People ask me about the day she died. But I don’t like that story. That’s a bad story. I don’t want to tell you that one. That one hurts. I don’t know how to describe, but it feels like my heart was ripped from my chest and laid on the table, and all I could do was sit there and watch the beating die down to stillness.
But that’s a bad story, and I don’t want to tell it.
Let me tell you about the days she lived. Or perhaps the day she brought me to life.
Which one? There were so many!
The day we met?
Alright, I can tell you that.
Well first, a little context. If I just walked you into the moment she took my breath away, you might not understand why it was so stupid funny things turned out the way they did.
It all started, I suppose, the day my mom took me to the ballet. I didn’t want to go.
That’s an understatement.
I begged her not to take me. I threw a temper-tantrum. I threatened to walk out, whatever that meant. I appealed to my dad. I thought he was going to support me until my mom looked at him and he just hung his head in silence.
I was even willing to forfeit my phone until I graduated college. Until my grandchildren were born. I was ready to go on a hunger strike; I was NOT going to the ballet.
Then that treasonous sot who claimed to be my father sunk to the lowest low that anyone could go. “You know, son, owning a car is one of those privileges that comes with maturity.”
So I rode with my mom into the city where she complained about the cost of parking downtown, and we sat down for the show.
I tried to close my eyes and let her know how much I was going to hate being there. I looked around at all the snooty old people and prayed there wasn’t anyone from my school there to see me. This was going to be the most boring and miserable twenty-five years to life I’d ever have to sit through.
“Here, try this,” my mom handed me one of those tall glasses, you know one of the really skinny ones, with some yellow, bubbly drink in it with a strong head of foam at the top, and she reserved one for herself as well.
“What is it?” It smelled like alcohol.
“The good stuff. Try it.” She grinned at me. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to take that.
“Mom, does this have alcohol in it?”
“Did you just ask me if I would give my sixteen-year-old son alcoholic wine? What kind of mother do you think I am?”
“Just drink it.”
And so I sipped the thing. Right away, an octillion tiny ping-pong balls shot throughout my mouth bursting with sweetness every time they slammed against my tongue. I took another sip; the bubbles saturated my senses as though each one carried a different flavor of sweet and it was only the symphony of them all happening at once that made any sense.
I took another sip as my mom eyed me with a smug grin.
At some point, I felt strange. Not quite dizzy, but something was definitely off. I would turn my head, and the room would follow a moment later. And when I spoke, I felt detached from my voice as though muffled somehow. It was weird. I looked at the glass, which had another inch and a half of The Good Stuff and then turned to my mom.
“I feel strange. Are you sure this is…”
“You’re probably just stressed. You’ve worked yourself up so much about this show that, I don’t know, maybe the blood rush to your head is making you dizzy. How’s this: sit back, relax, and open your mind to new experiences. Can you do that?”
You don’t think she was lying to me, do you?
Now here’s a side note. Throughout my younger years, the world made sense; girls had the cooties, girls were gross, girls were uncool, except for Heather she was cool, but in general that was how the world worked. And the sun rose and the sun set, and there was balance in the force. Every now and then I would encounter a female and for some inexplicable reason feel compelled to look at her, but there was otherwise balance. Then in the seventh grade, I discovered Bailey. In the beginning, looking at her didn’t seem like anything unusual—I looked, and looked, and I just inexplicably liked looking at her. She had long, wavy brown hair, brown eyes with large glasses, a delicate snowy complexion, and a slim figure. And when she smiled, it was enchanting. But as I looked, something else was going on in my brain; I wanted to… I don’t know… do something about it. What? I didn’t know. Something. There were feelings there. Certain kinds of feelings that I couldn’t explain reverberated throughout my body when I looked at her, like my heart would flutter when she walked into the room and I would get all tensed up. And for no reason! Then one day, I watched Preston talking with her and making her laugh, touching her while she touched him back, and something inside of me felt off. Watching the two of them, they were so full of life and it was as though they’d just been shot. Or maybe I got shot. I dunno. The ensuing years brought a handful of episodes like this. I would see a pretty girl and feel this inescapable compulsion to look at her. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it because every time some guy would swoop in and talk to her, and that always made me feel a strange kind of low. I didn’t like it. It didn’t make sense. And though it didn’t make sense, it was something I could cope with and ultimately accept, and so there was balance. An uneasy balance, like a coin on its edge, but there was balance, and I could live my life with this disease. But that night, as the cacophony of the orchestra tuning itself gave way to the curtains rising…
There at the center of the stage, bathed in blinding blues and purples, was a woman, and everything changed. She was not ‘nice to look at’ so much as a race car will launch you to the moon. No, to get to the moon, you would need some umpteen bazillion pounds of thrust. And when I tell you watching this woman dance took me to the moon, I’m not joking.
