Reading Time: ~4 minutes
"Hup" originally appeared in Issue 15 of Tahoma Literary Review. This flash essay leapt at me (pun intended) from the first sentence. I was charmed, impressed, and thrilled by Brisse's manner of recreating the "sensation of the jump," as she put it. How applicable is such imagery and language in every single one of our lives?
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“The bar will be heavier than you expect,” the instructor said. Three stories below, her colleague had mentioned this same thing. The repetition, spoken around the sound of her clicking hooks onto my harness, echoed like practical information I should pay attention to. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. There wasn’t room. I stood, clinging to a slim railing, atop a six-by-three-foot board, surrounded by open air.
Two weeks earlier, a friend invited me to a trapeze class. Had I thought the experience through, I would have likely said no. I mean—trapeze? Leaps from great heights? Swinging upside down while hanging from my knees? I’d been ten-years-old a few decades ago. But it was mid-semester. I was teaching five classes of teenagers. Each night I toted home stacks of essays my two small children rendered impossible to grade. There were doctor appointments to schedule. A cracked refrigerator shelf to fix. A driver’s license to update at an actual DMV. I didn’t have time to carefully consider the circus. So a few days later, when my friend asked again—adding, concern in her eyes, that it would be good for me—I said yes, in the way one nods to a refill of water: to get on with the next thing. When the evening came, I drove to her house, joined a few others in her car, and let her navigate the dark toward a reformed warehouse in an unfamiliar part of town while I tapped a grocery list into my phone.
Upon entering the warehouse, though, I had to put my phone down because I’d started to shake. Sure, a little bit of nerves, I supposed. But I was mostly just cold. It was winter. My clothes were thin. I’d had to remove my shoes, and my socks were old. But twenty minutes later, after the floor instructor gave a brief lesson on a low bar and talked us through a practice jump from a one-foot platform, my teeth still chattered and knocked against each other, like they wanted to leap from my mouth. My tongue felt overlarge, trapped, numb. As I climbed the narrow ladder, it bobbing beneath my weight, beads of sweat popped along my hairline. Once atop the board with this second instructor, I watched as she used a long pole to retrieve the fly bar from where it had been suspended. She motioned me forward, said, “Here.”
There was a moment, before I touched the bar, where my body noted the thinness of the railing my left hand clung to; the thinness of the board, slim enough—as I perched on its edge—to curve my toes around; the smell of chalk, its grainy dryness on my palms; a cool draft hitting those beads of sweat along my neck. And then, in my right hand, the shock of both the bar’s weight and its cold—as bright and deep as space. It made me gasp. It pulled me forward, out over nothing, the world of air I would swing into as soon as the instructor called out the word to jump: “Hup!” But first she called “Ready!” And somehow, as I’d been told to do, I bent my knees.
I’m not sure what matters more: the sensation of the jump—the bar pulling me down and forward then up, my body working to draw my legs in and over the bar, my knees latching, my hands releasing, my chest and head and arms and fingers swinging down and out and back up, my spine arching, all of me penduling through space so quickly everything blurred, went blank, a whirling momentum, until I tipped backward, dropping eight seconds later into a wide net—or the fact that I jumped at all. That, for those few moments, I was more body than brain.
I do not not think. Like many people I know, I struggle to slow down. I try to be present, but to live in our modern world requires a forward focus where the bulk of the 3000 thoughts the average person thinks each hour are about creating what comes next. On my commute home alone I am working through the next day’s lesson, planning out dinner, deciding which route will get me to preschool with the fewest delays. Usually, while putting my children to bed, I can center on their faces in the darkness—the richness and fullness of my life—but after I have tucked the blankets around their bodies, I check the time, gauging how much of it is left to do whatever I have on my list before my eyes close in protest. It has to do, I think, with feeling prepared. Isn’t that, especially as a mother, what I’m supposed to be?
So it is all the more remarkable that I slipped into that warehouse without concern or even inquisitiveness: that I just showed up. Felt my body shake without determining why. Let myself be led. Perhaps my being there seemed so fanciful, so improbable, that it did not register as warranting the kind of attention I gave to the parts of my day I could attempt to predict.
In any case, the lack of one kind of attention left room for another. As the night progressed, I climbed that narrow ladder again and again. And I experienced on that board the absence of choice. I stopped shaking. My muscles warmed, and in the easy bay around my tongue I felt myself hum.
“Why hup?” I asked the instructor as she retrieved the fly bar, my one question.
“Because you shouldn’t wonder whether you heard go or no. Overthinking equals missed tricks.”
Across the rig, the instructor from the floor now swung from his own bar. He had told me, when our feet were both on the ground, that he would catch me. All I had to do was reach out and look up. At his call, I bent my knees. It was a long way down, a long way to this person on the other side of a wide room, flying back and forth through the air. I’m a school teacher, not a trapeze artist. I didn’t know what I was doing there. I still don't understand how birds fly. Don't tell me.
Reprinted with permission of the author
Brisse had this to say about the piece:
When I returned home that night to a dark house, I didn't care that it was 11 p.m. or that my children were sleeping or that I'd be tired the next morning when they woke at 6 a.m. I wanted to turn on all the lights. I barged into the bedroom where my husband was reading and kissed him, laughed, told him everything, held out my hands to demonstrate the width of the ladder. I stared at my hands, awed anew at what they'd done—their grip. "Are you drunk?" my husband asked, smiling. For a long time, after finally lying beside him, I felt my body remembering that drop into empty, electric space. I wrote this as a way to keep remembering.
Emily, a writer and high school English teacher, lives just outside Minneapolis with her family. Connect with her on Instagram at @emilybrisse.