Life’s memories are not linear or contiguous for me. I never remember a full day from top to bottom. I remember moments in spurts, in small flashes of a scene. If I really focus, I might be able to pull the entire location of my scene from other memories, but typically, my memories are hyper-focused.
Memories are always associated with a specific feeling, so there are often days when I’ll just keep remember the same event. This morning, for instance, I suddenly had a flash of sitting at the kitchen table in my parents house holding letters that had completely derailed my idea of myself.
I was a senior in high school, waiting for college application responses, sure that I would get in where I wanted to go. I was also waiting on results from the ballet studio for which role I would dance in the Nutcracker ballet. I was at a new studio, having quit after the recital of my previous one (drama was the name of the game there, and my sister and I both wanted to focus on becoming better dancers so we left). I had been used to getting good grades, easily achieving goals, getting the lead or at least featured roles in ballets, and had quite a bit of confidence in myself.
Then the letters came. I sat down at the kitchen table. I noticed the one from Columbia University was small although I hoped that it didn’t matter in this digital age. Maybe it wasn’t a rejection. And then it was. Those words, we regret to inform you, struck me, and I swear my heart literally lurched in my chest. So I opened the next letter. I thought I would for sure have a role that at least fit my age. I was an 18 year old in class with 13 year olds, and that was already demeaning. The ballet mistress felt the need to put me there, claiming I couldn’t keep up with the senior girls. Maybe she would put me in snow, maybe I’d actually get to rehearse the pieces that I loved. No.
The letter stated that I would get to play the role of a soldier. It was typically danced by the kids. So this is what I would spend my last grade school year dancing.
I could have given up on myself and accepted feeling horribly for the rest of my life. Instead, I vowed that I would always focus on working as hard as I could. By the end of my time at that ballet school, I was balancing better than I ever had. I could do more consecutive pirouettes. My stamina was at a new height. I didn’t stay there for the entire year, as I began to take lessons at another studio to prepare me for college auditions, to have the attention I felt would be more suited to where I was headed, but I stronger for it.
I remember this scene often when I am working through the switch in my confidence. I’d gone from achieving whatever I wanted to being told “you’re not good enough” at every turn. And it started here. This defining moment set me back for a while, but then it catapulted me further forward than I ever could have imagined.