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Someone on my right passed me the mirror and I picked up the razor blade. With a mildly shaking hand I cut the few white chunks into a fine powder and swept a fair amount into two, straight lines. I pressed one finger to my left nostril and lowered my face to the mirror, violently inhaling the drug with my right nostril. A burning sensation began in my nose, and after a couple of seconds it subsided into a tickle. Instantly it began to feel as if someone was inflating my head with helium, and then I began to float on purple air as the eyes around me turned into dark blobs and mouths formed words that might have been pretty, encouraging, or ugly, but of course I didn’t hear anything save the beautiful buzzing in between my ears.
I woke up feeling dizzy and my head kind of hurt. The buzzing continued in my ears but by now it had subsided into a softer tone and I was aware of my surroundings. The carpet, whose fibers caressed my toes just hours ago (was it hours? minutes? seconds? years?) was splattered with bodies, some unconscious, others still tripping. I picked myself up and walked to the bathroom to wash the crusty white powder from my upper lip. I changed into clean clothes, hurled all of my things into my bag, dropped a twenty on the floor, picked up a rolled up, brown paper bag and quietly walked out through the apartment door.
The warm smell of perfume, coffee, and suede greeted me as I walked into the studio. Music blasted through the closed doors leading to the dance floor. This was home, this was my dream, this was a passion, and this was life. I changed and floated into the ballroom to join everyone else, huddled around my coach.
“Sydney’s here,” Shelby said from behind Alexandra, the coach. She looked up at me and made a mark on her clipboard.
“Okay great, everyone’s here. We’re going over competition procedures.” I made my way to the front of the circle of kids.
“First, no specific dress requirements. Ladies, you can wear whatever you’d like. Same goes for the boys; just make sure you’re all comfortable in what you’re dancing in. Second, everyone has to be there an hour before your performing time. I expect you to be there the second the doors open to make sure you’re all set.” She looked at all of us, raising a dark brown, almost red eyebrow. She flipped the page with a bony hand and continued. “Third, there will be testing for alcohol and everything, but I’m not too concerned about that with this group. No Redbull though, guys. Umm... the sheets will be posted later on with the heats but you shouldn’t be that worried about that yet...” She continued to fumble with the papers, but it was all just standard competing procedures. I heard it all before and didn’t bother to pay attention. We stood there bored.
“Alright, if anything else important comes up, I’ll let you know.” She got up, smoothed out her shirt, and walked over to the stereo to find her CDs. “Go change and do what you have to do. Be up here in five minutes.” We all scrambled for the stairs and into the dressing rooms.
“Can I borrow a bobby pin?” Alicia asked. I looked at her through the reflection in the mirror as I brushed out my hair, crouched down by both of our bags.
“Yeah, sure, go ahead,” I said, violently attacking a knot. I heard some bags rustling and I glanced at her reflection again, and saw she was holding a rolled up, brown paper bag, and was about to open it.
“No, don’t! It’s not in there,” I barked at her, frustrated with myself for being so careless. “Here, let me get them for you,” I said, a little warmer this time.
I walked over to where she was sitting on the wide, carpeted bench in the studio’s dressing room, taking the bag she held in her outstretched hand. I glanced inside of it just to reassure myself that the little plastic package was still there, and a fine, snow-colored powder confirmed that my stash was safe.
I rummaged through my things and pulled out a collection of bobby pins.
“Here,” I said, giving them to Alicia.
“Thanks,” she mumbled, a little bit hurt. I glanced at her apologetically and replaced the delicate brown pack deep inside my bag.
Heels clicked loudly on the stairs leading back into the dressing rooms. A cloud of humidity followed us into the basement and the musty air hung in clouds, kissing whoever dared to come down. All the boys shuffled in through one door, the girls through the one beside it. The doors closed and suddenly two separate worlds formed. The guys, who kept their gossiping at a minimum, only bothering to talk about homework they’ll never do, girls they’ll never get, and muscles they think they have, changed into their street clothes and hung around trying to get someone to buy them a soda. But behind the pink door, the girls collapsed in heaps around me, no one by her bag. Voices came from every direction – no one would have noticed if the walls were talking back to them. Perfumes clashed and fought to be smelled, clothes draped a floor no one remembered we had, and the only available space was the corner by the doorway.
I tried to push through to the other end of the room, where my bag happened to end up. It was all too familiar – the sprawled bodies, half of them only partly conscious. I tripped and almost fell flat on my face, but an arm appeared from the tangle of colors and propped me up. I murmured a “thank you” into air that swallowed up the sounds, contorted them, and spit them back out again in a jumbled mess. Alicia sat in the corner a few feet away from my belongings. Her green eyes stared into me, but I wasn’t even sure she saw me. The glazed over look in her eyes I knew too well, but I brushed that thought aside.
