I peel myself off of the stiff cotton sheets on my bed and stand up. Whoa, dizzy. Probably stood up too fast. No big deal.
I walk across the ratty old carpet of my bedroom and head toward my dresser. Jesus, these drawers will be the death of me. I can never get them open. It’s definitely the combination of the thick, Florida humidity and the fact that these things are just beat up, in general. My fan hums silently in slow circles above my head, a pathetic attempt to cool down my room. I can feel little beads of sweat ooze from my cracked, clammy hands. I pull harder and still, nothing. Bent into a squat, I wrap both hands around the little porcelain knob. I lean back and yank, and the drawer flies out toward me as I land on the floor with a crash. I push the drawer off of me and slowly stand up. Dizzy again. What is with me today? I wait until it goes away and then head over to my mirror, pulling up my tee shirt to reveal my soft torso underneath. My hips are wider than average and my stomach is not so flat. Just not good enough.
I rush over to the digital clock on my desk, covered in dust, to check the time. Five minutes to get out of the house. Grabbing a black nylon leo and an old pair of tights out of the drawer on the ground, I undress and dress as quickly as I can. The waistband of my tights tugs against the skin under my belly button, making a visible crease in the outline of my figure. Miss Jane is definitely going to say something. I sling my dance bag around my shoulder and head downstairs.
“‘Morning, Mom.” I slide my tee shirt and sweats back on over top my dance clothes.
She looks up from the paper at me.
“You ready to go? I’m gonna be late.” I fill up a used plastic water bottle in the sink.
“Yeah, yeah just a second,” she says without lifting her gaze.
“Okay, well I’ll be in the car, so hurry up.”
She is so oblivious.
The car ride to school is silent besides the cool draft floating up from the air conditioner. Mom and I never really talk in the car. I used to fight with her because she’s an awful driver, but at this point I just let her roll through all the stop signs and red lights she wants. She turns on the radio with the small click of a little black knob. The volume is barely on, but I leave it because it suits us. We pull up to the office entrance and I hop out without a word. I immediately see Emily walking toward me, her shirt looking tighter than usual.
“Hey, Katie. Callbacks for second auditions came out today.”
I bite my nails in nervousness. They’re soft and broken down, the edges jagged against my bottom lip.
“Oh, shit! I totally forgot! Did you get one?”
A discontented look creeps onto her face. Her eyes jut down to the sidewalk.
“No. Rejected, as usual. Unlike you, though.”
My eyes light up. No way, that must mean…“Emily, uh I’m sorry. But, uh, by any chance did you see if uh… did I get it?”
I twist the fabric of my leotard into a knot against my hip over and over.
“Yeah, Katie. You got it.” She looks genuinely pissed and there’s a sense of bitterness in her voice. I don’t blame her. But I’m not sorry enough for Emily to not feel good about this. In fact, I feel great.
“Are you serious?”
She rolls her eyes and pulls out her phone. “Yeah, I’m serious. Here’s the pic of the cast list. I’ll send it to you if you really want.”
I glance over at her phone screen and immediately see my name. I’ve finally got this.
We stand there in silence. I look Emily up and down. She was a curvy girl, kind of short for a dancer. Her thighs thick and muscular, and her hips a little too wide.
“See ya, K,” she murmurs as she walks away.
It’s me this time. I got the final callback. A thought crosses my mind and I change course from studio 3B to the bathroom. I walk in and swing each stall door open with a whoosh of warm air, checking for people; empty. I enter the large stall on the very end and lock the door behind me with an echoing ‘click’. I drop to my knees with a soft thump in front of the toilet. The off-white plastic seat has scratches running down it.
Pulling my hair back with the elastic on my wrist, the overwhelming smell of water rushes up through my nostrils. I hear a girl walk in and enter the stall next to me. I try to wait patiently, but I’m nervous, and I can hear quick, panicked breaths pouring out of me. I can hear the rolling moan of toilet paper coming out of its dispenser. I hear the grumbling flush of her toilet, and with that she washes her hands and is on her way. A breath of relief fills me. My hands shake as the right one creeps up toward my face. I shut my eyes and my cracked lips part. I need to look good for this next class, and right now I don’t look good enough.
