Monday, September 24, 2007

ballerina girl

A story

I wake up in the morning, splash water on my face, trying harder to breathe. My mascara is smeared, causing black drippings beneath my eyes; my eyes are rimmed with black. I’m standing on the cold tile in the bathroom; the room is blue, the light faintly shining through the one window toward the top. I pull off my tanktop, carelessly throw my shorts on the floor and examine my appearance. My skin is so white, so cold, tinted blue in the cold light that filters through to the bathroom. I head for the shower, careful not to turn on any of the lights, careful that the temperature is lukewarm, tepid. Step out, step into grey sweatpants, throw on a navy blue plush hoodie, run my fingers through my wet hair and shake it out. I reach for the side drawer, pick out a glittering star, lick the back of it and stick it beside the corner of my eye. My nails are painted a dark blue; there are little swirls of glitter at the tips. I bite a finger nervously as I noiselessly allow the door to open, taking care where I step so as not to make a sound. It is 6:30 in the morning.

I make myself breakfast; it’s cornflakes and milk today. I leave some soggy flakes at the bottom of the bowl, place it quietly in the sink. I hunch my hood up over my wet hair; my eyes dark and accusatory as always; I touch my finger to the glittering star at the corner of my right eye. Lick my lips and open the door, step onto the porch; I’m ready to run, ready to jog through suburbia in an effort to somehow escape the plush luxury of my life.

It’s still dark outside. I like the darkness; I like the faint light struggling to filter through. I like to feel that something else finds it hard to breathe, that it’s not just me but my entire element that reflects my mood. I pound against the cement as I run past cookie-cutter houses, well-tended gardens, manicured lawns. It all sickens me. This whole world sickens me. At the same time that it sickens me, I know that I have nothing to be upset about. I read about heroes in my English class and I long to be like them; I read about times that really mattered, times where people had to make decisions that had meaning. I wish sometimes that I had been born then, wish that I had had the chance to do something worthwhile. I wouldn’t have minded dying, I think bitterly, so long as it was for a good cause. Just to do something.

So I run. The soles of my Keds slap against the cement and I look down at them, at the designs I’ve drawn upon them in permanent marker. Again, it’s navy; I have an obsession with blue. I’ve considered buying a glitter pen, perhaps stopping by Michael’s in order to purchase one, and then I can truly complete the effect. But for now the air stings my lungs; it is chilly, cold even, and I shiver as I run, cold against the grey morning dawn.

By the time I’ve come back my father’s at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper and sipping his cup of morning coffee, an attaché case at his side. My mom stands in front of the oven, making eggs, briskly cheerful as she runs her eyes over my face, trying to evaluate and find what’s wrong. I know that I worry her and I take pleasure in it. My family makes me sick. The perfection of it is what’s wrong with it. I want something to go wrong. I need something to go wrong. I want there to be something, someone, other than me, who doesn’t fit.

“Morning, Dad,” I throw out noncommittally and he raises his head and glances at me, then looks back down at his newspaper. I give him a peck on the cheek. Then over to my Mom, who is fiercely trying to connect with me. “Alexandra, don’t you want some eggs?”

“I’m really not hungry, Mom,” I say, and reach for my Billabong backpack, this one grey with the logo embroidered in black. “Besides, I have to catch the bus.”

I can imagine her staring at me as I run outside, imagine the force of her gaze on me as I stand by the CTA sign, willing the bus to arrive. I’m always here early, waiting alongside the black man with the Times and the crossword puzzle, the little boy with the red knapsack, his cute sister with the pigtails. She used to be frightened of me, mostly because of my nailpolish, but after a while she found it more interesting than scary. I wait for the bus and heave a sigh of relief as it pulls up; I flash my Student ID and pay my discounted fare, then stare moodily at the ceiling and read the advertisements as it pulls away, bringing me to school.

*

I’m supposed to characterize high school as being hellish, but mine’s really not. It’s normal. They tell us that the groups and cliques are bad and apparently causing the downfall of society. Please. High school is high school; this is how we roll. I’ve got posters of Amy Lee from Evanescence inside my locker, the guy a locker over has Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy. To each his own. The fact is that I don’t even like Evanescence that much, but I like the colors. Blues and blacks and greys and gloom. I enjoy gloom.

Gloom is everything I don’t have. As far as I’m concerned, my life is decent. I’ve got two parents who have no idea how to connect to me, but then, I haven’t given them much guidance. I’ve got my own room, a kid sister who I routinely ignore, friends if I want them (I usually don’t) and more technological appliances than I know what to do with. You could call me spoiled and I wouldn’t object.

Here’s an expendable friend, Brian. I love the term expendable. Caught it from Diana Wynne Jones’ Dark Lord of Derkholm.

“Hey Alexa,” he says, pausing to awkwardly thrust his hand into the pocket of his washed-out jeans, tapping one of his scuffed up All-Stars against the floor.

“Hey,” I reply noncommittally, taking a history book out of my locker. I don’t look at him, wondering whether he’ll walk away. I sigh as I close my locker and readjust the combination code so that the arrow points to 0. “What’s up?”

The bell rings and I roll my eyes. “I’ll be late,” I murmur, staring out at the maroon lockers lining the halls, the speckled black and white tile. I adjust my backpack because it’s slipping off my shoulder. “So?”

“Lunch at the caf?” he says and I can feel how much effort it’s taken to force the one sentence. I take pity on him.

“Sure. When’s your break?”

He checks his watch. “I’m at 1:30,” he says hopefully.

“Mine’s a bit earlier, at 1,” I say, “but I’ll stay over a few minutes. Sorry, but I’ve got to go,” I lift my eyes to the clock so he sees what I mean.

“Oh. Sure.” He hoists his messenger bag over one shoulder and pads down the hall, the ends of his shirt flapping outward (he hasn’t buttoned it; he’s wearing a t-shirt underneath.) He turns, “Bye.”

I roll my eyes and proceed to class.

*

Slide into my desk at class just before the teacher walks in. I don’t particularly care about being late, since I don’t listen in class anyway. I always take second-row seats, close enough for the teacher to see I’m a good student; far enough away that she can’t see what I’m scribbling in my journal. I don’t need to listen during class, not that I tell that to anyone. The fact is that I just do well in school through some process of osmosis. I listen, I breathe in what’s being said, I take the tests and I’m done with it. And while I’m in class, I prefer to write.

You’re thinking that I’ve cultivated a whole image. Dark gloomy girl with the tendency toward the exotic or magical, that little glittering star at the corner of her eye, wearing her navy blue hoodie over her drying dark hair, taking out a BIC pen and scribbling away in a journal. Writer girls are a dime a dozen. Yeah, I know that. And yeah, I know that I’m nothing special, at least when compared to the other hundred thousand dark writer girls in this state alone, let alone the world. But it’s what I do, it’s what I’m good at, it’s what calms me down.

So what do I write about? It depends on the day. Sometimes I’m just being nasty, describing the outfit of the girl in front of me, the latest obsession with designer bags and couture in general. I find all of this to be so shallow, so pointless. We’re all going to die anyway; the world’s going to blow up. So who cares about the designer bags? Not that we all have to walk around in burlap sacks, either, but the money could go to a better cause. I think the world at large should sue Paris Hilton and Britney Spears for misallocation of funds. Don’t you think celebrities ought to be held to a higher standard? I do.

