It was the dying days of a doomed dream. I had taken ballet classes since I was a young pixie, and despite being thin and flexible, despite having applied myself with all the application that my determined nature has. I was not to be.
The ballet stage is a cruel place. And while children can fill space with ease, when the time comes to dance truly dance, and won your place on stage. I was not to be.
Auditions had come and gone, and even when, often by mere lack of applicants, I had found myself on the stage, it was always in the least of roles, the back of the corps de ballet, and expected to do the least. I cold do the steps, at best, with a roteworthy machineship of the natural born grade grubber. I could not, in such a place, befriend the teacher, let my eyes glow and transport him or her to glorious dreams for me. Instead, I was, and this was at my best, an enthusiast whose best hope was to stand outside the door selling brick a brack to support the more worthy and more truly artistic souls who would appear on stage.
So this was that moment. I was 17, and this was, in the words of a song I played a thousand times, my very last chance.
I was on the class floor, it was grotto of light wood, and smelled of layers of water, sweat and frozen rosin, that held lost dreams like droplets of amber. The mirrors stared at each other across the floor, reflecting each other into a thousand eyes a thousand. It was, by the standards of when I ought to be home, late. Every night I stayed as late as could be allowed, generally under the eye of a teacher, who was filling out cards, or doing some paperwork associated with the school.
Every night I worked on fundamental things. I did not practice steps for the audition, because I feared doing them wrong a dozen times and having to unlearn them. Instead it was basic stretches, the barre and simple physical recitations of the basic positions that I placed my faith in. I have always placed my faith in technique, because, I know, I did not have the artistry to be more than that. It is a disease, a syndrome with me.
I was split on the floor, my arms in a round circle, sweeping over and over, nearly brushing the floor with a delicate turn of wrist. I could have brushed the edge of my fingers against the floor, and in truth, with each time tried to come so close as to feel the drag of air between my fingers and the floor.
One and two and three and four and.
One and two and three and four and.
And again two and three and four and.
So maketh the moments of my wretchedness. I felt a burning pull along my inner thigh, I felt a stretching of my pelvis. And I did not allow myself to think of being on stage. I could not let my self think of costume, or lights, or tutu, or anything at all. My legwarmers and tights and frail thin undergarments were all that I could allow. The sheen of sweat that formed a third skin was all that I could focus on. I did not want to dream and let slip even a moment's concentration on the slow elucidating pain. There were tears always at the corners fo my eyes, and I looked at my figure in the mirror constantly
This was me. And me was not enough. I could see it in the mirror, my arms were not quite there, nor my torso quite right, and some how I did not fit all together. I was toned, and tight and taut and a tumble of pieces that did not fit together.
I stared at her in the mirror, who was with me stretching. Her face was so clearly nearly on the verge of frustration, she could not make her limbs fall such into place. But there we were, this companion and I.
On the bends back I looked up at the naked incandescent lights, set in conical tin fixtures, hanging down from a high ceiling. This room was atop a gym, the ballet school renting it from the private school that housed it. There were from time to time stepping echoes, and I could see those echoes bounce with insect enervation of the white ceiling with its scabs of pealing paint, and hit my eyes. I bent back one final time, and then heard a clanging ring of the black, rectangular, plastic phone, with its old rotary dialer that would only call into the building, and which had a number given out to parents as a way of summoning offspring to waiting cars, or other, more lumbering, forms of conveyance. The windows had that chicken wire class, and were set into high dormers with triangular tops. The ceiling's middle crease formed a sharp point.
This room was my church, and for so many years I had been in it, or others like it, praying to the muses of all the arts, from every ancient world into now, with whatever my past lives had done or allowed to not be done, as the karmic offering on this alter of sacrifice. I say alter, because I wished to be a butterfly and spread my wings, a swan from grey to purest white.
I swept the floor again once more, heard the endless tape on the music box, which repeated the same loop over and over again. I had grown to worship the clacks of changing direction as signs of my devotion. A rosary of sorts.
