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It’s strange seeing my room so empty. Everything, from the furniture down to the very last stuffed animal, has either been packed or put in storage. Only a sad looking bed remains, and even that is stripped of its sheets, revealing a yellowing old mattress that doesn’t look right sitting on the mahogany bedframe. My room clearly isn’t meant to be empty; there’s far too much space and it just seems rather useless. The bins in which I’d kept the little trinkets from happy meals and party favors throughout my childhood are in storage, my bookshelf has gone in the same direction, and the picture books from my early days have been given to charity along with my old stuffed animals. The dresser is empty and the clothes packed. The walls, which were covered in brightly colored posters ever since I can remember, are now stripped and naked, leaving only little marks where the tape had been. The grey carpet, usually covered by clothes and furniture, is now exposed and free to let its sobriety overwhelm the room. Even the wallpaper, a pale yellow with farm animals painted on it, seems to mock me as a reminder of what was.
With a deep breath, I look around the room for anything I may have missed. I know that I’m procrastinating, but I want to delay for as long as possible leaving the room to go get the three suitcases with the NYU stickers that are down the hall. I know full well once I do I might not be able to come back for a while. There isn’t much to see, so my sweep of the room doesn’t take as long as I’d hoped. I’m not expecting to find anything as I make my rounds, so I’m surprised when I spot something sticking out from under the bed. Curious, I go and take it out. It’s a marble notebook. I gingerly leaf through the pages, and it doesn’t take a second for me to realize what it is. I’m reading my dance notebook.
I’ve done a musical at a local theater every year since I was ten. It had been hard to make time for it sometimes, what with schoolwork and sports and everything, but I always did. Not only did I love it, but I’d have missed my friends terribly if I didn’t. I didn’t always get a lead, in fact, I don’t think I ever have, but there had always been something fun about just singing and dancing in the background.
Every day I’d bring my notebook to rehearsal. The director had recommended that everybody bring one, but I was really the only one who did. My friends liked to call it my “dance notebook,” because whenever we got new choreography, I wrote in down in there. It was strange, but my dance notebook had become one of my most prized possessions, and not because I was some kind of choreography freak. Actually, our choreography hasn’t ever been anything to brag about, really. But as the years had gone on, there’d been less and less dance in my dance notebook. As I look at the most recent entry, I see very little dance. There are two and a half lines of choreography written neatly on the top lines. Around the margins and below the dance steps, though, is where you see the evidence that my friends have gotten hold of it. Inside jokes that would make any outsiders think we have serious problems are written in an untidy scrawl that greatly counters my careful penmanship. There are my doodles that look more like scribbles than anything else, and my friend Lauren’s realistic sketches of nature and people. There are even photos of my friends and me, laughing, singing, dancing, and hanging out. It’s like my little notebook full of memories.
Reading my dance notebook seems like an ideal method of procrastination, so I turn to the beginning and start to look through. As I leaf through the pages, I can’t help but think of how much I’ve grown throughout the years. I soon come across a photograph of a little girl. She’s standing outside the studio, a simple white building with double doors, clad in a navy blue shirt and white shorts with her brown hair is in the cute little pigtails that all young girls wear at some point. A purple backpack is slung over her shoulder and one hand holds one of the straps. In her other hand is a water bottle. Her face is very flushed; perhaps she just finished dancing. She’s very small and timid-looking, and despite her smile, you can too clearly see tentativeness and nervousness in her emerald eyes. In the background are other girls laughing and talking with friends. It takes a minute to register that that little girl is actually me. My mom took a picture of me after my first day, and, for lack of a better place, I’d stuffed it in my notebook.
A few photographs later is a picture of me with a smiling girl named Cassie, my first real friend. We’d been assigned to each other as dance partners and had quickly hit it off. We’re in a little pizza parlor in this picture; you can see the tile floors and the red and white checkered tablecloths behind us. I’m openly grinning in this picture, clearly far happier then I had in the last one. Cassie’s arm is draped around my shoulders, and she’s smiling radiantly at the camera, and she looks as though nothing could make her happier than being right there in that pizza parlor. So do I.
