“Ms. Johnson, how does it feel to make such a huge breakthrough in our understanding of leukemia?” She could barely see the reporter’s face through all the flashes of light. “Wonderful. A dream come true.” She hoped her voice didn’t show that this was the fifth time she’d been asked the question that day. “What gave you the courage to pursue the research with your own team even though your superiors said your approach was hopeless?” A new question.
The box wasn’t conspicuous, but she felt drawn to it nonetheless. It was a mint green Beatrix department store box, creases gray with dust. Only ten feet away, but a minefield of old photo albums, broken tennis rackets, stacks of wrapping paper, and discarded electric fans lay in-between.
“Sherrie—you ready?” Amie hugged her favorite doll closer, retied both their bandanas, looked at the compass, and began to make the trek to the far west side of her parents’ attic. Miniature clouds of dust exploded with every step. “Wow, this sandstorm is fierce!” She said to Sherrie, shielding her eyes. “But we’re almost there.”
“Whew!” She’d arrived at the box and cleared a place to sit in front of it. She then wiped her brow and took a swig from her canteen. “Now—for the lost the treasure!” She carefully lifted the top from the box. Inside, she saw several folded sheets of crisp, white tissue paper sealed with a gold “Beatrix” sticker. Delicately, she pulled the seal from the paper and peeled back the layers of tissue. She found herself staring into a shiny silver-framed mirror the size of the palm of her hand. Staring back, her eyes glowed, their gold flecks dancing. “Score!”
She held Sherrie up to the mirror. “Wait—what’s that?” Amie read the letters engraved at the bottom of the frame: “To Calista, most beautiful, with love.” She was almost certain the words weren’t there when she opened the box. She turned to Sherrie. “Who’s Calista?”
Just then, a little girl appeared in the mirror. Her nearly-transparent gossamer dress caught the light, reflecting rainbow colors as she began to perform pirouettes. She spun one more time, then stopped, smiling. “She’s beautiful,” Amie said, finally breathing. The girl began walking towards Amie until their faces were a mere twelve inches apart. Her nose (pug), hair (dark brown), and eyes (brown with gold flecks) were exactly like Amie’s. Their eyes locked. Amie smiled. The girl smiled.
“Young lady, just where are you going in that dress?” Her mother caught Amie in last year’s Easter dress as she ran down the hall towards the attic. Amie looked down at the pastel purple and pink dress with one perfectly spinnable crinoline. “I’m going dancing!” she said. “I’m the principal ballerina.” In the last week Amie had secretly cleared a large space in which to practice ballet.
Her mom repressed a smile. “You are, are you? Well, even ballerinas need to eat. Lunch. Downstairs. Fifteen minutes.”
Back in the kitchen, Amie’s mom, Carol, said to Amie’s dad, “Do you know what she’s doing up there? She’s dancing. She hasn’t done that since she was eight.”
“I thought she’d given it up.”
“I did, too.”
She was spinning like she used to—faster and faster—feeling lighter and lighter—when suddenly she felt the lopsided weight of hair on one side of her head—just like that day. She stopped. The weight wasn’t there. Began again. Suddenly, she was there. Half the class frozen, half the class laughing—until all of them laughed, even her best friend. It was the one day she’d felt up to dancing for more than twenty minutes, and near the end of class she’d felt a burst of energy and danced like the talented dancer she’d once been. She’d felt high on exhilaration and couldn’t remember feeling happier…until their laughter and the subsequent stories of the incident spread at school the next day.
She’d come home from the studio that night and thrown her wig in the kitchen trash. Her mom found it the next morning and made her wear it again, but she vowed never to dance and never ever to trust others. It had been Sherrie and her from then on, making up their own adventures and copying those from books. She’d convinced her mom to home school her. She was lonely, but happier than when she had to face the outside.
Now she was crumpled in a heap, crying. She ran her fingers through her own chin-length bobbed hair. It felt beautiful flowing when she danced. Those around her clapped, then came to hug her. Her best friend came up and said, “That was such beautiful dancing, Amie. So perfectly who you are.” The scene disappeared, but continued in the mirror she’d placed on the floor near her. In it she saw that she was now the little girl in the beautiful nearly-transparent dress. The girl walked up to Amie and spoke for the first time. “You are a courageous and fearless adventurer. You’re not a sick little girl anymore. It’s time to take your adventures outside.”
Amie called her best friend that afternoon.
Amie still danced, but also followed her other interests wherever they led. Mountain climbing, spelunking, soccer, painting. But her most passionate interest had been her research, which she’d pursued—following her instincts and working with others—no matter what the odds of failing were. The mirror she kept in the top dresser drawer as a reminder to be fearless and that she would always be Calista, “most beautiful.”
After a pause, she answered the reporter. “How did I get the courage? One day I looked into a mirror, danced, and saw myself for the first time.”
- Current Location:Atlanta, GA
- Current Mood: calm
- Current Music:Vampire Weekend (Contra)