Ballerina Girl

August 7, 2011
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The rain was clattering against the sidewalk outside, drizzling slowly against the mesh outside of the window. It was closed, but she could still hear it. She looked out at the rain beyond the white white walls. She hated it.

All her life she had wanted to be a ballerina. New York Ballet Company auditions were next week and every day was a whirlwind of practice, trying to get ready. Going to the studio at seven in the morning, working at the bar for two hours, frantically being correcting in her technique by her teachers. Eating breakfast at nine, a banana and a glass of milk to keep her weight down. Then three hours of floor work, her teachers pushing her across the room with words, shouting, “Keep that relevé up!” And she pushed back at herself. “Don’t lose your line!” And she straightened herself. “Smile, they need to think you’re effortless out in the audience!” And she taught herself lying.

And it rained. For two weeks the rain stayed, hung around, squatted. It lived in the streets, in the grass, in everyone’s mood.

After the floor work her teachers had all gone home except for a few who were still teaching classes. She stayed after eating a granola bar and some apple juice for lunch, trying to work on her routine. It was a product of her own mind, something she’d discovered more than thought of. For two hours she traveled through the room, Chaînés launching her to the other side, bringing her back, spotting her pirouettes in a dizzy spiral of black dots, breathing hard behind her soft smile, everything on fire and in pain and under too much stress. When she finally let herself fall to the floor, exhausted, she felt sweat dripping down her neck like the rain dripped down the windows outside. She could feel warmth and pain inside her pointe shoes and knew her feet were turning red with blood. Looking down at her tights she saw they had another rip in them. It was because she was too fat, she knew it. She’d lost six pounds in that month alone and her parents hounded her about it, trying to force food down her throat, but she wouldn’t give in, couldn’t give in. She had to keep going, all the way no stopping no breathers.

So she would stand back up and find a teacher, and start going over her routine again, with a watchful pair of eyes to tell her everything she was doing wrong.

She had been dancing since she was three. Her mom got a lot of whispers for “forcing her daughter to go so early.” They didn’t know. How could they know that she had been trying to pirouette in the living room as soon as she could walk? That she would only read ballerina books, demanded to walk around in a tutu, was already struggling with perfecting her pointe? If anyone didn’t get a choice, it was her mother. There was no indecisiveness, no other possibility besides dance. And not any other dance but ballet. Ballet ballet all of the time. Her mother would walk in on her stretching while she did homework. All of the essays she had ever written at school involved ballet somehow. It was like a switch that just wouldn’t turn off, a light that wouldn’t die. Even in the rain, it had seemed.

So at four in the afternoon, after two more hours struggling against fainting while the teacher yelled out corrections, she would finally put on some jeans over her tights, slowly, wretchedly, still maintaining an outwardly regal pose somehow, and slip on a sweatshirt because it seemed to be so much colder than she remembered. Off would come the pointe shoes, and she had been right, they’d been painted red on the inside. She almost cried putting on her socks, then slipping her feet into her shoes. Leaning against the wall for a moment to breathe, eyes closed, she touched the hollow that had been her stomach. It had been another day. She had to leave, even if she thought she would die without dance to force her to live.

A slow, controlled pace to the car, where she sat for a minute and undid the bun in her hair. Out came the bobby pins and the hair ties and the hair net, back into the little bag she kept them in. Shivering, she turned the car on, feeling the rivulets of rain mingle with sweat on her skin, and punched the heater onto high. Then she went home, driving slowly, trying to keep control of her own body.

Except once it was different. She was driving but dizzy or not she wanted to go faster. Her foot got heavier and heavier, she choked the pedal and they went out out into the road so fast, faster than her best turns, and she knew that a single bump would give them a more majestic jeté leap than her fat legs would ever grant her. And then the rain started to come down, heavier, heavier, the thunder of a thousand split-soled shoes scraping across the floor in tendus. And then the steering wheel pulled against her. Always, always, she had been pushed, and now there was a thing pulling away from her and she didn’t know how to hold on to it. No one else on the highway, she could attest to that because the car was doing pirouettes only there was no way to hold onto her spot because it was going too fast, too fast and she couldn’t keep up. Her heart had managed to somehow get stuck in her throat and she struggled to breathe, but her eyelids weren’t beating at all and all she could see was one big line of blur that flew over and over again in circles around her vision. Emergency break was by her hand she knew, and she pulled it but what good does that do and the rain was telling her to hush, hush, she shouldn’t scream so it would make her throat hurt as badly as her feet did, and oh look a pole—

She opened her eyes, saw the red had painted everything, that the car was much smaller than it used to be. There was a pole that wanted to be her passenger, it was so eager it hadn’t even waited until she’d opened the door for it. And then the wave hit her. She had moaned before, she had been hurt. In third grade she jumped off of a swing a little too high and broke her shin. She had screamed then, tears licking her face as her friends scampered off to find a recess aid to make it better.

This time she didn’t feel the pain of a shin cracking. This was something that whipped pain up through her eyes and out of her head, filling the car with her heavy breathing. She screamed and screamed and tasted blood in her throat but she couldn’t stop because it hurt so bad so bad and she couldn’t even breathe and she remembered the three magic numbers you have to call when you’re in trouble so she found her cellphone sitting intact, perfect, in the cd holder of the car and used her numb fingers to dial the spell that would make it all better, would fix her and get her out of whatever was happening right now. A police officer answered her call and he sounded bored.

Now she looked outside. The walls were so white, white. If there was sun she wouldn’t even be able to look at them, they would be so bright. She didn’t look down at her blanket though, didn’t dare look down at it. Something down there was missing now, missing and waiting for her in that car. Auditions were next week and she would never go to them.

All her life she had wanted to be a ballerina. Now the doctors were feeding her through a tube because they wanted her to be fat and not keep her line, not keep her pride. And she was sick of it. Her pride was already gone, why did they insist on stabbing something that was already dead?

The rain dripped slowly down the mesh of the windows. People were walking by in the hallway behind her making too much noise as always, everyone always seemed too loud to her. She saw the sky become a shade darker in its private spectrum of gray. Almost looking down at the blanket, she forced her foot into a deep pointe, turning out her leg as far as she could in this sanitized bed. She watched the rain and laughed, because she loved it.

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