Thalia’s Journey

You won’t understand that when I look in the mirror
           the image is fractured and lies to me
That despite hours of practice (and countless compliments)
             I still believe I’m crap
I fear the silence because it thunders and echoes doubt
             so I fall asleep listening to music

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             Thalia stood before the mirror not looking at it. She didn’t want to see what was there because she already knew. It was the same everyday, why should today be any different. At the age of 35, she knew what was waiting for her. Her brown, wavy hair with hints of grey would be just as unruly as ever. It didn’t matter what she did or how much product she used, her hair had a mind of it’s own and conspired with the weather to create what could only be described as a bird’s nest. Her clothes hung on her like they belonged to someone else. Never being one who liked shopping, Thalia would spend as little time and money as possible buying clothes from the discount shops and outlets. As a result, her clothes never fit quite right and only accentuated her short stature. She was just about five feet tall, if she wore shoes, and her slacks and jeans always drug the ground behind her just enough that sometimes she would trip over them when she walked. Thalia didn’t wear makeup because it would irritate her skin and cause horrible acne. However, not wearing any makeup left her bright red, patchy skin exposed inviting stares and comments about having had “too much sun today”.

          No, the mirror was not her friend. What Thalia saw when she looked in the mirror was not someone she enjoyed looking at. She simply could not imagine anyone else wanting to look at her. Thalia forced herself to look without seeing. She made sure nothing was tucked in that didn’t need to be. Then she gave up on her hair, pulled it into a half ponytail, and gave herself a half smiling shrug. That’s as good as it’s going to get, she thought as she walked out the door on her way to the dance studio.

 

         “I can’t do that!” Thalia protested.

          “Yes. You can and you will.” Gin insisted. “You can’t get better if you don’t watch yourself. You have two choices – you can check your progress and posture in the mirror or I can get one of the girls at the front to video you. It’s up to you.” Gin was Thalia’s coach. He insisted that she use the mirror every session in spite of her protests. He was a Russian gymnastics coach, or at least that was how he liked to refer to himself because of the high expectations he had for his students. Gin had trained for years honing his craft and learning from the best in the world. He had a strong work ethic and expected no less from his students, especially the ones he believed had real talent.

          “Are we getting the video camera?” Gin asked impatiently.

          “No, I’ll do it,” Thalia said quietly and began to run the drills the way Gin had showed her while she was looking at the lying mirror that told her she would never get it right.

          Thalia practiced for hours at home running through the drills but never looking in the mirror while she did. She knew she needed to but she couldn’t make herself do it. Practices with Gin were always hard, which was good. She had told him to push her as hard as he needed to.

          “It’s okay to make me cry,” Thalia had said once, “I need someone to push me out of my comfort zone. So, it’s okay if you make me cry.” Gin laughed at this statement believing that Thalia had been joking, but accepting the challenge. Gin pushed Thalia during every practice asking her to look in the mirror as she practiced her basic steps, her body rolls, and her posture.

          “You didn’t cry. That’s good. That means either you are getting better or I am not pushing you hard enough. I’ll have to try harder next time,” Gin smiled roguishly at the joke he had made.

         “Absolutely! Bring it on,” Thalia answered playfully. “I can take it.” But Thalia didn’t mean it. She couldn’t stand to look in the mirror. Nothing she did ever seemed right. Gin always gave her a list of what she was doing wrong, pointing to them in the mirror while she stood there vulnerable and alone and cracking under the watery smile that Gin never noticed. Hours of practice and the list of what Thalia was doing wrong never got any shorter because as soon as one item was removed, three new ones were added. Thalia said her goodbyes after practice and went to the car to cry where no one would see her.

 
When I cry it’s not about you
    but about my frustration at my inability
         to communicate my needs
 

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         Not long after that, Gin stopped being Thalia’s coach. It wasn’t because he had made her cry. He never knew he had done that. Gin honestly believed he was doing the right thing, that he was doing what Thalia had asked, but he didn’t know how fragile she really was. No, Gin stopped coaching Thalia because he left for his own adventure, and Thalia was left to find a new coach, but she didn’t think she could. “Who would want to coach someone as woefully untalented as I am,” Thalia thought.

You won’t understand that I keep you at bay
             because others left scars and weren’t as careful as you
      That I try to hide even when I race for the spotlight
                        because I love the heat
                       but don’t like to be looked at

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          “You look great!” Val said. “That run through was the best one yet! You are going to be fantastic!” Thalia stood before the mirror in her costume and took inventory. Her unruly hair was beautifully pulled into a low ponytail at the nape of her neck. A small tiara sat weaved into her wavy locks to accent the auburn in her hair. Thalia was even wearing makeup that highlighted the deep blue pools of her eyes.

          Tonight was the big night. Val and Thalia had been working together on their routine for a year. Val was very different from Gin in Thalia’s mind. Where Gin was brusque and demanding, Val was courteous and flexible. Although they had both been her coaches, Val’s style felt more and more like a partnership as the year had progressed. Val had not forced Thalia to look in the mirror herself. He had acted as the mirror for her for months giving her feedback and telling her all the things she had done correctly. She slowly began to sneak glimpses of herself in the mirror when she and Val practiced. Thalia even allowed herself to be photographed once while doing the routine. Although she wasn’t quite ready for the video camera, Thalia was at least looking in the mirror. She no longer believed all the lies it told her. No, Thalia was able to put the fractured pieces together and see herself more clearly than she ever had.

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