The day was hot and still. I pulled at the nylon leotard underneath my dress, but the fabric kept the heat closed in. My fingers skimmed along the white bricks of the building, Levitt Dance Academy was painted on the side in large black lettering. I walked through the glass entryway into the square carpeted reception room, the fragrance of dying flowers hung in the air. The receptionist jerked her head up as the doorbell jingled. “You are late again, Ca-trine,” the small French woman said with squinted eyes.
“Sorry, Collette. There was a traffic jam.” I hurried into the studio, Collette knew I lived within a four minutes’ walk. I was greeted by the echo of Madame Levitt’s low commanding voice. Point those toes.
I quickly tied on my flats and joined the line of twirling dancers. Through their spins I could sense judgment, it was unlike a ballerina to be late, and we were meticulous that way. I ignored the pain in my right ankle and turned like a top, around and around. The swirling mix of faces and colors become a harmonious chaos, numbing my mind. One two three, one two three, I chanted in my head as we floated across the newly polished floor.
“But you love dance,” Trent said with a shake of his head.
“I know, I know, it’s just-- not the same lately. I feel different,” I explained as we sat outside of Suzanne’s, the café on the corner of East Shepherd and Main.
“Nonsense, Kitty. How long have you felt like this?” he said as he took a sip of his coffee.
“I don’t know, like a week maybe.”
“See, it’s probably just, you know, that time of the month,” Trent said, sitting back feeling satisfied that he’d found the answer. “Oh, so my parents are having a barbecue on Saturday. They even said they might let me and Jay be the entertainment.”
“Really? That’s nice of them,” I said politely.
“Well, they wouldn’t have to spend a ton of money on a random band and instead they get Jay and me for free,” he explained. Then our sandwiches arrived so we didn’t speak for several minutes.
“A magician,” I said.
“It would be cool to hire a magician for the party, I love parties with magicians.” Trent smiled and patted my hand.
Later, we were in his room. The lights always seemed to be off making it feel cave-like. Keeping with this feel, his walls were mostly bare save for the large cork board that hung next to his bed. I laid back on his pillow and studied its contents as I had done many times before. On the surface it appeared to be a tribute to our relationship, but anytime I stared at it for too long I could find no sense of me in it at all. In the corner of the board, copied neatly onto lined paper, was the song he’d written me a few weeks after we began dating. The lyrics were no movement of poetic genius, yet I’d been giddy the first time he’d played it for me. He entitled it “The Kitty Song.”
Next to the paper was a River Rock Concert poster with a phone number written across it in silvery ink. I thought back to when I had scribbled those numbers, nervously and slightly tipsy. I was at the concert with several friends from school. With ballet, it was hard to have a social life but one night rehearsal was cancelled and some girls invited me out. One of the girls I was with, Karen, had frizzy brown hair and offered me the rest of her water bottle which was filled with several ounces of clear liquid. “It’s vodka,” she whispered to me in the backseat of Tony Valescrow’s car. “Hold your nose, it’ll taste better.”
I wanted to spew out the unfamiliar liquid, but I kept it down as it burned through my throat. The tingling feeling remained in my chest for a few more moments. I decided it was almost pleasant.
River Rock was held on Blue’s Island, which was just big enough for an outdoor concert. The bass echoed as we walked across the bridge. Things were a bit hazy but I kept my eyes on Karen’s back and walked forward. We were in the crowd as soon as we made it across the bridge. Tony Valescrow held my hand as we pushed through the packed bodies to make it to the center. We must have made it to the right spot in the crowd, because when I looked around I noticed familiar faces from school.
Tony danced behind me, which I guess was to also say with me, as his hands grazed the sides of my waist. This kind of dancing felt like a degradation to the dance I loved dearly. Everyone in the crowd seemed to be acting on a primal instinct to grind themselves into one another and thrust out their pelvises, whereas ballet was the opposite. I believed that ballet was the purest form of movement the human body could achieve.
I tried to focus on the music which started out pleasantly but then turned into an erratic beat. The crowd responded at this part by moving up and down faster with their fists pumping in the air. It was then that I noticed Trent. He stood in the crowd, yet was untouched, he was not grinding nor fist pumping, he was graceful.
“Men are never graceful. We can be fluid, but grace is something only a woman can attain,” Trent later explained to me.
So Trent danced fluidly. His eyes were closed and his body seemed moved by each note in the song. I detached myself from Tony’s groping hands and weaved until I was right next to him. Trent noticed me as I mirrored his movements, and he began to laugh. He grabbed my hand and I twirled artfully toward him, despite the haze of the vodka.
Later we were kissing. It was my first kiss, though he didn’t know. He was both strong and slight; I ran my fingers down the flannel feel of his shoulders.
I was jerked out of the memory by Trent’s real kiss. He laid on down next to me on the bed and kept kissing me, I closed my eyes, wondering what he thought about when we kissed. I could never really think of much when my eyes were closed, I needed something tangible to focus on. When we kissed, I only thought sleep.
“I need to go to the bathroom.”
Trent touched my lips with his thumb. “Hurry back,” he said with a wink. I gazed down and noticed the depressing look of my bra, crumpled and lifeless on the floor.
I was in a state of bliss, Kitty, her name caused an internal sigh. My pillow retained the floral smell of her perfume and the scent charged me with anticipation. She would be back in a moment. I gazed at her photo on my cork board. It was a posed one from ballet she had given me. Her light brown hair was in one of those meticulous ballerina buns, and her body curved into a pose in a very appealing way. The perfect depiction of her beauty, delicate and feminine. Her face always felt so soft under my hands, I’d never wanted anything so much and I could have her. It was ultimate satisfaction.
