The Bridge of Aspiration

"I’m an addict.
Ballet is my morphine."

Six months after the death of her father, Erin Weir's mother commits suicide. Orphaned, she is taken to London in a bid to escape the guilt-ridden village of her childhood.
There seems to be no way out of the cycle of depression she's plunged into but then she discovers ballet, a gift that may be powerful beyond anything...


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19. 19

Miss Corrine says that I have improved over the summer but I don’t feel as if I have. The only thing that seems to have progressed is my desire to dance fuelled by a fraying woman and the realisation that the ordinary world leaves me feeling emptied. Elodie suggests that this is because I covered a lot in a very short space of time so I feel like I’m going nowhere now that the pace of learning has slowed. I admit to myself that she is probably right.
 “How was LBYPB?” she asks but, by the time I work out what she is referring to and have formulated some sort of answer, Miss Corrine has swept apart the conversation with a new grande allegro.
“Posé ton levé, glissade, pas de chat, posé ton levé, glissade assemblé en tournant… Good Elodie.”
I follow behind, gathering myself into the steps and stitching my feet into them. The dance continues, becoming steadily faster and more complex as it winds itself on. The movements slip effortlessly from Miss Corrine’s body but when she stops she coughs breathlessly. I think she must notice my vaguely unsettled and out-of-my-depth expression and the way that her teaching is leaving me tense because she looks at me sternly and says “Release your shoulders; open your chest Erin.”
I slide my shoulders back down my spine, feeling my limbs flap stupidly.
“Remember when you couldn’t do a posé ton levé?” She reminds me. Perhaps it might sound somewhat snarky to someone who doesn’t understand – a reminder of how I was humiliated – but to me it is as comforting as she intended it to be. She knows how to encourage me and how to lure my dancing into improvement.
We both remember how I overcame it and we both know that if that was challenging once, things that are challenging now will one day become natural. As I plunge through the jumps I repeat her words to myself until they cease to appear coherent. Nether the less, they do not lose meaning and, for the rest of the class, an image of educational embarrassment remains in my head. I realise, for the first time, how much of a gift that lesson was. I might not have enjoyed it but Miss Corrine’s exploitation of my errors was indispensable in hindsight. I need her far more than I’ve ever needed any other teacher. I’ve come to depend on her in the way that I depend on a barre and the music; the sort of dependency that ushers respect. No school teacher has inspired such respect; our admiration for them was left in some past tense playground, trampled under our stampeding feet. I can’t imagine losing the reverence which draws me to Miss Corrine in the same way.
Perhaps Mrs Cox and her colleagues should take lessons.
 