But sometimes I talk about things that matter more to me, like what I’m going to do with my life. The problem is that I figure I need to do something important, something big. I have the mind for it, I have the desire; I just have to figure out what to do. I wish I was absolutely crazy about something. That would help. The problem is that I’m not; I’m just interested in a lot of things. Oh, and of course I’m distracted by plenty others. Like Michael. I’m distracted by Michael.

Yes, even dark writer girls have to have their crushes. It’s high school, it’s normal, I’ve permitted myself that indulgence. The nice thing is that Michael likes me, too, so it’s not one of those doomed unrequited bittersweet romantic love stories. Ick. I never understood why so many girls fell all over the place because of The Notebook. Okay, so they kissed in the rain. Big deal. It wasn’t written well; you couldn’t feel what they were going through. At least, I didn’t. I thought it was another sappy sentimental Hollywood love story aimed for an audience of hormonally high teenage girls. And it hit its target.

So it’s light and easy with Michael, except that I sometimes think of him more than I should. So he’s distracting, and I’m supposed to be figuring out what to do with my life.

“Psst, Lexy,” I hear over my shoulder, and I turn my head. What? I mouth at her, taking in her appearance today. Hot pink shirt with foil art, this time featuring a silver rose that’s about to be engulfed in a dragon’s flame. Pretty.

“Dylan’s looking at you,” she says, and I give her a smile. Vicky’s nice. She likes to try to make everyone’s day a little bit more interesting. I slowly turn my head till I’m looking at Dylan. He is looking at me, but it’s with one of those confused unhappy glances. “What’s that on your back?” he asks me, and I crane my head over my shoulder to see a piece of masking tape. I peel it off and stick it down on the top of my desk.

“Die, bitch,” it reads.

Oh, one more thing. I’ve got a couple of messed up friends. I crumple the masking tape into a ball, give it a flick with my fingernail and turn around to glare at Kit. Prick, I mouth.

Slut, he mouths back.

Dumbass.

Ho.

I scribble a note in my assignment notebook, then pass it to Vicky. “Give it to Kit,” I say, smiling triumphantly.

He reads it, writes something, and hands it back.

I’ve written, “If I’m a ho, what does that make you?”

I look down to see his response, “Your lover” he writes and draws lots of sloppy hearts in the margin.

In your dreams! I mouth at him and then turn to find the teacher standing in front of my desk.

“Would you care to share what you find so amusing, Alexa?”

“Um,” I mumble, then rally. “Actually, I was just thinking about the Enlightenment and whether it truly was caused by economic realities or ideological certainties. It’s Marx who poses that question, right? In terms of what’s more effective when it comes to changing the world, dealing with here and now economics or more up in the air ideas?”

The teacher beams at me. “Well, I’m inclined to think it’s both…” she says and I look up at her with wide eyes and a rapt expression. Kit snickers in the back of the classroom; I imagine that Vicky’s slapped him to shut him up. I continue playing up to the teacher, then eventually return to my journal, unable to hide a smile.

*

“You never get into trouble!” Kit and Vicky have pounced on me as soon as class is out; Dylan follows, curious to know what this is all about.

“You know it,” I say, grinning hugely. “Neither would you if you would only follow my directions.”

“Which are?”

“Play the teacher, obviously.” I adopt a prim and proper position, pretend to adjust my spectacles so that they are resting on my nose, then declaim, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Alexa Bart’s seminar on getting off scot free in every situation.”

“Don’t you just want to slap her,” Kit murmurs under his breath.

“Excuse me?” I turn to him, my voice high and keening. “Young man, I heard that. Ten demerits for you.”

“Demerits?” Vicky asks. “What is this, the seventeenth century?”

“I don’t even think they had schools in the seventeenth century,” Lance says, passing by. He’s dribbling a basketball in the hallway and I roll my eyes; he thinks he’s so cool.

“Of course they had schools in the seventeenth century, idiot,” I say, but Kit brings me back to the point at hand.

“You were saying?” he asks, pointing at my imaginary blackboard.

“Oh, yeah. Right, so basically you just always have some really grand and broad question to ask the teacher that is somehow tangentially related to the subject and as long as it’s good enough, she’ll go off onto the tangent and you’re home free. It works like a charm. Teachers just like to talk. A lot.”

Vicky grins. “It’s just not fair,” she says petulantly.

“Oh, come on, you’re the math brain,” I say, and she colors prettily. Kit throws an arm around her shoulder.

“Yeah, and you’d better let me see your math homework, because I didn’t do mine.”

“I am so not letting you cheat off of me.”

“You so are unless you want me to tell Lexy what you did on Saturday.”

I hum aloud. “I’m not listening,” I say inanely, watching them bicker.

“Speaking of Saturday,” Vicky suddenly turns to me, “did you hear about Ben’s detention?”

“Ben’s detention?” I question, pausing outside of a container with a psychedelic sign that reads “SUGGESTIONS? Place them here! Absolutely confidential!” “Why, what did he do?”

Vicky snickers. “Kit, tell her.”

“Basically, he pulled his pants down.”

“He did what?” I gape, then start laughing. “In whose class? Was he wearing anything?”

“During a practice AP test. He was bored, so he pulled his pants down. And yeah, of course he was wearing something. Alan dared him to do it, and he did.”

“Oh my god,” I say, completely horrified but finding the whole thing hilarious. “So what was detention?”

“Oh, it’s actually not too bad,” Vicky breaks in, laughing. “Basically he’s just got to do everything the janitor does. Help set up the school in the mornings, mop the floors and the stairs, clean graffiti off of desks; I mean, it’s not horrible or anything. He can listen to his iPod while he’s doing it. It’s just that he’s got to work on weekends, and that sucks.”

“Maintenance personnel,” I stress, and Kit wrinkles his forehead. “What?”

“Maintenance personnel, not janitor,” I explain. “Honestly, you’d think that all these diversity days have been wasted on you!” I wink at them. “What happened to your PCness?”

“The PCness is out of control,” Vicky answers. “Let me tell you…oh wait, that’s Diana; I’ve got to tell her something. See you later!”

I catch a glimpse of her hot pink shirt as she melts into the crowd; I turn back to Kit, who is still grinning. “Bitch,” he says again, and I just shake my head, laughing.

“Have a good day!” I call, as he sprints off to AP Chem. He turns his head over his shoulder as he runs. “You too!” he calls, and I make for the stairs. Since I’m small, I’m able to slip through the random openings between people, duck under the chain of human arms and around lumbering bodies. I get to the stairs, dash down them and turn up just in time for Art class, where we are supposed to be making self portraits.

*

“Self portraits, but not a literal self portrait,” he explains, absentmindedly wiping paintbloodied fingers on his jeans. “I want you to express yourself, who you really are, to show yourself through a figure, a shape, a background-whatever you feel yourself to be. Just keep that in mind.”