The clanging came again, I rolled sideways from my split, and then around to seated on the floor, and then, without touching hands to the wooden slats, rolled up to standing. My tights pulled across my chest and I walked flatfooted in my floor shoes over to it. There was a distant voice that was my ma. She told me I had another hour before she could make it. I listened, bade her farewell, and knew that I was done for the night.
I surveyed the lack of wood, and the forest of reflections, saw my black clad figure standing there, with smooth curves that were barely sketched. I was impossibly thin, and hated myself. I had given up the burgeoning roundness of my peers, who compared cup sizes with nervous giggles, or flaunted dresses that showed as much cleavage, and sometimes more, as they had. I could have been mistaken for a girl still not ripe to adulthood. Except I could not, I stood, walked and looked the wrong way. There standing weight on one foot next to the phone, my stance was more dancer like than any I could attain on stage or in practice.
I looked at the far wall, with its dark green metal door, and reddish exit sign over it, the handle to escape a fire bent in from some forgotten mishap, black iron extra barre's leaning against the sides of the alcove that it was set in, and then to the mirrors again. She was finished too.
This evening I was party to a minor crime. The young teacher who was supposed to be there was not, and she had given me a copy of the keys. Her excuse had been the kind that a person just barely an adult gives when still unsure of that role, saying more than an adult would, but less than a fellow student, and enough to know that she should not have been absent. Of course, I assumed it was sex, but would later learn it was that she was behind on her rent and was working an extra job waitressing. She was caught that next year, but not disciplined, because the head teacher had done much much worse in her younger days. This the head teacher had told us, her features gaunt with vampiric age, in a tea and cookies gathering after the Nutcracker of the year before. We had been in her house, and in her small sitting room on the second floor, surrounded by plush furniture and seated with a giggly solemnity on her blue oriental carpets. There she had warned us that dancers live by their bodies, and once upon a time, she had been forced to sell hers. I didn't ever find out what she meant, only that she regarded it as a great sacrifice for her art.
I picked up my dance bag from the corner, and was startled to hear, quite softly, coming from the teacher's private practice room, music still. But I did not have the desire to check who it was, lest it be clear that I was leaving with a blasé disregard for needing someone to unlock the door and let me out.
From there I navigated down the dark green stairway, with the black rubber diamond impressed steps, set at very tiny increments. There was only one light, and I startled again at the bottom, because I thought I heard a click and the music stopping.
I had a tell tale heart moment as I fished for the keys, unhooked them from a ring on the inside of my pink hello kitty dance bag… yes I had the umbrella and the coat, though the coat had long since been given away… and drew them up with an exaggerated exactness, and with perfect aim slide them into the slit. I turned the keys with an unyielding pressure, and the deadbolt lock slipped open from the other side. I clicked off the light switches that controlled the main teaching room, and there was a gauzy not seeing in front of my eyes.
I slipped open, straining to hear the comforting sounds of the bad pianistic rendering of Ci Darem la Mano, but could to hear anything but the shifting bang of vents from the heating. The temperature was warm, and I half thought to turn the thermostat down, but knew that it was now the responsibility of who ever had the light that shown like a rim around the teacher's door.
I walked to the showers, there being only one set here, as opposed to the locker rooms below where they were safely ensconced.
In that white tiled room, with its small windows, I undressed hurriedly, rolling down my leg warmers, pulling off everything. I was afraid, so afraid, but I could not bear the weight on my skin another moment. The tight tile of the walls induced a kind of vertigo. I reached out, turned a knob, and stood aside as the water spat out. That first burst would be cold, but now, on a night without a sporting event, it would be warm quickly enough. When the steam began to rise from the falling stream, it was time to twist the chrome knob, flecked with tarnish, to induce a small amount of cold water with the stream of warmth.
Under that stream I slide my body, still practicing my arm positions and trying to move with the grace that I imagined could still be reached.
