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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22. 22

No one asks where I went and no one questions the fact that I suddenly beg to return to ballet lessons. They only question the practicalities:
“Erin, I’m really sorry but we can’t go against what the doctor said. He knows best.”
“Dance is the only thing I want to do and it’s the thing I’m not allowed to do.”
 “I know Erin, I know it’s hard but you wouldn’t really be able to join in properly anyway.”
“I’d just do barre work.”
“Wouldn’t that frustrate you after a while – it would be a bit samey, don’t you think? I mean, you’d just feel worse about your injury, more restricted, if you had to stand and watch the others.”
“I don’t get bored of ballet.”
“We’ve already withdrawn you from this term’s classes.” She bites her lip. “It seemed stupid to be paying for lessons you weren’t going to.”
I don’t know what to say in response to that reminder of the money ballet drains from them so I merely spout the truth: “I hate being broken.”

“Hello Erin, I didn’t expect to see you,” Miss Corrine bears a smile as though she’s genuinely pleased to see me. Elodie is running a stream of grande jetes behind her – I can’t tell if she is pleased to see me or not. I don’t doubt that she’d far rather it was Marzena who walked in unexpectedly, not me.
All the same, she makes an effort, giving me a washy sort of smile and sympathising over my sling.
“I’m glad you decided to come back after all,” she says eventually and I can’t tell whether or not she means it. It doesn’t sound forced but it does seem a little as though she has only just remembered to be welcoming and friendly. As though she forgot at first and suddenly realised that she was meant to be excited by my presence.
“I couldn’t not dance, you know?” I say vaguely and she agrees with quick sharp nods.
“It must be really annoying to not be able to be like us.” She decides when I finish a string of battement tendues. I’ve never been able to be like you, I think, but on the outside I smile.
“Yes. But I’d rather do this than nothing.”
It feels wrong to admit it but I’m slightly relieved when Miss Corrine calls her away from me into the centre. I’m relieved that she won’t have to continue to fill the expectant air – pregnant with awkwardness – and that I can settle into a routine of pointed feet with no human interruptions. Of course it’s annoying to have the others there, beyond annoying, but I force myself to study only my own body, not those of the dancers flashing across my peripheral vision. It is like the lung-bursting feeling of being breathless, close to the water’s surface, but not yet swallowing oxygen. My body yearns for the emptiness of the time-worn floor, for something more than this empty corner and this dead-weight limb that I carry with me.
“Through the floor Erin,” Miss Corrine reminds me and I do as she instructs, pushing deep into the board with my tendue. In spite of everything, I’m very glad that I was able to wear Natasha and James down; it’s worth it just for two minutes of being taught that I gain.