I’ve already thought through exactly what I want to depict in my painting. I want a circus girl, a beautiful ballerina, walking the tightrope. She has to have lots of glitter of course, probably on her costume and her leotard and even entwined with her braided coronet of auburn hair. I want her to have the kind of petite, angular face I’ve always envied, the one that looks great in profile. I feel like I am walking a tightrope, but it’s not the kind that you can really see. After all, I’ve got my friends, people to buoy me up. It’s more that I’m frightened I won’t be able to buoy them up as well.

There’s one thing I can do well, really well. And that’s to listen. Sometimes the reason I give off this chilly aura is to keep people away from me because I can’t handle it anymore. I don’t like knowing so much about people’s private lives and I wish they wouldn’t tell them to me. It’s always been this way, since the time I was little. On the one hand, I’m honored that people trust me. On the other hand, it places a lot of responsibility on me. I’m always the one who has to know what to say, how to respond in a given situation. And I’m scared to death that I’ll do something wrong.

You’re thinking that I’m being melodramatic, overemphasizing the importance of this, but I promise you I’m not. At least, I don’t feel like I am. The reason I’m so good at listening is because I’m able to keep quiet. I can keep very quiet and focus on the person in front of me, give them my absolute attention and make them feel like they are the only person in the world for me at that moment in time. People are flattered by that, but the fact is that they’re the ones who are teaching me, most of the time.

This is in direct contrast to Michael, who talks a lot. I don’t mean that like it sounds; he’s not callous or ignorant and he doesn’t ignore other people. It’s just that he deals with them differently. He’s very genial, very talkative, walks around giving people pats on the back and making their days. Almost everybody likes Michael. He’s also really involved in school so almost everyone knows him from “just around.” They’ve seen him making posters for some club, playing basketball, helping coach the swim team, whatever it might be. He does a lot.

Michael doesn’t mind telling people lots of information about himself. I mind. I’m a very private person, very closed; I only let people know me when I trust them. Since I trust very few people, most people don’t know me at all. But they think they do, which cracks me up. Take Brian. I’m willing to bet Brian would say that we are best friends. But we aren’t at all.

Anyway, I feel like a ballerina on a tightrope, walking the line and trying to make sure I can keep my balance.

My incredibly Zen art teacher stands behind me, looking at me sketch my design onto the canvas. “Are you planning on filling in the faces in the audience?” he asks, just out of curiosity.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” I answer honestly.

“It might be interesting to blur them, to just have them watch the woman on the tightrope. A shapeless mass, a crowd of unknowable onlookers…” and he’s off in his own dreamworld, an idea taking shape in his mind.

I start shading in my ballerina, creating shadows that I will later enhance when I actually begin painting. I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“Michael!” I exclaim, putting down the piece of charcoal. “What’s up?”

“Hey Lexy, I need to talk to you today,” he says, and I smile.

“What class are you ditching now?”

“English, but only for a couple of minutes. You free around 1:30?”

Oh, I think to myself, that means standing Brian up. But for Michael I’m always free. “Sure,” I say cheerfully, “I’ll skip a couple of minutes of Statistics.”

“Great,” he says, and runs his fingers through his hair. “How about the baseball diamond?”

We have a really beautiful outdoor campus- or recreational area, as it’s supposedly called. There’s a soccer field, a playground for the younger kids, a baseball diamond and lots of leafy, beautiful trees. In the summer, plenty of people go there for picnics or lunches, especially since there are little tables on the cement portion of it. Of course, no one uses the tables.

“Sounds great,” I say, and he wanders out of Art class. My teacher hasn’t even noticed.

I wonder whether I should scribble a note to Brian and leave it in his locker saying that I won’t be able to make it. I resolve to do it but become involved in my painting, so that I forget.

*

My break is at 1:00 and I head to the caf for lunch, only then remembering about Brian. An odd feeling of resentment rises up in me. Why should I bother letting him know I can’t see him for five minutes? He’ll catch me later. I’m already in the caf and I don’t want to have to go all the way back upstairs to leave him a note; I’ve left my cell phone in my bag so I can’t call or text him. I figure it’s okay to leave him on his own for once, and stand in line to get my unidentified mush of the day. At least the brownie looks edible.

I gag as I look at the goulash and head over for good old reliable pizza. I think my parents would freak if they knew how often I eat the pizza here, but it’s the only thing that doesn’t seem completely detestable. Besides, it’s better picnic food. I grab my pizza, chocolate milk, an apple (green, of course) and a brownie, then head out to the baseball diamond, figuring that I’ll be there early for Michael.

A couple of guys are outside kicking around a ball; I pause to watch them for a while and one of them waves to me. “Lexy!” he calls and I smile and wave back; the sun is in my eyes so I can’t see who I’m waving to, but it’s all good all the same.

Head over to the baseball diamond and settle in the grass right near the sand, then sit down to wait. I eat my pizza and drink some of my chocolate milk; I’m just starting on my brownie when a shadow falls across me. I look up, blinking, and it’s Michael, of course, with his own tray of food. I see he’s opted for the chicken sandwich.

“Hey!” I say brightly and he sits down beside me. “So what’s this all about?”

“Actually,” he says, not looking at me, “it’s about Brian.”

My heart sinks to my stomach. Brian? Michael called me out here to talk about Brian, the same Brian who I’d just stood up for lunch?

“What about him?” I ask cheerfully, hoping he can’t hear the guilt in my voice.

Michael turns toward me now, absently clasping one of my hands. “He’s going through a really rough time, Lexy,” he says, meeting my eyes, “and I thought you could help.”

“Me?” I almost whisper. “What’s the matter?”

“Well, I don’t know whether I should tell you. I almost wish he would tell you himself. But I don’t know whether he’ll approach you with it, so basically, his parents are getting a divorce. And it’s a really nasty one. Apparently they’ve been fighting for a while at home…you’ll have noticed he doesn’t have friends over that often.”

I hadn’t really noticed, because whenever Brian and I did something, it was usually at a generic place, like the mall or a park or a bowling alley. “Oh,” I say quietly.

“Yeah, but that’s not all of it,” he continues. “He’s also got kind of a crush on one of the girls in our class…”

“Oh?” I ask, wondering how in the world this was related.

“Yeah. On you, actually.”

Well, this is awkward.

“So I was thinking that maybe he’d want someone to talk to, and he’d obviously feel comfortable talking to you, and maybe you would want to…I don’t know, humor him a little, maybe…”

“Are you telling me you want me to allow Brian to think that I like him? Because I don’t.” I stand up, shaking in anger. “That’s sick, Michael; that’s really sick.”

“No! Well, it was just an idea. I mean, I don’t want you to fake anything…but I thought…it’s just that he really needs someone to talk to, and he won’t talk to me. I’ve tried and he won’t. But he would talk to you, if you just made the effort and reached out a little.”

“He should talk to someone who can really help him,” I say frigidly. “He needs a shrink or something.”

“He has one, and that hasn’t been working well. Please, if you would just consider it…”

How can I say no to Michael? I’ll just have to make it very clear to Brian that I don’t like him, at least not that way, at the same time that I try to help him.

