Sunday, March 22, 2009


Absurd. I sat, staring down at the blank piece of paper. Absurd was the only word to describe the situation. As punishment I was being forced to write lines.

The phrase “I will not break things that do not belong to me” covered eight complete sheets of paper front and back. Only two more sheets left to go.

Out the window, the day was perfect. I could hear my friends’ laughter. Every now and then I would see them riding their bikes past the house. Every time they passed the sun had inched lower and lower in the sky. Soon it would be twilight and dinner time.

How I wished to be with them! I knew this was the reason for the punishment, to keep me from having fun. However, writing a meaningless phrase over and over again for the sole purpose of passing the time was ludicrous. Why not make me do extra chores or send me to my room? Why this pointless exercise?

The punishment was not to atone for broken objects. The real purpose was to coerce me into talking about why I had broken said objects. In the past three months I had managed to break a coffee pot, two casserole dishes, four drinking glasses, and an antique vase. The last accident resulted in my present situation. Mom could not accept that I had not meant to break any of these things. She insisted that no one could have so many accidents in such a short amount of time, and that I must be acting out.

No matter how much I pleaded with her, I really, truly had no idea why things were breaking. It was as much a mystery to me as it was to her. I had not dropped or thrown or struck these broken pieces. They had simply fallen apart at my touch – or at least it seemed that way. Usually it happened so fast, I couldn’t remember any details.

As I scribbled “I will not break things that do not belong to me” again and again, I tried to think about each accident. My frustration started to swell. Emotions rose and sank. Sadness, self pity, and anger all came and went.

At the completion of page ten I set down my pen. My hand was cramped and aching. It was getting dark outside, dinner time. As if on cue my stomach growled. I got up; I had to stretch my legs. They were getting that uncomfortable antsy feeling. I walked over to the switch and turned the overhead light on.

Mom entered the kitchen and took up my day’s labor, scanning each page. She sat down and watched as I paced back and forth. Finally she asked, “So, why did you break the vase?”

Startled by her direct question, I stopped mid pace and glared at her. As slowly and as calmly as I could muster, I said, “I don’t know how the vase became broken.”

“Heather, please, don’t lie to me.” Her tone rose as she did, standing now, anger and disappointment evident in her stance.

Irritation and rage swelled up inside me – overflowing into tears. I clamped my fingers into tight fists by my side. And then, the lights went out.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ugly Step-Sister

Rehearsals were going well. It was true that I was cast as the lead role, Cinderella. However, I did share the part with another girl. The show ran two nights, one night I would dance, the other night, Laura would dance.

Laura was an exceptional ballerina and dreamed of dancing for the rest of her life. For me, ballet was just a hobby, something I did while other girls played volleyball and field hockey. I liked it well enough and was probably good enough, but I was too practical to think I could make a career out of dancing. Instead I focused on my schoolwork and hoped to get accepted into a decent college.

No better person than Laura could have played the gentle loving character of Cinderella. I didn’t think she could be mean or rude to anyone, even if her life depended on it.

She was a year younger than me, but we were about the same size. This was one reason we had been chosen; we could share costumes. Another reason was because the size we shared was petite. The one male in the class was not tall, and to partner with a tall girl would have been physically impossible. Perhaps this was the main reason Allison was not granted this role.

I was somewhat ashamed at my delight when I had found out that Allison had been cast as one of the ugly step-sisters. It fit her personality exceptionally well, and I was positive she would be able to portray the role without much effort. Ever since that first night when the cast list was posted, Allison fell right into character. She treated both Laura and I with such contempt and malice, I truly started to feel like Cinderella.

While I was able to bear her insults and scornful looks, every jest cut Laura deeply. She was not used to being assaulted in this way. Everyone was always nice to her, because she was always nice to everyone else.

“I can’t stand it anymore!” She exclaimed one night after rehearsal had ended. Everyone else had packed up their things and left the studio. “Why is she so rude?”

I couldn’t help but chuckle darkly before responding, “She’s always like that, you’re just noticing now?”

“Perhaps,” she hesitated, “but she was never like that towards me before.”

“That’s because you were never a threat to her before. Seriously, she’s just used to getting what she wants whenever she wants. Don’t take it personally.”

“I can’t help it.” She sighed and pulled on her coat.

Just then the door opened and Allison came storming back through the studio. Apparently she had forgotten her legwarmers. She found them quickly and left again, throwing Laura and me a dirty look as she made her exit.

