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More Essays that Worked

Exposed

Illustration: ExposedBy Danielle Burby
Huntington Station, N.Y.

We wanted to choreograph a tap dance like no one had ever seen before. We wanted to tell a story while we danced. We wanted to deliver a monologue. In the brainstorming session, Elyssa, our teacher, told us to think of a story, an experience, and to tell it not only through our words, but through our feet as well. I sat on the cold floor, my arms wrapped around my knees, and I wondered what story I should tell. I sifted through my memories, grasping for inspiration. Nothing.

One by one, my friends stood before us, dancing their stories. First went James, his tap shoes ringing out like pealing bells against the springy floor, telling a funny story about doctors. Then Sally, her beautiful red hair, newly cut, swinging and swaying along with her and her bubbly tale of band camp. Then Katie, intricately weaving a pattern across the floor, speaking about her open heart surgery. Then my little sister, the youngest one there, timidly striking her feet against the ground, quietly recounting the time she and my father had gotten lost canoeing.

Finally, it was my turn. I was the last to go, and I still had a hundred stories racing through my head. I stood up and slowly walked across the long room, my tap shoes clickety-clacking with every step. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched my reflection follow me in the mirror. I turned around and faced five pairs of expectant eyes. Of their own accord my feet took up a rhythm: ba da dum bum, ba da dum bum. And above the metallic sound of my tapping flew a story I hadn't consciously chosen; a story I had been keeping locked tightly away from even my deepest thoughts.

As I realized what I was saying, my feet quickened and the tapping grew more frantic. But the tapping couldn't drown out my words; a story about my grandmother. I began with the surprise visit my mother and I decided to pay. I told of the window through which I watched my grandmother fall. I told of the glass door, the locked glass door, and my grandmother's slumped form lying unmoving on the floor with just a door barring us from her. And my mother, my clean-mouthed mother, cursing and struggling to find a key, finally finding it and thrusting the door open. The two of us rushing to help my grandmother, me a few steps behind, unsure of what to do, of what was going on.

As I told the story, my feet and words felt clumsy and I didn't know what they would do or say next. Five pairs of eyes, full of pity, watched me. I choked on the words. My feet faltered. But I had begun, and now I had to see it through. I described the sour smell of alcohol seeping out of my grandmother's very pores; the blood, the crimson translucent blood, puddled and smeared across the floor. And worst of all, her eyes, bleary and unfocused, facing in different directions. I told of my own eyes, wide as steering wheels. Blood oozed out of the cut on her head. And my grandmother — my grandma — tried to act as though nothing had ­happened, as though she weren't drunk, as though she wasn't an alcoholic.

My tapping faded out after the words had finally stopped running out of my mouth. The tale hadn't been told in a cohesive manner and my dancing had been disjointed. But my story was out in the open. And as I stood there, I suddenly felt naked. I was utterly exposed. I had dug up a piece of my soul that I suddenly wasn't sure I should have uncovered. Even an hour later, riding shotgun in my mother's minivan, with the trees flying past me, I felt as though a piece of me had been scooped out and left for the vultures.

But miraculously, after I got beyond my feelings of vulnerability, my wound started to mend. It was as though by telling the story I had let out an infection. My anger toward my grandmother was scabbing over; my resentment was being changed into a small scar. And even though none of the people who had heard my story ever brought it up again, sharing that small piece of myself with them allowed me to accept what had happened and to heal.
 

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Exposed
By Danielle Burby '12
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Cupola