What they knew at the time:
1. How to dance. And somehow, they had managed to teach the wooden floor to dance with them. Now, every time they moved, it moved: sinking under their feet like a cushion, rising with them like a spring.
2. That in exactly five minutes, the stage manager would come into their studio and say, “Auditorium doors are open. Sixty minutes to showtime.” Warm-up was now over—he would turn off the music, and she would bring them both some water. Then, costume and makeup. “Fifteen minutes to showtime.”
3. The exact moment when the house lights on the Other Side of the Curtain had been dimmed, just from the hush that silenced the audience’s bustling and chatter. They both also knew that they were not supposed to think about the Curtain or the Other Side— it didn’t help stop the ceaseless quivering that had taken hold of their hands and legs. But they were still young, this was still a college show, and so their minds crossed the Curtain frequently.
4. The positioning of every one of the stage lights. Gone were the tiny pieces of blue tape that once told them where to land. They could now tell where they were on the small stage with their eyes shut, just by the intensity of the light burning into the backs of their necks. This was, after all, their 11th performance for an audience. Twelfth, if the private show they had given his mother and her friends in her cramped living room counted. They both agreed it didn’t.
5. How to let music and grace carry them through space. And how to tether themselves to that grace for an endearing bow and a professional exit. The latter they had learned only recently: After their first performance, they had shrieked in delight the moment they got offstage. The first five, maybe six rows heard them. High school habits die hard.
What they didn’t know (and had no way of knowing) at the time:
1. That four years from now, everything around her would begin to collapse spectacularly. She would return home from rehearsal one day to find her parents, sister, and an unmistakeable air of solemnity waiting for her in the living room. “We need to talk.” Silence would fill the room, her expression would remain blank. “It’s been three years since you graduated,” they would begin, as if she needed reminding, as if it wasn’t the first thought she had every morning. “We see you work day and night, rehearsal after rehearsal.” Don’t say it. “And for what? No real work, no big productions.” Don’t say it. “Just bad ads and small understudy roles,” they would continue, as if she needed reminding, as if it wasn’t the first thought she had every morning. “We’re saying this because we love you. And if you decide to stick with it, of course we’ll support you. But…you do also have a major in biology. Consider…letting this go?”
2. That his first gig after college would be as lead backup dancer in a music video for The Vaccines. It would put him in touch with the elusive “right people” and eventually, he would be choreographing on Broadway. And although the frequency of his conversations with her had dwindled down to the monthly “How are you? We have to talk soon!” messages, he would see her in the front row on opening night.
3. That seven years from now, she would return home from the lab one day to find dinner and her roommates waiting for her. As soon as she stepped into the apartment, one of them would grab her bag, while the other would get up to set the table. “I know it was your turn for dinner but...” She wouldn’t know why exactly then, but in that moment she would become acutely aware that she was undeniably and passionately cared for.
4. That 21 years from now, she would receive an email asking her to come back to college as a guest lecturer for the biology department—invited to talk about the Real World and how it related to the classroom. Reading the email, she would scrunch her eyes shut and will her mind not to go back. Because to think about college would mean to think about what could have been. And sure enough, she would suddenly be on that small stage again, the light shining on the back of her neck.
5. That, much to her own surprise, she would agree to give the lecture, and be glad she did. Because walking across the stones and the grass she knew so well, she would allow herself to remember. And although her parting with the wooden floor still hurt her—it always, always, would—she would realize that through her whole life, she had been securely fastened to the grace it had taught her.