I suppose I imagined, once upon a time, that when you entered secondary school you suddenly received a level of knowledge and adulthood intrinsic to being eleven. I had forgotten that eight year old fantasy until now, the point at which I recognise how much of a fantasy it was.
Year seven is a spectrum ranging from kids who are still attached to Hello Kitty and kids who have apparently scoured language for the filthiest words they can lay their hands on. They exercise them as a large proportion of their vocabulary in a way they deem as ‘grown up’. The year group seems to be simultaneously desperate to be a teenager and reluctant to let the dregs of their innocence fall from their grip.
Perhaps that is why I don’t fit in; because I am neither a child nor a teenager. I am just an inwardly aged human being who gets mocked in PE lessons for not yet needing a bra.
Or perhaps it is because Lydia revealed me as the daughter of a suicide on Facebook and I am therefore labelled and defined as an interesting outcast. Not that I could do anything to alter this perception. I don’t think people really needed a harsh on-line announcement to establish that. At least I have Maddie. I have Maddie who understands that the only things I live for are amassing on my bedroom wall.
I can’t fit into secondary school because I’ve never fitted anywhere and because I am changed beyond return. I have been moulded by the last two years of my life and no amount of pulling and stretching and desperately trying can reverse the formation process.
I dodge the bodies in the locker room, my arms full of exercise books and pencil case. Finally reaching my little blue door I undo the catch and let it swing open.
“How about I take your locker key?” A year nine asks through a mouthful of sneering which rearranges his face so his acne appears to have been reordered. He ruffles his choppy, short hair with a casual hand.
“Would you fight us?” his mate asks. “Or would you off yourself like your mummy?”
“Don’t,” says a tittering girl. “Suicide is a serious issue,” but she’s smirking like she’s just regurgitating these words to mock them. “Was your mum on drugs? Was she a druggie?”
I don’t answer which means they’ll probably assume that she was. She never took physical drugs, only the depressant that was reality but she took that in surplus and taught me to overdose too.
I try to pretend that the people before my eyes do not exist. Subconsciously I find myself marking through Miss Corrine’s grande allegro.
 “What the hell are you doing, freak?”
I realise that I am half-dancing and stop so suddenly that I fall against the wall of locker doors.
 “Hey,” the first guy says, his eyes lighting up maliciously. “We’ll leave you alone if you see if you’re small enough to fit into your locker.”
Suddenly it becomes a spectator sport; let’s see how far we can crush her into her own locker before she starts clawing back. That’s all they want; a war and a laugh to settle their own fear of life.
“If we lock the door she’ll suffocate,” somebody points out as my legs are shoved up so hard that they buckle and fold in. I notice my school bag up-ended on the floor. Ribena has spurted over the plastic.
“Oh well, she could be with mummy,” someone says but I know that they don’t really intend to kill me. They’re just experimenting with how far they can take it before it stops being a video game and becomes a problem.
In that moment – that dangerous moment of blind terror – I wish that they did have that intention. I’m tired suddenly, tired of being alive, and I wouldn’t mind hurtling unstoppably towards the exit. For a moment.
“What happened to daddy?”
Somehow I find the strength to burst from the locker-prison, propelled forwards by hatred and ballet training. The one benefit of feeling such intense rage is that I am temporarily relieved of the intense urge of die. They fall back in shocked response. The world seems to be shaking.
 “Stop talking,” I whisper. “Stop it!” This time it rings out and quiets the beginnings of words on their lips. “My dad got crushed up by delivery lorry – like Pringles go when your bag’s shaken up. Do you know what that’s like? Do you know what it looks like when your dad’s face is peppered with glass?”
The words come streaming; streaming from everywhere and nowhere.
 “Do you know what that feels like?”
The group of older students have stopped having a laugh now. Their hands that were crushing me before hang limply and guiltily by their sides. People who were coming into the locker room freeze in the doorway. My choked and drawn-out screams echo along the silenced corridor and a few back away. They aren’t used to the devastated sound of a hyperventilating eleven-year-old.
“Do you know what it’s like when your mum gives up and she doesn’t thing you’re a good enough reason to be alive? Do you know what it’s like when you realise that it was your fault? Do you know what it’s like a when a policeman tells you that you’ll never, ever see her again?”
I leave the locker room without even stopping to repack and collect my bag. My voice hangs on the air, angry and disturbed, and splices all traces of smirks from their faces. They don’t have the capability of recapturing me; they all bear the same overwhelmed expression as though it was surprising that I finally snapped. All humans have a breaking point.
I hope they learn that; I hope they learn the cruelty of their own hearts and that bullying a kid like me never brings laughter to anyone. I realise, as I run from the school gates, that that means I have failed at all social positions. I’m not even of use to a bully. I fail at being a victim.

I go home and dance furiously. I dance until my lungs cringe and smoulder and collapse. Then I throw myself at the floor, still dry-eyed and shaking violently and jerkily. I shout at the deaf walls and then dance again until I can’t breathe or talk or feel.

“I spent ages trying to do them last night,” I tell Maddie loudly the next day at break time. I raise my voice in the hope that it will mask the memory of yesterday and the explosion of grief by the lockers. I don’t really care about what I’m saying to her and I know that she doesn’t want to hear it but I say it anyway because I want to totally avoid the possibility of a discussion about how I feel.
“They’re really hard because you have to sort of keep your legs glued together but switch them over at the same time.”
 “I don’t know why you bother.” She says, pressing on the conversation awkwardly. It’s a very one-sided conversation. That’s not unusual, what is unusual is that I am the person directing it.
 “…As well as travelling and kind of tilting your body. It’s meant to look nice but I still can’t really do it. Elodie some of the professional male dancers can do massive brisés – she says it’s mainly only men who do them…”
“Look,” Maddie interrupts me sharply. “No offense but I don’t really care.”
“Sorry, yeah, I know. It’s just that I-”
 She cuts across me again; this time she’s copying my style. Talking endlessly on her topic of choice.
 “I went to the youth club thing with Amy; we were, like, proper teenagers. There were really fit boys there – they’re in year eight – Amy said one of them kept looking at me. I’m going again on Saturday. I don’t expect Amy would mind if you came to.”
 I remember how we rolled our eyes behind Amy’s back on our first day. Something’s shifted since then; I think Maddie’s outgrown me.
“You could get to try being a teenager – it’s fun. I borrowed her mascara; she said it looked nice on me.”
That’s when I realise what’s different about her face; she’s started to put makeup on it. I don’t see how it would be fun – my idea of fun is ballet lessons.
“Do you want to come? You have to bring a pound.”
 “I’ve got ballet.”
 “No you haven’t – It can’t finish that late.”
 “I’ll be worn out.”
 “Leave ballet early.”
 “No.”
“For God’s sake, Erin!” She exclaims. “Why are you so obsessed? You can’t just dance – you have to have a life as well. Doesn’t friendship mean anything to you?”
 “Dance is my life.”
 “That’s what I mean – what about being a teenager, having a social life, being an interesting person?” Her words are stinging; I know that I’m boring to her but the suggestion that I should give up dancing is unreasonable.
“What if I took all the colour out of the world?” I bite back. “It’s the same as for you as if I stopped dancing. Would you sacrifice that for ‘a social life’?”
“That’s different. That’s impossible and anyway a good friend would make sacrifices for their mate,” she says pointedly. I’ve been dreading this moment ever since our first encounter in the playground; the moment when she finally gets fed up of me and gives up on being ‘good interested’. She’s been the only person who got the right balance between being ignorant and being nosey and between being smothering and being distant. I dread the idea of a day when I don’t have anyone with the right balance.
“You don’t understand what you’re asking me to do,” I say angrily. Maybe it’s selfish of me but I know I couldn’t sacrifice dancing for her. I want to silence her. I’ve never dared to have a comeback for anyone and I want it to succeed. “No, in fact, you do,” I realise that she is the only one who understands, not even Jon does, and I want to cry. “You do understand because I- I told you back on The Wall that day.”
You’re asking me to switch off my life support so that things are easier for you and so that you don’t have to give up your new teenageryness for your old, pathetic friend.
I know that she knows what I mean because she looks scared for a second. Then she pretends that she never understood me and jams her hands into her pockets.
“You’re pissing me right off at the moment. I wish you’d stop being so self-obsessed – I honestly thought you were a decent mate but no; you’re too interested in a hobby to notice me.” I flinch at the way she calls it a hobby.
“You think you’re special or something, Erin? Yeah, I’ve made allowances, I’ve been nice and I don’t get anything back but ballet talk. Sorry – you’ve got a screwed up life and maybe if you weren’t so selfish about it people could help you get over it – but I’m sick of the way you only have time for your ballet shoes.”
She storms off and I watch her go, too hurt to run after her and ask for forgiveness. I want to sink to the asphalt and bury myself in it without ever having to face anybody.

