Weakness Leaving the Body

[At Zendik, Cayta (not her real name) often played the hanging judge to my cowering victim; we all had our roles. But she could also be kind, and when I think of her now it’s with admiration, and love.]

In fall 2002, Cayta and I sold the Big Spring jam together, in Huntsville, Alabama. Late one morning, biding our time till we could sell under crowd-cover, we roamed over to the booth manned by Marines recruiters. Its main attraction was a pull-up bar on which you could test your strength for prizes. Men had to do twenty pull-ups in a row to win the highest prize; women had to hang from the bar – arms curled under it, chin thrust above it – for sixty seconds. Hoping the challenge would prime me for a power selling day, I stepped up to the bar.

I pulled the ammo from my pockets and gave it to Cayta, along with my backpack. I grabbed the bar.

The first fifteen seconds flew by. The next quarter minute crawled. By the time the Marine with the stopwatch barked me past the thirty-second mark, my triceps were trembling and I was gasping for breath. “You can do it, Hellion!” Cayta yelled. “You’re a warrior! Sing a song!”

I don’t know why Cayta told me to sing. Maybe I’d told her how songs had kept my spirits up during lonesome nights on the highway. Or maybe she’d heard me sing my way through some other hardship I’ve since forgotten. She’d known me for almost three years by then.

In soft, ragged phrases, I started “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The first verse and refrain nearly pulled me through to the end of the minute. When I released the bar, at second fifty-nine, the Marine in charge chose to grant me that last second. With a congratulatory nod, he handed me the highest prize – a black T-shirt bearing, in gray letters, what could have been a defense of input: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

Cayta took a turn at the bar too, and hung for sixty seconds. She too won a T-shirt. Knowing I wouldn’t wear an ill-fitting guy’s shirt, I exchanged mine for a CD case (Marines logo, no slogan). Cayta kept her T-shirt. She might sleep in it, she said.

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