AUGUST 1998 |
GEORGE KASHDAN, a former writer of "children's entertainment", is from West New York, NJ. He is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. more
It's the night of my grand debut. Outside, a crowd is gathering. My name is in lights. I'm a star -- numero uno -- prima danseuse.
But I'm not happy. Why? Because my mother can't be here to share the pleasure. Dear, devoted Mom. It's as much her triumph as mine. And to think I once believed she hated me.
You see, my mother never stopped reminding me how I ruined her career, Like it was my fault she developed varicose veins while carrying me in her belly.
She eased my guilt, though, at an early age, when she decided I was a natural-born dancer, like herself. So she was going to teach me everything she knew.
The trouble with Mother was, she came from the "old school." That meant a rap behind the knee with a leather belt whenever my leg wavered. Or a stinging swat across the buttocks to correct my posture.
I swore I'd get even with her one day. Back then, of course, I was too young to understand she was doing it for my own good.
My father never understood either. Often, right in front of me, he'd complain, "No friends. No toys. No hobbies. what kind of life is this for a child?"
"Dance is her life," Mother replied. "I will not allow her to make the same mistake that I made."
She never did let Dad forget that marrying him was a mistake. Maybe that's why he started drinking. Maybe that's why his liver rotted and killed him when I was still in my teens.
Did my mother care? No way. Success was all that mattered. My success.
I was still too young to appreciate Mom's dedication. Like a typical teen, I started to rebel. Not that I wanted to quit dancing -- that would have killed her altogether. I just needed more freedom, which led to big arguments -- and the first of many death threats.
It began during one of my lessons, when Mom took a swipe at me with the leather thong -- and I swiped back with the flat of my hand across her face. I screamed that was finished, fed up.
Mom clutched her heart, gasping. "Isn't it enough you did this to me!" (pointing at her road-mapped legs). "Are you trying to kill me, too?" Then she keeled over.
I panicked, threw my arms around her, promised I'd never complain again. Which made her all better.
Eventually, the heart-attacks were joined by suicide threats, like "You're all I live for. If you fail, I'll just kill myself."
Heavy duty for a girl of eighteen.
Yet even Mom had to admit that I needed to go to dancing school if I hoped to build a career. So I left for to New York to begin my professional training.
But school cost money, which we didn't have. With no other skills, the best I could do was a job in a bookstore at seven dollars an hour, More than half of it went for classes. I moved into a roach-infested flat in the East Village, where I managed on one meal a day -- usually a cup of oatmeal -- and snacks of low-calorie veggies.
My life was all training and practice. Sometimes, I dated a customer at the bookstore -- began discovering sex with some of them -- but I never let it get too serious. Mom kept warning me not to make the same mistake she made.
Still, I had trouble surviving.