EVER AFTER

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--

At age eight, you were a princess.
At fourteen, you were a star.
By fifteen, you were flawless perfection.
And now at eighteen, you're the queen of the show who'll never stop dancing.

Life is a Broadway musical and you're the opening act.

--

ACT ONE : THE PRINCESS

You used to dress up in your mother's clothes when you were younger. You'd pull on her high heels and one of her feathered boas and smear on lipstick because you were too young to know how to properly apply it and you wanted to wear her rings but they didn't fit around your fingers no matter how hard you tried to get them on, because yours were chubby and clumsy, unlike hers, which were long and slender and you remember how they used to dance over piano keys while you danced around, stumbling occasionally because high heels were tough to walk in, much less dance in, and belted out nursery rhymes with that childish voice of yours.

You still sometimes wear her boas and now her rings fit around your fingers because your baby fat is gone and even though you can't play the piano, you still belt out nursery rhymes in that not so childish voice of yours and dance around while your dad sits on the sofa and smiles because the rings and the songs and the slender fingers and the dancing are the only memories you have left of your mother.

Your dad sometimes looks at you funny and you worry because you know you look exactly like your mother so when he gets that look in his eyes, you call him daddy and suddenly he looks guilty and a little scared which has you worried even more because if he's scared, shouldn't you be terrified?

You are terrified, because the princess in you is fading away and now you're the girl who cooks and cleans and does the laundry and makes sure daddy gets up on time and has been too busy to have a social life ever since her mother died so instead, she dances around the house whenever she gets the chance because that's about as much fun as she'll ever have.

You're terrified because you're pretty much already a house wife even though you're only ten, eleven, twelve and when you see your dad look at you that way again, it's not daddy anymore. It's 'I'm your daughter, not your wife' and then you're upstairs in your room dancing because you feel bad for bringing your mother's memory up in such a way and somewhere between the dancing and the memories and the cooking and cleaning, you decide you want to take dance lessons and then you're back downstairs asking your dad and planning to save up your allowance to pay for them.

He enrols you in lessons and after that you barely see each other. Soon, you aren't a princess or a house wife to him anymore. You're a stranger and you decide it's better that way.

--

ACT TWO : THE STAR

You shone on stage. Your teachers told you so and you were always told that if a teacher told you something, it had to be true. So you drank up the praise, soaked it up like a sponge, and pushed yourself harder every time because as long as you were praised, you'd try and as long as you tried, you'd be praised and it was an endless cycle of stress and anxiety and need for self-assertion and by fourteen you were already an over-achiever instead of a lazy sloth, and you were oblivious to everything except the rhythm and the way your feet and arms moved and how you smiled and pretty soon you were a doll, dancing to a previously chosen song, dancing to a routine you'd been learning for weeks and you hated it because you wanted it to be like it was with your mother. Free and flowing and full of energy.

You wondered, as you watched yourself dance in the mirror, when you'd become a mature young adult who cooked and cleaned and forgot to live instead of the naïve, spirited and vibrant teenager you knew was somewhere underneath. Somewhere underneath the puppet strings and smiles that never reached eyes that looked so dead to the world and underneath the praise and the confidence and the childish hopes.

Somewhere, underneath all the lies, there was a truth and you were determined to find it.

But you still kept dancing.

--

ACT THREE : PERFECTION

Sashay, pirouette, slide, leap. The movements come easy as you glide across the floor, as if you're dancing on air and you don't even have to think anymore. Sometimes you almost forget to breathe, you're so out of it. You're dancing like an angel but the movements are almost robotic and they come too easy and you really wish someone would tell you to stop dancing like that, with no life in your eyes and no passion in the dance and to just stop and dance the way you've wanted to for years.

But no one does because in their eyes, you are the star of the show, the princess of the fairytale, the queen of the castle, the flawless perfection they've all been wishing for.

You're pretty, smart, talented and sick of people asking if there was anything you couldn't do because of course there were things you couldn't do. You never told them that though, because that was one of the things you couldn't do. You couldn't tell people what you really thought. You couldn't do what you wanted. It was always about someone else, then yourself.

So you danced, even though you weren't dancing for yourself anymore. You were dancing for your dead mother, for your dead mother's memory, for all the kids at school who thought you were amazing, for all the little girls watching you on stage right now, in sheer awe, for all your teachers who were probably tearing up right now because 'Oh my god, she dances like an angel.' and you're dancing for your dad so he'll see you as his daughter and not his wife.

And as you smiled and bowed with your fellow dancers, you wished the curtain would close on this chapter of your life.

--

ACT FOUR : MISERY

You remember the day you broke your ankle. Somehow, between twisting and turning and leaping and dancing, you'd tripped over someone's sweater that had been carelessly left on the stage and fallen off. You remember the searing pain that shot through your leg and how people scurried around you in a panic, yelling for someone to dial 911.

You could never dance professionally ever again without the risk of doing more damage, the doctor said. You remember your friends trying to comfort you, and a wave of relief passed through you. You couldn't dance professionally anymore. You couldn't push yourself beyond your limits anymore and starve yourself of things you'd wanted for so long. You couldn't dance for someone else anymore. You didn't have to. It was all about you from that point on. It was about you and dancing and the passion you'd once held for it and the free, clumsy movements you used to make as a child.

That night it rained and you danced and twirled and laughed and cried because that was the first time you'd ever danced for yourself and when you tripped and fell in that mud puddle, you only cried and laughed harder because if it had been the day before you wouldn't have made a mistake and you wouldn't have even been dancing in the rain.

And so you stood up and danced in muddy clothes and you'd probably get sick within the next few days but that didn't matter and neither did your dad, who was yelling at you to come in, because you'd already given up so much for him.

All that mattered was the life in your eyes and the passion of your dance.

--

This is your final act.
Time to give it your all.
Because somewhere between the cheering and the applause and the grand finale
you'll hear;

"This is the curtain call."