A Pair of White Ballet Flats

June 7, 2008
By Hana Connelly, Cambridge, MA

Dances were not ‘my thing’. The stifling atmosphere, the darkness and the disco lights, the obnoxiously loud and stupid music, the people bumping into each other, and most of all the dancing…uh, no. You weren’t going to catch me dead at one of those.

So what was I doing there that night? Well, it all boiled down to Julian.

He had rather long and very messy dark brown hair and (I’ll leave off the cliché adjectives here) brown eyes. For some reason he wore jeans and some kind of T-shirt everyday. We had a sort of mock-battle going, throwing playful insults and ‘torturing’ each other. Though I pretended to hate it, my school days would have been very boring indeed without it. Julian wasn’t that handsome or ‘cute’, but he was the boy that the must girls had crushes on in our grade, although he didn’t ask anyone out and wasn’t really considered one of the popular boys. You would be hard pressed to find a girl in the 10th grade who wasn't in some way attracted to Julian. I would like to now declare that I was the exception...but that would be a lie.

Aah, Julian. I can picture him now. Of course it wasn't pure love, of course there was almost no chance that we'd ever get married or close to it, but I really, really liked him. More than all those other girls; I'd be ready to swear to it. Julian was mine. I liked him the most. Jealousy burned in me whenever I saw another girl flirt with him. If he didn't respond and later remarked on her stupidity, I would trill inside. If he looked oblivious and flustered, I exhaled. If he responded with flirting on his side, I could feel my cheeks burn, angry tears sting in my eyes. Tears I couldn't, wouldn't let out for the world. Not there. Not then. Maybe at home I would let myself cry. That's what I told myself, at least; I never did. I just stared at a wall, clenched my fists and wondered why life was so unfair.

Of course he didn't like me. Of course he saw me only as an amusement. Of course he had no idea what went on behind the sneer. Of course I had no chance with him. All I could do was mope around at home and fantasize. It was during that time when you're just waking up and a dream is starting to fade away from in front of your eyelids, reality seeping in, that I would have the most vivid fantasies about him. Him and me. Usually, it was at a dance. They were always so close to reality, so heartbreakingly close, that they could almost be real. Almost; Julian would never walk up to me and frantically ask me to a dance because Olga - a hideous, bothersome girl in our class who was always being picked on - his date, was trying to get him to dance with her. He would never laugh with me, flirt with me, while we both cast glances now and then at the fuming Olga. He would never slowly ease into awkwardness as time passed by, realizing that it wasn't just because of Olga that he had his hands around my waist. He would never ask me to a second dance, pretending it was because of Olga. He would never make me feel so on top of the world with the new, wonderful way he looked at me.

Or would he? I suppose I didn't know. And that's what drove me to the dance.

The flyers were bright yellow with a border of blue hearts. June 12th, 8:00PM-10:30PM in the gym. Bring a date, bring a friend, come alone. As one of the girls on the student council proudly handed it out, my hand moved, out of habit, to drop it into a recycle bin nearby. But I didn't. Instead, slowly, I read what was written and remembered that frustratingly real dream about Julian, Olga, me and the dance. I had nothing to wear. Yes I did; I would wear my only skirt, made of light material, reaching down to my knees and of a pleasing, rich purple color. My top would be the soft, pretty white shirt that I had worn to my mother's Christmas party. And shoes? I had only sneakers, sandals and a ratty pair of flip-flops. An image of white ballet-flats, simple but so divine and princess-like, entered my head. It will be fun, I told myself. My first dance. Why haven't I ever gone to one of these before? Because before, there was no Julian. But I didn't let myself think that. I was going because it would be fun was what I fooled myself into thinking. Oh, was Julian going to be there? Why, I didn't know! What a coincidence.

