Treehouse

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Brief Encounter: I Could Never Do a Cartwheel

by Treehouse Editors

Katie Miller

I imagine it feels like this: a single step off a ledge, a free fall so fast you forget to hold your breath.

*

I’m not saying that doing a cartwheel is the same thing as making a bad decision, but I am saying that I’ve never been able to do either, and I just think that maybe the two deficiencies are not unrelated.

As a kid, I’d watch my friends’ bodies slice through the air, all ease and stretched-out limbs. You just sort of—well, you just sort of kick your feet over your head, they’d tell me, brushing the dirt off their palms as they landed back on their feet as though seconds before they hadn’t been upside down, head inches from the ground. You just kick, let your body follow. Let go.

My body swollen with a pent-up energy that I’m only now beginning to recognize as a lifetime’s worth of accumulated indecision, I’d start the lunge. I’d fold myself sideways, tentatively palm the warm grass, repeat to myself: just kick just kick don’t think everyone can do a cartwheel you can do a cartwheel just let go. Before I could even plant my second hand on the ground, though, the inevitable self-conscious hesitation—potent, physical, this hesitation would seep through my body, settle into my stomach and weigh down my arms and legs like lead until I crumpled to the lawn, motionless.

*

Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that I’ve never made a real bad decision—one of those willed, eyes-squeezed-shut-to-the-inevitable-fallout risks that you might talk about only years later, in a dimly-lit dive bar, maybe, head bowed over a beer as you tell a stranger about this one time, when. Because if I could never trust myself enough to let go for a cartwheel—the simple one-two kick, a rotation guaranteed to deliver me back to solid ground—there is certainly no chance that I could risk a fall with no bottom, a somersault through the air sure to deliver me, battered, to some different reality. A reality in which I’m left aching, sore for the assurance of solid ground.

*

But still, I close my eyes sometimes and imagine I can hear wind whistling through my ears. I imagine that for just a moment, I don’t think about the bruises that will line my shins when I hit the ground: I’m here, suspended, weightless.


Katie Miller lives and works in Tucson, Arizona.

Moon Men

by a contributor

Erik Doughty

Hi, Ms. Paley. This is Jimmy Chang, calling on behalf of my son, Kevin. It seems he never received Julie’s RSVP for his birthday. The party just ended, but what if I told you he planned his whole kickball-themed day around Julie being here, yet he is terrible at all things requiring foot-eye coordination—even walking? What if none of the other booger-snacking overbiters in attendance even mattered, because only your daughter gives his heart a brain freeze?

Kevin’s been courting Julie since third grade, keeping track of how many teeth she’s lost and her favorite crayon color, which is somewhere between Pumpkin and Snazzy Sunburst. From what I understand, he said “hi” to her once by accident.

Sure, Kevin is not the ideal fourth grade boyfriend. He doesn’t know the secret handshake or not to share his chicken nuggets with the class pet iguana. But that’s on me: me failing him, not the other way around. See, he has this “eject” button on his belt loop that he presses whenever he gets stuck inside someone else’s joke. It was cute at first, but knowing what I know now, it’s like who can I ask about this? What words do good parents keep in their pockets?

Sometimes, I take him out on the roof with a telescope and a cookie dough bucket; we talk about buying a condo on the moon after we sell our lucky stars. I tell him, “I don’t know how much those go for on craigslist.” He chews with understanding.

Then, we talk superpowers: telekinesis or teleportation, the pros and cons of secret identities. Kevin would change one of his arms into a bazooka that shoots pterodactyls made of fire into the sky where they breathe rainbows and poop clouds. I thought that was weird but totally badass.

This is how I know the kickball thing is about Julie, because with the right genetic mutation, Kevin would use mind control on her friends so they’d always pick her for their team; that way, her face would never get rainy underneath the playground slide. When he asks about my powers, I claim superhuman strength and an unbreakable heart.

Ms. Paley, our kids are at the best age right now—before middle school, which just plain sucks because everyone outgrows you and your corduroys overnight. In high school, they’ll never be appreciated in their own time, learning too young to text their prayers and autocorrect their love. One or the other’s marriage will end in divorce. And it nukes my gut to think I might not be around to tell him not to fight if his wife leaves the light on in empty rooms, skyrocketing the electricity bill. Because it’s worth it—all that light in your life.

For now though, they still scamper to us when we pick them up from school. It’s the tail end of the scampering era. And the way they look at us, as if we became everything we once saw in ourselves: that’s the closest we’ll come to stadium lights.

Now, I know it’s late, Ms. Paley, and Sunday nights are school nights too. But if you and Julie would consider stopping by, we still have a decorate-your-own-cupcake station. We have videogames and pizza bagels and Kevin is saving the good controller for her. And while they play, maybe we can talk about superpowers too: about TiVo’ing real life and living without commercial interruption—about turning any water fountain into a tap with your favorite beer. What if we could save up time like it was money, and blow it all on those rare perfect moments, stretching them out for decades? Like when a spring day gets lost in January and you’re driving with the windows down, your kid and his dog in the backseat with their heads out the window—ice cream on both their noses.


Erik Doughty is an Asian American writer living in Boston, whose work has been published in The Drum, Corium Magazine, and Annalemma, among others. He is almost a lawyer and carries a notebook, air guitar, and inhaler with him wherever he goes. More of his stories can be found at erikdoughty.wordpress.com.

See Erik’s list of 5 Things later this week in our ongoing contributors’ series.