I never learned to jump rope. The coolest girls in my Catholic School could do it very well though. Every time I saw them, I felt a pang of envy crawling up my clumsy legs. Some were big and tough like boxers, bouncing up and down across an invisible ring framed in Brooklyn. The cockiest counted their jumps while a crew grew around them singing loudly. Sometimes they even got to three digit numbers. I tried but couldn’t even lure the rope over my head once. I tried several times until I half choked myself.
Even a nun could do it. Well, not just any nun. Mother Antonia was the youngest, hottest and most rebelious Salesian sister at the school. Not only because she spoke English with a strong French accent, and looked like Brigitte Bardot, but because she was also an excellent rope jumper. She would raise her habit above her white skinny knees and throw the rope into the air, furiously jumping as if she were happily stepping on the ripest Bordeaux grapes or exorcising away some evil.
She would jump until her cheeks were red and her ankles numb from all that bouncing. She jumped as if she wanted to shake her soul. Her mouth half open, ready for some invisible craving. Her eyes at their greenest, peacefully longing. With every spring she was gone, absent in some unreachable dream. Her breasts would break loose, unshackled, taking the air away from me. Sometimes her head cloth would fall, revealing her thick, red, untangled hair.
I remember seeing her jump rope as my first glance at a fantasy of happiness, freedom and unchained desire. To me she was a bouncing goddess, whom I silently admired from inside my eight year old Catholic uniform. Her jumping was a sexual and sacred ritual that removed the oxygen from my lungs, heightened the color of my face, added a tickle to my crotch.
After the recess was over, she was also out of breath. She would lay on the grass and ask an older girl to massage her legs and ankles. Sometimes she laid there, eyes closed, just feeling the inexperienced girl´s hands on her skin. Sometimes she would tie the rope around her waist and neck and become a sweaty red cheeked beautiful martyr. I would just stand there, a well behaved and invisible child, contemplating the curves that would appear beneath her robe.
Sometimes Father John would sit close to me. He was a handsome priest with a great smile. All the girls said he was like a movie star, dark, tall and strong. He also was fun to be around and played basketball with the boys in tenth grade. He would sit by me and light up a cigarette without missing a jump. I knew when he was approaching because I could smell his odor, a mix of sweat and cigarettes. I always went to his confessional because I knew he was very relaxed about scolding us and making us pray. I also liked how he smelled and knew he liked Mother Antonia as much as I did. Together we enjoyed her rope jumping. Sometimes he would give me some candy. So we both looked at her while sucking on something.
We enjoyed her until one day she was found dead. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t there anymore or why nothing was explained to us of her disappearance. I wouldn’t know until later that she had killed herself. One of the big boxer girls was going around chit-chatting to everyone about how her mother, who was a cleaning lady at the school, had found her hanging from the ceiling fan. The rope with a noose around her neck. Her body spinning in circles following the trajectory of the fan.
After she died I didn’t see Father John again until fifteen years later. He was working as a bartender in a Midtown cocktail bar at 48th and Broadway. I was there with some people from the office. It was Christmas and we all had some drinks. Father John or now just John, looked more wrinkled, more wasted, but he kept that smile that made me recognize him immediately.
He told me about Mother Antonia´s death. It took him years to finally understand she jumped because she had wanted to get rid of the child. At the end she couldn´t bare the shame anymore. The morning she was found, he was driving back to the city. He had spent the night upstate, giving the last rites to someone who died in the early hours. “I would have married her, you know?”