Failed suicide, failed life, failed goodbyes.
Is this where my story starts?
Does it start with me alone and trembling not completely aware of what had occurred in that hallway bathroom of that Seattle basement apartment? I barely understood what love and passion was much less pregnancy and miscarriages. I would learn the term miscarriage later sitting half-naked on the examination table of the free walk-in clinic nestled between downtown and the ballet studios. I had used a stage name at check-in when they handed me the intake patient form. I came to this clinic after my research discovered they ask for no money, they ask for no identification and they ask for no explanations. Once back in the one room exam area where beds were separated by curtains and not walls, I refused to take off my oversized dark glasses. There was no privacy here as snippets of conversations reached my ears from behind hanging off white curtains. I kept my glasses on as a protection precaution that was keeping all my secrets coming out to play. I took a ten minute bus ride and walked six blocks to get to this clinic. Alone, always cold and terrified, I made my way to the non-descriptive building. I now found myself shivering in a paper robe hiding nothing of the shame I needed to bury so desperately as the doctor threw out words like miscarriage, lost of fetus and education of birth control methods.
He said he loved me. When he was my love in those tender moments written about in romantic novels he had said he loved me. I knew I loved him. I was giddy and insecure as he unbuttoned my pants. I did not really want to do more then kiss. He had experience while my ignorance was massive as he toyed with my tummy. But I really wanted him to love me. I did not really want him kissing my neck as the stabs of my defenses caused my insides to scream. Did he notice the goosebumps on my arm as I cringed at his touch? Could he see the tightness of my clenched jaw? But this is what love is right? I had no idea. I had no idea. I loved him was all I knew. And he said he loved me too.
As I sat there ripping tiny pieces off the edge of the paper separating my body from the exam table the conversation highlights came through cracks of my darkness and hallow awareness. We would get married he mused. We would have a family he smiled. I added my own daydreams of how he would be famous with a record deal and tour dates and how I would be his ballerina bride. In all of our conversations the white elephant in the room that stared so blatant at us was how we had this gentlemen’s agreement that things happen on the road on tour. He was a wanderer in many ways and I was learning that wandering from bed to bed was one of them. Kate would be there. Yes that was not a secret that the plan was that Kate would be there but I could close my eyes to that eyesore. I could simply nestle our future rock star kid to block the view, to use as an avoidance, to be a expertise tactic method to ignore what a joke I was to him and his band mates. I was trying to be this wife of a rock star. I was trying to be this collected muse. I was trying to pretend that I am too beyond to give a damn. I was trying to be what I imagined was an ethereal creature beyond feeling that nasty feeling that can only be described of as betrayal. It would be fine. He promised it would be fine. I repeated after him it would be fine. It had to be fine. Sitting on that cold exam table wondering who was listening in on the other side of the curtain I remembered it was suppose to be just fine.
Only it was not fine.
I never told him how not fine it was. Even from that time together to this very day with such many moons passing over valleys and mountains of a life walked; I never told him how I was pregnant. I never told him how I had carried to only then lose that baby in my womb. No, he never was privy to the secret I buried so deep inside my act of disappearing into who I imagined he wanted me. I was molding myself to be a part in our rock star marries his ballet bride dreams. He never knew. He still knows not how not fine it all truly was.
My story could not have begun here however. It can not begin here. I refuse to let it begin here either in the free walk-in clinic strung out on the impossibly painful lost first light. No I must be more than who I was here in this point of my life’s timeline.
There was a childhood home before this. There were childhood pets before this. Cats, dogs, hamsters and all before this. Our home was the image of a domestic zoo before this. There was a childhood yard, a childhood sibling or two. There was a childhood portrait of a family hung on a wall in some childhood suburb home in some suburb town full of suburb dreams all before this point in time.