“Alright, girls, put the center barres away and take the floor to stretch for a minute while I find some music.”
I place my fingers under the barre and push it up into the air a couple of inches to help lift it away with a few other girls. We reach the wall and they all let go expecting me to handle it, but I fall under the weight and the barre comes crashing down to the floor beside me.
“What the hell was that?”
I sit and stare straight at my teacher. Miss Jane is your typical retired professional. Still has the perfect body, thin arms and legs with barely any waist at all. She’s got that long, beautiful neck and defined cheekbones that pierce through her skin. That’s the thing. You can’t break the mindset. Even when you’re too old and they don’t want you anymore, you still can’t break it. You still need your body to be perfect, and you still think it’s far from it.
“Yeah, yeah, sorry. I’m fine. Tripped, I guess.”
I hate when this stuff happens. Ever since it started I’ve been losing body strength and every once in a while, I just make some huge scene and it’s so embarrassing. Whatever, I’ll just play it off as clumsiness, as usual.
“Alright, ladies. Line up to go across the floor.”
I follow the other girls over to the corner and tune out Miss Jane as she rambles on about the combination. The mirrors are fogged up from the body heat in the room, but I can still see my outline in the reflection. All of the sudden I get dizzy. The shape of my body blurs and anger bubbles up inside of me as I see myself. I look terrible. This isn’t going to cut it for the upcoming audition.
“Katie, what the Hell are you staring at? God, get out the way!” A tall, slim brunette pushes past me. Ashley is her name, I think.
“My bad, sorry.” I walk back to the end of the line and try to focus on the others hard enough to pick up the combination.
The rest of class sucks. My gut burns and the bags under my eyes hang heavy. I need sleep. Soon enough, class is over and Miss Jane asks me to come talk to her on my way out. After packing up my things, I head over to her. She’s standing against the wall with a pen and pad, probably taking notes for next class.
“Katie, hi,” she says impatiently.
“Hey, Miss Jane. Is something wrong?”
“No, no, nothing wrong. Just wanted to talk.”
I bite at the raw cuticles lining my fingernails. My throat aches all the way down to my chest. My breath is scratchy and uneven.
“So, I heard you got a second audition for the Miami City Ballet.”
“Yeah, I’m really excited. It’s a great opportunity.”
“Indeed, it is. But, there’s something you need to keep in mind. Most city ballets only take certain body types in their companies, and one might say that in the ballet world, yours is not…ideal.”
My entire body goes numb. A chill runs from the top of my spine all the way down through my limbs and torso. I open my mouth to speak but the words won’t come out. I stand frozen in the moment with no way to break out of it.
“Katie, do you understand what I just said to you?”
I force an answer up out of my throat, “yes, I understand.”
With that I run out the studio, with only one place to go. As soon as I arrive, I hear the familiar click. And smell the familiar stench. And I sit there and breathe it all in because I know nothing else will come up, and I’m not sure what else to do but to just stay here, curled up on the warm tile floor.
My eyes flutter open to see my mom hovered over me.
“What happened?” I murmur and try to sit myself up.
“I came to pick you up and when you weren’t outside, I came in and asked Jane where you went. She said you’d probably be in here. God, Katie, I thought you were over this bullshit!”
“Get up already! I’m 10 minutes late for my meeting! I’ll be lucky if I’m not fired at this point.” I try to stand, grabbing the cold metal bar to get my footing back.
“I got that audition, Mom.”
“What audition? You know what, no, I don’t care. Let’s go. I’m late.”
It’s the morning of audition day. As soon as I wake up, I notice how bloated I feel. It’s like somebody climbed inside my stomach with a balloon pump and filled me up with helium, only stopping when my skin was about to pop. I roll onto my back and slowly rise to sit. My face beats, swollen like hell.
