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DO YOU REMEMBER?
DO YOU REMEMBER?
During the Covid quarantine in 2020, when I was looking for activities to fill up my time, I began organizing my linen closet. I opened and refolded pillowcases, sheets and towels, matching them by color, when I reached into the back of a shelf and came out with a pair of pink pointe shoes, their satin ribbons neatly wrapped around and tucked into each other. I unwrapped the ribbons and let them dangle. I brought the shoes up to my nose and inhaled the lingering scents of glue and the sticky rosin that dancers smash into a powder with the squared off toes so they won’t slip. Images sparked my memory of a hundred different rehearsal halls and stages all over the world.
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I carried the shoes upstairs, put them on my desk where I could see them, marveled at their pinkness, the other worldly aura they suggested and I sat down at my computer. My mind filled with pictures and my hands started flying across the keyboard. There I was in Monte Carlo, standing on a stage, looking out at an empty theater on the ground floor of the Casino. I was seventeen, a new member of the Harkness Ballet company and we had just arrived in France for a year long residency sponsored by Princess Grace. It that wasn’t magical enough, I was standing in the very theater where they had filmed the movie, “The Red Shoes” in 1948, a year before I was born. As a child, I'd watched it over and over, it had provided the inspiration for my ballet career and acted as a backdrop for the rigorous training that had gotten me to Monaco, the famed principality on the northern coast of the French Riviera.
I remembered being all alone, gazing out at the ornate theater, the golden sconces, the velvet curtains, the hand painted ceiling and the tear drop chandeliers as I cried my own teardrops. I had done it. My dream had come true. Now, decades later as I stared at the pointe shoes on my desk, I remembered details of life in Monte Carlo: the croissants and café au lait. Rudolph Nureyev strutting across the white sand beach in a purple bikini with purple suspenders. The patisseries where I rewarded myself with delectable French pastries after a ten hour day of rehearsals. Carts on the street that offered fresh escargots and oysters. “The Alcazar,” a building where we took class and rehearsed six days a week. The disco called the “Tick Tock,” the title way before it’s time, the place where we went during the weekend to dance and let off steam. The images in my mind were moving so much faster than my fingers, I could barely get the words on the page. When I looked up, two hours had gone by.
One of the rewards of writing is losing time and watching old memories rise up and come alive in the moment, if we take a breath and let them surface. These memories aren't all good or all bad. They are the ingredients, sweet and sour, that make up a life, that describe our trials and victories, gains and losses that define us as whole human beings. In my case, along with the stunning remembrances of traveling, the glamor of performing and the delight of being in love, there were bouts of acute loneliness that began when I left home at fourteen to pursue a career in ballet. As I kept putting words on the page, it surprised me to see that my loneliness didn’t feel like emptiness. Rather, it was a looming presence with heft and substance. the heaviness of hopelessness, a murmur in my ear that if I were dead and gone, no one would notice or care.
But the gift of writing about the past is that we can separate the truth from the stories we tell ourselves. We can heal our history so we don't have to relive the pain and suffering. I often wonder how we survived our childhoods, but I keep in mind that remembering is not suffering. Rather it’s investigating what we felt and what we learned so we can free ourselves of the mistakes and confusions that are clogging up our minds and hearts. We can get rid of the events and hold onto the lessons. We can celebrate the fact that we made it through, that we are still here and every day we have a chance to give new meaning to our lives in a way that makes us feel worthiness and hope.
Two years after I found the pointe shoes on that shelf, I draped them over a several large crystals on my living room floor and gazed at them for a while. I remembered sleeping with my first pair of pointe shoes and their beauty never diminished, even with the pain of bleeding blisters and aching muscles. I remember the difficulty but I also remember how they made me feel like I was light as a feather, like I could defy gravity and fly. I had a smile on my face as I logged onto Google and opened a web site called, “Memories in Bronze.” I had decided to have someone dip my shoes into bronze so their memory would live forever, a reminder of both the pain and the glory that made up the magic of my career, my dream that came true and will remain with me as long as I am here.