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Shades of Abuse
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Extract from Shades of Abuse

A Delicate Duality

Mother was desperate for me to be a ballerina. My life was forfeit to her dream. From the moment I was born I was allowed no freedom to be me. I was sucked into my mother’s reality before I was old enough to realise that there was an alternative.

As soon as I could walk I was dragged along to dancing class. From the age of three I had to struggle to co-ordinate my limbs to the strident demands of my dance tutors. They persuaded and cajoled me to contort my legs into impossible poses. I was too young to understand the reasons why I was forced to hold the painful positions. I couldn’t understand my mother’s coldness toward me when I cried out in desperation at the agony I suffered. She ignored my anguish and punished me further by paying for even more lessons to improve my flexibility. At three years old, I endured my silent agony, and I wished with all my heart that she could feel my pain.

‘You’ll appreciate this when you’re a Prima Ballerina,’ she would croon to me softly after my tears had dried. ‘You’ll thank me when you receive the bouquets from all the admirers of the dance,’ she promised.

I pleaded constantly to be excused from my lessons. I dreaded the dancing days, but my complaints went unheeded. Four times a week I was taken, and four times a week I was put through hours of torture. My poor young body protested at the strains that it was forced to endure. I wore support bandages like other children wore socks. Mother didn’t understand when I complained that the exercises hurt. The teacher explained that a little pain was more or less to be expected, and advised an aspirin or two to help ease the aches. My childhood became filled with dance and pills. I lived on painkillers, and ate them like other children ate sweets. Mother could see no wrong in this. She didn’t feel my suffering. She only saw that my dancing improved when my limbs were pain free.

I didn’t care for my mother’s vision of fame or fortune. That was never my dream. I was a child and craved childish pursuits. I couldn’t envision the future that my mother planned for me. How can a child imagine an adult’s dream?  I just wanted to be allowed to play with the other children. I wanted to skip to my own beat. I wanted to jump in the air and land with my feet in a natural position. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to be free. I wanted to be me, but it didn’t seem to matter what I wanted.

My earliest memories involve the dance. It’s hardly surprising, because dancing was all I ever did. At four years old, I was a flower fairy in the dancing school Christmas show. Unfortunately my co-ordination was late to develop, and I was a clumsy ballerina at four. I tripped over my daisy ribbon while performing centre stage, and fell on my backside. My tutu crumpled and my floral headdress slipped. I scrambled to my feet to rejoin the dance, but couldn’t hear the music for the laughter from the audience. I dissolved in tears and rubbed my sore posterior as I limped from the stage. The audience loved my performance, but Mother was livid and wouldn’t speak to me for days. She was crippled by humiliation, but she didn’t feel my pain.

Mother only noticed me when I was doing what she wanted me to do. She bathed me in glory at every step of the Ballet ladder that I climbed, and I pandered to her whims so I could wallow in her praise. Mother took delight in every Ballet exam I passed, but scolded if I didn’t achieve a distinction. She put so much faith in me to be a dancer. She longed for me to fulfil her dream, and she was supremely sure that she would get what she desired. She could twist my father round her little finger with a smile, and had her own way of keeping me so entwined.

As a little girl, I craved my mother’s affection. She only gave it when I did as she insisted. If I danced, she would love me and shower me with praise and kisses. If I didn’t, she would shut me out of her embraces. So I danced. I was a child. I didn’t know better.

Her will was hypnotic and inescapable. I was a captive slave in my infancy and a mesmerised minion in my youth. How could I refuse the destiny that she’d picked out for us?  The future that she was so determined we would share?  I wished all the time, that she could feel the pain her dream was causing me.

I think there was a time when I had dreams of my own, but it’s so long ago that I can’t remember what they were. My mother’s dream is the only one I carry within me now. I live the life that my mother always wanted to live. Now her life is my life, and my life is hers. We are locked together in a delicate symbiosis. She depends on me to perform for her, and my every graceful movement is a supplication to her soul to leave mine alone.

My mother moulded me from the cradle to fit her dream. I wouldn’t be surprised if my father was chosen for his slim build too, so he could pass the right genes on to me.

I grew lean and willowy, and my teacher praised my perfect ballerina form. Mother ignored my lack of appetite, and avoided passing the bathroom when I was in there throwing up. She was blind and deaf in her neglect of my plight. She didn’t sense my pain.

Mother was so proud when I became a favoured student who was always picked to demonstrate positions to the less able members of the class. She worshipped my success and I grew accustomed to the praise. When she sent me away to board full time at Ballet school, I missed her constant hovering presence. It must have been a supreme sacrifice on her part to let me go. I didn’t want to leave my home, but her will was much stronger than mine was. I was dispatched amid flowing tears and protestations, but my mother’s face remained dry.

Dancing is my whole world now, thanks to Mother. I breakfast on exercise, and lunch at the barre. Dinner is dancing to Handle or Mozart. I take pills to ease my pain, and drugs to quiet my appetite. Dancers need to keep bone-thin. It’s not considered aesthetic to have a bust line, and hips are definitely frowned upon.

I know girls who do constant battle with their weight. I find it simple to stay slim. I just don’t eat, or when I do, I throw up before the food can do any lasting damage. My skeletal figure is highly prized by the company. My slim form is a delight to the costume designers. My lightweight body gives the male dancers an advantage in the lifts. Consequently, I am often chosen by the lead males to partner them in practice sessions. That was how the company directors came to notice me so quickly. I now enjoy the rare privilege that mother craved for me, and I’m so glad that she can share in my fame. She deserves to be here with me. After all, she worked so hard for it.

Apparently, her childhood fantasies revolved around the Ballet. She never had the opportunity to fulfil her youthful dreams. With three brothers and two sisters all vying for their share of necessities from Granddad’s meagre wages, there was nothing left for fripperies. Dancing classes were beyond the means of families such as my mother was born into.

I knew that my grandmother treated her artistic child occasionally. A modest win on the Bingo would produce a gift for all her children. My mother’s memory – told to me to offer inspiration to my flagging spirit – was the gift of a pair of rubber shoes, moulded in the shape of ballet slippers. They were her most prized possession.

Grandma once confided to me that my mother would spend hours in the kitchen as a child. With her pink rubber sandshoes on her tiny narrow feet, she would use the old pot-sink edge as a barre. The kitchen window served as a mirror to reflect her every graceful bend and stretch. She would studiously work through the Ballet exercises that were depicted in the open copy of a second hand, ‘Twinkle Annual.’  It was the closest she could come to her beloved Ballet, until I was born.

She left school at fifteen and was sent to work in the mill. Sorting rags was not the desired occupation for an aspiring ballerina, and she determined her child would not suffer the same fate. She yearned for something greater than being a mere mill girl, but the only hope of escape for my mother, was a good marriage. Fortunately she was endowed with the looks and grace that secured my father’s affections. He was the son of the mill owner. Married to him, her dreams would be within her reach. She would at last have the means to ensure that her child would fulfil her most precious desires. She must have been ecstatic when I was born a girl. She never had another. I was a lonely child.

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