I stare at the paper in my hands. “Adage- three out of five. Allegro- one out of five. Flexibility- needs work.” I breathe in sharply, trying to halt the tears forming in my eyes. I’m not good enough. Never good enough. Could they not give me one perfect score? One five out of five? Like my sister got? My younger sister. I’ve been dancing longer than her! What is wrong with me? I want to crumple the paper into a ball, but I find myself reading it again. And again. And again.
The silence in my room this morning feels like glass- sharp and ready to break. I take a deep breath, and it all shatters. The pieces fall around me, glittering, beautiful, cold as ice. Warped reflections of my face.
Lydia sticks her head through the doorway, head cocked to the side, bright eyes inquisitive as always. Her white-blonde hair is sticking out in all directions. She sees my expression and flutters over to take the paper from my hands.
“It’s horrible, isn’t it?” I groan.
She looks at me out of the corner of her eye. “Have you read all of it?” she asks with the ghost of a smile. I nod. “What about this: ‘Turnout- four out of five. Dress code- five out of five. Behavior- five out of five. Batterie- four out of five.’”
“That doesn’t matter!” I almost shout. “I wore the right kind of leotard. I smiled at the teachers. So what?”
“You know, attitude is the most important part.”
“It’s not to me. I don’t need some dumb cliché right now.”
“What about turnout and batterie? You did so well on those!”
“No, I didn’t. It wasn’t five out of five.”
“No one’s perfect.”
“What? No, I’m not!”
“Yes, you are! You got five out of five on nearly everything!”
“I’m in a younger level than you. All the combinations were easier.”
“But still...” I bite my lip.
“Look, that’s not even the point! What defines you? Are you going to let your skills determine who you are? No matter how well you succeed at anything, you are still kind, creative, smart, loyal, and lots of other things. And you still would be whether you aced your performance or completely failed at it.” Lydia looks pleased with herself.
“Wow. Thanks, Socrates.” I roll my eyes and glare at Lydia. Lydia glares right back.
“All right, so that was cheesy,” she admits, “but you know it’s true.”
I do not answer. Lydia turns to look straight at me.
“Hey, you know what Nana always used to say?” she asks. “’It takes a little courage to tell the truth and a lot of courage to believe it.’” Lydia looks at me for a moment and then hops up from her perch on the bed. She steps lightly to the door, and her downy head disappears around the corner.
I see white feathers. The girl walks right through the glass but is not cut. Her bright blue eyes give off light that melts the shards into a single mirror. I see my reflection. This is who I am: the good, the bad, nothing added, and nothing taken away. In my hand, forms a round, white stone with a word written on it. My name. The real name that was mine before anyone called me anything else.
Silence is never truly silent. Something always hangs in our ears. The different voices wait, some whispering, some screaming. We cannot choose which voices speak, but we can choose which ones we listen to. I don’t know what you hear, but I know what I used to hear, and I know what I hear now. Now, when I listen to silence, I hear birdsong.