I woke up feeling lousier than a person that had downed three kegs of beer the night before. Stumbling around the room I somehow managed to get dressed and ready for dance. My mom poked a chemically colored blonde head into my room. I looked up at her, swinging my bag onto my shoulder.
“Breakfast?” she asked me and I looked into her light brown eyes.
“I don’t know,” I said, glancing at the clock. “I don’t think I have time.” She looked at me, disappointed.
“You have to eat something. How do you expect to dance on an empty stomach?” she prodded.
“To be honest, I’m not even hungry.” I looked into my mirror and fixed my light caramel-brown hair into a ponytail, as a diversion from her stare. “Would you be able to drive me?” She crossed her arms.
“If you eat, definitely. If not, you can walk.” I rolled my eyes and slumped past her into the kitchen. I picked out a yogurt from the refrigerator and a banana from the table.
“Can we go now?” I asked her, opening up the yogurt and taking a spoonful. She sucked her teeth at me, but picked up her keys and began to open the front door. I grabbed a jacket and slipped on my shoes and was out before the door could fully open.
That night was a blur of zippers being opened on suitcases, dresses sparkling with rhinestones being carefully packed into their respectful wraps, cosmetic products being tossed into duffel bags, and passports being readied. It felt a little like Christmas, although it was only July. With my two suitcases and my dance bag packed and ready to go, I laid down in bed, excitement swimming over me until finally rocking me into a deep sleep.
“Sydney, you have the room with Alicia and Kaylee. Third floor, I think it’s 314. You have to check with Bryon,” Alexandra said, flipping through papers. Her curly brown hair sat atop her head in a messy bun, little ringlets falling out and framing her face. She looked exhausted, yet still managed to look gorgeous. Her carefully done eyebrows accentuated her high cheekbones and her tan made her dark green eyes stand out. Her oversized, plain white V-neck t-shirt and gray sweatpants somehow managed to make her look even cuter. I picked up my bags and walked over to the cluster of dancers from my studio huddled around Bryon, all trying to get their room numbers and passes at once.
I saw Alicia standing over on the side, checking something on her phone. Red bangs covered most of her face, and she had on a black and gray varsity jacket and short shorts.
“Hey, Al,” I called out. She looked up at me, smiling, and waved to me with her cell-phone-clutching hand. I walked over to where she stood.
“Hey, room-mate,” she greeted me, sliding her phone closed.
“Did you get the key yet?” I asked her, looking at her pink suitcase.
“I didn’t even bother trying yet. I’d like to keep my hair for now.” I laughed as she stroked her hair with exaggerated concern. “Did you see Kaylee yet?”
“No, but to be honest I wasn’t looking for her. I went straight to Alex when I came in and I just found you.” She nodded and typed something on her phone with acrylic nails. Suddenly a crash came from somewhere near the front door of the hotel. I looked up.
“I think I found her,” I giggled, pointing to a mess of blonde hair laying next to a toppled over plant. An opened suitcase, contents sprawled all over, lay a couple of feet away from her. Alicia laughed and, throwing me her phone, ran to go help Kaylee up. I put the phone in my pocket and ran after her to help get Kaylee’s things back together.
“Hell-oo, beautiful,” Alicia mumbled, opening the door to our hotel room. We walked in and dumped our things by the large vanity near the door. I searched the room and found three beds, one by the bathroom.
“I call this one!” I yelled out, jumping on it. The mattress bounced me up and down a couple of times before settling. Kaylee picked up a pillow and threw it at me. I laughed and threw it back, accidentally missing her and hitting Alicia in the face. She got up and raised her eyebrows, picking up the pillow and hurling it towards me.
In the matter of a couple of seconds we had a full-on pillow fight going on and the room was a mess. I stopped to catch my breath from all the laughter and noticed my bag lying on its side, and a brown paper bag about a foot away from it. A plastic baggie, which I worked for hours to perfect conceal, poked out from underneath one of the flaps, containing something resembling snow. My eyes widened but I couldn’t let the other girls know something was wrong.
In an effort to try to keep the fight going, I took one of the pillows and pressed it to Kay’s face, gently enough not to suffocate her but enough to get her roused up. I jumped from the bed as she got up with mock anger.
“Alicia did it!” I screamed out, pointing to the dumbstruck figure a few feet away. We all laughed as Kaylee attacked her. I tiptoed carefully to where the baggie lay and scooped it up, replacing it in my duffel and zipping it up. I couldn’t be careless if I wanted to go home unscathed.
