Authors: Emma Hart
You just need one.
One thought. One second. One impulse. One touch.
A lot of little things – little
add together, snowballing and spiraling into something bigger. A big one. But one all the same. And one thing is all it takes to change your life.
rreparably. Inexplicably. Irreversibly.
It’s been two years since those little ones added together for the first time and I fell in love with Pearce Stevens. It’s been two years since I felt that
sweet fluttering of a first crush followed by the gentle thump of falling head over heels in love. Two years since the things that meant everything would fall apart, leaving me plunging headfirst into the dark abyss of depression.
If I knew then what I know n
ow, I would have made different choices. Ignored the thoughts as the wishful musings of a teen heart, passed the time, fought the impulses, and shied from the touch. If I knew how the next months would unfold and the direction my life would take, I would have hopped on the next plane outta here and hunkered down in the Caribbean.
But I didn’t know – and
there was no way for me to. How could I know? I never imagined those little ones would grow into a big one, and I never imagined they’d come back just months after I felt them for the first time.
But the second time
was a darker thought. It was a black second, a swallowing impulse, a deadly touch. The first time I watched the blood drip down my ankle from my accidental shaving cut, the newly bare razor blade flat between my fingers, was a moment that changed my life just as much as falling in love with Pearce did. It was a moment I can never change. I can’t take it away and I can’t pretend it never happened.
It’s a part of me, just like Pearce is. A part
of my past, and they are the two defining moments in my life. If you ask me where it all went wrong, I’ll tell you – Pearce Stevens and the blade. And I won’t be able to explain it for a second, no matter how hard you beg.
I won’t be able to tell you why I fell in love with my best friend’s brother, or why I didn’t run before it was too late. I’ll never be able to put into words why I didn’t pull off my rose-tinted glasses and see him for what he really was and is.
I will never, ever be able to explain what possessed me to make the first cut on my skin. After all, you can’t explain what you don’t understand, and sometimes it’s better not to understand.
I lean over the bathtub and watch the water run
dark from my newly-dyed hair. The dark water swishes around the tub and swirls around the plug, disappearing from view with the same ease my blood did so long ago. I stay here until the water runs clear, shampoo and rinse, and wrap my hair in a dark towel.
Against Mom’s wishes
I made Dad take me to the store to get the dye. She doesn’t understand my need to separate myself from the person I was last year. I don’t think anyone does, and it’s not something I can explain. I just know I’m not the Abbi I was before; the new Abbi is a different person. By separating the two halves of me, I’m moving forward with the new me. At least that’s what Dr. Hausen said. She also said it was a step in the right direction – something positive.
Positive is what I need. That’s why my previously pale pink, girly bedroom is now bright blue and purple. It’s positive. It’s different. It’s new.
Just like me. I’m shiny and new.
I sit on my new beaded comforter on the bed and face the mirror. My eyes are brighter than they were before and my cheeks aren’t as sunken. I touch a gentle fingertip to the hollow of my cheek and breathe in deeply. A clump of hair falls free from the towel, the almost black color a contrast against my pale skin.
I bend my head forward
, roughly dry my hair, and flip it back up. My hand crawls along my bed to find my brush, and I run it through the strands. I don’t really focus on anything but the repetitive motion, and I don’t think about anything as I start up my hairdryer. It just is.
I don’t think about the fact
that the corkboard above my desk was once full of pictures of me and Maddie is now empty. I don’t think about the fact all my teenage diaries were thrown out, that three-quarters of my wardrobe was re-bought. I don’t think about how much of the past I’ve thrown away. How much of it I’m running from.
But is it really running if you still have to face up to it every day?
I don’t think so. It’s not running away if you know where you want to be. It’s making the conscious decision to change.
I set the hairdryer down on the bed next to me and focus on the reflectio
n in the mirror, sliding the brush through my new hair one last time. And I smile. I look nothing like the old Abbi, and for just a second, there’s a spark of light in my eyes. It’s fleeting, but there, and fleeting is better than not at all.
My door opens a crack, and Mom pokes her head through the gap. I hear her sharp intake of breath before I turn to look at her. Her hand is poised over her mouth
like she thinks it’ll hide the way her jaw has dropped. Like she thinks it’ll cover her wide, horrified eyes.
I finger the dark strands nervously. “I needed to change it. It reminded me too much of before.”
“Why, Abbi? Your hair was so beautiful.”
My eyes travel back to the mirror. “Because the outside is all I can change,” I whisper. “I can’t change what’s on the ins
ide, not easily, but this I can change. So I did. I needed to, Mom.”
Silence stretches between us as she lets my words sink in. “I don’t understand.”
I shake my head. “You don’t have to understand. You just have to accept it.”
… I suppose there’s not much I can do, anyway.”
I shake my head again. My fingers creep to my arm and under my sleeve, the pads of them rubbing over the
slightly raised scars there. The scars I keep hidden from the rest of the world. “It’s better than the alternative. Anything is better than that.”
Mom lets out a shaky breath, and I press my thumb against my pulse point as I always do when I remember. The steady beat of my blood humming through my body reminds me I’m still alive.
My heart is still beating and my lungs are still breathing. I’m still existing.
“Yes. It’s much better,”
Mom agrees and walks across the room before perching on the bed next to me. Our reflections are side by side and the only difference in them is our age. And our hair color. Her blonde hair is the exact shade mine was two hours ago. She reaches over and takes my hand as she meets my eyes in the shiny glass. “Is there anything else you feel like you need to do?”