My eyes gorged on her illustrious curves I was entranced. More so than any female I’d ever seen. Her whole body was surrounded by a halo of light that blurred my sense of reality. She sat up, and the look on her face, she seemed sad, and I wanted to talk to her. Silly, I know. She stood, and I was drawn to her legs, the most marvelous legs I’d ever seen. The shapes, the curves, the muscle tone in her legs as she moved, the way she moved, I couldn’t stop looking at her. She would spin around on one toe. One. Freaking. Toe. With one amazing thigh lifted up to her beautiful hips, God how was is it possible for anything to look so good?
Watching her body in motion got me all kinds of excited and I became aware of a reaction in my pants. This was new. I mean, by sixteen I’d long since discovered the connection between pretty girl and an erection, but never before had I experienced the reaction in the moment, in public, with her right in front of me. And boy oh boy what a reaction; that thing was solid rock. I had to lean forward in hopes no one had already noticed.
Oh, she was amazing. Her calves were perfectly lean at her ankles and gave way to this gorgeous diamond shaped muscle at once feminine and powerful, which in turn yielded to her knees atop which this tantalizing pair of lean, athletic thighs awaited. And it wasn’t for shame, either, for she’d decked out in a pair of stockings that clung to her skin and delivered the pleasure to my eyes of every line and crevasse in the whole library of the female repertoire.
She moved me—not just in my pants but in my heart, and in my head, and down to the pit of my soul.
She wasn’t the only one, either. There were other female dancers on stage, and every blessed one had those legs I dream about. They moved about the floor in tight stockings, and the way the light hit their legs, that was it for me. My whole life was forever changed in that moment, and then came this thing they call the pas de deux. This is, in a nutshell, a man dancing with a woman.
One of those women. One of those women. With those legs.
This man held her whole body against his. He lifted her up by her hips and spun her around. She put her leg high in the air and he caught it, then he rubbed his face in it. He rubbed his face in her leg! Right there on stage! She twirled around in his hands, his hands on her hips. They danced around in a circle, his hands on her back. My God, look at the muscles in her back.
What is that? I thought I was a leg man.
What was her name? It’s important to see their names; the names come from somewhere.
I didn’t get her name, but she was petite, and I admired her butt. I admired her tummy. I admired her waist. I admired her hips. I admired her arms. I admired her shoulders. I admired her chest. Yes, her face was pretty, too, and by God did I admire her legs. And this guy… watching the way he handled her, watching the way she returned the favor, the way she leaned on him, I was beyond astounded; I was enchanted. Spellbound. It was in that moment I made a plan for my life: I was going to be a ballet dancer.
You should have seen my dad’s face when I told him.
“Hell no!” wasn’t his response, verbatim, but that was the gist of it. My mom advised him to calm down and let me sleep on it. She assured him that this was going to be some personal fad of mine and I would soon grow out of it.
But he didn’t see what I saw. He didn’t see those women. He didn’t see the way those men got to handle those women.
It took three days. My mom was convinced I’d soon snap out of it, and my dad was too afraid I’d suddenly become gay. But I had the Internet, and the Internet had Karina Alanovna of the Beslan School Number One ballet theater who was most encouraging. And so three days of persistence was the required amount to get my mom to take me to a trial class at a dance studio nearby. Once I realized it was different from what I’d expected, she reasoned, I’d see how silly the idea was and call the whole thing off.
Boy was she wrong.
I first walked in and my senses were assaulted by some citrus-flavored disinfectant. There was a mirror covering the whole wall opposite the door, and the floors were brand new, light-colored hardwood that gleamed in the fluorescent light of the room. The class I was to have my trial in consisted of three yummy girls about my age, all decked out in tight little leotards with sheer, white stockings covering their incredible legs, and there was a guy there, too. We did some stretches, and I watched the girls stretch. To make sure I was doing it right, of course. There were some basic moves I was supposed to do, and these girls had some amazing butts. I was ecstatic until about halfway through when the instructor led me back out to the lobby and told me to wait. I didn’t understand until my dad came to pick me up. She spoke quietly to him, I presume because she didn’t want me to hear, but I heard enough.
“... with his behavior… some of the girls felt uncomfortable… not the right fit for your son at this time...”
And that was that.
But my dad didn’t start his truck right away. Instead, he just stared out the windshield and breathed for a while.
“Uh… dad? Are we, uh… going home?”
“What happened in there, son?”
“Nothing. I didn’t do anything!”