Finally, I get up, get dressed, and pack up my things for the day. I head downstairs, grab two bagels, a banana, a granola bar, and a cold coffee drink, and shove them in my bag. Shockingly, Mom is still asleep. Thought she’d be at work by now. I’ll take the car to school myself, then. That’ll be sure to spite her.
A few minutes later, I pull up in my navy Saab, tires squeaking to a halt. Sitting in my parking spot at school, I twist my tee shirt into knots over and over. I look down and notice my hand. It looks like I’ve taken way too many turns on the monkey bars. Just like back in Kindergarten. Whoever has the most calluses is the strongest, “the toughest”, they said. Not such a sign of strength now, I guess. Teeth marks imprint the skin just under the knuckles of my middle and index finger. Almost like little half-moons, lining up in rows across my hand. I glance in the direction of the rearview mirror to catch the image of my face staring back.
How can you even look at yourself?
First, second, third, and fourth period were painful. I don’t think a day has ever gone by slower in my life. Thank God, lunch is here. I walk into the cafeteria and step inside a busy swarm of voices, layered on top of one another at all different volumes and tones. If you really listen hard enough, you can pick up a few words from someone’s conversation. I head into the lunch line and slide a hard, green, plastic tray off the stack and onto the counter in front of me. Shuffling along in the classic assembly line of food, I go from steamed vegetables to a roll, to a greasy slice of meat lover’s pizza (well, two, because I asked for an extra), and finish up with a stale looking brown brick they try to pass for a brownie. Yum. I pay for my food and quickly exit the cafeteria, hoping to escape the noise as soon as possible.
Traveling through the hallways is sort of a routine for me. It’s quiet and lonely, yeah, but that’s why I like it. I’ve never really liked being overcrowded with people or spending my time with big groups. I like being by myself. That’s where I can breathe most of the time.
The fluorescent lights give off a soft hum, their artificial glow stinging my eyes and making them water. I pass a girl at her locker, hear the chiming of her backpack zippers clinging together. Turning a corner, I’ve finally reached my destination. I walk in and head toward the last stall. Locking myself inside, I throw my backpack aside and shimmy my back down the wall to a seat. Messages are scrawled in pencil on the walls all around me. I grab a slice of pizza and go at it. God, that’s good. Too bad fifteen minutes later it’s coming right back up.
Dancers begin to file into the main studio where auditions will be taking place. Fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes until I need to be on my absolute A-game, ready to take the floor. I slide into a split and start to stretch out. Other girls around me are doing crunches and planks, or stretching their feet with elastic bands. An older man walks in, small in stature and carrying with him a black, leather briefcase. He takes a seat at the piano in the far-right corner of the room. Must be the maestro. I change legs in my split and stretch a little bit further. The air is sticky and heavy with sweat already. I’d have to say mostly from the nervousness in the room.
“Okay, ladies. Let’s go. I need you to line up at the barre in number order, lowest number closest to the door, highest number closest to that wall. I’ll give you 30 seconds. Go.”
Andrew Beckman, Artistic Director of the Miami City Ballet. This is the man who will ultimately decide whether or not my career begins here. He’s a tall man, with a defined, muscular jawline and a stoic look upon his face. He seems extremely serious and cold. His eyes are a deep brown, almost black color. He walks toward me slowly.
“Are you going to line up, or are you just going to continue staring at me?”
“Um, yes- I mean no, uh- sorry, sir.”
I move as quickly as possible to my spot on the barre and stare straight ahead. I can feel my face reddening rapidly, every pair of eyes in the room was on me. Great start, Katie.
“And fouetté, and fouetté, and fouetté, and fouetté! Pull those arms in closer! Turn out your supporting leg! Why am I not seeing straightened knees? Where the Hell are those straightened knees!”
The combination ends and the maestro stops. I can feel the sweat soaking my body through my leotard and all the way down my tights. My chest is rising up and down with my breath. I see Andrew coming toward me.
He stares me up and down.
“Nice work.” With that, he walks back the front of the room and turns to face the maestro.
“Something a with a little more power. For grand allegro.”