It was after wetting myself down that I realized I had forgotten the soap, and stepped forward, still using floor shoe walking, pressed my palms to the wall, pulled my leg back and spun slow around to face my dance bag. It was then I startled.
There was a fellow. Male. Student. I knew him well, he was destined for something. Perhaps not ballet, or even the dance, but something. It was the quality he had that made it impossible to take your eyes off of him. From the shock of straw blond hair, to the cruel line it traced swept away from his forehead, to the wide doe like blue green eyes, to the aquiline nose, to the flowering rose pink of his lips, to the setting of his jaw that traced just so a "V" that was sharp enough but not too sharp, to his neck that was slightly too thin for his head, to the perfect contours of his shoulders, to the flatness of his chest and purity of his abdomen, down to his very large and powerful thighs and legs.
Of course, this being of that age, he was sniggered as being homosexual, even though he always had a girlfriend if he wanted it. Adonis was a word that was coined to stamp his face on it, and he was both a gentleman, and rich with a love of purely beautiful things, and a mind that was a parade of sublime terrible hopes of other worlds far beyond suburbia.
He was completely naked, having carelessly and casually shed his clothes and dropped them on his dance bag before turning inward.
He now stared at my eyes.
I stepped back, my buns hitting the tile wall, and bending. The wall was not particularly cold, but a rattle chilled upwards. My face was flush, though I am sure he could not see it. My arms formed a circle in front of me, half trying to hide my nakedness, and half still following the exercises.
He stared. And I began to stare. Stare at his mid section, and the only thing on his body that was moving save for the slight rise and fall of his chest. It twinged upwards, and then in a continuous slow lift, as if it were pressing a ballerina high into the air above his head with one arm, reached upwards like an arm. Finally it was simply a spear that pointed upwards and was just shy of his navel.
There he stood like a statue.
There I stood like a victim of a car accident.
I could not help but trading my glance between that face, so swept by a natural wind with its sunken cheek bones and ruddy flesh, and the visible sign of his being not just a male, but a man.
It was at this particular moment that I realized how inarticulate my art as teacher had been. It was not that being nude had any terror or novelty for me. I had drawn enough naked works of art, and stared at enough art books that the mere fact of a man having his sexuality thrust forward did not stir anything in me as out of the ordinary. In fact, I thought of it as the natural condition, because in reality had had a mortal terror of interaction, and had only allowed my self to absorb the sights of the human body fully in art. I would later learn to overcome this.
Nor was it his being erect. I was not, in a sort of technical way, a virgin, I had clasped my hand over men locked in firm need and throbbing readiness. I had taken them inside me, though in a clumsy way, more than once. Though each time had produced a strange disconnect.
No, it was that no story, painting, sculpture or play, not film, nor ballet, had prepared me for this. The novels that were approved of had all been soft and gushing in their descriptions of something called love, and the stories talked in a kind of cliché about
As if a woman was a cow to be pulled along by desire, her consciousness dragged along like a sack behind. Neither the gooey weepy approved version of femininity, nor the sex stories of steaming holes were, in any way that I could understand, remotely like this moment.
I stared at his eyes at this.
Since I was very small, I had wanted something, to be rushed like a wave, stared at and overwhelmed by it. I had felt this tidal heave in my chest. I had often felt the sensations of arousal. But until this moment, that, and the erotomechanics of sex, the visual cues of sexuality and maleness, and lived in different places. I had felt warm waves in my mind, I had felt my body ripple with the pulsing of muscles, the wildfire sweep of goose bumps and the shiverpulsepointpush that begins in a place in front of the hips and behind the loosening relief of pissing.
Years of art had made me know the sights. Years of ballet had made me aware of my body. Years of movies had made me eager for romance. Years of being aimed at medical school had taught me both the words and the earnest matter of factness of the human condition known as sex. But they were, like my body in the mirrors, in pieces and all angled at strange points. The ceiling and I shared that pointedness.