And then there was childhood me. I was freckled and pale in two sweaters and jeans with my long dyed strawberry blonde hair tied up tight on top of my head. There was childhood me defying the 100% humidity of 90 degree weather of Florida living where I lived from just after the age of four months to just before the age of eighteen. My insecurities were wrapped up in one child who never could get a grasp of this whole becoming a real human thing. And then there was me who never knew who I was meant to be. And I accepted whoever I was told to be,
I was going to be a ballerina.
Everyday, every waking moment circled around this fact of a statement asserted on me. Every dream and every nightmare connecting the two images of the childhood self I was which was so unflattering and insecure to the less childhood self I was being molded into which was so graceful. I was going to be a theatre star. I was going to be a ballerina.
One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.
I adjusted the hem of the costume. I, in irritation, was pulling the costume from clinging to my frame. The costume was bringing awareness that only such contact would bring. The contact was telling me where the outlines of my body was filling the airspace. The pinch of elastic to my hips told me I had hips. I had hips that always seemed to big. My hips were too child-bearing for my wish on this body of mine to be. My child-bearing hips on a body which ironically would never carry a child to bear. The contrast between light hitting darkness from the stage lights escaping to the backstage wings brought forward the shadows in my mind to play shadow puppets on the black curtains aimed to hide the back stage practicality from the onstage magic.
Somehow it was so quiet back here off the stage yet so highly aware of the noise of silence. This quietness seemed impossible with the music of the performer dancing on stage filling the empty air waves between here and there. Yet as I stood there hidden in the wings willing myself to not disappear. Just do not disappear yet. Somehow it was so quiet.
‘Oh there you are. Calm and collected as always. Your mom is out there just a wreck.’
‘Why do you think I don’t allow her back stage?’
A scoff of acceptance is her reply as she nods and stands beside me to watch the performer on stage. She is shorter than me. I catch her knowing look of warning as my instincts go to give her a once over of intimidation. A common act of war between competitors to pick apart the enemies and leave them helpless, insecure and doubtful. In the youth of her career her body never met the bar for perfection. My nickname was the body. A nickname I both worshiped for the desirability of it and dreaded in fear of aging out of whatever image I could never force myself to see.
I raised myself onto my toes stretching out the arch of my feet to define my point and elongate my limbs to all nervous eyes watching. My dancing coach lifts her hand to give me a gentle squeeze of comfort, encouragement, connectedness but rethinks the gesture as she lowers it back to her side. She has worked closely with me now for years and knows better than to touch me. She knows better. An explosion of nerve endings bursting with any slight breath of contact causes me to lean ever so slightly away from her. She knows better than to touch me especially in these moments before my feet move me towards the stage.
She knows better. I pull the hem of my dress and for a split second my persona waivers. Do not disappear yet. It’s not time yet. My emotions were raw as they edged on the tipping point to give me the needed superhero strength to perform. Yet, those same emotions with one false breath of wind and all will cripple myself within myself to protect the little girl locked inside never allowed out to play. Play was child’s game. I had too many responsibilities. I had too much potential. I had too many people hinging such worth on my ability to be the body then to play. Play was a child’s game. And I was no child.
‘You need anything from me?’
I meet the back of her head with my gaze as she turns to walk away. I stand alone in the wings. Sporadic clapping fills the gap after the music comes to an end. The performer breathless and shining of sweat bumps into me as she departs the stage. Her smile plastered so delicately on her face seems to shatter into a million pieces as the shudder of recognition replaces it. She runs off in a blur of glitz and glam. The announcer calls my name and number and as I make my first step under the hot stage lights. The words ‘now I know I’m not going to win with her here’, fills my ears as I walk away. I smile. Not time to disappear yet. I smile.
One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.
The auditorium chairs groan as their occupants’ collected mass of weight is lifted from sitting to standing. I raise my gaze to met a judge’s eyes. Direct, unabashed, confident. I see them and I know now they see me. They see the me I allow them to see I should say. Smoke and mirrors; stage makeup and hairspray. They see this creature I have created and trained for them to see.
‘I am not afraid of you’, my eyes laugh. ‘You know I deserve this’, my eyes command them.
