I signed up for Jazzercise classes. I knew I would do it as soon as I spotted the building down the street from where I live. I made fun of it at first to save face, but when I got home, I looked up classes and schedules and went back the next day and enrolled. I love Jazzercise; I love dancing with the woman with a hearing aid and the fluorescent pink shorts; I love the hoots and hollers when the group gets into the groove of a Pitbull song. We are so funny shaking our hips and raising our arms in the air as though we’re at the club. We’re all a bunch of ladies playing make-believe for an hour before it’s back to our minivans and our Costco trips, but for a little while we are seventeen and pretending we can handle the mischief we are causing with our booty shakes.
I signed up because I love to dance. Jazzercise is probably not technically dancing, but the beat is good and the repetition in three to five increments is a balm for me. I move from confusion to slight understanding to making the steps my own. Who’s that girl in the back corner? Why isn’t she up front? That’s what I imagine when I’m in Jazzercise.
“Did you used to teach?” the owner asked me on my first day of taking a class.
“Step aerobics,” I told her. “Not this.”
“You want a job?” she asked.
I have a scar on the back of my right shoulder. If you were to flatten out your hand, it’s about the width and length of your index, middle, and ring fingers combined. I got it scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. I was in Port Douglas with my brother and husband, and they thought it would be fun to learn how to scuba dive. I wanted to go shopping. That’s what I was thinking standing on the edge of the boat, mustering up the courage to plummet myself into the water.
My husband and brother had already jumped and the guy driving the boat kept saying, “Better jump, mate, better jump.” Screw you, I wanted to say. When I get off this damn boat, I’m buying all the clothes in Port Douglas.
I was literally flying through the air like a cartoon character when I spotted a fin right where I was going to land. Unfortunately, the fin was attached to a shark. Fortunately, the sharks in the Great Barrier Reef are like pigeons in Chicago; they’re everywhere and you can kick them away easily.
Which is what I did when I landed on it. The shark shot away, but not before slicing my shoulder with its fin. Shark fins are really sharp. You can Google it. Blood was everywhere, which tends to make sharks go crazy, but the folks on the boat were true professionals. Immediately someone looped a life preserver around me and pulled me out of the water. They got everyone else out in seconds, my blood still rippling on the skin of the water.
“I can’t believe you jumped on a shark,” my brother said.
“You’re buying me Uggs today,” was my reply.
I started a new job, and during orientation the staff read an excerpt from The House on Mango Street.
Those who don’t know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we’re dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake.
Be we aren’t afraid. We know the guy with the crooked eye is Davey the Baby’s brother, and the tall one next to him in the straw brim, that’s Rosa’s Eddie V., and the big one that looks like a dumb grown man, he’s Fat Boy, though he’s not fat anymore nor a boy.
All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity—shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. That is how it goes and goes.
The leader that day asked for responses. One man, the PE teacher, said how scared he is when he gets pulled over by a cop. Said he never gets in his car without making sure he has all his paperwork easily accessible.
“How you doin’, Feyen?” he asks me every day in his booming voice. “You need anything, you let me know, okay? Anything.”
Another man, the dean of the school, agreed with the PE teacher; he, too, is afraid when he gets pulled over. “I have a master’s, two kids, and a wife, but they don’t see that,” he said, pulling the skin on his arm.
Every day, the dean talked with rookie teachers to see how we were doing. “Always ask questions,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
One teacher, a woman, asked about managing motherhood and teaching. Her voice shook when she asked, and my eyes welled with tears for the question nobody can answer. We all ache in the hope that we are getting parts of it right as we put one foot in front of the other and send our kids out in a different direction with deep exhales.
“Family comes first,” the dean said. He laughed then, and said that once, about nine days after his baby was born, there was a bad night—a sleepless night—and no substitutes were available. He brought his baby boy in, held him and rocked him as he taught his class so his wife could have a break.
Another man, the social studies teacher, said he remembered as a kid watching people in their cars as they got on the expressway out of his neighborhood. “They looked so afraid,” he said. “And I thought, what’s scary here? I couldn’t understand.”
He walked past my classroom after school one day and found me crying.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. I tried to laugh it off, but my voice betrayed me. “There’s just so much to learn,” I said. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Me either,” he said. He speaks so slowly, and I think he’s about my age. We were kids once, looking at each other through glass, one of us just passing through, the other wondering why. “We’ll figure it out,” he said.
Each morning since then he walks past my room to see how I’m doing. He gives me a thumbs-up and raises his eyebrows, like a question. I give him a thumbs-up and a smile. “Be good,” he tells me.
“Two Truths and a Lie” is a get-to-know-me game; those pesky inventions people in charge think are vital for starting the year off right. I hate them, but I’ll begin with my shark story. Once people see my scar, they almost always ask about it. It’s good to have a story ready. People think they know you when you tell a good story.