“She told me that you seemed more interested in ogling her other students than doing any kind of dancing.”
“Why do you want to take ballet?”
“Come on, dad. It’s not…”
“Why do you want to take ballet?”
“Because.” As if that unto itself was a valid reason to do anything. So, I thought to elaborate. “Have you seen those girls?”
His eyes popped and a second later, he broke out laughing. He laughed so hard he couldn’t stop, and I can still see him resting his head on the steering wheel, convulsing quietly with a smile on his face and tears streaming down his cheeks. I should have supposed he felt some relief that his son hadn’t come back from the ballet a flaming homosexual as he’d initially feared.
“You’re not mad?”
“Huh-huh. I am mad; you embarrassed yourself in there. And that’s no reason to get into something.”
“Because when you grow up you’re going to realize there’s a lot more to life than meeting girls, and if that’s the only thing you enjoy about it, what happens when the novelty wears off?”
“Look, son. It’s OK to have feelings like that around an attractive female. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s even OK to steal a glance every now and then, but you can’t stare. If you look too hard, that’s creepy. It makes people feel uncomfortable, and then you lose out on any opportunity you may have otherwise had with someone.”
“But if she’s really pretty, how do I keep from noticing?”
“Notice, but remember you have a job to do. Stay focused on what you came there to do. If you’re studying, study. If you’re dancing, dance. If you’re working, work. And then, just wait for an invitation. If she’s not inviting you to give her your attention, don’t give it to her. Plain and simple.”
“Yeah, but aren’t I supposed to make the first move? Be aggressive? Persistence pays off? Faint heart ne’er won fair lady, all that stuff? What about…”
“This ain’t the fifties, son. There’s too much risk out there these days and if you make the wrong move on the wrong female, you’ll end up in jail. What you did in there is borderline sexual misconduct, and because of that, you will not be allowed back in that studio. Do you understand?”
“If you see a girl you like, ignore her. If she likes you back, she’ll come to you. Call it the 21st Century Rule. Got it?”
“I got it.”
“Good. Now there’s another studio but it’s in the opposite direction; your mother will have to take you. I’m going to sign you up for six months.”
“Wait,” I lifted my head from shame. What was this about? “I’m confused. You want me to take ballet?”
“No. I want you to learn how to control yourself and not act like an animal around girls you’re attracted to. Geez, your browsing history makes perfect sense, now.”
The next day, mom brought me to the new place. Before I could go in, my dad called me just to remind me of what we’d talked about the day before. He wanted to make sure I was going to keep my eyes and my hands to myself, and focus on technique. Be about the business, he said.
I could do this. Learn to dance. Focus on the business. Technique. Keep my eyes to myself.
I was ready.
Inside the studio was the same light-colored hardwood floors as the other and a wall covered up by a mirror which was graced along the length of it by a handrail. I wondered why there had to be such a large and imposing mirror in every dance studio. The class was also a little larger, and as soon as I walked in everyone stared.
There was another guy there. I made a mental note to look at him every time I was tempted to check out the girls. And there were girls. Boy oh boy there were some girls in that class.
The first one I noticed without staring too much at least I hoped not was Rachel, a fit, tawny beauty with long wavy hair down her back. She was about five and a half, maybe under, and those legs, those legs, those legs! Those sculpted thighs had no businesses on a girl her age. And I get the whole point of the snug little outfits is so that they can study their lines or something when they move, but damn.
Yeah, so the guy’s name was Isaiah. He was about my height but he had much better upper-body development. It didn’t take long for me to see how much the girls enjoyed working with him, either.
A few other girls walked in and then we began with some stretching. I noticed Rachel could put her feet in places no human had ever set foot before. Meanwhile another girl also caught my eye, a tiny thing named Cassie with straight, auburn hair with blonde highlights, and I was most fond of the way she extended her thighs. I was especially fond of the way she peeked over at me while I watched her extend her thigh out over the handrail. She was a little leaner than Rachel and perhaps an inch or two shorter, but her face was cute. As in, really, really cute.
All I could think was how I needed to stop looking. She was definitely one I didn’t want to alienate by making her uncomfortable with the way I gazed at that perfect little curve at the back of her thighs. OK I didn’t want her to be uncomfortable with me for any reason. So yes, I needed to stop looking.
Yes, and so Isaiah was able to do the medieval yoga stuff we were being asked to perform without complaint. Everyone was, it seemed, except me. Not two minutes into the routine and my arms twisted back in such a way I was ready to confess to the murder. What murder? Whose murder? I didn’t care; I just wanted it to stop.
Some of the girls glanced my way and started giggling and trading looks. They must have noticed the agony I’d unwittingly plastered all over my face, and this was not the way I wanted things to begin.