So the sex story girls with their faux surprise, the romantic heroines with their protestations of "I am Heathcliff!" were there and then pressed aside in my mind. For the first time, I yearned. For the first time, I could feel the stretching sense in my palms that made my figures want to stretch out. The alignment of the bright sunlight of romance, and the dark moon of desire, came then and there into alignment. Then and there the easy words of romance were blotted out. Strange shapes of darkness crowded around the peripheries of my vision, and in the center of a shifting oval was his face.
Eclipsed was my waking world of articulate expression, but burning bright was the corona of my need. And in that moment of alignment I knew, that the only language that would speak to this moment, was taught in French, but was spoken in gesture. The dance. The dance. The. The. The.
It was then also that I was intensely aware of the slight prickle that came from having shaven pubic hair, but having missed an appointment with one of the pink razors I smuggled into the house. My Ba
Again the cliché's were failing me. The romance novels talked of nothing but vague emotional rhapsodies, and the sex stories were about gallons of wetness. I was showering, of course I was wet. Instead, it was the prickliness, which I felt certain had to be imagination more than true sensation, the difficulty filling my lungs with air, the sense of my consciousness dropping down in my body.
But most of all, I was in the grip with the eclipse of alignment, that brought together my long long long wanting of something, with the sights and intense concentration on the body, and also, also also, my earnest checklist mentality of doing what was supposed to be done.
I stared. His erection was still a great spear point, and he had fallen into the stance that every romantic hero takes, legs in second, arms in fourth. Beckoning. God, such turn out.
I banged my hard hips against the tile, and spread my feet to second as well, creating a sense of exposure and I hoped invitation.
I rolled to standing, and settled into second position. I wanted him to come to me, and if my first, somewhat club inspired stance against the wall did not do it, then perhaps, I thought, this might. But I desperately wanted him to come to me. His saying of my name had put a burn to my cheeks. Both sets. I could feel not just blood, but an itch to my lips.
I wanted to pull myself up, and felt as if a wire drew straight through my body and pulled out the very top of my head was drawing me up. I wished, at that moment I knew more about the dance of men and women. The craving to align was so strong, I pulled on my muscles in a way that I imagined was opening myself for him.
But I did not advance. I knew that not only did I not have dance not 10, but I did not have looks anything like 10 either. No tits, no ass. And no time to see the wizard on Park and 73rd.
His lip twitched, and I could tell that he, like me, was locked.
"I don't have long."
I let myself slide under the water and let it run over my hair. But he did not even inch closer. I spread my legs wider and bent down, sweeping them against the tile floor, and then bent up.
He looked, but did not move. Nothing on him was moving.
"I'm not a virgin."
He looked at me.
"Is she a virgin?"
And with an edge from out of a soundtrack.
"Then you haven't had anything yet."
There was a bang of the heat going off. We didn't startle.
I pushed my hands up over my chest, I fiddled with my nipples, like they were knobs. I looked at him. He looked at me.
Then, ratcheting down, like gnome was manipulating a mechanical gear, his erection dropped step by step. First it grew smaller in my sight, as it pointed to me like a spear, and then it hung long downward, and finally the tip retreated upwards until it was, still larger than its relaxed state, but no longer more than the comb of a cock that crows, rather than the weapon of lust imagination.
He turned to face me.
I was left staring as he bent down and dressed. Each piece of clothing sliding back over his body and transforming him again into that distant unattainable. Had not gotten the part, I would not, when auditions came, do more than get the back of the corps.
But in that midnight eclipse, I had found alignment, and even as, in that moment, the moon slide away and lit me again with the ordinary need to be in the right place at the right time, came over me. My showering completed in double time, and I was on the back lobby chair doing homework when Ma arrived.
We would only dance once together for more than a few steps. We never would have sex, but once, once, once, before the eyes of a dozen catty fellow students, and two teachers and who knew how many parents, we would make love.