Cold bare feet and tape, wrapping up the blisters and bunions – don’t look at the cropped pulled toenails and cracked, caked skin. Hockey tape the band-aids down too, too many times they’ve been wrenched off and wounds have yawned open and flapped scabbing red lips. Peeling flesh, gone white and transparent between the toes and stretching back because you can’t help but pick at it. Straighten the tape, wind it tighter. The stickiness is irritating, I know, don’t worry – that won’t even faze you soon.
Soft wood floor, the dark kind. Glossed and shined so well the balls of your feet slither across just right. Left foot. No. Right foot first. Canvas rubs over chapped heels and you wiggle your baby toes even though you’re not supposed to. Cramped, it’s cramped – but it doesn’t hold, it doesn’t matter when your fingers feel the satin exterior. Soft, pale and perfect, malleable and yielding at one end and solid, reliable at the other. Left foot now. Wince and furrow your brow as you flex your foot downward, the muscles are small and not yet developed like the right. You feel the throbbing in your ankle first: it’s a grinding sensation and then suddenly one that pulls and pulsates down over the top of your foot; until it stabs through and rakes over the arch. Bite your lip hard and use your hands to firmly keep that position. Talk about a new meaning of ouch. Breathe in sharply and shake it out. Force your foot in and pretend that didn’t hurt as much as it did.
Ribbons you twirl between your fingers and a smile closes down over your mouth, teasing the corners until you almost want to laugh. Around your ankles and tuck under. Nubby fingertips run over the edges to ensure it’s all even and smooth. Stand up slowly, stretch out to second, sweep back in to fifth. Clip-clop across the wood.
It’s almost like coming home, clapping your palms down and twisting your fingers over the cold painted metal. This is your friend, this is your partner – for now. You can trust this because the bar won’t move, won’t think, won’t judge. Stretching up will be different, let the bar protect you but don’t you dare give in and let it hold your weight.
Feel the burn. It’ll start in your calves just beneath the soft bend behind your knee – you’ll find muscles there you’ll be proud of when this is all said and over with. Gradually, so horribly gradually, that flaming ache will claw up from your calves and gouge deep, deep into your inner thighs. Now hold that position. Big toes are going numb, they’re stinging, it’s awful. Squelch your eyes shut and clench your teeth, then lower down. LOWER down, not drop. Sit down into your knees feet flat on that wonderfully glossy wood.
I think your toe is bleeding. No, not your big toe, the one beside it. Is that an index toe, like an index finger? What exactly is that toe called? It hurts. Yeah it’s definitely bleeding. The goo is warm, thick, seeping out from between the bindings of the tape and pooling down there beneath you.
NO DISTRACTIONS! THIS IS WHAT GRACE FEELS LIKE!
From flat feet you’ll leap up and hold that next position too. Legs crossed, charged with pain, pressing together and flexed so that your quads struggle outward against the skin. Wait. Wait a second longer. Push yourself.
Weight shifts to your ankles, force them out and over that flawlessly flat block encasing your feet. Onlookers don’t see your agony because onlookers don’t see your face. That isn’t where the attention should be. The light will catch the silk and it will shimmer and it will remind you that anyone who has ever been great in this has suffered the same unbearable amount of pain all to hold up the banner of grace.
The amount of sweat beading between your shoulders should be unnatural. It soaks through the clingy spandex so that the material is heavy and damp. At first the scent is sour, bunching in your nostrils and hanging onto your body like reeking, needy scarf looped damply over your shoulders. Quickly that too trickles into the motion of pain and perfection. It’s a risky dance: balanced on the tips of toes and glimmering fabric. Poise at the cost of blisters. Fluent, practiced strides paid for in frazzled flesh and torn toenails.
When you finally collapse into those wicked, wonderful shoes, body drained and drooping over itself, your mind weary and flustered; you wonder if you’re mad for pursuing this terrible obsession. You’ll hold your head high, you’ll feel your bones turn and the muscle enveloping them burn and decide once again the agonizing pointe is worth it.