• She wants to be a ballerina, dancing her way through the world rather than walking. She twirls and twists in that awkward, disjointed way of a child and laughs when her mother tells her what ballerinas must do: they must go to bed early and wake when they’re told, brush their teeth and their hair and wash behind their ears. She knows that her mother’s just using this phase of hers to get her to do those dull things she must do every day, but she doesn’t care because there’s a song in her heart and she has a perfect pirouette.

    She’s a ballerina, and she’s happy because that’s all she wants.

    She rarely walks these days, too. She stumbles and falls, then just stays. Face-down against the gritty concrete, no one here is telling her to wash behind her ears and isn’t that what she always wanted? To stop the demands of others and live for herself?

    She’d say that yes, it was, but she’s not so sure she’s living for herself these days.

    She’s not even sure she’s living.

    All through second grade she wore nothing but ballerina costumes. Pink and white with frills and skirts that billowed when she spun, soft silk shoes that she wore holes into when she played at recess. Her mother told her that even ballerinas had to wear sneakers sometimes, but she’d never seen a ballerina wearing sneakers so she paid it no mind.

    The teacher would ask her mother if she could, perhaps, get her to stop dressing like a ballerina every day? And her mother would try. She’d say, “Don’t you want to wear a nice shirt and jeans today, honey?” and the little ballerina would shake her head.

    “I want to be a ballerina. It’s all I want.”

    She would giggle and spin out of the room, and her mother would give her a look of amused surrender. She couldn’t tame this ballerina.

    Today she wears what she can find, or steal. She doesn’t have the mind to match anything anymore, just cover up and try to keep warm but she realizes soon enough that all the layers in the world can’t keep her warm.

    The day she realizes that the cold is coming from the inside out, she drinks a bottle of liquor and passes out so she wouldn’t have to feel it.

    One Halloween she still dresses as a ballerina, and her mother tells her that Halloween is meant to be a time where you dressed differently from your everyday clothes. She would shake her head and say,

    “I’m a ballerina. It’s all I want.”

    Most of the time she doesn’t know who she is, and she’s fine with that because she doesn’t know it’s meant to be any other way.

    But then there are painful, splitting moments of clarity between the cloudy haze of chemicals and their numbing magic and she suddenly remembers:

    “I’m Isabelle,” she whispers into the night.

    She sees herself as a little ballerina, running and spinning through the world and she thinks maybe she never stopped that. She thinks that maybe, even when the ballerina phase wore itself out like the soles of her little silk slippers and she was nothing but a bratty teenager smoking cigarettes behind the 7-11, she never stopped running and spinning.

    Except now, she was running from the world itself and spinning to keep from seeing things clearly. She was sick with the dizziness of it all, and she wished more than anything to be able to think without the earth beneath her whirling on its side and toppling her over the edge into the darkness.

    It’s the moments of remembrance that keep her living, and those moments alone.

    Because so long as she remembered this little girl she sees in flashes of giggles and pink, twirling skirts, there was a possibility of turning back into her. There was a possibility she could go back to her innocence and take back the identity that was rightfully hers.

    Back before she burned it all away like the cigarettes she used to smoke and flicked the ashes carelessly into the wind.

    There was a possibility she could be Isabelle, again. Not a ballerina, but a girl. Just a girl.

    It’s all she wants.