They are waiting for me just outside the school gates today – beyond the sight of teachers and CCTV. I don’t expect them to be there but they are; they haven’t learned.
They start to snigger as they see me and they close in immediately, forming a cage.
“Not going to have a break down today, are you?” The boy with short hair asks menacingly. “Not gonna go all psycho on us?”
A few people laugh.
 “I’m not surprised she didn’t want you; you little freak.”
I try to break away from the circle of sneers; plunging blindly against the circular wall of bodies and I slip, word-torn, through the sieve of hands.
 “Your mum gave up on you. She didn’t care about you, she gave up on you,” they chant on and on. I wonder if it genuinely brings them happiness to say it.
Two chase after me and we weave along the pavement, trying to outrun each other. It’s like a bizarre sprint race with all signs of sportsmanship removed. My bag crashes rhythmically into my thigh and the chase throbs in my head.
 “She gave up on you. She gave up on you.” I feel their taunts and slapping feet gain on me as I twist between passers-by.
One grabs the tail of my flapping coat and the catching of my momentum jolts me off balance. I flail and collide with the kerb. The impact forces through me in a smash of limbs and we all realise that it got too far.
I attempt to gather myself up from my vulnerable position and, as I do so, pain courses through my body before locating itself in my abnormally weak right wrist. It can’t seem to hold itself properly.
No. NO.
My two pursuers hang over with shame dawning on their breathless faces. The chant peters out raggedly as realisation drifts on the air.
The guy who grabbed my coat swears and backs away, slowly at first until he lets cowardice consume him and turns and runs. I sit, dazed, and watch their reactions.
 “Can you move it?” A girl with purple hair and a stained orange face asks.
“Um,” I teeter on the edge of tears. I feel a little hysterical. “I don’t know.” I attempt to move it and find that I can despite the way it hurts me and the struggle that movement requires.
 “It’s OK.” The girl announces to the crowd. “She’s fine. She can move it – it can’t be broken.”
And then they all scarper in a guilty denial of the truth.
I can move it. It can’t be broken. I repeat to myself. It doesn’t occur to me to attempt standing up. I simply sit limply, reassuring myself as the injury swells ominously. It doubles itself and a lump protrudes crookedly from its assigned space.
I cradle it.
 “Are you OK?”
I look up. There is a vague blur of blonde plaits and Bettina’s face bends down towards me.
“Sure, um yes, no.” I garble, trying to drag myself to my feet but somehow entirely incapacitated.
“Does it hurt?” She asks and I shake my head furiously because I refuse it to be broken. I refuse to accept that I may be injured and therefore unable to dance. I deny the truth that’s becoming more and more apparent as I stumble for words.
“It looks bad.” She says and pulls me to my feet with my good arm. My denim shorts have been soiled, somebody’s chewing gum clings clammily to my knee but I don’t even have the energy to be disgusted. We both look at the swollen, misshapen bulge that was a wrist and then look away awkwardly like it’s a deformity that is ugly in our eyes.
“People are cruel.” She says to no particular audience and I realise that she is aware of all the un-laughed jokes that surround her; she simply choses to pretend that they don’t exist in the hope that pretending will make it true.
“No,” I correct her, wincing as my arm twitches against my side. “People are people, life makes them cruel.”

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