“All right, I’ll try,” I say and Michael smiles. I feel like he’s going to say “Atta girl” or something similarly condescending. “Thank you,” he says, and I feel ashamed.

*

“Brian!”

I’m shouting at his retreating back. School’s out and he’s angry at me, no doubt. I would be angry, too, if it were me. I catch up to me and tug on his shirt. “Brian!”

He turns to face me and I wonder if I imagine the misery on his face. “Brian,” I say, and I start talking fast, “I’m really sorry. I wanted to meet you but I couldn’t because I-“

“Yeah? Because what? Because of what?” he says and he’s shouting and I’m scared but I continue.

“Because I was stupid, I did something stupid, that’s all. But I really want to talk to you- I-“ I feel like I’m about to start crying and wonder whether I should, whether that will soften him or whether it’ll make everything worse. “I want to talk to you,” I conclude miserably. “I’m sorry about today.”

He seems to focus on my face suddenly, or perhaps he sees that my eyes are red and I’m about to start crying. “Okay. Okay,” he says again, calmly, pleasantly, almost too pleasantly. “What do you want to talk to me about?”

“I’m-“ I cast around for a lie, an easy lie; I think this will work out better if I allow him to think he’s helping me, that I’m the one who needs someone to talk to. “I’m just overwhelmed, you know? Going a little crazy with schoolwork and everything and I feel like- well, I just want someone to talk to.”

“Okay,” he says again, noncommittally.

“Could we maybe-“ I offer, as the bus pulls up, “stop off by Papa’s?”

“The ice cream place?” he asks and I smile.

“Yeah. You know, just for a scoop or something, just to chat a bit, and then I’ll let you go. I know you must be so busy, with homework and everything…”

“No, that’s fine,” he says, and we get on the bus. He takes a seat but the one beside him is taken, so I hold on to a silver pole. He stands up to give me his seat but I motion him back, a little test of mine to see whether he takes me up on my offer. He doesn’t; he stands. “If you’re going to stand, I guess I will, too,” he says, and I smile.

We get off by the ice cream place and I go in, wondering how I’m going to broach the subject. “What ice cream do you like?” I ask brightly, assuming it’ll be something plain, like vanilla.

“Blueberry swirl,” he says, and I give him a look.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously,” he affirms, then asks me the same question. “Chocolate!” I reply, and we get our scoops, then sit down in one of the little booths.

“So what’s up?” he asks, and I try to figure out how to begin.

“Oh, just the usual. I’m sorry for completely falling apart before,” I say, making sure to put most of the blame on myself. He nods, acquiescing, and I wonder whether this is going to be easy. “You know, it’s just school and everything. Also that I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life, and it can be a bit…” I trail off.

He’s eating his ice cream and listening. I try to think how to work in the subject, “Yeah, and just family and everything, too,” I say. “Things can just be…difficult, sometimes.”

There. That’s vague enough. If he wants to follow my lead, he’ll do it now.

“Family?” he questions, and I see he’s taken the bait. He still continues spooning out ice cream, but now I see that he’s playing with it a little more, making little designs in his cup.

“Yeah. I mean, I’m lucky; it’s nothing too horrible. Just parents can be tough sometimes. Like my mom; she has no idea how to deal with me. Doesn’t like my clothes and stuff like that…just sometimes I wish they would let me alone.”

I wonder whether I’ll have to strengthen the opening and come up with something horrible my parents have done to me; I know I’ll feel a bit guilty if I do. I hope he’ll just take it.

“You have no idea,” he mutters, and looks down at his now empty bowl.

I wait, hoping he’ll continue. He pauses, takes a breath, and then starts out again, “Honestly, clothes and stuff are tough, but it’s nothing too bad. I’ve known people…I mean, it’s nothing to get all strung out about.”

“Oh, of course not,” I instantly agree. “Like I said, I’m lucky. Only sometimes I wish…”

“Don’t we all,” he says. I wonder whether to push him a bit farther, then decide against it.

“Well, thanks for talking to me,” I say, and make as though I’m about to get up, reaching for his empty bowl.

“Wait just a sec,” he says, and follows me out. We stand outside, about to head off to our separate homes.

“I like talking to you,” he says and I smile, considering the fact that he’s hardly said a word. “We should do it again sometime.”

“For sure,” I say easily, then make off toward my house. “See you tomorrow!”

“Yeah,” he says, and he’s smiling a little. “See ya.”

*
I work on him slowly, getting him to feel comfortable around me. I send him glances while we’re in school, make sure to say hello to him, sometimes bring him into our group. Vicky and Kit haven’t seemed to notice anything amiss. I’m careful about how I do it; I don’t just force him in but I work it slowly, quietly, subtly. He may notice the different tenor of our relationship, that I’m spending more time with him, but I try to make it seem as though he’s the one helping me. There are some days that I’m completely disgusted with myself; I feel like I’m a manipulative bastard, but it’s for a good cause, so I convince myself that it’s okay.

It’s Art class again and I’ve been coloring my ballerina’s tutu. It’s white, of course, and I’m working in the different gems that line her dress. I’m remembering a Nancy Drew book I once read where they discovered real gems in a painting, and I hum to myself as I apply paint, reaching for the metal object whose name I can’t remember that helps add texture.

“Hey,” I hear a voice, and I turn, smiling, knowing it’s Michael.

“English again?” I ask sympathetically, and he grins.

“You know it. Listen, I just wanted to say, good job.”

“Does it ever occur to you that we shouldn’t be interfering with people’s lives?” I ask the question because I really want to know the answer, whether he will give me an easy way out of this.

“All the time,” he says seriously. “But then I think about how much worse it could get if we didn’t.”

“I feel like this could be pretty bad as it is now,” I say.

“I know,” he says in a low voice. “But if someone comes to you…”

“You feel like you’ve got to do something,” I say. “I know. I just wonder…”

“What’s that you’re painting?” he asks and I shrug self-consciously.

“Oh, a ballerina. On a tightrope, actually.”

He looks closer, then looks back at me. He takes in my appearance, my red sweats and my foil-print t-shirt; it has a picture of a butterfly. “You see yourself as a ballerina?” His question is curious, wondering.

“Who said the painting is of me?”

He rolls his eyes and grins. “A good day to you, ballerina girl.”

“Same to you,” I smile, and then replay the conversation in my mind.

*

We’re in the computer lab; most people are illegally playing computer games. Whenever our teacher comes in he’ll throw them out; it’s kind of stupid because we all have usernames specially set up for us so they can track the websites we go to. Obviously if you go to gaming sites, you’ll get into trouble. There are some geeks who can get around that block, but it’s difficult.

They’re talking about their plans for Friday night; it seems that there’s going to be a party at Richard’s house. No parents, obviously, completely unsupervised fun. Lots of alcohol, probably some pot and more along those lines.

Brian’s in the room; I see that he’s agreed to join the party. I really don’t want him to go, suddenly; I feel like that could be very bad. When something really horrible and stressful is going on in your own family and you suddenly have unlicensed access to all kinds of medication, as it were, well, that doesn’t spell anything good. I realize that I’ll have to divert him.

I come up to him later, catch him on his own by the stairwell. “Brian!” I say excitedly. “Hey, I was wondering whether you had any plans for Friday night?”