It was all for the best. I could easily focus on the pain radiating throughout my arms and legs as I’d already embarrassed myself to such a point that I’d surely lost any hope with any of these girls. Perhaps I could hold on to the despair and that would help me not focus my attention on Lauren’s beautiful, round ass right in front of me.
Then, I found myself bent back in some unholy position and unable to get out. I grunted. I squirmed. I winced. I tried as best I could to avoid letting on that I was incapable of rescuing myself from certain doom, but it was to no avail. I heard a girl’s high-pitched voice call to me, “are you OK?”
I tried to force some words out like ‘absolutely,’ and ‘I find this experience most refreshing.’ I don’t think it came out that way.
“Help him,” the instructor lady said. Isaiah took up the charge, and his strong hands forklifted me back to reality. Lauren stood looking down her nose at me. I hadn’t noticed before but that girl had some serious boobs to match her generous behind, and she was otherwise slim. No chance there.
No matter. I was there to learn technique. Form. Dance. Let me be about the business, I figured. If I liked a girl, ignore her. Right? Focus.
Forty-five minutes into class, I was starting to understand. For forty-five minutes I was able to keep my eyes mostly under control. And for a moment I was just getting into enjoying the dance for the dance’s sake, and for a moment I’d forgotten all about the beautiful girls my eyes were swimming in.
Then, forty-five minutes late, Temptation walked in.
She was tall and skinny, with pale, white skin and dark brown hair she kept in a bun, and a narrow face like an angel that I could have sworn I’d seen somewhere before. She had brown eyes and sharp features, and her lips were astronomical. When I saw her my heart set to thundering right away. And those legs, my God, my God, my God those legs! One could have taken a snapshot of any piece of this girl and crop out the rest, and she’d still be sexy.
She focused her eyes to me for a second and smiled before turning to the instructor to apologize for her tardiness. I tried desperately to pull my eyes from those lean, toned legs made all the more appealing by her white stockings, but was scared that if I looked away at the wrong moment and she’d turned around, I might miss that perky butt of hers.
Her name was Sara, and holy crap, she was incredible. Even forty-five minutes late she jumped right in and was utterly focused, as though in a trance. Something about the way she danced, maybe it was the way she owned the music, the way she seemed almost ready to cry, as though she were in another place. She took me to another place just watching her.
But, I had a job to do, and that job was to not look at her.
So you know, I behaved myself. I tried to, anyway. I caught, from the corner of my eyes a few of the other girls looking me over as we went through the routines and I fought valiantly to avoid returning the favor. I like to think I won that fight.
At the end of the first lesson at the new studio, I was sitting down on the concrete bench outside when Isaiah sat down next to me. He and I made the usual small talk, which school do you go to, where are you from, what’s your favorite food, what kind of music do you like, do you have anything to declare, what do you want to be when you grow up, where do you stand on formative vs summative assessments, do you have an opinion on federal tax policy, and if a train leaves New York at 5:00 a.m. heading west, and you know, small talk. We were still talking when one of the girls came out of the change room and eyed us both in turn, glancing back and forth between us.
Her name was Kelly. She had blonde hair and blue eyes, and she was small, too, not even five feet and slim. I’d have thought her a child except for those finely chiseled, honey-kissed legs. She then walked out to her car in a pair of short, light-blue denim cutoffs, the kind that have the inner pocket lining peeking out the bottom, and drove off.
We somehow got on the subject of what he liked most about dance, which seemed to be a lot. I of course had to be careful with the subject for obvious reasons, one of them walked by and went out to her mom’s car and left. Then Sara Temptation came out and sat next to me.
The spasms in my chest were so that I thought I was going to die. She smelled wonderful, like a hint of fruity hair spritz but faint enough that I desperately needed to be closer to her just to get another whiff. But stiff as I could muster up the courage to do so, I nodded her presence and resumed my conversation with Isaiah. I could not, absolutely not, allow her to know I was looking at her in that way.
“So, Newguy,” she addressed me, “what do you think so far?”
What did I think? Was she serious? I thought I was going to lose control. I thought how I wanted to look at her and study her and bask in the divinity that was this girl. I thought how I wanted to sit next to her forever and catch a hint of her perfume every time the wind blew. I thought I could lose myself in her eyes. I thought she was terrifying; that’s what I thought. “Uh... it’s a good workout.”
Isaiah laughed. I silently thanked him for the distraction and turned my attention back to him. I couldn’t face this girl. The others, maybe in time I could get used to seeing and not reacting, but with her resistance was futile. Luckily my mom came to pick me up before I said anything stupid.