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Lighter Than Air: An Elegy Christi Merrill I was eleven when I learned to do an aerial. That was the year my parents' divorce papers were signed, the year my father introduced my brother and me to the woman who would become his second wife, the year my mother began dating the man she would later elope with. I look back now and see that besides learning to do an aerial, that was the year I first kissed a boy: eyes squeezed shut and Ups pressed closed on a dare at a party. That was the year my friends outcasted me for three excruciating weeks. That was the year my breasts began pushing out from my chest in two painful buttons . And that was the summer I sat breathless in front of the television watching Nadia Comaneci flip and tumble to capture seven gold medals at the Olympics. I loved Nadia. I loved the Unes of her smooth, white leotard, the lean muscles on her thighs and arms, the dark circles under her eyes, her girlish bangs and ponytail. I copied her open, reckless style of tucking when I did back flips and the fuU-handed chops she gave the air as she spun around sideways in an aerial. I tried to mimic her dainty cartwheels on the balance beam and her fast, soaring dismounts from the uneven paraUel bars. I cut out her glossy pictures from Time, Sports Illustrated and Life and glued them into a special scrapbook entitled "Nadia." I gazed at her photographs night after night. I wanted to saü through the air as confidently as Nadia. I wanted to skip and kick as playfuUy as Nadia. I wanted to leap and twirl with aU her grace and strength. After the separation we moved. Mom took my brother John and me with her to an olive-colored town house in a treeless viUa ofidentical olivecolored town houses. Ours felt empty inside even after we unloaded our halfofthe furniture from Dad's house. Weekday mornings that faUJohn and I would stand at the living room window crying as we watched our mother dressed up—nylons, make-up and aU—negotiating the famüy car through 138 Christi Merrill139 the parking lot, away from us and off to work. We stiU had that pit in our stomachs as we got ourselves breakfast, made bag lunch sandwiches, got dressed, and left for school on time—checking twice to make sure we both were wearing our keys around our necks, his looped with an old shoelace and mine with a bright, fuzzy ribbon, checking twice that we had locked the front door and shut it tight. At school we pretended not to notice each other's divorce-lonely tears across the playground tarmac. Then back home we'd get into fights so terrible Mom had to replace my bedroom door after John had pounded his foot through it. Not once but several times on our Saturday visits Dad had to explain how much it hurt boys when you kicked them between the legs stop kicking your brother. By the time I turned eleven, however, we had settled into a routine. Cold mornings Mom would askJohn to go outside and start her car for her as she got ready, peeking out the window at his blond exhaust-fogged head behind the steering wheel to be sure he didn't put the car in gear. He was a year younger than I and was her helpful little man. I, on the other hand, was her aUy and confidante. Afternoons I would stand at the speckled yeUow kitchen counter in my sweaty leotard and jeans, foUowing her directions for tuna casserole—boü the macaroni, mix in the mushroom soup and tuna, set in a pre-heated oven at 4:45—so it would already be baking when she got home from work. She would fix herself a drink and sit down with me in the pair of aqua armchairs that in my father's house had been reserved for grownups , and teU me stories ofher day. Ofvampy Inga who wiggled her butt and took an extra half-hour for lunch. Of Hank's other...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1544-1733
Print ISSN
1522-3868
Pages
pp. 138-147
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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