SOFT POTATO OR A HARD EGG
By: Lauren Anderson
The summer between 3rd and 4th grade I signed up to do a weeklong dance camp with the Parkettes. The Parkettes were the high school dance team and I thought they were EVERYTHING.
I was so excited. Not only would I get to learn real life dance moves from real life dancers, but I would also get a tee shirt that proved I was a dancer. Things were really looking up for me.
My sister signed up to do the dance team as well, and since she was older, she would be in a different class. Back then, my sister and I weren’t close like we are now. In fact, I’d say we only barely tolerated each other.
So when mom said she would have to bike to Parkettes practice together, my sister was more than a little annoyed. She purposely biked way faster than me, leaving almost a full block between us. Only stopping to check back when she could no longer see me behind her.
And I fulfilling my duty as the spazzy younger sibling with asthma, yelled and pouted at her and purposely biked slower than normal, to really bug her. You can imagine how that looked to passersby.
We lived in St Louis Park right by a bunch of train tracks, and we had to bike under this train bridge to get to the park where the dance camp was being held. I was blocks behind my sister, and when I came up over the hill, I saw her bike stopped and she was holding her head in her hands.
At first I thought she was just waiting for me. But as I biked closer, I could tell that she was crying.
“Oh no. This is bad.” I thought. My sister was tough. Almost nothing made her cry. She was practical and capable and cool. I was… not.
When I biked up next to her I saw her staring at the ground. Almost in a daze. I looked down to see what she was staring at, and what I saw is burned in my memory until the end of time. When I close my eyes to recall it, it’s like I can transport back to that exact moment.
On the sidewalk, just sort of laying there, was the bloody severed head of a black cat.
(Pause for effect….)
His body nowhere to be found. Just the head.
The cat must’ve been on the tracks when a train came, and sadly met it’s end.
It was the single most gruesome thing I had ever seen in my young life. And it was real. Right before my eyes. And it was making my sister cry.
But strangely, not me.
When I looked at the cat, my sister yelled for me to look away. “Don’t look Laurie! Cover your eyes!” she screamed. But I didn’t. I just stared and stared.
Even though she only barely tolerated me, she always looked out for me, like a big sister should.
And I was a sensitive kid. This should’ve destroyed me.
But again, strangely it did not.
I was fascinated. Like some kind of little creep. I love animals– my whole family does– I mean, we had a statue of St. Francis in our back yard! But I had never really known this side of things. It felt scientific. It felt anthropological. This head just lying there removed from it’s body.
Even though it was an impossible sight for us to behold, we couldn’t just bike away. Because we also both knew it felt wrong to just leave it there.
My sister put her bike down and found a stick and some leaves, and picked up the head and hid it in the grass. And even though she was crying, she couldn’t stand the idea of someone else having to see what we had witnessed, or worse, some stupid kid using the head for something gross and disrespectful.
I tried to help, cause even though it was awful, I knew it was the right thing to do. But my sister kept yelling at me stay back and to look away.
After she hid the cat head, she got back on her bike and we rode the rest of the way to Parkettes practice in silence. My sister no longer trying to bike a head of me, instead staying very close. We got there just as it was starting, and honestly, I don’t know if we ever talked about it again.
If you know me, or do improv with me, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this story before. Sometimes I use it as an example when I teach. Hell, there’s a good chance I’ve referenced this in the blog already. I can’t remember, all I know is it’s one of those moments that, love it or lump it, has shaped my life. Because I think that was the day I found out there was a whole other side to me.
It reminds me of that old saying,
“The same boiling water that softens the potato, hardens the egg.
It’s about what you’re made of, not the circumstance.”
My sister, whom I always perceived as so stoic and tough, cried. I found out she could be as sensitive as I was. And it was nice to see her that way.
Anyone would’ve put money on me freaking out, but I didn’t. Instead I wanted to see more. To understand. To observe. She found out that I wasn’t as weak as I could come off. That I was tougher than I looked, and perhaps I even had a little dark streak.
Both of us wanted to ritualize and respect the dead. My sister, out of concern and obligation to the cat and others. Myself, out of spiritual need and a deep sense of right and wrong.
I think life will throw moments like these at us to surprise ourselves and others. When you find out someone is more (or less) than what you assumed, the world becomes bigger and more colorful.
Two people can be put in the same circumstance, and get totally different things out of the experience. Sometimes we need to toughen up like an egg, sometimes we need to get soft like a potato.
I see this all the time at the gym. Fifty wall balls will break an athlete down to tears, and at the same time show another athlete that they had more in them than previously thought.
A simple deadlift can leave someone feeling strong like a mighty oak, or cursing their hamstrings for not cooperating.
Two miles on the rower can make you daydream about crossing the Atlantic one day (This happened to me), or it can exacerbate a phobia you didn’t know you had about forward folds (Also me!).
Everyday I work out my body or stretch my brain or boldly choose to experience something new, I reveal more of myself to myself and to others.
And I think if I’m being super honest here, there are times in my life when I was too hard, and needed to be softened. And there have been equal times when I was too soft and needed to be reminded of what a hardass I could be.
It’s so easy I think, to have these set expectations of ourselves and of certain people. Isn’t it fun to think that any circumstance we find ourselves in could surprise us?
Cause I don’t know about you, but I love it when light gets shined in the dusty corners. I may find something gross that I need to work to clean, or I may find that treasure I didn’t even know I had.
It’s like when Terry Crews showed up in that music video for the band Muse, and the internet just about broke. Because what was this former-football-player-muscle-bound-man-turned-comedic-actor doing in this music video about algorithms for the goth band that inspired the Twilight author?
When he was asked why he did the video he said, “Because no one expected it. And I like to pop up where no one expects it.”
I’ve got a lot of respect for that kind of attitude.
It doesn’t matter what the circumstance is, it matters who we are, what we’re made of, and how it effects us individually.
But perhaps most importantly… it’s what we discover— and what we do with that discovery.
Now what do you get when you put me, my sister, A severed cat head, Terry Crews, a potato and an egg into a pot of boiling water?
I don’t know either, but I’m excited to find out.