The days ticked slowly by. I hid in the embrace of my blankets and left my room only for necessities, the food I prodded with a fork and destroyed with its prongs, the bathroom which used to give me a prickle of bitterness but which now left me angry and empty each time I walked in. No attempts were made by my parents to help me reconcile my sorrow—even they knew it was futile. What they did discuss with each other and try to discuss with me was the choice I would have to make now. They presented me with options: returning to public school and attending the dance studio I went to before; other all girls academies which weren't as prestigious and where I would have to continue to hide; a place called the Havenwood Dance Academy, the only coed teen institute in New York, extremely prestigious, like Frieda, but offering no scholarships or lead roles for first-year students.
Nothing was as good as Frieda, and no one would want someone like me. This indelible stuckness encroached on my each and every day, each minute dripping with a truth I knew I would soon have to face: I could never enter a dance studio again. Returning to the public high school would be my fate, the boring, dreadful, mind-numbing fate I, the bumbling, masculine monster, deserved. Though even going back to school, facing my old friends and teachers, would be a humiliation in itself. I had been set up, since the day of my birth, to fail.
During the following three weeks, I was out of school, luckily—only in the sense that I wasn't missing many lessons—as they coincided with the week off for autumn break, my relatives meeting up for a Thanksgiving feast, me laying low through the whirlwind of cousins and aunts and uncles spinning through the house. The children played tag throughout the labyrinthine living room and kitchen. They moved so swiftly it seemed, it was a wonder they ever caught each other at all—or perhaps it was me who was moving in slow motion. The adults helped cook and drank wine, inviting me to join, but I opted to stand around, sit around, watch movies, trying not to think of ballet.
When the holiday was over and my cousins all returned home, the cleanup seemed to emulate a metaphysical process of recovery. I swept up the kitchen floor, its renewed sheen catching a ray like the last glint of a metal ballet bar before the evening sun drops beneath the window ledge. We removed and threw away any evidence that the messy family had ever been there, just as I attempted to destroy any final thoughts of Frieda and Miranda and that young man in the front row who could have, in another life, been my artful soul mate.
The cleanup was done, and I went to bed, imagining what my life would be like in these next few years without my daily dance practice. But without the tinkling of piano keys and tapping of wooden-toed shoes against the plastic-covered floor, I realized that night, my life would be devoid of meaning.
The next morning, huddled in my blankets, I heard the sweet lullaby of the chickadees and finches. Those peaceful chirping birds outside my window as I woke to the pleasant sun created the same atmosphere I felt when witnessing a gracefully extended limb penetrating an audience’s awed breath. As I imbibed through my skin the warmth of the sun, streaming in through the translucent lavender silk of my curtains, I knew I could never feel this early morning bliss if I did not have a day of dance ahead of me.
I didn't need to know my identity as a woman or a man, as a dancer, as a friend, lover, daughter, or son; I knew my identity as a human person. I realized it was unnecessary to feel the need to get the lead in the ballet, to be the center of everyone’s attention. I was satisfied to be a background dancer, as long as I had a chance to take part. Each dancer is necessary to complete the flow of the final artful dance. Each tiny metal gear plays a significant role in turning the hands of Big Ben. There was no need for desire, for ambition; if I could be at peace with myself and my situation, then my goals would already be achieved. All the world’s a stage, Shakespeare once said; but with the pale pink lace string up tight around my ankles, the black leotard hugging my ribs, the pins stretching the hairs from my scalp into the perfect bun, the stage was the only stage in the world.
I swung my feet over the side of my bed, like I’d done so many times before, but it was an act I now performed with a reaffirmed sense of grace. As I approached the kitchen, seeking out the welcome greeting of a cool glass of orange juice, I heard some dishes softly clatter in the sink. A heavy footstep echoed through the dining room, followed by the soft clink of a wedding-ringed hand landing on a doorknob.
Today was the day, it seemed, that my father had decided to approach the local public high school for registration paperwork, the day that he would laconically give up on me—unless I changed my mind: the Havenwood Dance Academy application lay bare on the kitchen table. My father’s hand was on the porch door doorknob, but he waited—when I cleared my throat, and he saw me in the archway between the foyer and the kitchen—as if he knew I still had something to say. His back to me, he took in a breath, and I watched his torso expand as the air filled his lungs, so much warmer than the deliberate, almost robotic breaths of a dancer.
“Wait,” I said, turning to my right and leaning slightly to open the smallest top drawer embedded in the kitchen counter. “There’s a thing I need to do.” Once I had the small item in my hand, I slid the drawer closed. He turned to face me once again.
I took a deep breath and smiled. “Will you help me?”
He hesitated, searching my gaze for a decision, and when he saw that it was really what I wanted, he let go of the doorknob and took the pen from my hand.
After I moved to the Havenwood Dance Academy dorms, I did not keep in touch with Miranda, nor with any of the other girls. I knew, though, that she would continue to dance with every beat of her heart, with every rise and set of the sun; she would dance in order to hold onto that feeling elicited from the audience’s first quick intake of breath as the dancers leap into the air. She would hold onto that freeing moment, and rightly so.
If you were to see me now, upon the Havenwood stage, you would never know that I am different. Male and female dancers both shave their legs and underarms and are both thin and wear tights and make-up just the same. We both move with the same grace, we practice with the same vigor, and we jump with the same desire to reach the sky.