In the days leading up to my end of the year dance show, I no longer felt like myself. The first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t sleep. I would try to arrange my bed and rearrange my bed. I’d add pillows and then remove them. I was constantly struggling to find a position that would allow me to rest. It was nearing the end of the school year and of course, I needed to practice my dances for the show. I needed energy and I needed sleep. I finally found relief when I piled my stuffed animals high enough that I could finally fall asleep. I slept sitting up. Problem solved
The next thing I noticed was the lack of air. Suddenly the world didn’t have enough air for me. I couldn’t breathe. At school, we’d have to go down from the first floor to the basement and back up to collect the books from our lockers for whatever our next class was. I remember my desk was in the front row to the left of the teacher. Funnily enough, it’s a great spot to remain unseen. Often the teacher looks past the first row to the rest of the class. The front row students weren’t the ones they needed to worry about. They’d rarely look to the left-hand corner unless they wanted to open the window. Upon returning from the basement with my books I would sit at my desk gasping for air as quietly as I could. I remember it felt like 20 minutes that I couldn’t breathe. I had no idea what was happening in class. It was the end of May. It was hot. All I could think was “c’mon breathe!”
I’m not sure what prompted it because I don’t remember having any other symptoms, but I ended up at the local clinic. My mom took me in. The doctor requested a chest X-ray and then diagnosed me with pneumonia. That explains it. What a relief. I was fine.
“Sooo, I can still dance right?” I’m not sure I gave my parents much of a choice. “It’s just one day! I’ll be ok!” I’m not sure how but I actually convinced them. I was so excited. I was in the middle in every dance I was in for the first time ever. I was in multiple classes which meant multiple dance numbers in the show. I had worked really hard. I had even earned a certificate for my dancing just a few months earlier. I felt so confident and strong. I had all the moves down. I was ready to show my stuff!
We pulled into the parking garage of the museum where the dance shows were held every year. This wasn’t my first show, so I knew exactly where to go. I was so excited to tell my teacher I could dance in the show. I remember standing in front of her behind the stage about to tell her the news. And that was it. That was the moment my heart broke.
I threw up my traditional pre-show McNuggets all over the floor at my dance teacher’s feet. I was the most humiliated a 13-year-old can get. I had nothing left. I’m not just talking about my stomach contents but also my energy. I almost remember collapsing to the floor, but I don’t think I did. My memory is very spotty from that moment on. All I knew was I couldn’t dance. No matter how hard I wanted it to work or how hard I fought against it, my body quit on me.
I spent what felt like the rest of the show in a closet-sized room somewhere backstage, alone, sleeping in an armchair behind some shelving. My dance crew came back at one point to give me a red flower. Probably a rose. The show had to go on. Without me.
Why wasn’t I immediately whisked off to an emergency room? Because I had pneumonia. We knew what it was. Pneumonia is rough! It affects your lungs. It all made sense.
I know that my sister went on to shine in that show. She always did. She was an amazing dancer. Even if she wasn’t my sister, I know that I wouldn’t be able to help watching her amongst all the others, float across the stage. But I couldn’t even do that. I couldn’t even watch my friends dance without me. I couldn’t watch the fun dance teacher dance or the amazing finale that was always a highlight of the show. I couldn’t gather with everyone on stage for the audience’s applause at the end of the show. I couldn’t do anything. All I could do was try to find a way to sleep in this armchair, without my stuffed animals to support me, while only hearing the rumblings of the show music through the wall next to me.
Every part of my heart broke that day.
To be continued next week.