The maestro begins to play and strong music carries across the room. I catch Andrew glancing over at me with a look of somewhat interest. This is going really well.
“So girls, I want to see tombe pas de bourree glissade saut de chat. Arms in fifth for the saut de chat. Questions? No? Okay, then. Maestro!”
Once again, music pours into the air and dancers begin to cross the floor. Andrew circles them, observing closely, looking for any flaws to point out.
“Point your feet! God, is this a joke to you people?”
I approach the front of the line and prepare to go across the floor. My legs are shaking with anxiety. This is the last combination of the audition, the last chance to prove myself. Focus. No matter what, stay focused.
“Very nice, 54. Keep up the good work.”
I finish on the other side of the floor with a breath of relief. I am so getting this spot.
“Okay everyone, nice work today. A list will be posted online of our new company members by tonight at 7 p.m. Letters will also be sent out to all of you letting you know whether or not you have been chosen. I wish you all the best of luck.”
I curtsy with the others and start to pack up my bag to leave when I feel a strong hand on my shoulder.
“Remind me of your name again?”
I turn to face him. He is older-looking up close. Small wrinkles crease his pale forehead.
“Katie. Katie Glysen. It was such a pleasure to audition for you today.”
“Ah, yes. Well, Ms. Glysen, I wanted to have a chat with you about your audition today. You’ve clearly had excellent training and your technique is wonderful, there’s just one problem…”
He glances down at me with an unsure look on his face, studying me from the shoulders down. I go numb.
“Do you understand what I’m trying to say here, Ms. Glysen?”
I say nothing.
This can’t be happening again, not now.
He shifts his weight to the side and crosses his arms, looking now beyond me into the distance.
“What I mean, is that you have the talent. The dancing is there and you have what it takes. But, when it comes to having the right look for a dancer, I’m afraid you just don’t cut it. You’re just not as… thin as most. I’m sorry.”
My limbs are stuck. A rush of anxiety and anger and insanity overcomes me and I don’t know what to do with it so I just stand there. Not a word, nothing.
“I think I should be going now.”
“Of course, of course.”
With that, I grab my bag and get out of the building as fast as possible. I will never be good enough. No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try; it’s over.
The air coming in from the cracked windows is cool and dry. My eyes are set on the road, with the occasional shift to the setting sun on my left. The sky is beautiful shades of violet and coral, swirled together in a picture of calamity. It looks like a painting, full of magnificent colors all intertwined. An overall serenity has overcome me in this moment, because I know exactly what I need to do to make things right.
The only thing I’ve ever wanted, the single word that rules my life- I’ll never get it. Every day I try to take it and change the way things are, but I’ve realized now that nothing is ever going to change. Nothing will ever get better. Nothing will ever be enough. So, I’m letting it go, and I’m all right with that. No more burning in my throat. No more stinging in the beds of my fingernails. No more splintered lips. No more judgment. No more pressure. No more fear. Just isolation. It’s time for me to let go, and stop trying to be something I’m not. One last ‘click’; this time, it’s the wheel.
I’ve lost control.
Emily is walking through the hallway and feels a million eyes scan her. Faint whispers fill her ears:
“Did you hear about Katie Glysen?”
“It’s a shame, what happened with that girl.”
“Maybe she was depressed or something.”
“What are you wearing to the memorial?”
“Do you think we’ll have an assembly?”
They don’t get it, Emily thinks. Yeah, they’re performing arts kids, but you don’t know unless you dance. From day one, they train you to look at yourself in the mirror and criticize yourself. It’s just how it is. I mean, Katie wasn’t even that bad, at least she was sort of tall. If she thought she was bad, then I…
She turns for the bathroom.
Olivia Hunt is in eleventh grade at Downingtown East high school. She is an avid writer and aspires to study screenwriting. Her dream is to write her own television sitcom, or to become a writer on Saturday Night Live. Olivia loves live music and concerts, going to the coffee shop down the street to write, and soaking up every beautiful moment of life. This piece is based on the tragic eating disorders she has witnessed in the world around her from growing up as a dancer.