I am bounced between school, ballet and Jon’s office for the weeks that follow without being particularly happy in any location. I tell Jon that I’m trying and he agrees that I am. He says that realising that you are trying is proof that you’re moving forward. I suppose it must be true, sort of, because I’m learning to keep bad things in boxes – tidied away for another time. I suppose it must be true because I recognise, with each day that passes, how much I’m trying not to be mum.
“You’re doing a good job now,” Jon tells me. “Very good.” Since the day of The Bridge there’s been something different about the whole prospect of life. Some sort of point to it, I suppose.
 “You think?” I want to hear honesty, a genuine opinion. If this is ‘very good’ why does it still feel like my life would dissolve if I stopped trying?
“Do you not think so?”
“Maybe,” I concede.
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” I try to shrug it off by staring out of the window at the inky October sky but I realise that trying means talking. “I guess I just thought, I just thought that, one day, it would all go away. Like, I’d suddenly realise that I wasn’t drowning and didn’t have to fight anymore. Like dying but without the death. I mean, what’s the point in learning all these ‘control techniques’ if they’re not going to get rid of it and I never stop feeling sad.”
“Erin,” he exhales long and low and then fidgets with a biro. It is green I notice, and bent at the tip. I’m not quite sure why I’m studying it so intensely, perhaps because the whole room seems to have tightened itself. I sense, somehow, that we are finally doing as he wished and being completely honest with each other. It scares me.
 “I’d love to tell you that you were right but I think you’ve already guessed that you’re not. Depression-”
He breaks off as I stand up, fuming, and leave so sharply that the door seems to fall back on itself and splinter against its frame.
So many lies, so many empty promises for all these months and only now does he dare to admit to it. He’d always fuelled me with the prospect of a time without this overwhelming, crushing bleakness and with fantasies of a full recovery. He was always telling me that there was a solution even when I didn’t want to be told. Now I want to be told and he can do nothing less than to be honest. I don’t hate honesty, I hate the betrayal it reveals.
For once Jon insists that the meeting doesn’t conclude with my exit. I don’t know if I’m glad about that or not – I wanted to expel myself but at the same time I need to hear what he says and argue.
 “Erin,” he calls me from the doorway. “I need to finish talking to you. Come back inside.”
I enter hesitantly with trembling lips. I want to be defiant but it’s hard to gather defiance from hollowness.
“You lied.” I state. “All this time you kept saying that there could be a happy ending – you kept telling me until I started to believe in you. You kept telling me to trust in what you were saying, trust in a better future, AND I DARED TO BELIEVE YOU.”
“I said it would get better, that was all,” he says in a cut-off voice.
“What does getting better mean if it doesn’t mean getting out of hell?”
He looks down at his desk, trying to avert his eyes from my face. “I’m sorry Erin, I know,” he says as though he has heard all my unspoken hurt. “I’m sorry.”
“What was the point? You convinced me that there was some sort of purpose to all this.” I spread my hands to attempt to indicate the efforts I have made to keep myself alive. “Like the war, you pretended to me that depression was the bad guy and that I could win. Depression’s not the bad guy – it’s just me, so I’m the bad guy, so I can’t win because it’s fighting myself – I’ll lose either way. I’M FIGHTING MYSELF. IS THEIR ANYTHING SO FUTILE? And my depression is mum and dad and me and my broken wrist and you convinced me that there would be an escape when you knew that there wasn’t!”
 I clamp my fingers across my mouth in a net because I don’t want to talk anymore.
 “Just hear me out Erin,” he says without looking up. He knows I’ve silenced myself. He raises his eye-line with a heavy breath. “It’s true that there is no simple solution, no ‘escape’ so to speak. I can’t just magically dispose of depression – God knows, I wish I could. It’s the same for both of us.”
I hear him, wanting us to be united by shared experience but I chose to ignore.
 “I’m a terrible person Erin; I’ve lied to all the people who matter. Perhaps you can understand that.”
Of course I can, don’t you remember our first official meeting when I admitted that I wasn’t OK and that I’d spent my weeks trying to deceive Natasha into thinking I was?
“Depression doesn’t get destroyed. I can’t teach you how to destroy it because I never learnt; I can only teach you what I know. I can teach you how to deal with it so that it’s easy to fight and not so exhausting, not so omnipresent. I can teach you to be stronger than it is, even if you can’t fully eradicate that.”
“So basically,” I say in such a cold voice that I don’t even feel like myself. “You can’t do anything for me that ballet can’t.” I know how harsh I sound because it shocks me as well. For some reason, I keep talking; “And where will your teaching help me to end up? Like you? Nearly 50, selling worn-out lies to hopeless cases? Still not over something that happened years ago? Still trying to find some sort of compromised happiness? I don’t want to be you.”
“I’m sorry Erin. I’m sorry you got the wrong idea from what I was trying to tell you. I’m sorry that I maybe sugar coated it a little and that it seems like a false hope.”
Of course it does.
 “Would you have bothered starting if you’d known there was no ending? I’m not trying to prove a point anymore,” he says, suddenly sounding exhausted. “I just want to know.”
“Of course not, I wish I hadn’t started. So much wasted effort – I could just be dead.”
The words are so heavy. “I mean,” I correct, “I could just be-”
“No,” he stops me. “You meant what you said.” His hands chase over his face in search of some sort of peace and solace. “Do you really think it’s been a waste?”
“Nothing’s changed.”
“Really?”
“No. everything has changed. I don’t know. It’s better now.”
I try for a smile and so does he, but neither of us can make it quite there.
 “Life is no fairy-tale; I’m sorry if I sold it that way. Honestly Erin you’d rather be me than be your mum, wouldn’t you?” He’s appealing to me now, almost begging me. I wish he wasn’t; it might give my answer some power, some profundity.
“Yes.” There’s no point in lying any more. Mum’s way was easy for her but it was lethal for this thing that claims to be a heart.
Jon nods me out and, looking back when we leave, I watch as he sinks into his desk chair and slumps, cracking at the seams, across his paperwork. I wonder if he sometimes feels it too; that feeling that his heart is nothing but a weight which doesn’t work quite well enough to keep him living and loving but drags down on him instead.
As Natasha drives me silently home I hear it clattering in my chest like it’s still furious, keeping me just about alive.

