You will note that I refrained from posting my buck teeth story this Halloween. This took tremendous restraint, as it is one of my best stories, told each year to my kids as they gather at my feet near the fireplace. Something like that.
The love of Halloween and its scares is rooted, I think, in a desire to touch the void, the precipice of high emotion. A safe freefall. Halloween is safe, whereas other means to this end can be otherwise. At Slugtoberfest last weekend, I found myself missing this via the route of boxing; my God, there's nothing like having someone swing at your head. I'd put boxing on the scale just between Halloween and drugs as it's unsafe, yet happening with a timed end.
The holiday, then, gives me an opportunity to think through the Halloween moments of my life thus far. Times at the brink. I did this before, I believe, but I am unable to find anything on my own blog, and my memory is bad, so this will seem fresh and new to all of us. I will avoid the obvious; childbirth is almost a cliche--you have to know that it was intense for me to give birth, and especially to a 10lb 12oz boy. Having the type 1 diabetes diagnosis come down on this boy--of course that was difficult. But I'm looking here to remember other key, large, unexpected moments. As the leaves fall and the weather turns cold, I want to remember the heat of my life so far.
swimming with manatees. In early 2000, Greg and I drove down from our home in Tallahassee to Homosassa Springs State Park, where we paid our money, got in a boat, and were dropped off mid-river to the instructions "watch out for swimming snakes." Soon enough, not snakes but half-ton creatures approached us for a looksee and a scratch. After some friendly staredowns the manatees would swim over and allow you to scratch their bellies; mine would cross his flippers over his chest and roll in circles as I scratched him, like a playful kitten. At dinner that evening, Greg and I kept looking at each other and saying Wow. It was hard to find any other words.
stopping an illegal act. I wish I could say more, as this recent experience is probably at the top of my intense list. My expectations, what was undone, what was said and left unsaid--all surprises stemming from an unplanned act on my part. I was left shaking. My children were witnesses.
boxing. Like I said: nothing like the real thing. Even if you've done poorly, you feel invincible, like bring it on. I miss it. I can do without the real risks, but I miss the danger.
simon fainting. Not long after Theo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I had Simon in the bathroom for a haircut. He stood to save my back, and midsentence, fell forward and smashed into the doorframe. He ricocheted and slammed his head on the sink, then fell on the floor. He was out for a few seconds, and I was screaming. He had fainted from locked knees, that's all, but with diabetes on my mind and such a violent fall, it was an awful experience.
mugging. Two times in my life I've stared down a potential real danger, one involving a knife held to my face, and each time my instincts told me to do something contrary to what any book might say. This worked; mostly, I just stayed and faced it. I could read the people each time, in the moment, and I knew that if I acted a certain way, they wouldn't follow through. I wouldn't recommend this type of response--i.e., you should go running if someone has a knife and you have a clear path--but I trust my sixth sense. I hope it's always there for me.
shelters. Working in a homeless shelter provided many moments of chaotic intensity, but my memory now zooms in on a time in a teen shelter that I've written about before (but can't find; yeesh). I was teaching a theatre class to at-risk girls, a three-day affair. The first day was spent slowly reeling in the outliers; the second having right at it, with an intense exploration of racism; the third, a meditation on the theme of forgiveness. The exercises traveled to a level beyond anything I had planned, and I the other adults who were my observer/students were blown away by what was created in that room. One girl had told me on the first day that she was "bad." Her tone meant to imply irretrievably so, that she was beyond help. But by day 3, she had become an active catalyst for the transformative art happening among us, and I could see her changing, even in that short period of time. Let me add here that I was young in my theatre teaching, not yet a parent myself, and I had not developed even the slight touch of nurturing instincts that I have now (yes, you should read that as I only have even the slightest touch now, after 13 years and two children). But I knew I had to speak to her. At the closing ceremony, I was told to stand before each of my participants and give them a special pin. I stood in front of this girl, and the tears fell. "You're not bad, Gina," I told her, and she looked at me and said, "I know that now."