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A Name

"Marie, listen to me," I requested firmly, my hand on her shoulder, her gray eyes meeting mine. I had temporarily abandoned my desk to briskly meet her on the opposite side of the counter. "I know you are excited, and I'm very proud of you. But before you enter the thrilling world of professional entertainment, you have to consider your steps. Anything could happen at a time you least expect... That's life, and you have to have a backup plan."
"Sammie, are you kidding me?" she asked me, presenting me with her radiant smile as her long, thick, curly red hair--even tied up--swayed in the air from the cheap heater the dance studio had scarcely been able to afford on this cold December day. "I got an offer for a closed Broadway audition, I went, and I made a supporting character role--and I'm sixteen! I'm barely old enough to drive, and I'm going to be on the Great White Way. Why are you so worried? I mean, it's not like I could stay here much longer, anyway. I was at the same staff meeting you were. I know the studio's in trouble. Maybe I'll be able to help it someday; who knows? Oh, I see your face, but you don't understand what it's like. I'll be fine; don't worry." She hugged me and scurried off to class. She was late, after all, which was not quite her custom.

I tried to call after her, but it only came out as a whisper: "Wait." So I never told her of my own career, how I did know what it was like. I never told her how it was practically a daily affair--my staring at my old pairs of pointe shoes on my bedroom wall, the photographs and videos that were not in plain sight but that I knew were still there, longing to be viewed if not solely to torment me, and then the telltale sigh of longing. Each time I returned from the studio, from filing papers, typing numbers that could not mean less, making phone calls to parents of those who do what I once did--"Hello, Mrs. Johnson! I just wanted to remind you to pay tuition; you're a little late this month"--how I strode into my tiny apartment that I could barely afford, exhausted from my work as a waitress by daylight and a receptionist for the dance studio by moonlight...because I had no backup plan. I had once been like her, carefree, flying high, until the dreaded injury that ended it all. I so strongly desired to assist her and to warn her, but I couldn't. I never did.

All this runs through my mind as I gaze down upon Marie, as she lies in the hospital bed, her flesh so pale that she nearly camouflages with the white bedsheets, save her hair, a fiery ember against the snow. She opens her eyes and looks at me, and I can tell she is scared. Twenty-one, a headliner, such a talented young woman...but laying here, I know she is afraid.

"Samantha," she says, using my given name, as I have never heard her do, "was it you?" She points to the book laying open on the nightstand, Great Performers of the 1980's, to the page of Samantha Thamopolous, American Ballet Theater soloist, originally from Chinoa, Ohio, whose career was mysteriously terminated by an undisclosed injury that occurred in the middle of a special company production of Swan Lake and who was never heard from again.
"Yes," I tell her, at long last, "yes, it was me." Tears are streaming down my face now, all that I could have, should have, and would have done, if I had only given a little more.
"Then, you know how I feel," she says.
"What do you mean? Everyone gets hurt at some point or another; it's the nature of the occupation," I say. "You'll be back on that stage in no time!"
"The doctor says I'm done," she says, and now, she is crying, too. "I can never dance again."
"But you can sing," I remind her, and she is silent. "There is hope for you like there never was for me. Besides, I know you--you will fight for this! You know yourself better than the doctor does." I pause for a moment, then add in a whisper, "You are stronger than I was."

Marie looks at me and nods, believing every word I say. She sits up, we embrace, and suddenly, I am fully aware that she is nothing like I am or ever was, and that the world will never forget her name.





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alynaj36 said...
Aug. 18, 2010 at 6:00 pm
That's a great story so far. I really like it! Keep going!
 
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