“I don’t know, Abbi. I just thought that maybe since you want to change a little we could go to the salon. You know, get a make-over. We both need one. Maybe our nails, too.”
allow, her tight grip on my hand telling me exactly how hard it is for her to suggest that. How hard it is for her to finally accept that
Abbi isn’t coming back this time. That her Abbi is lost forever.
“I’d like that,” I say honestly. “Maybe that’s what I need. Maybe it’ll change the last of it. Wipe it away.”
“No wiping away needed. We’ll just make new memories to replace the old.” Mom stands up. “I’ll call the salon tomorrow. And Bianca called – you can start in her class tomorrow. A few of her girls just got into Juilliard, and she has a few newbies starting then. She thinks it would be the perfect time for you. I said I’d speak to you and call her back. Shall I let her know you’ll be there?”
The ultimate dream. The thing that keeps me going. The thing that saved me when I felt there was nothing left to save.
“Please, Mom. I’ll be there.”
“Okay.” She backs out of my room and shuts the door behind her, leaving me to silence once again.
Silence. My best friend and my worst enemy.
I lightly brush my fingers over my wrist again and reach for my iPod. The screen glares back at me, and I click shuffle. Snow Patrol blare out, and I lie back on my bed, curling into my side.
Juilliard chants lowly in my mind as sleep begins to take me under.
I clutch the strap of my dance bag to my stomach, and the bag knocks against my knees as I tentatively push open the door to Bianca’s dance studio. My stomach is rolling with apprehension, my whole body tense, but I know I’m safe here.
Bianca is one of the few people who truly knows and understands my desire and need to dance.
On the day Dr. Hausen suggested using dance as therapy, Bianca arrived in the gym. One private session a week quickly turned to three, both there and here at her studio, and she helped me leave the institution. She reminded me of the freedom that comes with the stretching of a leotard and tying of a ribbon on ballet shoes. And she’s the closest thing I have to a friend without Maddie here.
The familiar dance hall stares at me. The mirrors lining the wall, the
on the far wall, the piano in the corner. Dexter, her disabled uncle and pianist, waves at me from the corner. I smile at him, feeling myself relax a little. Only a little, because I know soon the room will be filled with people I’ve never met.
Two slender hands rest on my shoulders from behind me. “I can see your tension from the other side of the floor. Breathe and relax, Abbi, because those shoes aren’t
gonna dance for you.”
“I’m scared,” I whisper as the door opens.
“I know.” Bianca drops her hands and circles me, stopping in front of me and bending down so we’re eye to eye. “You’re here to dance, remember that, strong girl, and you’ll be fine.”
“To dance.” I let out a long breath, glancing at the growing crowd by the seats.
“And it’s something you do beautifully. You’re safe here.”
And I know that. I know nothing or no one can touch me here, especially not when my hand touches that
and the music starts. Wherever it is I end up when I dance … it’s safe.
I pad gently to the corner and remove my sweatpants and top, revealing my dance clothes beneath. I
slip my shoes on and run my finger over the satin ribbons. Soft. Safe.
I keep my eyes on the floor in the vain hope no one will talk to me. In the h
ope no one will even notice me, because like Bianca said, I’m here to dance. Not to make friends, not to build relationships, just to dance.
My shoes reflect back to me in the mirror as I stop. My fingers stretch in anticipation, and I place my hand on the
, letting them curl around the cold metal. Lightness spreads through my body, easing the ever-present suffocation of depression. It’s only for a second, but that second is enough. In that second I feel the rush of the girl I could be, and the first easy breath I’ve taken since I walked in here ten minutes ago leaves my body.
The dull buzz of chatter ceases as Bianca claps her hands once. “I’m not going to stand here and introduce myself or explain what we’re doing here. If you don’t know me or why you’re here, then you’re in the wrong studio, little chicks.
“What I am going to tell you is to forget everything you’ve ever learned about how dance works. When you slip your shoes on in this studio, you give yourself over to the art of ballet, not the technicalities.
Ballet isn’t about timing, getting that step perfect, or getting the best marks in class. It’s about telling a story. It’s about taking the feelings and emotions inside you, ripping them out and expressing them with flawless motions of your body. Ballet is a dance that stems and grows from everything we are, regardless of what it means to you, and if you believe any differently, you’re in the wrong studio.” Her eyes comb over us all standing at the
, scrutinizing us, like a simple glance can tell her whether or not we believe what she does.
“What you do need to know about how my class works is that you don’t stop being a dancer just because you’re not on the floor. I expect you to work your asses off. I expect you to be here three nights a week for two hours, then I expect you to work at home. Six hours a week in a studio will not get you to the standard Juilliard expects and demands. Damn, I spend more time than that on my hair each week.
“I don’t care whether you dance in a studio, in the shower, in the middle of Central Park – hey, dance on the highway if you really want to – but you must dance. Every. Single. Day. And I will know if you don’t. I will know, if for even one day, you forget to dance, because your body will show me.
“I don’t want to see any of you in the wrong studio. I want you all to be in the right stud
io. Some of you I already know and I know you’re in the right studio, but the rest of you have to prove it.” She turns and taps the top of the piano, and her uncle begins to play.
“What if we think we are, but we’re not? Will you know?” someone further up the