The softness of the fan whirring over my head fills my ears as my bangs brush my eyelids. Like walking through a thick fog into daylight, I wake up. Slowly, peacefully. His deep, even breathing tells me I’m the first to greet the morning, and the muffled snoring from the frenchie at my feet confirms it. I take in the crisp, diffused, winter morning light as it filters in through the clerestory windows. The gentle growl of fresh brewing coffee (God bless the auto-brew function). The warmth of his skin as I nuzzle my cold nose against his shoulder, careful not to wake him. The smell of him, his smell. The smell of dryer sheets, cologne, and Degree. The smell of clean. As I exhale, he stirs and sleepily wraps one arm around me and pulls me close, clumsily kissing my head before drifting back to sleep. In this moment, life is complete.
I revel in it. Then slowly slipping out from under his arm and out of bed, I grab my bag from the closet. From the bottom drawer, I pull out a leotard (the blue one, my favorite), a pair of black tights, and my grey, striped, leg warmers. A quick shower and I’m brushing my teeth and pulling my hair into it’s familiar bun, bobby pins automatically placed. Warm ups go on before I head to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee. It’s not wise to drink coffee before class, but I can’t help it. I check my bag one more time: Grisko pink Performance split-sole canvas slippers, well worn Grisko Vaganova pointe shoes, rasp, duct tape, and an extra wrap. Before heading out the door, I quietly kiss his cheek and check the time on the clock on the nightstand just beyond his head. It’s 7:30, right on time.
This room is the only thing that could get me out of bed on a Saturday morning. Exposed brick walls, expansively high ceilings, soaring leaded windows lining one wall, giant plate mirrors lining another, and barres circling the rest. The creak of the wood floor underneath marley that’s been taped and re-taped, who knows how many times. The sound of resin crunching under pointe shoes. The smooth warmth of well worn barres. Their gentle give, reassuring under the weight of my hands as I swing fresh blood into my legs. I methodically tape each toe, with electrical tape (it doesn’t slip the way sports tape does), fold loose wool into the box of each shoe, and wrap the ribbons around each ankle. Inside first, outside second. Silently, our mistress walks across the floor, not touching the floor, just floating. I nod reverently while I press into demi-pointe, then roll through to full pointe, on each shoe, and shake out the last bit of tired.
And as the accompanist starts to play, I’m home. The music fills the room and permeates my skin, straight into my veins. It’s a fairly small class, maybe 8 or 10 of us, but it doesn’t matter. There could be a million people in this room and I wouldn’t notice. It’s just me. Pliés before tendus, ronds des jambes move to battements, adagio through allegro, each added to the previous. Tendu, révérence, once to the right to thank our accompanist, once to the left to thank our mistress. Only the applause at the end of class brings me back to the present. I watch as each files out of the room. Some stay to chat with the mistress, others are grouped just outside the door with other students, “That fouette combo was insane!” “Ugh, I thought my legs were going to fall off after all those sautés…”. I stretch my legs out before carefully untying the knots and inspecting the damage. No blood, it’s a good day. Warm ups go back on before heading out to the parking lot.
He’s sitting on the sofa with the dog curled up next to him when I walk in the door. My heart melts when he looks from his laptop and smiles at me. Keys dropped in the bowl, bag dropped next to the table, I set my sights on the spot next to them. “There’s a fresh pot if you want any” he says as he gently squeezes my already sore shins. “Thanks, maybe after I get out of the shower” I reply as I welcome our four-legged “son” onto my stomach. “How’s my little sugar booger? Huh? How’s Boeufcake?”. His pointy little ears perk up and his mouth opens into a huge frenchie smile before he licks my chin – something I hate, but totally love at the same time. I rest my hand on his back and he lays his head on my chest, and I relax.
It doesn’t matter that I have a mountain of laundry to do, or meals to plan for the week, and shopping to do for those meals. It doesn’t matter that I have mortgage payments, and student loan payments, and a slurry of other payments that have to be made. I’m not thinking about work. I’m thinking about life. Crazy, over-scheduled, stressful, uncertain, scary, beautiful, life.
“…Sugar booger?” I’m pulled from the reverie. “We still headed over to Marisa and Joe’s tonight?”
“Yea, you wanna go get a bottle or two for the party?” I ask.
“Yea, I think we can do that. Wanna take the dog?”
“Yes!” I scamper off to freshen up.
