The Time I Went to the Ballet

IMG_1092On Wednesday I didn’t go home directly after work. I got off the R train at 59th and 5th Avenue by the designer boutiques, walked toward Columbus Circle, skirting Central Park where the smell of horse manure from the tourist carriages was overwhelming, then made my way up 64th to Lincoln Center.

The horses’ breath was misty as they snorted and stomped, waiting for some adventurous tourists to take them on a lap around the park. Everyone in Manhattan is smartly dressed in long, black coats and wool scarves. Even I am smartly dressed, ill at ease in a lime green, cashmere sweater and a powder blue, button up shirt beneath my own black jacket and wool scarf, my gray slacks and black, designer dress shoes.

An advertisement on the subway reads, “NYC: Tolerant of your beliefs, judgmental of your shoes.” I’ve taken this slogan to heart.

At Lincoln Center he was waiting for me with our tickets. We were seeing a ballet, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.

He was starving, and we were early, so we walked up Broadway and grabbed some hotdogs from Gray’s Papaya. A man with an indecipherable accent stood across the counter from me asking me questions I couldn’t understand. After saying, “Sorry?” He repeated himself, but I still didn’t understand, so I stared back blankly, smiling, and said, “I’d like relish, please.”

We stood at the counter in our jackets and ate our dogs, paranoid of spilling or dripping or smearing chili, cheese, and relish on our nice coats. Outside the street was thronged with people, tourists, and city folk darting to shops, or to the theater, or apartments uptown.

“I wish every night was like this,” I said. The two of us in Manhattan, dressed up, going to the ballet. Carlos nodded, and I wasn’t sure if he knew I was referring to the city and not the hot dogs.

I usually only see Manhattan winking at me from across the water from our apartment on Staten Island or experience it underground as the subway hurtles me from the ferry, to my job in Queens. Manhattan, at night, with the lights and skyscrapers, the horses, and the yellow taxis never ceases to feel magical.

Back at Lincoln Center, Carlos took our picture on the second floor in front of an art installation comprised of overlapping, vintage-looking posters. The first attempt I was making a face. The second attempt his hair was wrong. The third attempt he was satisfied. “That’s cute.” He said.

We took our seats in the balcony, the cheap seats we can afford, and waited for the music and dancing to begin. Carlos was excited, leaning forward in his seat. He still harbors some resentment toward his father for discouraging him from dancing when he was a child, and now lives vicariously though the dancers on the stage. I was excited too, to be out in the city, to be well dressed and feel sophisticated, despite my predilection for hotdogs and discomfort when confronted by “art.”

The lights dimmed. The music started, and immediately my mind began to wander.

A week before a classmate of mine had died. We’d been friends in junior high by default. The last ones chosen to be on any team. Him because he was fat, and me because I was short, and frail, and not athletically inclined. During gym the two of us would just walk around the football field and talk about music, or video games, or whatever kids that age talk about.

He moved sometime during high school, and I’d be lying if I said I’d thought of him much in the intervening years. Up until a couple of weeks ago he was a firefighter back in Texas. The roof of a burning building had fallen on him, leaving his wife a widow, and his five children half-way orphaned. I don’t know why I thought of him at that particular moment, other than the strange idea that I was living in New York City, watching the ballet, and he no longer existed at all.

That someone my age could die.

That I could die.

I shivered in my seat. Carlos looked over to me and smiled. I smiled back. On stage the dancer’s danced. I marveled at the athleticism, the grace, the gorgeous set pieces, and the delicate stitching of the costumes. But the whole time I couldn’t shake the thought that the entire production would be vastly improved if only there’d been words to accompany the dancing.

At intermission people stood around drinking champagne from fluted glasses. Carlos looked, unsuccessfully, for a water fountain. The theater was too warm, and I could feel myself sweating beneath the layers of my new, stylish clothes. I used the program as a makeshift fan. Carlos stretched his legs and I imagined what would happen if the giant chandelier across form us crashed down on the people seated in the theater below.

The lights dimmed a second time. The music started. In front of me a little girl leaned against her father, both of them looking sleepy and bored. The repetitive movements of the dancers became hypnotic. I imagined everyone in the theater falling asleep from some witch’s spell like in the story. To be kissed awake by our respective Prince Charmings.

The ballet ended the curtain calls and the applause faded and we put back on our coats and scarves. We made our way outside where the cold air felt wonderful on our warm skin. We sat in the train with our knees touching. Exhilarated by a night in the city, by the music and movements. We ran to catch the ferry, lolled home by the rocking of waves. We danced from our doorway to the bedroom, the golden glow of the salt lamp, my grandmother’s patchwork quilt, our inviting bed.

I was exhausted and wired.

Thankful to be in this amazing city.

To be with him.

To be alive.

Across the water my future danced among the white capped waves, uptown through rainswept streets, beneath neon signs, past hot dog carts and shops, climbing up skyscrapers, and spreading out over the city of Manhattan. The promise of a city, of a continuing dance, the music and the steps an overlapping patchwork of inverted constellations rocking on celestial waves, and all the amazing possibilities of existence.