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The curtain rose, and the spotlight shone over my face as the voices cheered.
It was my show now.
For ten minutes, I performed the tantalizing routine: leaps in mid-air, chasses, croises, jumps to a split, plies, and a marvelous finish with a grand rond de jambe.
I was flying on their praise, and with the way moved, it felt like I was flying through the stage as well.
I smiled, and twirled on my foot, stretching my arms up like a swan fluttering its wings. The crowd cheered, giving a standing ovation as I finished with a flourish and bowed proudly. They loved me. I was amazing, they loved...
A blast from the airbag, glass shattering everywhere, my head hitting something hard and metal, blood in my mouth and a pain that shot up my legs and caused me to scream.
What had happened? I remembered the roses, the cheering, the hugs and kisses, and then getting into the car…I didn’t remember screaming as the wheels of the limo careened out of control.
When I finally woke up, the doctors said that I would never walk again.
I believed them. What else was there to live for? I would never walk again, spread my wings out like a swan, or pretend to fly through skilled twirls and leaps.
I spent my days in the hospital bed, staring out of the window angrily and cursing everything in my world. I hated those cute, bubbly candy-stripers that gave me my painkillers -- for being able to walk, dance, or even fly if they wanted to. I hated the doctors that told me my fate. Most of all, I hated my old dance partners. Where were they going to go? No one had as much potential as I did. And now it was all gone in a collision of metal and fate. I was stuck here, bed-ridden, like a bird that had lost its wings.
What was the point?
Angelo came to visit me a week later. My thirty-two year old ballet instructor, who was still single because he spent most of his time helping underage girls prepare for professional careers. No one really took him seriously at first because he was so quiet. But it wasn’t until going through trials and battles that I realized that there was something unbreakable in him – something that anyone had to admire.
When he came by, I was eating a bag of chips, my fourth one that day. I was chubbier than I had ever been before, and had no plans to continue dancing.
“Karina,” he said.
I ignored him.
“You can’t stay like this forever.”
I said nothing, shoving chips into my mouth as I looked the opposite direction.
Angelo sighed and then took the chair next to me. He sat there, waiting, as I crunched chips until my vision blurred and tears were running down my cheeks. Why did he just have to sit there? I was feeling worse and worse by the second. Couldn’t he just judge me and leave me alone?
“There is still hope, you know.”
“What hope?” I screamed, blowing up at him. “I can’t walk anymore! What can I do? I’ll never be able to dance again! What is there to live for anymore?”
I threw the empty bag on the ground and then ducked into my covers.
I could hear Angelo slowly get off from his chair and pick the empty bag from the floor.
He didn’t yell or take the covers off me. He sat back in his chair and sighed.
“It’s true,” he said slowly. “You might never dance again. But there’s more to life than just dancing, Karina. If you don’t learn to let go…and live life for living…well, you’ll stay hopeless like this forever.”
I could imagine his soft brown eyes when he spoke. “Is this really what you want, Karina?”
<i>No,</i> I thought. <i>This isn’t what I want.</i>
What I want is to dance. To have people admire me as I perform beautiful routines. To express myself and my passions. But I can’t do that anymore, can I?
“Well…what can I do?” I whispered from under the covers.
“What you always did before. Keep fighting. Keep pushing those boundaries. Live. And dance like everyone is around you, cheering you on.”
I imagined myself dancing on a stage, smiling and flitting across the floor. <i>If dancing is my life…can I channel my passion for it through getting better?</i> Was there any hope?
I remembered what my father had told me a long time ago. “Life is like a dance, Karina. Once you fall down and give up, the curtain goes down on you.”
Ever since he died, Angelo’s been a father to me, coaching me, trying to make me the best I could be. I was his star pupil but now I was refusing to get back on my feet. How could I just give up on both our dreams?
I was sobbing, but I still rose from the covers and gave him a hug.
“I’m sorry. I’ll try, Angelo.”
<i>For both you and myself, I’ll try.</i>
It was two years later.
So many times, I tried to give up, but Angelo was right there beside me. The doctors shook their heads and looked the other way. And as time passed, most of my friends did too. But Angelo never stopped believing.
Endless physical therapy sessions, moments where I just wanted to lie in bed and eat chips, and seeing myself in the mirror, angered that I wasn’t strong enough to stand up and see my whole body.
Somehow I grappled with that anger, and remembering those dances, forced my body to heal and adjust, despite the pain and doubts. Two years of trouble and even I wondered if it was all worth it in the end.
But it had all paid off in those five seconds.
I let go of my wheelchair, closed my eyes, and took a step.
I opened my eyes, and suddenly, I was standing. No falling, no flailing, no grabbing onto anything around me. I was standing, all on my own.
There was no stage. No roses. No cheering. There was no one in front of me but Angelo.
But somehow, I didn’t need any of that. Just Angelo was enough. There was a warm feeling in my chest, and somehow, it was better than anything I had ever felt on a stage. A feeling of triumph…not by just talent and hard work, but by pure will that caused me to keep fighting against the odds. Unlike my supporters, who had always said I’d succeed, I had proved everyone wrong – I could walk again.
Tears streamed down Angelo’s face as he stood up clapping for me.
"Bravo, Karina,” he said. “Bravo.”
And somehow, something inside me was flying through the air, dancing and laughing at the same time. The swan had taken flight.