Josh Radin playing on the iHome, I start to smile. I can’t help it. Jack Peñate is next and I start bobbing my head and swaying, singing to myself “Everything is new now...” I can’t believe this is my life sometimes. As I shut off the water and hop out, grabbing the towel off the rack next to the shower, I inhale its fluffy freshness. Looks like someone did some laundry already today. I turn up the volume before heading out into the bedroom where I stand for a few minutes in front of my side of the closet, towel wrapped snuggly around me like a very bulky tube dress. Choosing dark denim, my favorite sweater, and tall black boots, I finish my hair and make up just as he pokes his head in.
I smile, and shut the light off as I follow him out the door. We hit the open air market just up the street, picking up two bottles of weighty, organic, red. My scarf whipping gently in the wind as we walk from booth to booth. One of his hands holds the leash, the other holds mine. A bouquet of wildflowers, a pound of free-trade coffee, and a button-bejeweled headband for the birthday girl go into the canvas totes always buried at the bottom of my purse. I button up my peacoat, it’s starting to get colder, and we head back to get the car. Walking close to each other to ward off the chill.
We listen to Iain Archer, Louis, and Ray LaMontagne, Boeuf safely buckled into his doggie seatbelt in the back seat. Looking out the window, watching the city go by, I feel his hand reach out for mine, which he finds draped and gently dangling from the center console. I squeeze his hand, a “Hi”, as I meet his smile with my own. He responds with three–distinct–squeezes. The drive doesn’t take long, but I like having the time with him, with them. I look over my left shoulder to see Boeuf sleeping in the backseat, as we turn the corner onto their street, his ears perk up. He knows we’re here.
Casita Sierarroyo. We can hear the music coming from the back yard, augmented by talking, singing, laughter. Up the three small steps to the front door, lined with lit votives, I hear her high pitched squeal and watch her pop through the kitchen to the front door to let us in. Boeuf sits patiently in between us, but he’s itching to go play with Mosby and Swarley, his “cousins”, so I let him off the leash and watch as he trots off to the back yard. Marisa invites us in, hugs to all, gift parked on the kitchen bar table, and we follow her out back. Even though it’s December, there is a warmth that surrounds us. There are glowing candles everywhere. In small hand-blown glass orbs in the trees, along the top of the concrete block wall, even lining the paver walkway from the back door out to the table. The table.
Set for twelve, it is an expanse of criss-crossed linens and mis-matched flatware. An assortment of life, collected over years because it’s loved, not because it came as a set. There are crostini, with figs, honey, and goat cheese; rosemary chicken with whole wheat orecchiette, shredded parm melting delicately over the top; veal skewers, rolled with pine nuts, and currents, and parsley; grilled asparagus, caprese, and greens with ricotta salata. It is a gluttonous spread. The candlelight flickering and glittering off the stemware. Each place setting, unique. There doesn’t seem to be an empty space anywhere, yet it’s not too much. Just enough.
When I see that table, and the people at it, I stop. These people are my family. And not the family that I chose, more like the family that chose me. They are the ones I always know will be there when life comes crashing down around me. I stand back and take in the scene as he walks out to greet everyone. He just blends with them so well. Like they’ve known each other forever. Joe stands up and reaches out a hand, even though they both go in for the hug. Ryan, in from Chicago, offers to pour him a glass of wine, as Romeo hands him a glass. I see Cortney’s sparkler before I see her face, up over his shoulder. She chats briefly before meeting my eyes. With a quick squeeze of his arm, “Excuse me”, she’s walking across the path, the dogs running circles around her and each other. We catch each other in a tight hug. It doesn’t matter that we see each other quite regularly, it always seems like it’s been too long. I really don’t know what I would do without these people.
And as we all sit down to feast, bottles are emptied, glasses refilled, and the fire in the chiminea competes to keep us as warm as the company does. We toast to birthdays, and journeys, and family. We laugh and sing. We eat. Oh yes, we eat. The cacophony is symphonic. Building to a crescendo of sore sides and cheeks before we all give in. There is a gentle thread of Stateless playing in the background as we start to quiet down over tiramisu and coffee, and I catch a discreet tear before it has a chance to escape my eye.
But when the music starts skipping, the laughter stops. It starts getting louder. Like someone honking a car horn, except none of us can figure out where it’s coming from. I look toward the fence, out to the front yard, but there’s nothing there, and when I look back at the table everyone is gone. My heart jumps and my eyes shoot open, and I find myself all alone in my bed. My fan whirring softly over my head.