Promise | Teen Ink


May 6, 2016
By joannalee_55 BRONZE, Sterling, Massachusetts
joannalee_55 BRONZE, Sterling, Massachusetts
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Her slim silhouette moves through the city streets in the eerie half light of dawn. The streetlamps are still lit and flicker occasionally as she passes under them, one of the few figures that can be seen flitting between their pools of light so early in the morning. Her light steps fall soundlessly with the steady grace that could only belong to a dancer, their measured reluctance suggesting that she would rather not arrive at her destination.
    Though the sharp silver outline of high rise buildings looms beyond, this street is narrow and dishevelled. Weathered storefronts line its cracked sidewalks and silent, icy breezes chase plastic bags in haphazard pirouettes across the pavement. The few strangers who pass seem to stare straight through her, forsaking her with a crushing sense of isolation far more acute than she would feel had the streets been completely empty. It had always been this way.
    With a tight throat she remembers a childhood spent in an empty apartment, waiting, until a mother with a creased and ashen face finally returned with barely enough energy left to murmur, “Good night”. She recalls the perfect report cards, left unread on the kitchen table. She remembers searching hopefully for a familiar face in the audience at ballet recitals and finding only the nameless faces of strangers. So invisible she felt that she might have been made of glass--and not a living soul would notice if she shattered into a thousand tiny fragments.    
    The frigid gusts slice through her and stir her lank, brown hair. At the corner of the block ahead stands a ballet studio, modest yet charming in its antiquity. She must pass by it each day, always with her head bent and her step hastened to avoid its heart-wrenching allure. But today she pauses before its intricately carved wooden doors and allows herself to be drawn in for a brief moment. She gazes through her faint reflection in the window, her eyes fixed on a pair of elegant, satin ballet shoes displayed behind the glass. How glorious it would feel to slip her feet into them, to let her soul break free from its bindings and release its deepest sentiments into
the fluid movements of her body. She can feel the warmth of the stage lights on her face, the nervous flutterings in her stomach. Until she wrenches her gaze away and realizes the flutters are truly knots of regret, twisting deep inside.
    The horizon now glows silver-white with the promise of the approaching dawn. Promises: how steadfast they grip the most tender, righteous parts of us, though we may ache to break free. She can now glimpse the front of the pet shop in the distance, the manifestation of the promise she had made years ago. Perhaps if she could be the perfect daughter, the guardian of her mother’s lifetime of hard work, she would be invisible no longer.  Day after day she worked and lovingly cared for the animals, a part of her content to uphold her vow and feel deserving of her mother’s pride at last. Yet a deeper aspect of her was all the while feeling imprisoned behind the glass windows of the little store, yearning to be free, mourning her broken dreams. Hot tears burn behind her eyes. She’d thought her promise would make her worth something at last. Yet now, years after her mother’s death, she finds herself more invisible and isolated than ever before.
    Gradually, a sound reaches her through the whirlwind of her thoughts. The piercing ring of a burglar alarm is resounding through the city streets, shattering the tranquil silence of the morning. Through a film of tears she can make out bits of debris littering the sidewalk in front of her mother’s pet shop. She is vaguely aware of her feet moving beneath her, carrying her nearer to the source of the earsplitting ringing, until a delicate crunch beneath her foot freezes her in place. The street before her is a sea of glittering glass fragments. The shards are strewn across the pavement in a silvery mosaic of ruin and empty shop windows yawn to reveal a dark and ravaged interior. Vast stretches of time elapse between each throbbing beat of her heart. She longs to hear just one feeble yelp of a puppy echo from inside but only a heavy silence presses upon her ears, as lifeless as the cold shards of glass scattered across the road, as empty as her heart. There is nothing left. Despair threatens to swallow her up as, with shaking hands, she kneels in the street before the shattered remains of her life.   
Then the first shafts of morning light break through the clouds. As the beams fall upon the once dismal street where she kneels, the bits of glass before her are turned to gleaming flecks of gold. They are no longer transparent. Now, ignited by the radiance of the sun, they appear less like a scene of destruction and more like the pieces of a puzzle perfectly settled into place. She lifts her face from her hands. For the first time, she is free. The warm rays of sunlight now spilling over the horizon feel like the dazzling lights of the stage on her face, like a whispered promise of joy to come. And in the midst of the audience in her mind she sees her mother smiling back at her, an expression of unmistakable pride illuminating her face.

The author's comments:

The underlying message in this piece is one that almost everyone can relate to: the drive to pursue a deeply desired dream but something holding you back -- whether it's fear, a prior commitment or simply a lack of faith in yourself. What I want readers to take away from this is that life is a gift not to be wasted or spent in the shadows, that whatever fills you with joy is what is right, that the initially devestating end of one part of your life may truly be an avenue for personal growth or a golden opportunity for a dream to be realized.

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