I have a ‘fracture clinic’ appointment five weeks after the accident. Yes, let’s call it an accident even if it may have been intentional. I want to refuse to enter the hospital but I know that it is either that or wear the cast forever. It was bad enough to be forced through a hospital on tour in the summer, horrible when my wrist was set and no easier now as the disinfectant smell pummels me.
The clinic involves 85% waiting, 5% having X-rays taken by a woman who talks to me as though I am seven and 10% in a one-way conversation with an expert on bones.
“Excellent. See here, Mrs Fletcher,” he speaks to Natasha as though I am only an object of interest, not someone who needs to be spoken to. “See how it’s perfectly healed and healthy again. The wonder of the human body. Children heal so easily,” he pushes his glasses excitedly up the bridge of his nose. He doesn’t seem to understand that the real wonder of the human body is that it can be insufferable even when there is no physical injury. It can hurt to live within it even if the bones are solid and smooth, even when there’s no trace of disease or cancerous cells.
Only cancerous thoughts.
Children don’t heal with any more ease than adults. Children may be physically untouched, may be physical ‘wonders’, but they will mourn just as long as any other would. Perhaps that’s because grief forces adulthood upon a child’s physicality so that they are no fresher and no sturdier than the brittled, fatigued adults who patronise them.
“The cast is ready to come off early,” he announces. “Well, not early really, we expected that it would be.”
“Why did you tell me it was two months?”
He looks surprised at my question, perhaps he really had forgotten that I was sat in the room with them.
“Well… false hopes, you know… being realistic,” he blusters. “Besides, you won’t be properly back to normal and active for a while. You have to take it easy for a bit.”
Natasha agrees firmly that she won’t let me be involved in any extreme sports – as if she would anyway – and then we spend another forty minutes waiting to have the plaster sawn from my arm.
The man who cuts it off brushes the rotating saw against my hand to show me that it can’t cut skin, only plaster. He seems convinced that I should be scared about the whole thing, like blood and blades are things to fear. I am disinterested.
“Whoa,” he says as the last bit falls away in his hands. “That was quite a weight you’ve been carrying around. Do you want to lift it?”
I shrug and hold it to be polite. It does feel heavy and without it my arm feels like it’s nothing but air. The skin is sallow and scabby with dead cells. I scratch and whole chunks of peeling yellow skin fall away.
“It might be a bit itchy and a bit stiff right now but you’ll be fine again in no time,” he smiles as though my gawky arm doesn’t sicken him although he holds it like it does. “You’ll probably have lost a fair bit of muscle as well so you’ll have to lift dumbbells or something.” He keeps grinning conspiratorially at me as though this will prompt me to echo him or laugh. “Won’t be able to do press ups for a while,” He finishes and roars with laughter.
I don’t see why it’s amusing but I laugh obediently.
“Good girl; wasn’t anything to be scared of, was it?” Then he calls the next patient and we are free to go. I float out of the hospital – my arm buoyant beside me.

“I really am sorry, you know, about everything,” Maddie says as we share a packet of Doritos in the tennis courts.
“It’s fine Maddie. Honestly. It’s not like I was perfect.”
“You had an excuse for it,” she offers me the crumbs in the bottom of the bag.
“Hardly. Well, maybe I had an excuse but I should have known better.”
 “So should I.”
“We’re even Maddie, stop trying to one-up on me,” I smile and she flashes one back at me. I don’t really care that she wears her hair differently now or that her eyes are darkened; we are both still discovering ourselves.
“Do you remember my first day?” I ask eventually,
“Yeah, you walked right in without knocking,” she smiles, “and you tried to start a conversation with Lydia.”
“I was so stupid. And then you explained to me about some weird hierarchy.”
“You probably thought I was nuts.”
“And now I’m the loser at the bottom of the ladder – and don’t look at me like that because you know it’s true – and you’re popular and cool, cooler than Lydia and that lot.”
“And somehow we’re friends,” she finishes. “That just shows how stupid all that primary school stuff was.”
 “No, it shows what a good friend you are.”
I feel very old suddenly, reminiscing and reflecting on times gone by with a friend. It’s somehow like we’ve experienced the whole world enough to look back on it together.

mum,
I suppose I had a wakeup call… About me and about you and about how angry I with you.
Most of this mess – this carnage – and all the little explosions I’ve enforced o others are still aftershocks from your suicide.
Suicide’s not a big enough word is it? It doesn’t express how you hate yourself so completely, does it? Or how you are so tired of carrying burdens?
I get why you did it, God knows, I understand the why. What I’ll never know is the how. How did you come to the point where you believed it wouldn’t hurt me if you died?
Wait. Why am I even asking? I know the answer to that as well. I can pretend that I don’t but I do. When you hate yourself it is easy to assume that everyone else does too.
But, somehow, I’m alive and you’re not and you wanted to die while I intend to live. I don’t care how rubbish living can be – there are some moments that I wouldn’t swap for eternal sleep. How is that? How is it that either you aren’t alive or that I’m not dead?
I know.
I’m solving all the questions today. I know it’s because you didn’t have anyone or anything as warning. No one told you to stop or told you the impact of being orphaned.
I’ve got your example and I suppose that, now I’ve woken up, that’s enough to keep me from you.
I’m angry, don’t underestimate how furious I am, but I suppose I’m only angry because you didn’t love me back, not enough anyway. I’m angry because I loved you. I understand every puzzle you left me with. Maybe that’s why I’m angry; the anger had been buried beneath confusion for so long and now it’s revealed… And I can feel it.
I understand you but I am still alive enough to recognise that there would only be more explosions, more aftershocks…

My pen trails from the paper and I realise what I’ve been writing and how futile and pointless it is to write to a corpse. For a moment I consider showing Jon and everyone, just so they know that I’m not letting go and then I frost over and let my nails bite the paper. I tear it down the middle, and then again, and again until the scraps are too small for me to read myself in them.
Don’t write to the dead – you’ll only depress yourself. Hahaha, as if I wasn’t already! They never reply.
I try but fail to forget the letter. I tell no one, show no one, let it cease to exist but, to myself, I repeat and repeat it. I whisper the words “I intend to live” over and over until my head reels with them.

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