from a Bois D’arc tree lie in the grass like an interrupted game of croquet. Good as it gets, and better than nothing. We all dance as we can, each in our own way.