“Bitch.” Laura breathed under her breath. Then we both burst out laughing. I couldn’t help it. I almost wished there had been more people around to witness this moment. The laughing felt good; I could feel the tension flowing out of my body.

Then, abruptly, the laughing stopped, and an anxious silence echoed around the empty studio. Allison’s venom had broken down Laura’s good nature. It had turned her into one of us, one of the hurt souls that went about life angry and hurt. My face burned with anger as I threw my arm around Laura’s shoulder and we walked outside in silence.

Monday, March 2, 2009


I could hardly breathe. My chest was tight with the unexpected mixture of doubt and exhilaration. Auditions were over and tonight the casting would be posted. I didn’t expect much, but at the same time, my heart would not let go of hope. I had worked hard and my heart wanted a good part.

This was the first time my studio had ever conducted auditions for the yearly production. It left many feeling angry. The director spent a large amount of time and energy trying to make all students feel equal, but now she had done a complete 180 and was holding auditions. Clearly some would emerge as better than others.

Not that everyone didn’t know who the best was. But below the best, everyone else was simply not the best. The distinction below number one was not apparent. However, now with parts that were clearly better than others, the ambiguity that kept us sociable had the potential to dissolve friendships into jealousy.

The nature of the Cinderella ballet lent itself to a variety of solos and demi-solos. That was why the audition had been necessary. Usually the studio performed stories that involved large groups of similar parts, with perhaps one or possibly two special roles. Each class level would play a different creature, flowers, birds, fairies, and so on. Then there would be one person that would get the spotlight.

The top student, obviously destined to dance the lead role of Cinderella, was Allison. She excelled in everything she attempted. An excellent athlete, a good student, popular, tall, beautiful; Allison had it all. She used to be friendly too, but in recent years she started to become aware of her perfection, and her attitude all but negated every good trait she exhibited – at least in my eyes. Others seemed to be so blinded by her awesomeness that they didn’t realize she was rude and arrogant.

All the senior students loitered noisily around the bulletin board. Chatting about what parts they had been dreaming about for the last week, reassuring one another that they would be great in whatever role they had been cast to play. No one even mentioned the lead; everyone knew who that would be. In the corner Allison sat reading a book, uninterested, playing it cool.

Suddenly, the babble of voices trailed off to silence. The crowd parted as the secretary walked towards the bulletin board clutching at a piece of paper. She smiled, or maybe grimaced, as she tacked the list to the board and scooted away as quickly as possible. From the back of the crowd I couldn’t see the list, but I was patient, I had already waited a week, what were a few more minutes?

I expected everyone to start cheering, crying, or at least reassuring their friends. But everyone remained silent. For a brief moment their faces held only disbelief and confusion, not the relief of finally knowing the outcome of a week’s worry. Then the moment had passed and life continued as normal, well, almost.

Everyone started speaking at once. And all eyes turned toward me, glowing with an excitement I didn’t understand. I was mobbed then, attacked with hugs and congratulations. From the corner of my eye I thought I saw Allison put her book down and saunter to the board. When I saw her scowl, I finally understood. She would not be dancing the lead. I was Cinderella.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lava Lamp

Aaron and I lay on his bed in the near darkness. Alice in Chains played softly, not loud enough to drown out the rumble of noises downstairs. The guests at the party below were boisterous, happy, exuberant. Aaron should be down there enjoying this moment. After all, they were all here for him. Today he had transitioned from boy to man. Today was his Bar Mitzvah.

“Why don’t you want to go downstairs?” I asked casually, staring into the soft glow of the lava lamp just warming up on the dresser at the foot of Aaron’s bed.

“Eh, I don’t know.” He was lying with his head up by my feet, gazing up at the ceiling.

“Aren’t you happy? Isn’t this supposed to be one of the most important days of your life?”

“Yes, well, I guess.”

I didn’t understand the Jewish traditions. Aaron, I understood, was also perplexed, but for different reasons. Of course he knew the Jewish traditions; however, he was also keenly aware of Catholic traditions. He grew up in a house with a Jewish mother and a Catholic father. How confusing that must be! Today was his choice, his decision to become one or the other; a choice that would truly shape his future.

