Sunday evening. Sky still gray from those southern spring torrential thunderstorms. Driving the now familiar route from the little red brick ranch we call home, past Athens Regional where people scurry from the cold sterile hospital corridors to the parking deck. Down Prince where a cluster of fast food joints mar the entrance to Normaltown. Wait at the light that lets me turn down Chase. Past the medical complexes, the local elementary school, a new costume store (Guise and Dolls), and then onto a road of industrial architecture. A plumbing company guards the tracks, and then the opening of the old warehouses transformed into a miracle of wonder: yoga studios, hairstylists, homemade rap pops, art studios, and the place we come to the most often: Canopy. Trapeze. Ariel dance. The high space that has transformed my daughters' lives in wonderful ways. Maybe mine too.
Tonight I stand with a clipboard and a tiny plastic container filled with blue paper tickets, the ones you used to use to get into the movies. Admit one they say in black ink. I chat with the people as I check off their names, making sure to hand tickets to the children. Having your own ticket to hand over adds to the magic of what is to come. Unlike the last time, I performed this job, I recognize many of the people who come through the doors. Some are wonderful people on their way to becoming friends, like Ann whom I last saw waiting for the baby who is now earth side. Others I recognize from Facebook encounters. Most I just know from around town: stores, festivals, shows. Athens is still small enough to allow that familiarity. One woman, a local doctor we meet at a lawn sale, tells me she saw H walking with the kids on Saturday.
In the midst of all this checking in, the magic seeps out into the hallway. The Fourth Doctor complete with scarf scurries about and I hope he offers me a jelly baby. I always love being backstage. Performers in various states of costuming rushing about trailing behind some of their secret spells mingled with the kiss of real life. People I know from so many hours spent watching my girls practice on the bar now transformed into super heroes, comic book characters and scifi movie personalities. The magic weaves its spell before I am relieved of the clipboard and urged to find a seat which I do towards the back under the silver pole that extends from ceiling to floor.
Inside the studio, the space is wide open and even though the ground is on the small side, the up extends high enough to make you feel free. I love the industrial feel of the black steel cross beams that hold the knotted ropes from which hang a multitude of bars but also silk drapes, ropes, and iron ladders. Tonight the windows that line the top of the outer wall have been covered, and when the lights turn low darkness falls. The music swells, and the crowd tenses in excited anticipation. A glad cry rises as the performers no longer the mundane teachers we know march out onto the floor.
What follows is nearly impossible to describe in words, or perhaps it's just that it would be too many words. For the next two hours, I watch the human body do amazing, magical things. Bodies twist and propel on bars, held up right with just arms and legs. Women hang from bars with just the top of their feet. Superman shows a vulnerable side with what can be described only as a dance with two silk drapes. Cat woman steals a diamond bracelet after walking a tight robe. A charming, funny routine happens with two steam punk beauties on a steel ladder. Wonder Woman and her invisible jet leave the crowd cheering with an impressive display of acrobatic feats including the jet bouncing and moving Wonder Woman with her feet. The woman who do the Star Trek portion create a dance with robes and near perfect symmetry. Everyone performs with grace, strength, and a perfect sense of drama.
What occurs to me as I sit there like a little kid with my mouth open, lost in both wonderment and envy, is that this moment encapsulates what Athens means to me. There was a reason my main characters meet at Canopy. When we first moved here, I described my ambiguity about the town as loving the town but not feeling the people. I struggled with a heavy depression, and a profound sense of isolation and loneliness. While it took years to make friends in Charlotte, I had made them eventually, and relocating to Athens started that whole process again. But my heart loved the town even in the midst of that sadness which hung over me. She won me over with her charming old houses, her quirkiness, her sense of rock and roll.
And somewhere along the way, I started to make friends, connections. People knew me in stores. When the girls started to take classes at Trapeze, I found myself loving their teachers not just for their wonderfulness with my children but because of who they were as people. And this happened at other places. Treehouse Craft. Freedom to Grow. I meet wonderful women at these places: Kristin who had the vision for an amazing toy store that taught art and crafts, Mary Katherine who embraced Piper and taught her to sew. Hope the beautiful, gifted artist who won Camille's heart in one class. Michelle whose artwork blows me away and who taught Rowena to take risks. Ann who worked with Camille, drawing her out and planting in her a desire to go ever further with trapeze. Ellen who is not just a business manager but a friend and a comfort. MJ whose words gave me the final push to try trapeze myself. Megan who got Rowena to flip upside down. Lora whose dream of unschooling so closely mirrors my own. And so many other woman who have made me see Athens is more than just it's spirit but also it's people.
As I watch the display before me, I feel that warmth, that joy, that exuberance for life and art and beauty. It is a special place. Not just this studio but the whole town. I remember a man once told me that Athens holds special children and I thought later that Athens allows children to be special, to be more, to be magic. It does this for us all if we just let ourselves get caught up in the splendor of it's soul. And after the show when I congratulate the performers and get to have some magic rubbed off on me, I think again as I always do how this is a place to nourish my own creative self. I want to stay here and grow roots in this glittery sparkle stuff that makes amazing things grow. I want Jude, who someone once told me was like a superstar, to grow roots here as well. And Camille. Here where their souls are honored not because they are the same but because they are different.