The Guardian

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In the words of my mother: “Kate, you’re the only girl at Hanford allowed to carry around weapons at school, and the only girl allowed to use them during football games.” She, of course, was talking about the weighted wooden rifle I spun during a solo for color guard, the ethereal fluff of the high school marching band. Though not the most correct ability to brag about, in the hallways the fact that I could break arguably the strictest rule in school was widely known.
A cloud of stigmas surrounds the world of color guard. We are the uncommitted floozies. We are the promiscuous slackers. We take up precious room on the buses taken to distant competitions. We eat over our fair share of the limited food supply (waving around flags and throwing weapons is hardly as vigorous a work as traipsing about with a flute). We strip behind shrubbery. We wear too much makeup.

Even under such enduring patronization I can honestly say color guard was the best musical choice I made in my sixteen years of breathing.

It was a gorgeous Saturday morning in September. The air was scalding but crisp, a bubbling crock pot of stew sucked of all its steamy moisture. The fifth of five choreographers, a chunk of an eccentric aging lady, was teaching us a tribal dance for that year’s show. In grass as green as emeralds my bare feet were cooled as I danced like an Amazon: tall, bold, intimidating yet alluring. Wafts of deodorant swirled heavenward as trickles of sweat crept down our foreheads. Warrior cries escaped in unison from the thirteen of us while we dug our heels into the earth. Melted in the hypothetical mixing pot of common dance steps were foreign artifacts. We mimicked an exotic bird playing peek-a-boo, peered around imaginary rock caves and scissor kicked like gazelles in the Serengeti. The tribal effect was so great it acted as a rain dance; much to the instrumentalists’ dismay the skies opened up to cascades of warm rain. It soaked clothes, hair, everything left out on the field. Smeared and ruined, our mascara ran down our cheeks like ancient warrior paint. We were natives.

I always willed myself to keep in good physical health, but genetics would manifest themselves through injury. I could no longer put off the inevitable. The guard had been rehearsing before a football game at the stadium in close proximity to one another. My place as a captain at a game was hazardous in hindsight. Stuck in front of twelve teenage girls throwing chunks of aluminum ten feet heavenward, it was impossible to see the six foot metal pole using gravity advantageously to hit me square across the shoulder. I spent the football game lying in the bleachers with a leaking bag of ice numbing me, in full costume and makeup for the halftime show while parents cautiously gawked. Later the physical therapist would say my muscles warped around the site try to accommodate the impact; and the lethal blow, that I would not be tossing for possibly the rest of the season. He stared pursed-lipped at my mother, my mother at me. Begrudgingly, I nodded and stared at my feet.

Needless to say, I cheated my injury. Any dance without a flag was fair game so long as no major arm lifting was involved. The majority of our choreography was not so, however, so I found myself watching on the sidelines with depressing frequency. I contributed using the three C’s: clapping, cleaning and caring. Running through each toss I saw my team grow. The contentment of helping out the guard from the sidelines was overshadowed by pain: the physical pain in my shoulder but also a kind of psychological warfare, the battlefield of which was my brain. I yearned to be out there on the field practicing. Irrational fears crept in of a cut short season, letting my directors down, even never again having the ability to toss a flag like before. I thought about quitting but it would have just made me into a larger disappointment. An unending stream of negativity flowed through me; I was perpetually in a bad mood. It was a shock to realize my affinity to color guard was so strong, that it was as much a need as good grades or best friends. Looking back, that need made me do stupid things. I pushed my shoulder too soon by performing in competitions weeks before I got the green light to do so, and I overdosed on Aleve and muscle relaxants just so I could spin my rifle in Spokane. My temporary injury gave me the permanent knowledge that guard was an integral part of my life; it couldn’t be whisked away just because of an injury.

I grew up playing music, be it squeaking pitches out of a cheap plastic recorder or belting out a seedy saxophone solo in the pit orchestra. I also grew up a dancer, the epitome of visual sensation. The idea of sitting in a chair or marching in a line while experiencing music never appealed to me, nor did dancing to the latest radio trash. The emotion of dancing under stadium lights with a hundred other people spiraling across a torn up field is so much greater than meticulously choreographed fluff on a stage lit by fluorescent bulbs. I have always feared the inability to communicate fluidly. Color guard, in all its glory, was the best decision I made: I chose to express myself dually. Through the language of the human body and the emotion of deep music, color guard is, for me, the decryption of myself to others.





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Bookworm said...
Jun. 21, 2011 at 8:06 pm
You're not just an amazing musician and dancer, but a superb writer as well!!! Keep posting your awesome work, Kat!!
 
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