When I awkwardly told my mother that I was planning on going to our Summer dance, she didn't look at me quizzically; she hadn't taken the time to observe that I'd never gone before. "Oh, have fun," she said distractedly, all the while ironing a shirt. "Do you need a ride?" No, I told her. I didn't. But could I borrow some money to get a pair of shoes? That caught her attention: "Shoes? You need to buy a new pair of shoes just for the dance? Ena, I'm not so sure if it's a good idea..." I only had sneakers, I pointed out. "So? Wear your sneakers. I'm sure you have a white pair." But you don't wear sneakers to a dance. "Like I said, Ena, I'm not sure this is such a good idea. We're not swimming in money you know." I told her I could always wear them to other special occasions. They wouldn't just sit at the back of my closet forever after the dance. She relented, looking weary. "OK, borrow however much you need." I walked away feeling guilty, not triumphant. But then, I never felt triumphant when I walked away from an encounter with my mother.

I walked there, the shoes in a backpack I was carrying, sneakers on my feet. About two blocks away from the school, I changed into my perfect ballet flats, which had taken hours to find, shoved the sneakers into the bag and deposited it behind a thick fence post, hoping no one would see it and take it home with them. Then, nervously, I walked towards the school.

It was just as I had predicted: the room was crowded, smelling of sweat and excitement and all sorts of junky food. The lights were dimmed dramatically, a silver disco ball on the ceiling, spinning slowly and casting its haunting light everywhere. It was loud, bad music turned up to the max and couples yelling at each other over it, grinning because that was what you did at a dance: you were happy. I felt awkward and out of place as I wove my way through the dancing couples, wondering if I should be swaying. I had never danced before. As quickly as was possible in that room, I made my way to one of the corners, near a table full of food, and leaned against the wall. I wasn't looking for Julian as my eyes swept the room. I was just...looking.

But when I saw him I knew that was possibly my biggest lie yet. He was standing against a wall on the other side of the room, laughing raucously with his friends, a Coke in his hand. The only reason I was able to pick him out of the crowd was the light of the disco ball, which my eyes had followed, when it landed on him. That and how well I had memorized him, I thought romantically. Pretending that I hadn't come here for him was now so impossible it was ridiculous. I was here for him, only him. Why fool myself further?

Now what should I do? I couldn't very well go over there, hang out in his corner and hope he would ask me to a dance; it would look absolutely foolish. But I couldn't stay where I was either; there would be no chance of being asked if I did. So, trying to look casual while I could feel the blood rushing to my face, I started making my way towards him, my eyes fixed on a table of food nearby. Was my hair alright? I wondered. It was done up in an elaborate bun with some cascading down the sides of my face. I always wore it up, and even just some down was a very different look for me. Would he notice? I sure hoped so as I got closer and closer to him. When I passed by, I turned around and uttered a miraculously calm "hey." He didn't notice. Craig, the boy who was nearest to me as I walked past, did. His eyes followed me as I defeatedly made my way to the table, but I couldn't care less. When he started to move towards me, I didn't rejoice that a boy had noticed me for the first time; I made sure to lose him in the crowd. Why? He wasn't Julian.

I stayed for the whole dance, walking around sometimes but mostly staying in my corner. I ate only a single grape, to keep up appearances when I walked past him a fourth time. Even that I was afraid to throw up. The dance ended. He left. Everyone left. I left. He hadn't even realized I was there.

I felt sick; it was all shattered. I shouldn't have come. If I hadn't come I could have kept on imagining dancing with him in the early mornings. But I had come and he hadn't even acknowledged my presence. Worst of all, he'd danced with Kashayla. As I watched him swaying with her, I felt a single tear make a line down my face. Standing there, I thought it was because I loved him and he didn't love me. But as I left the school and made my way towards my bag - stolen - feeling ashamed, I knew it was because I couldn't even hope anymore. Was that better? Then, walking home in ballet flats, it was certainly not better. I felt nauseous, foolish, betrayed. In the long run, though...who knows. I don't think it made a difference. If I hadn't gone to the dance and had kept that bright hope, I would have secretly admired him from the sidelines until we graduated and then remembered him fondly for years to come, kicking myself for not acting. Now, I would always look at him with bitterness that couldn't be disguised, trying to be as lighthearted as before but failing. He wouldn't notice. He never noticed me. And you know what? I no longer cared. He couldn't hurt me anymore.

As I lay on the bed, I had to grin cynically at the thought that came to mind: Well, at least I gained a pair of white ballet flats. But even those were tattered and worn.

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