I started taking dance lessons in August, 1980. Back then, public smoking hadn't been banned yet; there were ashtrays at the end of the aisles in the grocery store. No one wore helmets or pads when they rode their bikes. Pay phones were on every corner. We had one television (without a remote) and only four channels to choose from.
And in the car? Kids didn't wear seat belts or even have to sit in the back seat.
A five-year-old's perspective through the windshield is quite different from that of an adult. When sitting correctly (which, let's be honest, I rarely did), the dashboard prevented me from seeing cars in front of us. My view was at an upward trajectory. I saw the stoplights, and beyond them, cerulean skies with cotton candy clouds. Gabled rooftops and leafy tree branches occasionally passed by as well. I would reach my fingertips up to the open window and feel the soggy air envelope my skin as it rushed by.
Halfway down the last block before we got to the studio there was a tree. A pine or evergreen of some sort. It was uneven at best. At the top, instead of having the conventional Christmas-tree, single, pointed top, it made a "V". That "V" was my sign. The sign that came to stand for joy, escape, competition, discipline, elation and freedom being around the next corner.
For six years, several times a week, I saw that tree. Then, when I was 11, the dance studio owner's granddaughter hung herself. That was the last of a string of reasons my parents felt it was best that we move to a different studio. I no longer had occasion to traverse the road that passed my inspirational sign.
The first time I drove by that tree after leaving the dance studio was about twenty years later when I got a job in that part of town. I was taller, just like that tree; I had to lean over the steering wheel, the seat belt resisting against my shoulder, to catch a glimpse of it. Over the years, it had grown and become even more scraggly. It's attempts to thrive had been squashed at every turn. A section of branches was cut out of one side to accommodate the power lines that it had spread into. Summer microbursts had ripped limbs away. Winter ice storms had bent and cracked it so it no longer reached out and up, but down and around.
But, at the tip, it still had that "V." It continues to reflect my life, now as a symbol of continuity and perseverance. I drive past it every workday. Whenever I'm running late or irritated by traffic, for one moment, when I pass the tree, I pause and look up, and regain my perspective.
This post was written in response to a prompt from The Red Dress Club: "The first time I ________-ed after _________-ing."