“Did you see my self tanner?” Kaylee called frantically from the bathroom.
“Top shelf! Where are my bobby pins?” Alicia asked.
“Check your bag?” I answered slowly as Kay called out “Don’t know!”
I rummaged through my suitcases looking for my makeup case. My dress lay on the hotel bed, rhinestones sparking in the L.A. sunlight streaming through the windows. The colors were fantastic and flew in circles above the dress.
After only a couple of hours we were made up and ready to go. In the lobby we met up with all of the other dancers and piled into the vans that would take us to the ballroom we would be performing at. I twirled the zipper on my dress package nervously. My head swam and time moved, first slowly, then as if the hand never stopped moving. Before I knew what was going on I was in my dress in the changing room at the ballroom. I stepped out and shut the door behind me, making my way down to where I would be performing in just a few hours. All my bags were in the dressing room with the other girls, but I no longer had to worry about that. The little brown baggie with the snow colored package no longer existed.
“Ladies and gentleman!” the announcer’s voice came on, filling the entire building with his words. I lifted my head from my hand to listen. “Heat number 20 will be on the dance floor momentarily. In the meantime, anyone dancing in Pre-champ Junior 2 division is asked to kindly meet in the main lobby.” I wrinkled my eyebrows in confusion, but got up and proceeded to the lobby. My heart fluttered nervously in my chest, but I was used to pre-competition jitters.
I walked into the lobby and stood by the door, waiting as everyone else piled in. A woman stood in front of the semi-circle talking to Alexandra. Once we settled down, she opened her mouth to speak.
“As I’m sure your coach has already informed you,” here she paused and Alex nodded, eyes fixed on the floor and lips slightly pursed, “there is going to be drug and alcohol testing prior to your performance. To insure that everyone is set by the time they have to dance, we will be beginning that now. Anyone who is found with anything in their system will promptly be disqualified and may be subject to further consequences depending on the offence.” I looked at the woman whose eyes rested at no one at particular but may as well have been staring at me. I felt my eyes widen and my heart jumped, begging to be let out of my rib cage. Last night came back and smacked me right in the face for being an idiot. The lines on the bathroom sink, diamond-like and laughing at me. Wiping everything clean when I was done and silently slipping out of the hotel room and out of the hotel lobby, wandering around the streets and marveling at the sights that weren’t actually there. Miraculously making it back to bed in one piece and falling asleep to 50 foot-tall clowns handing me balloons and riding in circles at the merry-go-round because life was one big carnival.
Life is a joke, that’s right, and I’m the opening act.
“I’ll start calling names, and whoever is called needs to meet Ms. Harley on the opposite side of the room. There she will give you instructions and check off your name on another clipboard. This is very organized and extremely monitored. There’s no point in trying to weave yourself out of this, and no reason why you should want or need to,” Alex lectured us. She looked at the woman who made her way to the wall opposite from the one I was closest to in red heels that tip-tapped against the floor. Once settled and comfortable at a table by a door, Alexandra began calling names. Shelby went. Alicia was called. Kaylee strutted. One by one familiar names were called and dancers walked nonchalantly to perform a test they didn’t need. One by one they entered a room, and five to ten minutes later walked out rolling their eyes and smiling. I remained by the wall, afraid to move or else I’d fall, arms crossed and my lip almost bleeding.
Then I heard it. “Sydney Weintraub.” I closed my eyes and suddenly I wished I never came here in the first place, wished I wasn’t a screw-up, wished I was dead. I walked slowly over to where the woman stood and had the urge to tell her the testing wasn’t even worth it – I did drugs. But instead I kept my mouth shut and walked through the door that would undoubtedly ruin any chance I’ve ever had at becoming a pro. Wow, I guess it really is true. You decide your own fate.
An hour or so later I sat watching the younger kids dancing, skirts swishing to the beat, the boys’ arms carefully guiding the girls with slight pushes and pulls. From the corner of my eye I saw someone coming towards me but I didn’t look up. A paper was shoved at me. I glanced up and saw Alex, disappointment and anger written clearly across her face. I looked down at the paper she handed me. It was the heat list. My eyes skimmed the page until I found my own name. I looked to the right of it. I was met with a large red DQ, disqualified. I folded the paper and stood up abruptly, walking to the dressing room to get my things.
We sat in a circle with a dim light illuminating a single corner in the room. Someone on my right passed me the mirror. I picked up the razor blade, looked at it once, and passed it on.