He’s quiet for a moment, then questions, “Why?”

“Because I really wanted you to come over, I mean, if that’s okay with you. I figured we could hang out, maybe watch a movie, you know, just do some fun stuff at my house.”

I look up at him with pleading eyes; I’m hoping that he’ll take me up on my offer, otherwise, I’ll have to make sure Michael keeps him from getting plastered at the party.

He thinks for a moment. “Sure, I’d like that,” he says, and I feel like dancing.

“Awesome, so I’ll see you then.” I give him a smile.

I can’t really be doing anything wrong, not when Michael wants me to. And the fact is, it’ll be a million times better for Brian to be at my house than at that party. Won’t it?

*

He shows up at 6:30 on Friday, a little early but it’s good all the same. He’s slicked down his hair and showered and looks nice; for some reason I always associate black jeans with dressing up. I wait for Kirsten, my little sister, to open the door, then appear there myself. I’m dressed plainly; a green polo shirt and jeans, but I smile as soon as I see Brian.

“Hey!” I exclaim, then lead him into the kitchen. “Mom, Dad, this is Brian; we’re going to go downstairs now- you remember him, right? You’ve seen him around before.”

My mom and dad smile. “Sure we remember him,” they say and my Mom tries to offer him lots of food. “Don’t worry, there are snacks in the basement,” I tell him, then lead him downstairs. I figure this is the best way to do it; he won’t be comfortable talking in front of lots of people. “So hey!” I say again, smiling, and point toward the table, where I’ve placed sodas, chips, pretzels and all kinds of junk food. “Help yourself.”

He smiles. “Your parents are really cool,” he says and I wonder for a minute whether I should have spared him the introduction.

“Oh yeah, well, sometimes,” I say, hoping he won’t feel jealous of me, not that I think he would, only that that could be uncomfortable. “So I took out a bunch of movies; up to you which one you want to watch!” I lay them out on the futon and look up at him.

He takes a can of Coke. “Honestly, I’d rather talk,” he says and I smile. “That’s good, too,” I say, and settle back comfortably on my pillows.

“So I don’t know how much you know in terms of what’s going on with my parents right now,” he says, “but I figure I can tell you. They’re going through a divorce.”

I wince in sympathy.

“Yeah. And it’s an ugly divorce, so I’m glad to get out of the house. So thanks for having me over.” I smile.

“Can you imagine what it’s like when two people who you love are suddenly fighting with each other, they just really hate each other?” he suddenly asks passionately. “I mean, if I had seen it, if they had fought all the time when we were younger, that’d be one thing. But it’s just…we never saw it. I never saw it. Maybe I never wanted to see it. Who knows?”

“Yeah,” I say and nod, appreciating the silence.

“See, Lexy, I know that you’ll understand…they really hate each other. They say vicious things to each other, things that I just don’t want to hear. And they’re fighting over us, too, fighting over the kids. I’m old enough that I get to choose between them and I really don’t want to…how do I choose? How do I do something like that? And sometimes-“ and he pauses for a moment, and speaks in a lower voice, “I hate them. I hate them for doing this to me, for making me choose, for wrecking my life. And I know that I shouldn’t and I know they’re not doing it to do it to us, to do it to me, but it feels like it sometimes and I…”

“You just wish it could be different.”

“Yes, but it’s more than that. It’s that I want to take them and smash their heads together, I want to yell at them, I want to shout, I want to scream, I want to make them see that it’s not fair, but I can’t. I bite my tongue and I’m quiet because I know that I can’t yell; if I do then something is going to happen, something terrible. I just…I need to keep it to myself. But it’s hard, it’s so hard…”

“Why do you need to keep it all to yourself?” I broach the subject tentatively. “Are you….seeing anyone?”

“Yes, yes I am. But I won’t talk to him.”

He answers my unspoken question. “I can’t. I can’t talk. I can’t talk about it, talking about it makes it real, talking about it means that I have to accept what they’re doing to me and to us. And it scares me, how angry I am. I don’t want to be this angry.”

Suddenly the basement door opens and my mom yells downstairs, “Do you guys want some apples?” I want to scream at her for breaking into such an important moment. “Yeah, sure,” I say, and give Brian a meaningful look. “Just one second,” I say, dash upstairs and grab the plate with cut-up apples, then come back downstairs. “Yeah,” I say, putting the apples aside. “I hear you.”

“Have you ever been so angry it scared you?” he asks and I consider how to answer. Telling the truth doesn’t seem to be an option.

I settle for a half truth. “Kind of,” I say. “Feelings are powerful. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by them; I can understand what you mean about being so angry that it scares you. But I think that this is normal…you shouldn’t be upset with yourself. And trying to keep it all to yourself…”

“I know, you’re going to tell me it’s not healthy. But I don’t know, it works for me. I just can’t tell him; I can’t talk to him.”

“Perhaps someone else?” I venture and he shakes his head.

“No. It’s just…it won’t help me to talk it out, you know? Except with you. You’re different.”

I blush. “Well, thanks,” I say awkwardly.

“You know what I mean, though? I can tell you because I know that you’ll get it. And you’re not going to judge me. You’re just going to take it as it is.”

“You know, there are more people than just me,” I try to explain. “I mean, this man you’re seeing; I don’t know him or anything, but that’s his job, isn’t it? To listen and to try to understand.”

“But it’s just different. I don’t know him; I don’t see him, you know? I see you; I see how you are in school and with people. I just, I know you. I’ve done stuff with you; I know what you’re like.”

“I think you’re giving me too much credit,” I say, then settle back. “But about this, about your parents and you…what are you going to do? Do you have time?”

“Time to decide who I want to live with? Yeah, I guess I have some time. I just- it’s not something I want to consider, you know? Pick one parent over the other and you automatically insult the other one. Plus there’s the question of who gets custody of my siblings, and whether I’d be better off with them, whoever that is.”

“Right,” I say, feeling totally out of my element. “Gosh.”

“I don’t need you to solve my problems for me or anything, Lexy,” he says. “I just need you to be there.”

I smile. “Well, that’s all right, then,” I say. “I’m always here.”

*

But alone with my thoughts, I despise myself. What right do I have to meddle in any of this, to interfere? What good can I actually do? He tells me I help him; he tells me that I should listen. At the same time, though, Michael tells me that Brian says he likes me. How do I help him without allowing it to become anything further? When is the right time to explain to Brian that I don’t like him that way? I can’t bring it up by myself; he has to bring it up to me. But in the meantime, giving him so much attention leads him to think that I like him and I don’t; I just don’t want him to be by himself. I’m confused and I don’t know what to do, and I think that what I’m doing is right, but at the same time I am sure it is wrong, and I feel like I am walking a tightrope and I am going to fall if I just step the wrong way.

