I wonder if the boards have the same give. The scent of the auditorium is the same, though it hits me differently now, 20 years passed. It still smells like wood and rosin and paper. I hurry down the aisle I walked a hundred, maybe a thousand times, the one to stage left, to place a bouquet in our assigned seats. Ghost-notes float back to me. The Handel’s Messiah we belted, giddy with the anticipation of winter break. The bars of Hello, Dolly! ingrained into my being thanks to monthslong prep for a three-show run. The Celtic strains of a piece I loved whose title escaped me years ago.
I can’t resist running my hand along the fabric of one of the seats. It looks the same, which makes me think it’s been replaced, but then again, maybe not. This place was, despite the trends, made to last.
I take the scenic route to backstage, where my daughter awaits her first dance recital. I peek into classrooms where I grew up. It’s been long enough since I picked up my violin that I’ve buried both the guilt and the longing, but the muscles in my fingers still remember how to turn friction into music. I pass the choir room, where my voice learned not to shake when made to stand alone. I still sing, but now it’s lullabies to half-asleep children.
In the dressing room, I brush a shimmer of gold eyeshadow onto my daughter’s shut-tight eyelids before staining her lips red. She looks like the past and the future all at once.
Later I stand in the dark alongside a handful of three-year-olds, ready to usher mine onto the stage where I spent so many hours of my adolescence. We watch as girls who are my age when I last stood here exit and enter and exit and enter, using their bodies to create a kind of art I never could have hoped to. Grace was never my strong suit. I spent most of my time here in a black robe with a crimson sash or a long black dress with silver lace overlay, but there was one outfit, a brightly-colored patchwork clown costume, that still doesn’t live up to the candy-cane-striped leotard with green- and red-layered tutu my daughter and her compatriots are currently wearing.
The stage lights go dark, and the older girls run off to change for whatever comes next. The little girls hold hands, and their teacher leads them to center stage. I stand next to the red velvet curtains, my heart inching into my throat, and it’s strange, knowing this is where I’ll stay this time. The lights go up, and the music blares, and the girls dance. They don’t get it all right. (We never did either.) The crowd loves them, despite it, because of it. And when the applause begins, I join in and know this place isn’t mine anymore. It’s hers now. The show goes on, as it must.
Elizabeth Ditty lives in Kansas City, where she is attempting to raise two children with good hearts and strong minds with the help of their father and Daniel Tiger. Her work can be found in Memoir Mixtapes, L’Éphémère Review, and Moonchild Magazine. Additionally, her set of children’s stories, “My Sister the Werewolf,” is available in the Bedtime Stories app. She haunts twitter and instagram at @ditty1013.
Photo by Ricardo Moura.