fifth position

I was sitting against the cool mirror of the ballet studio, watching as my little sister finished up her last few minutes of practice for a big recital she had coming up that weekend. She wasn’t really that little anymore, I thought. It seemed like only two seconds ago we were piling our stuffed animals on the floor and jumping into the resulting landing cushion from atop tables, couches, chairs, anything our young muscles and active minds could aspire us to climb. Yet here she was, graceful and elegant and beautiful at eighteen. I had suffered enough jokes from my friends about how they’d happily steal that innocence from her to know that she was the kind of girl who caught your eye on the street, the kind of girl whose name you might not remember but whose smile you definitely did, the kind of girl who would only be my sister in some cruel, ironic universe like this one.

I was tall, lanky, dorky, shy, and most of all inexperienced with relationships further than the occasional kiss from high school parties, but my sister had been dating basically since she learned algebra – I think her first boyfriend was a guy she tutored, actually. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I often just sat with her and listened to her talk about her relationships. She’d tell me secrets to making a girl fall in love with you, things every guy would know if he’d only pay a little more attention to their words, and I always felt I should be taking notes but settled for memorizing our most enlightening conversations instead.

One in particular sticks out more than all the rest, more than all her talks about which flowers are the most thoughtful and which dates are the most cliche. She had just broken up with the boy whom she swore was the love of her life. I guess he’d been acting like a jerk lately and kinda flirting around with other girls or something, and my sister just wasn’t having any of that, so apparently she stopped talking to him altogether. I couldn’t figure it out. She obviously still had feelings for him – real, truly intense feelings that honestly freaked me out a little to hear her confess aloud since she was my baby sister after all – so it made no sense to me that she could just up and go like that.

As I watched her prance across the smooth floor, I brought him up again. She was probably getting annoyed with my constantly reminding her of him, but this was one conversation I just couldn’t seem to let go of. I kept thinking, what if that happened to me? She’d told me all these secrets but she left that one situation totally unexplained. It drove me crazy.

She gave me the usual two-minute rant about how he didn’t appreciate her anymore and she was tired of being consistently ranked in second place in his plans and thoughts and heart. She pirouetted. “So I left him.”

“What if he finds someone else?”

“He will.” She ran across the floor on the tips of her toes.

“Then how are you gonna marry him?”

“She’ll break his heart.”

“Like you did.”

She stopped spinning, planting her feet with her back turned to me. I could tell that remark stung a little, and I was about to apologize when she turned to face me and responded slowly, clearly, and deliberately:

“I only broke his heart so I could put it back together with pieces of mine.”

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