But at the same time it would be a lie to claim that I don’t feel the euphoria, the vast happiness that engulfs me to know that I matter to someone, that something I’ve done has helped another person, even if it is accomplished through manipulative means. And of course I’m still doing fine at school, so it’s not as though anything takes it’s toll that way; I figure that I should really just see Michael, talk to Michael out of school or something so we can compare notes on what to do. I wish that Brian would just talk to his psychologist or whoever he is seeing, but I can’t deny the faint tremors of pride that well up in me when I see that I’ve done something right and that someone trusts me. And I know this is wrong, and that there ought not to be any pride at all, but it’s there and I don’t know what to do; I haven’t got the words.

I call Michael and ask him what his plans are for Sunday; he tells me he’s going to see a movie at the mall. I ask if it’s okay if I come with him; he says that’s fine.

*

I’ve dressed carefully, blowdried my hair, applied my makeup and lipgloss just so, but nothing that makes it seem like I’ve done any of this on purpose; it’s supposed to look like I’m the tiniest bit dressy and only for myself. I survey myself in the mirror and smile, then I go off to see Michael.

“Hey,” I say when I catch sight of him in front of the movie theater. “What’s up; where’s the rest of the group?”

“Oh, they’re coming along later,” he says, then teases me. “Ballerina girl!”

“Come on!” I say in a tone that lets him know I like the title. “What, you don’t think I am one?”

He’s serious for a moment, looks at me. “I feel like you’re not sure what you are,” he says, and I start; he’s so right. “I’m not,” I say quietly. “Could you tell me?”

“Can I tell you what you are?” he asks and laughs. “No, that’s something you have to figure out for yourself.”

I wish he would just tell me; I’m tired of being in my head and trying to figure out my own self. “Can’t you help me, though?”

“Do you want to know what I see?”

“Yes,” I say, breathlessly anticipating what he’ll say.

“I see a very special, pretty, intelligent person, someone who cares a lot about people but who is very quiet. I see someone who listens, who watches from the sidelines, who doesn’t let a lot of people know her, a very private person.”

“You see all that?” I ask, then gape at him.

“Yup,” he says. “Now, what do you see in me?”

What do I tell him? I wonder whether I can trust him with the truth.

“I see,” I say quietly, “a wonderful friend, a person who also cares a lot about people, the star of the basketball team, and someone who seems to let lots of people know him with very little effort.”

Seems?” he asks, and laughs.

“Seems,” I affirm, and smile.

“And what about Brian?” he asks, and I pause.

“I don’t think I should tell you what he told me; it was given over in confidence,” I say.

“Good job,” he says. “It’s better for him, though. What you’re doing is great.”

“Yeah?” I ask, pleased with the approbation.

“Definitely,” he says, then leans in to kiss me on the cheek.

I’m shocked, beyond shocked. “What was that about?” I say, arms akimbo.

“I haven’t got a group of friends coming to watch a movie with me,” he says. “It’s just you and me today.” He takes my hand and pulls me after him; I’m shining with glee.

*

We’re sitting at a Starbucks and I’m grilling Michael. “Wait, so I don’t understand this at all,” I say, confused. “You wanted me to pretend to like Brian even though you like me?”

He grins lazily. “Well, it was as good a way as any to find out whether you liked someone else. Or Brian, for that matter.”

“You’re horrible!” I say delightedly.

“Yeah, just a bit,” he says, and ducks as I throw a crumpled napkin at him. “So we’re going to work as a team on this?”

“What, in terms of Brian?” I ask. “For sure.”

“Excellent,” he says, and we finish drinking our frappucinos. “But we’re not done yet. I have to take you to my favorite store. You ever been to Spencers?”

I crack up. “Oh, yes,” I say, recalling rubberband cellphone devices, glittering disco balls, inlaid handmade wooden marijuana boxes and some very suggestive birthday cards. “Let’s go!”

*

It’s when we’re leaving that it all falls apart.

We each took separate cars, so we’re standing in the parking lot and Michael’s just given me a goodbye kiss when I hear a familiar voice, “Lexy!”

The two of us turn, feeling like we’ve been caught out. Brian stares at us.

“You-“ he asks, “you’re together?”

“I—“, I say, trying to come up with a reasonable excuse for what he just witnessed. “We-“

“Yes,” Michael says, coming to my rescue.

Brian goes very quiet, then looks at me. “I thought- you lead me to think-you must have been laughing when I told you, while I was telling you-“

“No!” I say, horrified. “No, you can’t think that!”

“Oh, can’t I?” he sneers at me.

“She’s not like that,” Michael says, and Brian becomes even angrier.

You- after I told you- I told you that I- and you go and you-“ I feel like he might explode.

“Brian, you can’t think that I am any less your friend just because I happen to be with Michael- this is all really new to me and I-“

Friend?” he shouts angrily. “What friend goes and does something like this? What friend leads someone on until he tells her something really personal and private and she lets him think she’s open to something when she’s not; what friend goes behind someone else’s back and then does this? You think you’re my friend? The two of you are- you’re-“ he’s at a loss for words.

I’m crying by now. “It’s not like that! You don’t really- you don’t really like me, I know-“

You know who and what I like? You? What you know is how to play people, how to manipulate them and hurt them. You know how to take advantage of people!”

All his words wound because they are true.

“I-“ I try to defend myself and Michael steps in, trying to make this better. “Hey,” he says. “She doesn’t owe you anything; she never told you anything to lead you to think whatever it was you were thinking. She was being a friend and you misinterpreted the signals.”

“She gave me plenty of reason to misinterpret them!” he says heatedly. “You bitch,” he concludes, then stomps out of the parking lot.

Michael reaches for me but I am running, running back toward the mall as though I can hide there, in its jungle of eateries and shops and stores, in its dressing rooms and movie theaters and the other places to hide. What I’ve done is wrong, but I don’t know how it’s wrong; I thought I was playing it safe but I see I wasn’t; my intentions were good but my actions were not. Whatever I think I am, I’m not- I should have left Brian to the people who actually know how to help him, not have hurt him further. I think I’m so great, I think I have so much power; I think I know how to help people and how to cure them; you know why I think all that? Because I need to think it, because without it I know that I am nothing, I am useless, there is nothing for me and nothing I do has any kind of meaning. And I refuse to accept that obvious truth because it makes me feel sick inside. So I prefer to lie to myself and pretend I have the power to help when I don’t, because that’s the only way I can see myself doing anything productive, but what happens is that I hurt people, I hurt them more, and I hate myself for it.

I avoid Michael and leave the mall on my own, drive back home and park my mom’s car carefully in the driveway. Then I storm up the stairs and lock myself in my room, turn up the music to drown out my tears because all I know is that at this moment I despise myself and everything I think I can do, I want to strip it all down, to lay it all bare, to take everything off and face myself in the mirror, the same way I do in the morning. There is no ballerina girl; she’s an invention of my own mind. As for the tightrope? I’ve fallen, I’ve fallen and I’ve always been falling and it’s only my own mind that prevents me from thinking that I’ve fallen when I have.