Before long there are group photographs, pictures of me and a large group of friends. I come across one of my favorites. We’re sitting on a couch that is actually part of the set. It’s old with faded green fabric (we were doing Oliver Twist, I believe), and when I look at the photo I can still smell the strong scent of cats that had emanated from it, and the thought of the great cloud of dust that appeared when you sit down still makes me cough. I’m sitting on the couch in between Cassie and painfully pretty Jenna, who is so stunning that she eclipses everyone else in the picture. Next to her is Isabelle, who will flip if anyone calls her by her real name, so naturally everybody does. She looks quite murderous, probably because Cassie had just yelled, “Smile for the camera, Isabelle!” Then there’s Holly, who’s giving Izzy bunny ears with her omnipresent relaxed grin on her face. Lauren sits on the floor with her sketchpad tucked under one arm and the other arm around Cameron, the only boy of our little group. Our arms are around each other, and we’re smiling and happy and look as though nothing could break us apart.
But recently something funny had begun to happen to the pictures. They’d begun to fade. Most of the pictures had already been very faded, especially the first, since they’d all been taken so long ago. But I’d always taken care of this one, as if to preserve it forever. I’d wanted to someday be able to show my children this picture, and say, “Look, that’s what your Aunt Cassie, Aunt Holly, Aunt Izzy, Aunt Lauren, Aunt Jenna, and Uncle Cameron looked like when they were young.” But I couldn’t keep it colorful forever any more than I could keep my friends together forever. That had been Lauren’s last show; she’d been accepted into an art school fifty miles away, and Holly had taken who knows how many AP classes and now didn’t have the time. Cameron, after years of auditioning, had actually landed a movie role, to our surprise and pleasure. Jenna, who had been a bit older than us, went across the country to Harvard (the girl had always been smart). In the pictures that follow, our group gets smaller and smaller. That photograph of us on that smelly old couch is the last one with all of us there together.
I turn a few pages and come across another one of me and Cassie. We both look much older then we did in our first photo, but other then that the parallels are striking. We’re still grinning like we’re crazy, Cassie still has an arm around my shoulders, and we’re even at the same pizza parlor. I look different then I did originally though. I was less tentative, less shy. Cassie and the others had brought me out of my shell.
I can still remember the conversation that had followed that photograph. That was when Cassie had told me that this would be her last show. She’d said that this was becoming too expensive and that it was too far from her home and she’d listed a bunch of other reasons I’d been too shocked to listen to. Cassie, my first friend, who had literally been my partner since day one, who was the one that had been there through all the crap and drama both in and out of the studio, was leaving. I wouldn’t see her anymore. She didn’t live very close and rehearsals were the only time I got to see her. Could our friendship survive this? I had to believe it could. And yet separation from Cassie had felt like the end.
I came out of my trance just soon enough to hear her say, “You understand, don’t you?” And honestly, though I can’t remember specifics, I do remember thinking that there was nothing she’d said that wasn’t logical and understandable. She’d spoken for years about not coming back due to money and distance, so the real question was why I hadn’t realized that separation was inevitable. So I nodded.
What had followed was a long conversation about how she had to do what she had to do, and how we could still be friends, and how we would still find time to hang out, and how this wouldn’t really change much. I’d considered telling her to drop the act and say straight out that we all knew how this was going to go: the same way it had gone with the rest of the group. But I didn’t. The act gave me hope, even if it was false. Cassie and I held on for a while – a year or two, perhaps – but now we don’t talk anymore. Our close friendship is a thing of the past. She’s another person to wave at politely when you pass her at Shop Rite, not a close friend.
I didn’t really see the point of coming back since all my friends were gone. And then something happened that changed that: I was offered a job as a choreographer. The pictures that follow are full of me and little girls, some bold like Cassie had been and some shy like I’d been. It’d been my personal mission to bring the shy ones out of their shells. A lot had changed, but one thing had stayed constant: I still brought my dance notebook every day. There was no shame in recycling the choreography. I showed my dancers the book and encouraged them to bring their own, which a lot did. The difference was that, unlike my choreographer, I had never really cared if they wrote down the dance steps.
I close the book, smiling sadly, thinking of Lauren and Izzy and Holly and Jenna and Cameron and of course Cassie, wondering where they are now. They all left for good reasons, so I like to think that they’re happy and doing what they love best. I wonder if my students had been able to make friends like them. I hope I’d been able to help them out of their shells as I’d been helped. Maybe someday one of them would sit on their bed, about to go off the college and leave behind her old life and her beloved studio, and would find her dance notebook and turn through its pages, remembering. I wish I could call Cassie and tell her I’d found the old thing, but I don’t. We’d separated, and that was heartbreaking, but all good things must come to an end.
My mom calls up to my room and tells me it’s time to go. Without a look back, I get up and walk down the hall to get my suitcases, leaving my dance notebook sitting on my bed behind me.