leslie nikole
photo taken by the one and only ghost


leslie.nikole at icloud dot com


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All it seemed to take was the tiniest push-off with my feet, and, briefly, I was floating in the air, weightless as an astronaut.

Then, pulling at the red and black material of my basketball shorts, I pushed all my weight down into my calves, right on the sweet spot of the trampoline, sending myself springing upwards into mid-air.

“Jump up in the air and stay there.”

That was always our goal growing up. Emilio and I would shout this command to each other as we jumped over and over on the old mattress underneath Miss Ortiz’s window in apartment C1.

My mother always told the two of us that we could never fly. But she couldn’t deny that we could jump.

When Emilio’s mother saw us, she put him in gymnastics classes. I couldn’t afford them, so after a quick walk down East 18th, and a couple stops past the Brooklyn Bridge on the Q train northbound, I’d drop off Emilio before making my way back to Flatbush. Even though I was envious, I couldn’t stop myself from making the trip with him.

I always hoped that one day I’d leap over that bridge, just to prove that the urine-stained mattress I’d learned on, the one we’d both started off on, was just as good as his fancy little classes.

Everything I came into contact with, I jumped over. Mailboxes, fire hydrants, and even those pulley bags those old ladies always have coming from the laundry mat. I jumped over everything.

Eventually, swiping Metrocards illegally at the turnstiles at busy Lexington Avenue and working day camps in the summer––my only hustles–– I made my way into those classes.

I couldn’t help but feel awkward there. Leaning on the outsides of beaten up Nikes, hands stuffed way down in my pockets, I could feel the difference between myself and the other kids.

Even the one between Emilio and I.

But a few weeks in, the instructor saw my height for what it was. I quickly became her prized male student, taking what was once Emilio’s spot. With her announcement, I couldn’t help but let a bashful smile cross my face. Little did I know that that grin would lead me to a conversation-less, twenty-eight minute subway ride with Emilio from the gym to our apartment complex. But on the other hand, it felt good. He’d finally realized just how good I was.

How worthy I was. How much we were still alike.

Then, one afternoon a few months ago, I told Emilio that yes, of course, I’d checked the wiring of the trampoline, when I hadn’t, not having wanting to be bothered with it, and my best friend smacked the hard wooden floor at full force from a thirty feet height, the trampoline below him too slack.

He broke most of his bones and probably would never walk again.

Still hearing the resounding crack in my mind, I tried to stifle the sob that stuck in my throat, my guilt insuppressible, even as I did a tucked back flip in mid-air. I ran my hands over the palms of my face and my body seemed to slow down. Only when I was turning in the air did my stomach no longer feel so unsettled.

Then, suddenly––the weight of another person on the trampoline, I looked behind me in mid-air to see Carlos. Emilio’s younger brother. The tails of his eyebrows were slightly red and under his eyes it was puffy; he’d been crying again. He was almost a spitting image of Emilio. I stopped, allowing him to take over the middle of the trampoline.

Walking off to the side, I mentally prepared myself to teach Carlos. It was the least I could do for Emilio––teach him the routine his brother had been learning.

Each bounce Carlos made, owning the sweet spot, levitating higher and higher above it, felt like torture.

That’s sick Gabriel, I told myself.

It was a torture I deserved. When he didn’t make a double backflip, he motioned at me to show him how to do it.

I stepped back onto the trampoline. I showed him the flip. Then, stepped off again, giving him back the center, I told him,

“Just jump up in the air and stay there.”

I knew Carlos would do Emilio justice. A lot more than I ever had.

Especially up in the air.

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