*

I wake up in the morning, splash water on my face, trying harder to breathe. My mascara is smeared, causing black drippings beneath my eyes; my eyes are rimmed with black. I’m standing on the cold tile in the bathroom; the room is blue, the light faintly shining through the one window toward the top. I pull off my tanktop, carelessly throw my shorts on the floor and examine my appearance. My skin is so white, so cold, tinted blue in the cold light that filters through to the bathroom. I head for the shower, careful not to turn on any of the lights, careful that the temperature is lukewarm, tepid. Step out, step into grey sweatpants, throw on a navy blue plush hoodie, run my fingers through my wet hair and shake it out. I reach for the side drawer, pick out a glittering star, lick the back of it and stick it beside the corner of my eye. My nails are painted a dark blue; there are little swirls of glitter at the tips. I bite a finger nervously as I noiselessly allow the door to open, taking care where I step so as not to make a sound. It is 6:30 in the morning.

I make myself breakfast; it’s cornflakes and milk today. I leave some soggy flakes at the bottom of the bowl, place it quietly in the sink. I hunch my hood up over my wet hair; my eyes dark and accusatory as always; I touch my finger to the glittering star at the corner of my right eye. Lick my lips and open the door, step onto the porch; I’m ready to run, ready to jog through suburbia in an effort to somehow escape the plush luxury of my life.

I start running…all I want to do is outrun myself, escape myself, get beyond myself and all my dreams. I want to tear myself down in order to make myself better, but it’s always too hard and I’m always falling and there’s no way to get beyond myself, no way, and I hear the slap of my Keds against the pavement as I run faster, forcing the air to sing through my lungs, somehow thinking that this will be the answer, this will be the cure, this will show me how not to care, how to accept being meaningless and having no purpose, none at least that I can see.

And I am falling, falling again, in the same way that I always am, falling from my tightrope and failing to achieve the dreams I set for myself, disguising my falls because I can’t face them, but now in the grim light of the morning I can and I must because it’s getting harder to breathe.

And that’s the moment when the words my Art teacher once told me run through my head and I clutch at them because they’re the only things that matter and that keep me grounded and tell me that as much as I hate myself, sometimes, there’s something beyond me that’s worth it.

“Flying, not falling, Alexa.”

And so, when I paint over my ballerina girl today, and I show her falling from her tightrope, I’ll make sure to give her wings.

Maybe one day I’ll find mine.

23 comments:

Tempo said...

this story brings up a lot of the issues you raised in your post about trust. interesting to see them in action.

silly said...

so powerful......

Scraps said...

I wish I knew what happened in the aftermath--does Brian ever forgive her, trust her again? Does she trust herself again? Or anyone?

Once someone has broken my trust, it is like a lightbulb that was dropped, shattered in shards scattered too far and wide to collect them all. That is why I do my very best never to betray someone's trust, because I would never forgive myself for doing that to someone.

Rebecca said...

Wow. Great story. But I disagree with Scraps--I don't think I'd want to know the aftermath. To me, the point was that Alexa has to have her own life shaken up to figure out where she's going, and that's the point of the ending you wrote. If we just ended with "and they all lived..." wouldn't that ruin the point? Wouldn't that take away from the rich potential Alexa has at this very moment, to draw wings onto herself and fly?

The truth is, I think we've all trusted in others at some point and lost that trust. Some experience that more intensely than others, and it's up to G-d to determine to what extent that is played out. The question becomes--do we pick ourselves up afterwards? Do we fly, and not fall?

Corner Point said...

Beautiful...
Chana, you did it again! Love your stories...

In a way, I almost want to be friends with Lexy...

Chana said...

Corner Point,

You do know Lexy. She's the girl in Linkin Park's "Crawling" music video (except without the nose ring.) That's her cold blue bathroom, and this is her story.

Happiness on Saturn said...

I don't know you from a hole in the wall, but I got the feeling that in the Salutatorian you stepped into another character's shoes whereas in the Ballerina girl you shifted your own self over a bit. Beyond the fact that in reality you are closer to a teenage girl than a mid 30s man. True or false?

Chana said...

happiness on saturn,

Well, it's Goethe who says, "Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will." Anyway, all my characters have some of me in them, but this story has more than others. It's the only way to write anything worth reading, after all; as Virginia Woolf says, "If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people." Well, the only way to create characters is to tell the truth, and the only way to do that is to write yourself into them. Otherwise, how could they be real? It would be foolish to assume I am only one character, however.

Rebecca said...

"It would be foolish to assume I am only one character, however."

I think that's one of the wisest lines you've ever said, Chana! :-)

Ezzie said...

Awesome. My favorite of the stories, I think.

Ezzie said...

FWIW, in response to a lot of people above, I don't think Lexy betrayed Brian; he misunderstood her very careful balance. She didn't actually 'lead him on'.

Michael can only be faulted in that he didn't mention to Brian that he liked Lexy as well.

Lexy herself didn't do anything wrong, IMHO.

It's a delicate balance, and sometimes things don't go perfectly; that doesn't mean a mistake was necessarily made.

Stubborn and Strong said...

'I don't think Lexy betrayed Brian; he misunderstood her very careful balance. She didn't actually 'lead him on'.'

Wrong, because did u see that she claimed she have very normal life and she was craving for some drama that's why she was acting like she is gothic that makes her to have problems in her life so she need some excitment. So she accepts the problem from michael who gave to her so it would satify her desire to have drama. She have a choice after she took that problem into her life (she didn't really have a choice when micheal confront her it is very hard to back off and hard to said no, she is too nice and she really like micheal and tryed to impressed him) She could back off this problem after she accept it bc she really thinks it is wrong but she kept going to satisfy her drama life so she did lead him on to continue this drama, not as romantically. Just brian wants her full trust and thoughts lexy told micheal about his problems that why he feels so betray. She didn't do this with her full of heart for brian only for herself. Brian have every right to be angry because he thoughts they both betray him but more angry at lexy bec he told his darkest secrets to her not micheal. And he knows micheal was trying to help him and may trying to find the information from lexy, that's why according to brian's eyes they acted like they are in secret plan.

'Michael can only be faulted in that he didn't mention to Brian that he liked Lexy as well'

Wrong again, He have a chioce of tellling someone or not, if he is really a friend to brian, he wouldn't blab to lexy who did not know him at all. He could fix on his own not just give to stranger who would fix for him. He could discuss other people who knows brian well and to figure out with them not just give all problem to her. His personality which is one of them is 'talktive' he never really listen people only for himself that's why he have no problem telling about himself. So he was so frustrating with brian who is clam up in front of micheal which i don't blame him bec micheal may blab to someone which he did (lexy). Micheal wants fix NOW not just be there for brian and let the story unfold itself not forced someone to tell. He did wrong thing by telling to someone which help to fix his frustration. He is not really helping brian only himself and testing lexy if she likes him or not.

'Lexy herself didn't do anything wrong, IMHO'

As i said before, you are wrong, as i said before she does have a choice to back out or not. that's why she feels so guilty about this.

'It's a delicate balance, and sometimes things don't go perfectly; that doesn't mean a mistake was necessarily made.'

There are too many mistakes and micheal and lexy are selfish and don't really care about brian. Remember micheal says after brian saw them together that she didn't do wrong. He only cares about lexy not brian's feeling. And he did not feels guilty meanwhile he knows brian 'likes' her.

