The day after Labor Day was always the first day of school when I was a child.
I loved going to school. It was always a fresh beginning, a still-summer's day filled with promise and the waxy smell of new crayons; the fresh, sharp aroma of newly sharpened pencils; the hot, vegetal scent of just-mown grass; the wet, clean essence of swamp cooler pads.
Today, picking the daughter up from school, I stepped around the wet sidewalk left by window washers, and even that somehow smelled like the start of a new year.
My freshman year of high school, my English class was in the basement, next to the Art Room. Something down there always gave off a sharp, cold metallic odor--maybe it was the bomb shelter with its load of slowly-rotting Cold War supplies. Even now, all these years later, I can almost smell it again, and the memory calls up institutional linoleum in the dimly lit hall where I stood clutching my clothbound three-ring binder to my chest, mildly disturbed by the thought of this class. The teacher was a holy terror who looked like Paul Lynde, but had the acid wit of Kurt Vonnegut, and I was not infrequently the target of his teasing. Still, I learned a lot from him, and I read Conrad Aiken and Truman Capote in his class for the first time. But the vision that swims before me when I think of his class is that dark, metallic corridor.
The dance studio, where I spent years, smelled cold with an underlying tang of rosin, varnish, and sweat. It had a skylight that cast the room in a soft, eerie blue when the overhead fluorescents were off, and sometimes, when I was dressed out and in there before anyone else, I would tear around the floor in the unlit silence-jeté, tour jeté, fouetté, arabesque--darting glances at my ghostly reflection in the studio mirrors. It was pure joy to have so much space in which to unleash movement. When my classmates would come wandering in, some of them would join me and we'd improvise, pas de deux, pas de quatre, until class started.
Sometimes I pass the studios at the daughter's school before conservatory ends, and there are students lined up, practicing turns on the diagonal. It makes me smile to see them, to see that so little has changed, all these years later. When I took the daughter to orientation, we wandered through the studios for conservatory information, to get her id photo taken. I carefully sniffed surreptitiously, but only smelled the new paint that had been applied over the summer. As I glance in now, walking down the hot pavement, I am surrounded by exhaust and overheated students. Silently, I wish the dancers well, and don't dwell on what is, finally, lost to me forever.
Go listen to some good music: "Headlights on Dark Roads" from the album Eyes Open by Snow Patrol. Actually, this isn't a sad post. I don't accept limitation with any sort of grace at all, but eventually, I recognize my new life and move on. Over the summer, I dispensed once and for all with all my dance stuff. Well, I still have my barre...