He doesn't look like a gymnast. He's all button down shirts and frazzled grey hair framing wire spectacles, a picture perfect professorial archetype down to the very tips of his frayed shoelaces. But he was a gymnast once, or so he tells us, and I believe him because he smiles like he knows something while he's chatting before class.
It's strange to see that image superimposed over the current one the distinguished professor in pressed khaki slacks and a jacket, worn brown loafers exuding a faintly courteous manner (you can always tell them by their shoes), and a ring on the fourth finger of his left hand versus the athletic kid who went to college for a semester and grew nine inches too tall to keep doing what he loved so he took up a tennis racquet instead. Gymnasts don't wear suit jackets; no steel mill worker has such manicured nails. But the images are all there, flickering just under the surface and bubbling up again when he's recounting stories about his days in Pittsburgh and his lawyer father and the time he nearly died of overheating after locking his seven year old self in his father's car.
He has quick handwriting, scripted and elegant, but just obscure enough that you have to put a little effort into deciphering it. It's writing that matches his hands. And even though the well-kept fingernails were the first thing I noticed, I didn't miss the way he explains with his gestures, talks with his hands, turns pages like they're made of glass. Slides his glasses over his eyes without taking them off when he bends closer to read and pushes them back on the bridge of his nose whenever they slip again.
He's telling us about broken bones and trampolines, about balance and control, and maybe he's a little wistful when he's talking about his growth spurt and losing his sense of self, his equilibrium, at nineteen, but I could be imagining it. He says being a gymnast is all about throwing yourself out there and not caring what happens; another time he says leaving home and moving some eight hundred miles away was the best decision he ever made and I think some habits don't fade (or I'm drawing parallels where there are none to be found). Once he told us about the heat burning in the steel mills and for some reason that image never resonated as strongly; maybe because that was just a job and being a gymnast wasn't. He's teaching me about teaching and I'm learning about learning, and perhaps a thing or two about depth perception in the fourth dimension.
I've learned that I never really knew what "sharp-eyed" meant until a few weeks into class, that there is a difference between educating and teaching, and that personal effort is directly proportional to how much the other side of the equation cares. And that's probably a poor attitude to have, but it's just so hard to care some days when you're running on the last quarter tank of gas and a meal from two days ago. But it's easy to care when he gets the joke with the apple and thanks you for the cake.
And maybe it makes more sense than I realize and maybe it's all about the chalk on his hands, chalk boundary lines on the tennis courts, chalk writing on the blackboard; about hitting each corner of the spring floor and every quadrant of the classroom. Rounding off errors and rounding off to handsprings.
Or maybe I'm just getting used to that disorienting double vision, the same one I get every time I start thinking about the future, only now I'm looking back and peeling away layers that aren't mine to expose.
But I always did have a weakness for good stories.
He doesn't look like a gymnast. Then again, he doesn't look like anything but an English professor.