I began to get impatient when she didn’t return for several minutes. “Kitty?” I said knocking on the bathroom door. There was no response. I swung the door open and it was empty, I grazed the house for her but she was gone. Something was off. My phone vibrated in my pocket.
“Hey, its me.”
“Kitty! Where did you go?”
“I’m sorry. I just felt myself getting sick so I wanted to get home quickly.”
“I would have driven you.”
“I didn’t want you to get worked up.”
“Do you think it’s the flu? I know Amy and Hal were both sick with it last week.”
“Probably,” Kitty paused, “I’ll call you when I’m feeling better, okay?”
“Okay…” There was silence on the other end of the line. This was strange behavior so I figured she must really have been feeling bad.
I put my phone away and walked back to my house, a short distance from Trent’s. I was feeling sick, it was true, but this was something different. I knew it wasn’t the flu, rather I felt consumed to the bones by some hollow feeling I couldn’t reason. I walked up the porch steps of my house with my arms clutched around me. I looked up and noticed how the house looked weary and sad squeezed between the other tall city buildings.
I walked back to the empty room, my studio, as my mom had put it, once she cleared out her old office supplies. A small stereo sat on a stool in the corner of the room. I went over and shuffled through the disks. Mostly, it was a combination of my dad and I’s taste in music, my mom would only listen to vinyl. I preferred classical music for dance, and our piece for the next recital was Pachbell’s Canon in d major.
I began to pirouette as the violins started to play. I felt I was unsteady, but I continued into the first leap where I misplaced my footing and fell to the ground. I got up and started the sequence over from the beginning, but i fell again. Suddenly, I was sobbing. I stood up, sobs shaking at my ribs, to unplug the stereo and I caught my reflection in the mirror. I examined the reflection from all sides, there was such beauty in the music which I could not feel in myself. I studied my face, neither delicate nor soft, I did not feel feminine. Did I want to feel feminine? Trent seemed sure about the meaning of the word, and I was not sure if I liked it.
Through the tears, I scolded myself internally. You’re over reacting. I hated crying. I got up and went to the bathroom. I scrubbed my face in the dusty sink, and when I looked up I saw a blotchy faced boy with puffy eyes. I took my hair down and it calmed me some, I felt I was somewhere in the face, but I was becoming harder to find.
I went to bed early, and later felt the door open as my mom came into check on me. My head was hidden under a stack of pillows, which I threw off when she left. I stared into the dark room, allowing my imagination to make the undefined shapes into something more. Soon, I fell into a dreamless sleep, where the darkness behind my lids was the only thing I could comprehend.
I blasted music through the open windows of my car. Kitty usually liked when I did it, and I was glad to make her happy. She needed me today, I felt myself swell with pride. I was needed by her. I parked on the curb and honked twice. I knew it wasn’t gentlemanly, but I never like to deal with girlfriend’s parents and Kitty never seemed to mind.
“Hey,” I breathed as she slid into the car.
“So, which theatre are we going to?”
While we drove, Kitty rolled down the window and stuck her hand out. “Hey,” I said turning the music down, “I feel like we haven’t really talked recently, what’s new?”
Kitty rolled the window back up and straightened her posture,”Well, you’re driving me to a recital, I have a featured part, that’s pretty big, I guess.” I waited for a moment. Kitty sighed, “What’s new with you?”
“Well, Jay came over for a bit last night and we jammed for a while. I played him a new song I wrote, he said it was ‘epic.’”
“Oh, you wrote a new song.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of like a proto-grunge rock sound.”
We drove until I came to the large theater in town. Kitty unbuckled her seat belt.
“Wait,” I said as her arm reached to open the door. She turned to face me and I cupped her chin in my hand romantically, and stared lovingly into her eyes. “I love you Kitty. I think about you all the time, maybe I should write a song about that.” As I moved to kiss her, she pulled away. Her eyes seemed to sharpen.
His mouth moved in the rhythm of himself. And I was in the cave of himself. I was nothing, nothing but the floor mats beneath his feet. Flattened out, only for his use, an object of him. I made a break to escape his thick air, but the hand on my shoulder and then “wait.” Not a longing or a pleading, but an impatient child who has not had enough time to play with his toy, wait and so I did. I did because he did not sense strength in me, and so I never tested the strength, and I was scared to fall flat and remain like the mat.
Then the “loving” eyes, and the “romantic” hold on my chin. And to him he may have been so self deceived to think this was true. But this was nothing more than his romance with himself. And I felt shame for being nothing but the reflection of what he wanted, the feminine beauty. I was not. “I love you,” he said and my mind sharpened. I had the sensation that I was breathing air for the first time. I would no longer be his illusion or mine. I pulled away from the kiss.
“Being your girlfriend.”
“Wait--what?” he paused, “but, I love you Kitty. I thought you loved me too.” his pleading eyes looked odd and wrong.
“ No.” No. And I did not say it to his words but rather to his thoughts. No, I would not be consumed.
Inside the recital hall, my insides felt as though they had been scrubbed and purged. I felt the purity I once held at the peak of my ballet ability. I stood behind the black velvet curtain and felt assurance in my body. The curtain rose with the music, and I stepped out on stage. I lept gracefully with the curve of the violin as the other dancers fluttered behind me. I danced with the full strength I possessed, devoid of insecurities and second guesses.I felt a new understanding of how I was. Trent had been wrong about my softness making me feminine. It was my femininity that made me strong, that made me a dancer, a woman.