last Friday night. I worked it for three weeks, after picking his romantic favorite from my playlist. Bianca did the choreography, my pole teacher from Holland, whom everyone believes is my twin sister. Well, I won’t argue we’re not sisters—the best kind—separated at birth until the stars lined up for us once again in the streets of Cartagena.
I took on pole when I was living in Medellin. Catalina Tobon’s studio is fine-tuned for fitness, and I learned the inversions with names like Géminis, Escorpio, El Libro, and Superman. The classes were in Spanish, and “pero, me duele!” entered my vocabulary. It was tough and it hurt in ways I could not believe I agreed to endure. The bare skin on the pole is a safety device, the slow drag of flesh on steel brakes downward momentum, and can even imitate Spiderman suction. The consequences are broadcast in purple and black, on thighs and biceps. Blood can be drawn; the face of my foot sprung open again and again from the repetition of climbing a twelve-foot rod.
I keep a strong body; so a few things came easy, which sucked me into the rest without a second thought. The impossible positions were even more satisfying; beating it up, day after day, until finally—those stars again—everything lined up and I pinned a new badge on my chest.
In Cartagena my progress was interrupted by ninety percent humidity in a gym with two windows and a fan. Tough was now swimming in sweat. I was eight feet from the floor, and threw my legs into Gemini when my flesh failed to grip and I dropped like an egg from a countertop, gravity working faster than reflex, nothing left to do but wait the sound of the break. There was luck in that fall, and when Bianca and I locked eyes from my position on the floor we gave thanks to the Angel de Tube de Gymnasio Atlantis.
I live in the small and elegant studio apartment that overlooks the old city of Cartagena, and her Caribbean coastline. This is the highest floor, twelve stories above the street that feeds Puente Roman, the bridge to Getsemani and Cartagena’s walled city. The sky-rises of Bocagrande tower the horizon on the left, and the sixteenth century fortress of San Felipe dominates the view to my right. The two hundred and forty degree view is easily described as breathtaking, and when I moved here in March to finish the revision of The Bachelor Chapters, I planned my days around puesta del sol—the sunset that amazes every evening after six. This is where we moved the pole: to the entrance of my balcony, between the two-meter gap of the sliding glass doors.
With a camera and a tabletop tripod, I repeated the routine, again and again, moving from awkward mimicry to personal style. New bruises erupted, faded, and were replaced by fresh markers. When it was too hot, which was every eight to ten minutes, I closed the doors and blasted the air conditioning, bringing my body temperature down, evaporating sweat, and reviewing the fresh video, the honest mirror of my progress.
Finally, on the eve of his birthday, my young lover found himself in a transformed apartment; an elegant and sophisticated lounge I had created by rearranging furniture and lighting on the balcony. I cued the playlist for the performance, left the room to mix his drink, and returned in my costume of bra and panties to deliver it to his hand, a soft kiss meeting his smiling lips. With my back against the glass railing, the sea wind lifting my hair, I faced the pole with the attitude of a seasoned entertainer, my ear alert for the cue to enter the open-air stage, present Bianca’s invention and my labor; and premiere the sensual athletics of my new sport that fooled as dance.
There was a grace that led me through the following four minutes; the athletics of body memory, united with the soaring soundtrack, against the backdrop of his eager eyes and applause. I found my flow, and connected the transitions between the inversions and spins as spontaneous punctuation and not the well-rehearsed details of footfall and hand positions. It was more fun than I had expected—motivated by love I fell easily over to joy. In a world full of stuff, I had elevated experience as the gift worth giving. In a world obsessed with instant gratification, I had revived the practice of practice: of moving from the unknown, through the sweat of failure, toward the acquisition of skill.
Feliz cumpleaños a mi amante de Cartagena, con todo mi agradecimiento por nuestras vidas y por todos los que nos hemos atrevido a compartir. Que Dios te bendiga, mi amor.