Broken Stoplight

June 16, 2012
In the beginning, it was my mother who dragged me into ballroom dancing, and in the end, she was the one that whisked me out. My mother wanted to raise her son as a gentleman—plus, all the rich kids did it, so there was no other explanation for me not to do it. But unlike the rest of the rich kids, I didn’t dread Monday rehearsals. In fact, I lived for it.

Since then, I have always dreamed of being a professional ballroom dancer. Call me all the names you want: gay, f****t, I’ve been through all that. But there was something pristine and innocent about gliding across the dance floor that lifted me off of my feet and allowed me to fly. It was an inexplicable kind of beauty, that only people intimately connected to dancing could understand. The breathlessness, the music, everything was so perfect, in sync, in rhythm. Every step had its place; every move was executed with elegance. There was so much feeling to be interpreted through a single minute, all the emotions.

I was never much of a modest person, so I guess it’s fair for me to boast that I was one of the best ballroom dancers that my teacher had ever seen. I attended a prestigious arts academy, an hour away, before I was forced to go to an all-academic school following my freshman year. Still, the lessons continued through my scarce allowance every week, no matter how many times my mother insisted I should quit through her subtlety of words. “I would like you to join soccer… Oh, but you’re doing ballroom dancing already,” she would comment dryly.

It wasn’t until my senior year that my mother blew out on me all at once. My first choice was a small college with one of the best arts program in the country. I was applying for a handful of other schools, but none that focused much academically. They were all recommendations from my ballroom teacher. On the other hand, she wanted me to apply to Ivy schools and Stanford and Berkeley. “Honestly, Justin, what do you think you’re going to do, majoring in performing arts? Do you think you’re actually going to make money?” No matter how much research I gave her on the statistics of finding a job within the performing arts field, no matter how much I debated with her, pleaded, resisted, begged, all she did was raise her eyebrows at me wearily. No was a no.

I ended up going to Cornell, where I graduated with an engineering degree.

I hated it.

Trust me when I said I tried to give it a chance. I tried so hard. But it was too many facts; there was no room for freedom. I couldn’t express myself the way dancing allowed me to. I was enclosed in a box, where they tried to feed me all the knowledge. I barely passed my final that year, but only thanks to a generous curve. Had my professor not liked me, I would have probably flunked out of college.

Onwards I went with my life, where I became an electrical technician. I specifically fixed public electricity failures, like power outages and broken stoplights. It was a constant reminder, the broken stoplights, mocking me for never achieving my goals. The red light had turned upon me just when I was about to launch my career.

One day, I was working on a stoplight on the intersection of Castaway Avenue and Reverie Boulevard. Whoever named those two streets were probably the king of corny. But still, it gave me a nostalgic feeling: two blocks down Reverie was my old dance studio. I’d moved away for a while, but this place was where home was for me, truly. This was the place of cold ice cream and flying feet, the place where my dreams almost came true. It was where all my memories were stored.

I let out a bitter laugh, and my partner gave me a weary glance. He was an old man, in his fifties. I was his sidekick, doing the actual dirty work, since his body had gave up long ago. Once we rounded to the intersection, he slowed the car to a stop. He threw me a wrench and told me to go up there, while he kicked up his legs and leaned back in his seat.

I rolled my eyes, but I needed the paycheck, so I complied like I always did. I was tugging away at a wire when a couple dressed in flamboyant dancing paraphernalia. I expected to feel a pang of jealousy, but instead, I felt anger. I was here, slaving away, and they got to pursue their dreams? What the hell? Upon these thoughts, I failed to realize I was gripping my scissors so tightly that I accidentally cut an important wire.

Whoops.

Below me, my partner called out, “Justin, done yet?” I was about to shout back a no, but I paused. I looked at the broken stoplight, so helpless and blowing in the wind, and I turned back to the two dancers. I took a deep breath.

“Yeah,” I said softly.

“What?”

“Yeah,” I repeated, more forcefully this time. I felt the old crane, creaking me down back to the ground. “I think I’m done running away from my dream,” I said, looking up at the stoplight. The second the crane reached the bottom, I jumped off and ran down Reverie, while my partner called behind me, yelling something. Something that was completely irrelevant to my life now.

When I finally reached the dance studio, I was completely out of breath.

“Looks like someone’s out of shape,” a familiar voice rang through the room.

“Carla?”

“I knew you could never let go of dancing. Took you long enough,” she said. She was wearing blue sequined dress, her hair tied up neatly in a bun, as if she was waiting for me all this time. “Let’s dance.” She held out her hand.

I gladly took it.





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