The Seventeen Seconds of Odette
Hidden in Sight
Resentment as a Kind of Relief
Over the Kanawha
Culled from the Flock
The Beauty in Fracturing
The Seventeen Seconds of Odette
In these decisive seconds, you are floating: you hang from silky wires like a spider. You watch as velvet curtains are drawn for you, and your eyes struggle to adjust to the sudden vastness presented to them. Your pulse quickens as your body releases a tension that has built up within you. It moves through your capillaries with a jolt that mirrors the glissading lights that enliven the stage. The audience is hidden behind a shroud that has fallen over the baroque-style theater, but you don’t think about that. This is now your palace. Maintaining an arched pose, you crane your pale neck toward the darkness. Faint orchestral music fills the silence as your worn point shoes meet the most renowned stage of New York City for the first time. You fall, landing en pointe, and begin to pirouette on lithe limbs that no longer feel like your own. Weightlessness settles around you—the joyous spotlight takes you in.
After many years of longing, you have finally been granted your wish to become a swan. You recall bruised, tender toes that bled through your slippers the first few months of dancing. You remember the little girl curled into a fetal position, squeezing her feet late at night in hopes of easing the dull ache. You remember the pain that sat idly in your calves until your joints grew numb through hours of practice. You remember the holes in the knees of your pink, opaque tights from the scrapes of countless falls. You remember the days you merely pretended to stretch because every part of you was in agony. How could you forget? These were the years you learned to love ballet. The pain subsided, now you are here. Adorned with a diaphanous fabric that flows down your slender waist as well as a feathery tutu, you have become your dream. You leave the shadows of your ordinary self, and you enter the world of Odette.
You are floating again, but you are no longer in New York. This new sensation is laced with discomfort: the air solidifies as it is pulled from your lungs. The tentative throbbing of your heart fills the space around you. You are not floating. As the seventeen seconds begin to pass, you crash through the air. You hit the surface of something harder than concrete. You crumple. The impact flashes through your body. Your ribs, your lungs, your heart—they all seem to mesh together. This wasn’t how you thought you’d die. The memory of the road in front of you, black concrete against the night, dissolves in the face of your dashboard. You begin to sink.
Once again, you tumble into darkness—not of the stage but of a body of water. The lake swallows you, its depths trapping you inside your crushed Honda. It must look like a compressed soda can to a more privileged observer: its warped interior leaves you barely enough room to turn your body. You are afraid to move, afraid to breathe—you are unwilling to open your eyes to search through the darkness. With eleven seconds left, your adrenaline fires. Now you scream. You throw your body at the door in desperation. They say accidents make you think of those most precious to you. They aren’t wrong, but you don’t have time to imagine anyone. They aren’t dying with you.
Your heart is punctured with an empty, devouring pain; there is nothing left to fill it. Your vocal cords are now clenching in protest, and your foreign screams have become panicked wheezes. Jagged sounds have been torn from your throat. The lake water is pressing itself against the doors. Your shaking hands rummage through the glove box with some sense of purpose, reaching for a flashlight that you had forgotten about. You grip it in your hands; the metal stings your broken skin. You plunge the flashlight into the glass window—once, twice, a third. Tears well from inside of you, building until your eye sockets hurt. A crack forms. You do not have time to take a proper breath. The glass finally shatters and an overwhelming current floods the car. Your body kicks itself through the window. You are no longer thinking. The temperature of the water forces thousands of needles into your body. Black spots dance in your vision. This isn’t a dream. The spots begin to multiply: the black haze falls over your eyes and you gradually close them. There is no fighting anymore. There is only sleep.
The dream of the stage and the dream of the lake blur together. You writhe in a hospital bed, thrashing your body as you feel someone grab a hold of your legs. Your face contorts in terror, but you remain asleep. The company director watches above you—he has been sitting in the chair opposite your bed for an hour now. Your eyelids flutter in spasms as you slowly emerge from unconsciousness. An agonizing pain in your legs revives you; it starts in your tibiae and spreads its tendrils to every part of your body. It makes you inhale sharply, and you gasp like you did underwater. A flash of color springs behind your eyelids. You nearly pass out again when you become conscious of the sensation in your ribs.
Am I broken?
Your body feels as though it has shattered: your insides must be in pieces, held together only by a thin layer of skin. Your eyes finally open, resisting the sleep that had nearly glued them shut for good. The director's blurry form starts coming into focus, as your mind assaults you with questions that you don’t know how to articulate. A nurse enters to his right and gingerly props you up. She checks your IV drip and leaves. As she goes, you try to thank her, but your voice doesn’t sound the way you remember it. Like gravel. The director is speaking now. His words feel as distant as yours had.
“Last night, you hit black ice and got into a car accident,” he tells you gently. You are lucky to have made it out alive. Your car skidded off the road and into the lake beside it. You nearly drowned. You were found later, unconscious on its bank.”
Before you realize it, you are crying. Your chest heaves. You have to force yourself to breathe, but you can hardly remember how. You should be dead right now. The director takes your hand and continues, his expression pained. You don’t hear him anymore. You try to move your legs, but you can’t. You try to sit up, but your body won’t allow it. He finishes talking and stares at you, waiting for a question that won’t come. You didn’t hear anything he said, but somehow you didn’t have to.
“You will never dance again.”
He leaves the room and you with it.
It only took seventeen seconds for twenty-six years of your life to end. Odette had drowned: she was swallowed with the car. You would become that ordinary girl again, the White Swan forever out of your reach. You had sacrificed everything for dance, and you were left with nothing. When you realize this, you will bite down on your lower lip until you taste blood. You will tremble against the overwhelming urge to cry, as the hospital’s staff prepares to move you from your room. The time it takes for them to wheel you down the hallway to the operating table will feel like the longest stretch of time in your life, even longer than the accident.
The ceiling tiles of the operating room will be tainted by gray fringe in the places where there had been leaking. Bright fluorescent lights will flicker above you erratically, imitating the uneven beating of your heart. This heartbeat will feel like the only connection that you have to this world, the sole reminder that you are still living. As you glide across the sterile floor, you will be accosted by an oppressive silence that will be broken by the orchestra of the operating room. In any other situation, you would be terrified by the prospect of surgery. But by this point, you will feel numb to all external things—surgery does not faze you. You will look down, and your bound limbs will not faze you. You won’t even feel like they are a part of you.
In the coming weeks, you will realize that, although you are no longer suffocating in a sinking car or under the pressure of hundreds of tons of water, something has wrapped itself around your lungs. Each day, the pressure of the iron bars will grow—your life will dissolve before your eyes and staying alive will hurt. Just before they introduce an anesthetic to your drip, you will remember what it felt like to be on that stage. You will remember the energy of the crowd, of your fellow dancers: the freedom of the stage, and the way your body could move without restriction. You will remember the elation of your troupe leader, the look on her face—you will never feel anything like that again. You are just a girl in an operating room, and no one can pull you to safety. A different feeling will now occupy your being. The anesthetic hits, and you close your eyes. This is what it feels like to lose everything.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Lietzow is a freshman at the University of Kentucky. She studies Mandarin and international economics, with a focus in China—United States relations. She enjoys playing the piano as well as the flute, and she has had a love for writing her entire life. After graduation, Rachel hopes to pursue a career that will allow her to rediscover her cultural roots through writing.