By Diane Lefer
“Disgusting!” was our mother’s word for the way the other kids danced. When we told our classmates we weren’t allowed, they thought we must belong to a cult. It’s just our mother was uncomfortable with our bodies. Years later, when she caught on that we enjoyed sex, she seemed less disgusted than surprised. And when we started to bring home partners of a race other than our own, she said we were doing the right thing, that this was the future even if it made her, she said, uncomfortable.
We couldn’t tell if her discomfort was envy.
It had to be an error in translation. I’d RSVP’d on the website for the mask exhibit at the Korean Cultural Center but, when I showed up, I was ushered upstairs. There I met the famous traditional dancer who’d just flown in from Seoul. He spoke no English, so it was the interpreter who asked, “North or South?”
When I just stood there, she continued: “South Korea people lift feet but keep connection to ground. North Korea people leap, try to fly.” “They’re trying to get away!” I said. “No. Is cold in north. In south too hot to jump.”
They waited until I understood I’d booked a private lesson. “North or South! Choose!”
This was all a mistake. “I’m sorry. I don’t dance.”
“OK. Only walk and learn arm.”
I copied the master dancer’s movements. Arms stretched straight out. So far so good. Right arm circling in front of my head, then I send it to the right like a swan’s neck while remembering to point down with the left and I’m completely confused by the time I’m supposed to do it in reverse, and worse, the master started beating the drum, a steady 4/4 except for where it got tricky and stuttered the beat and I was supposed to keep walking while keeping my hands facing in the right direction, like rubbing your belly while patting your head which isn’t dancing but is still something I’m not for the life of me any good at.
“Feet apart,” said the interpreter. “Knees bent. Sway right, sway left, body little down, body very much down,” which is the point where I tipped over and fell.
I said, “I shouldn’t be here.”
I stood. And fell over again. “I’m sorry.”
The master dancer squatted beside me and began to sing. I couldn’t understand a word but I loved the way his voice would break and the song make sounds like broken laughter. His voice cracked wide open and light came pouring out and wider still till I fell again and kept on falling but this time falling inside his voice and inside the song and –
I was sprawled on the Center floor.
But the master spoke no English and the interpreter was gone.
There are things we want to be true. ESP. From the time I was eight or nine, and right through high school, I wanted to believe I could read minds and predict the future. I had people test me with cards. I sold test questions and answers and junior high school teachers being so predictable, I often predicted right. I had the reputation of a psychic, and though I never quite convinced myself, I wanted to believe.
When I lived with Joe, whenever he misplaced things I could always tell him where he’d left them. Instead of saying thank you, “You’re a witch,” he accused. By then I knew damn well I had no powers. I simply paid attention but that was even worse. “You’re watching me!” he said, angry to think I knew more about him than he did.
I was never psychic or clairvoyant no matter how much I once wished. I never used a Ouija board or believed as a child I could contact the dead. There was no reason then to try: I hadn’t yet known anyone who died.
Mom is gone now. I have to try very hard to hear her voice. I have to try even harder not to hear her.
Copyright Lefer 2023