The lava started to heat up at the bottom of the lamp. Slowly it expanded, grew and formed a column of blue goo reaching upwards toward the top of the lamp. It was kind of obscene if one chose to see it that way. The light was soothing, calming. The blue aura pervaded the room with ever shifting lapis shadows.

“Well, I think it’s all pretty confusing myself.” I stated mater-of-factly, sitting up. “I’m glad I’m not you. I probably would denounce it all and forever live in sin.” My wry smile gave away my sarcasm. Aaron knew I wasn’t very religious, maybe that’s why we had become good friends. He knew I wouldn’t judge him, no matter what his choice was.

“Yeah, I’m glad I’m not going to burn in Hell like you.” He laughed and rolled his eyes. He opened the door and together we went downstairs to greet his entire family.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tilt Table

The peaceful tones of Pachelbel’s Cannon flowed through my ears, soothing my nerves. This arrangement was a rare gem I had found among my mother’s collection of new age music CD’s. A collection of stringed instruments accompanied by the unlikely resonance of ocean waves washed over me, issuing calmness and washing away fright. The portable CD player was set to repeat this one song again and again and it had been playing for well over an hour as we made the long drive south.

We were almost at the hospital. The car crawled as the expressway ended and we entered the city. My heart was racing now. I didn’t understand the fear, I had no idea what to expect. And maybe that was it, I was afraid because I didn’t know what was coming.

I was vaguely aware of parking, walking into the hospital, getting prepped for the test. And then, suddenly, I was separated from the calming waves of Pachelbel and my surroundings solidified. I was now strapped to a table, stuck with needles; tubes ran across my body connected to bags hanging over my head.

A half-masked face bent over me, “Are you ready to begin?” I gulped hard. What did she want me to say? Yes, please, commence the torture?

“Sure.” My voice quavered with this simple one syllable sentence.

“Relax. Everything is going to be fine. Actually, most people only experience boredom. Let’s hope for that.” I could see her eyes tighten and could imagine a kind smile behind her mask. I tried to smile back.

The table to which I was strapped began to maneuver itself into an upright position. In seconds I was almost, but not quite vertical, standing on a platform attached to the bottom edge of the table; apparently the slight angle was important. Within minutes I was feeling antsy. It wasn’t too bad – I had definitely felt worse. Maybe this would be OK, just boring like the nurse had suggested.

The squirmy feeling continued and I became aware that I had often felt this way in the past. The sudden need to expel energy, the uncontrollable urge to keep moving, this was the same as my nightly dinner time anxiety. The worst part? I was strapped to a table, unable to move a muscle, unable to dispel the unease. Desperation welled up in my chest and I almost cried out in anguish. In response, machines started beeping and squealing erratically.

All these weeks, months, I felt like I was slowly going insane, because surely this was all in my head. However, now, in this frightening little room, my invisible demon was manifesting itself as beeps on a machine and as a jagged line drawn across a paper tape. Others could see my discomfort not only in my body and my face, but also on medical machines. I was not crazy!

Relief swept over me as I felt the table return me to the horizontal plane. Gradually feeling better, I waited for the nurses to unstrap me, to let me go. But their hands were busy getting things ready. Ready for what?

“You passed the first stage.” I thought, first? “Ok, this time we are going to give you something in your IV.” The shock on my face must have been clear. “Don’t worry, it’s just adrenaline. It will help the test go faster.”

“What!?” I squirmed against my restraints trying to catch the eye of a nurse that would help me out of this situation, but all were busy tending to this machine or that. I could feel the adrenaline racing through my veins. My heart beat faster and faster. I felt like I had just sprinted the mile, but of course I was still lying down. It was a queer feeling, like my brain was not in sync with my body.

The table started to right itself again. The sound of my heartbeat pounding in my ears was eerily echoed by the beeping of a machine off to my side. Panic overflowed, streaming down my cheeks. The brief relief I had felt just minutes before was now washed away by my tears. In an instant the irritability and discomfort returned. My legs felt as though they had a mind of their own. They wanted to dance, to run, to kick, and I wanted to scream.

The unease, not content to remain trapped in my legs, began to swell like a rising tide. Soon I was retching. I was exceedingly thankful that I had followed the directive of fasting for the last 12 hours. My stomach only contained acid, all of which the closest nurse caught in a stainless steel bowl. My head swam with incoherent thoughts. I just wanted to lie down.

And then, everything was black. My distress ebbed and I slipped gratefully into the comforting arms of unconsciousness.