The Flying Nun Lynn Mundell
I am The Flying Nun from the TV show, soaring way up in the clouds with my arms held out stiffly and headpiece flapping like a seagull. My child’s face is superimposed over that of the actress Sally Field. I am not going anywhere. I am just flying in place. I have the dream so often that it is my reality and at age seven I begin trying to fly, jumping off an old toy box my family uses to store our many shoes. I am genuinely surprised when I don’t rise. The box must be too low to take off from. Plus, it’s indoors. I try jumping from the apple tree outside my bedroom window. My father shouts at me through the screen to stop. Although I still don’t fly, my legs grow muscled from climbing and jumping. The dream continues, sustaining me through third grade, when I’m bullied and would give anything to fly away. I pursue its same feeling of euphoria when I’m awake. At 10 I begin jumping from the roof, aiming for the swimming pool 12 feet below in case I don’t fly, which I don’t. I do become a very good diver, though. One day my parents come home early from work and see me. My father yells. The next day my mother begins entering me in competitions. We travel all over the Western U.S. and then the nation, where I come to know other swimmers better than my school classmates. The dream stays the same in all of the hotels with twin beds and nubby bath towels. My heavy cloth habit is no hindrance; I just keep flying in place and smiling. By 18 I am launching from the highest diving boards across the country. A sporting goods company names a white string bikini that is unsuitable for swimming competitions after me. My younger sister buys three. I spend every waking hour diving like a cormorant into the water. I often have athlete’s foot. I can’t spare any time for boys and sex. I’ve made a vow: I will be the best woman diver in the world. I don’t have the dream anymore. One night, as I sleep in the Olympic Village before the games begin, Sally Field comes to me. She is not The Flying Nun. She is just Sally Field. She looks exhausted. She is walking because she is loaded down with dozens of medals on ribbons she wears around her neck and is dragging a trophy as big as a cello. I wake up as unhappy as Sally Field. At my competition the following morning, when my name is called I walk forward. I pull off my swim cap, drawing on the nun’s headpiece I’ve fashioned from several of the dining hall’s starched cloth napkins and safety pins. Climbing the ladder to the board, I pass my mother in the bleachers signaling at me like an air traffic marshal trying to land a plane. I motion her down in a sort of genuflect. Standing at the edge of the diving board, I can see the white wings in my peripheral vision, exactly where they’re meant to be if I’m ever to take off.