Cheers and shouts drown out the announcer repeating who had just performed for all the witnesses filling the auditorium. I nod and glide effortlessly off the stage passing the next girl to compete after me. She is upset. Her team of support circling around her in last-ditch efforts to build up herself deflated confidence. Around me the clapping continues with my exit from stage back to the darken backstage wings, but I care little about any of them. I care little of the ‘congrats’ and ‘good jobs’ directed towards my back, missing my gaze as I ignore them. I find the nearest dark corner to disappear into. I can finally disappear.
Alone, out of sight the persona falls as my body collapses onto the cement floor. My mind relentlessly rewind every mistake made just minutes ago as I performed on stage.
‘Loser. Fat. Ugly. You blew it idiot. You’re an disappointment.’
I slide down the zipper hastily as my backbone reveals itself bone by bone. When no one can see you there is freedom to show all that you have lost at a mere age of 12. A child’s body replaced with lean muscle and vertebrae. The modesty of locker room giggles replaced with exposing what portion aches from the tightness of corsets and lace. The feeling of suffocating eases ever so slightly with each down zip movement. I quickly brush away the tears careful of tarnishing the thick stage makeup and smooth my hair back into place. I stand, square my shoulders. It is time. I can hide no more in my corner of my section of the hallway between here and there. I become visible again to all eyes watching. I move my way to the dressing room to change into whatever next costume hangs for me in anticipation of the whatever next performance I am to give. Before I can reach the safety of the dressing room I see my coach rushing down the sterile hallway.
‘Perfect. That was perfect. That girl after you fell after her first eight counts. She looked terrified. Perfect. You got this in the bag’
‘Stop it. Get changed. Your mother was pleased’
One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.
The humid air fails to cool with the onslaught of the evening darkness. I crawl between the rows of our red minivan to the very back seat. One by one I remove the medals from my neck and toss the trophies on the seat in front of me.
This Floridian heat is as oppressive as the body I was forced with the responsibility to keep. I, at 12 years old already understood for years the importance of the saying ‘nothing tastes as good as hunger feels.’ One must see ones body as an instrument, a tool to use to its highest potential. A tool. The mash of bones, veins and muscles. I doubted I had much of a soul within my body.
We had driven two hours this competition weekend from our home nestled in the bedroom community just outside of Orlando. My family sacrificed weekends and weekdays. Holidays and vacations to taxi me across central Florida and beyond those formative childhood years. If Florida humidity can cause such oppression that hearts will weaken to finish to beat from the pressure. Try growing understanding your family’s world centered on you and your potential. That is oppression that pushes and bends.
Keep winning little girl. Better keep winning little girl. I am exhausted as the adrenaline of competition meets the anxiety of how to perform better next time. Next time I want the higher title. Next year I want the larger scholarship.
That stupid girl, I internally fume as I in haste remove the bobby pins jabbing into my scalp holding my hair in place with a lethal dose of hairspray. I pull them out one by one to lay in a pile on my lap. All she does is tricks covering her lack of talent. I mean what was she trying to be again this time? A snake? All she does is walks on her hand pretending to be some sort of snake. And they eat that crap up. Always winning with that stupid trick. That flexible gymnast is no dancer. I am not a gymnast and I angrily accept the defeat of second overall title as she stood in first.
I sigh and begin to bite off my nails one by one to stop the rising sense of fear. Not good enough I tell myself. No good at all. You are no good.
My mom buckles herself into the front seat and met my eyes with hers in to rearview mirror. Her eyes are a knowing hazel; brown complementing her tan gypsy skin. My own eyes are a light blue sunken depth washed out by my uneven skin tone. We look nothing alike. My height to her short statue. Her tan to my freckles. Her brown wavy and cut short hair to my long, dyed red, straight and thick locks. We look at each other like two strangers and yet I am so defined by the way she sees me.
‘You did good’
No more conversation is exchanged. No more words. Silence and breathing. I cling onto those words. I did good. My mother believes I am good.
I am good.