Brian feels very safe with lexy not micheal bec she is very private person so that's why he thinks that he could trust her which he was right about that. But lexy didn't really have heart to help brian only satify her drama life and impressed micheal. Yes, sometimes she is scared for brian, like a party with a full of alcohol but she wants brian to confide to her so she accomplished what she wants from brian. She doesn't really care about brian.

Ezzie said...

S&S - I don't think there's anything wrong with her craving drama, or even acting on that, as long as she's not doing so improperly (though she'd always have to take care that she's staying proper because of that). We're all almost always acting on what motivates us; if that motivates someone to help, kol hakavod. :)

Just brian wants her full trust and thoughts lexy told micheal about his problems that why he feels so betray.

But she didn't! That's part of what I meant by Brian jumping to conclusions or misinterpreting.

She didn't do this with her full of heart for brian only for herself.

I don't think that's true. She manipulates *how* she helps him, but she *is* actually interested in helping him (not just to impress Michael).

The same applies to what you're saying about Michael; while he does use it as an opportunity to find out if Lexy likes him, he also does genuinely care if Brian is helped. That he gets some other gain from it does not take away [really] from the fact that he was looking out for Brian's sake.

Remember micheal says after brian saw them together that she didn't do wrong. He only cares about lexy not brian's feeling. And he did not feels guilty meanwhile he knows brian 'likes' her.

I don't think so. I think Michael does feel bad, but still feels (as I said above) that they really didn't do anything wrong. That's why he tries to catch Lexy, too, to tell her that she did nothing wrong.

~~~

I think we're basically disagreeing on whether Lexy/Michael were genuinely trying to help Brian or not. I believe they were, even if they were getting other things out of it; were they not genuine, I would agree with you. :)

Scraps said...

I think that Lexy and Michael meant well; their intentions were good. However, I think that the execution did not go so well...or rather, it worked too well. Lexy sort of was leading Brian on, and she knew it. She meant well, and so did Michael by getting her involved in the first place. But in the end, they both still hurt Brian terribly.

Ezzie said...

Lexy sort of was leading Brian on, and she knew it.

I don't think she did. She was pretty careful to talk only about the issues.

But in the end, they both still hurt Brian terribly.

Granted, but I don't think they can be faulted for it. (See above. :P )

Jack's Shack said...

Interesting.

Stubborn and Strong said...

ezzie, look how brian feels that lexy don't really have true heart to help him, yes lexy did a good intention but her mind is not, her action is somewhat correct but it kills brian that the person he really thought who geniuely care about him but didn't.

Yes in jewish phoil lexy may get reward, but nobody wants get pitied.

I grew up with people pitied on me, according your thinking when people automatically help me once they found out that i am deaf, they automatically help me that looks so obvious ex. by talking to me like i am dumb but they get reward bc they did chesed, that's fine for them but it is not fine for me. Bec they are not my real friends. Real friends who see me a human being who just happen to have special needs not chesed project.

As you see, I understood how lexy 'killed' brian's heart, and it hurts badly. Brian thoughts she helped him bc brian 'helps' her then he told her about his problem so they could deal with each other but afterward he found out lexy only one who is helping him not brian. So it is not equal friendship bc lexy has upper hand, that's why lexy feels guilty bc she knows that she have upper hand not equal as brian thoughts. She may did right thing but that's not what brian needs. So brian did not misintrepeted at all bc he was right after he saw micheal and lexy are together to figure out what to do with him. He feels so low, not treated as human being such people treated him like he is chesed project. That's why brian is pissed.

Ezzie said...

That's kind of what I figured your reasoning was, and I definitely understand it. I just think it's different here: While Lexy and Michael may have gotten a little bit 'extra' out of helping Brian, they still weren't treating him as a chessed case. Michael did care about Brian's plight, and did think Lexy would be able to help; he just got the extra bonus of finding out she wasn't taken. Lexy did care about her friend (even if Brian wasn't her "best" friend), and did genuinely worry about how she was affecting him. She was happy to help her friend - not only because Michael would like it. She stopped him from going to that party, because she didn't think it would be good for him; she worried how he'd react to seeing her wonderful parents.

If either of them were only acting selfishly, I would agree that it's horrible - not only did they treat him like a chessed case, but they even screwed it up.

But I think they genuinely wanted to help Brian, and that makes all the difference. Did they get something out of it, too? Well, yes - but that's not the only reason they did it, even if that helped push them a bit. They actually *did *care. Brian didn't understand this, and thought they were just playing him; but he couldn't possibly see the tightrope they were walking as they balanced living their own lives and not hurting him. (I think that's why the ballerina on the tightrope is such a good metaphor, too.)

Stubborn and Strong said...

balancing thier lives.... also got some 'gain' from this... there is some selfish in it.

Lexy was on tightrope bec she is battle with herself if she is 'helping' him or she is not 'helping' him. That's why she fall at the end bc she realized she did a wrong thing. She may did right intention but she messed up
so she suffered the conquences.

You could treat someone as chesed project and still gain from it. (Why people like to do chesed bc it makes them feels good) Lexy treats brian as chesed project so she could do something in her life not brian's feeling. Micheal got double, 1)passing problems to Lexy (to feel good that he did something) 2) to know if lexy likes him or not. Lexy didn't really care about brian going to party, she feels RESPONSIBLE bc she took the problem on her hands (Ex. the mother forced her oldest child to be babysat of youngest child and left, the oldest child 'hate' youngest child but won't run away from it bc he feels responsible, so u don't need to care) Ezzie, that how she feels about her wonderful parents in front of brian, like everybody who have nice 'moments' with people who they don't care but yet they pity on them. When u are pity on them, u tend to act nice to them but in thier heart they don't care about you at all. So sorry i don't really believed they are really want to help him.

Ezzie, i admire you that u strongly believed that they are trying to do thier best but what i see they are not trying at all. But i think Lexy learned her lesson and won't do it again.

S.D. said...

An Interesting dilemma. "The way to hell is paved with good intentions." We do good for many reasons, most of them having nothing to do with divine commandments and rewards. When the good is exposed as something else the outcome is often negative and even evil. Even pure good done with Emunah can only be rewarded by G-D, as per our weekly prayer. Even people who do good on a communal level will be seen by the public as a doing a negative or selfish act.
One needs to feel that doing good is good for everyone and there can be no other purpose. Examine your motives for selfish thoughts and if there are any you must prepare for those thoughts to be exposed to all.

Stubborn and Strong said...

s.d., I agree with you!

the only way i know said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the only way i know said...

On the whole, although the story was interesting, I identified very strongly with a running theme, of wanting to get things right in life, of making mistakes, but craving fulfillment and accomplishment. I felt Ballerina Girl's deep insecurities in some areas, that crop up over again
and I felt the mornings that we hope bring new beginnings, but sometimes, feel that we hardly dare to believe that they will.
I also felt the individuality of the character, and it seemed to me, it was important to her to keep a sense of exclusivity as a part of her character..it's the thing that gives her hope that she is created for an very specific and individual purpose, and gives strength - even when feeling despair - to keep on hoping, keep on trying, keep on dreaming.
It's what the story meant to me.

I also felt strongly that alot of it described Chana's own personal feelings. I felt it was almost impossible that it did not.

It was a great read!