So, here I am. Performing on one of the biggest stages in the nation. It’s a dream, a pinnacle of hopes and hard work, a streak-free reflection of what I always imagined. My chest thumps in time with the beats of the violins, my feet react at just the right second during every turn, every leap, every step as I dance out my heart’s very melody. The dancers around me complement each other—complement me, all of us working and sweating in sync. We are here for each other. If one falls, we all do. My eye catches that of my friend Aspen’s as we pass in an arabesque and a fouette turn. We read each other’s minds.
This is what makes us who we are. This moment, right here.
I turn again, fling my arms out, strong and full of passion, as my face is enveloped in the spotlight. I allow it to consume me, not afraid of its brightness. I am lost.
Something changes. I feel it like a subtle thrum—a hiccup—in my pulse. I keep dancing, but I’m losing energy. The brightness is dimming, dimming, dimming.
I stop, catching my breath, bathed in darkness until the light comes back, slowly, slowly, but from a different source than the blazing electrical thing overhead. I look around. The other dancers are staring at me, backing away. Further, faster. Now they are running, abandoning the stage.
I stand alone in the dim light that allows me to see the audience seats, which are now empty. When did the people leave? I can hear my breath, echoing as if in a metallic chamber, as I watch the curtain descend in front of me. I spin in a full circle, still washed in this eerie light, and confirm to myself that I am utterly alone. And yet, I feel I am not. And in the worst way, too—like that icy chill that snakes down your spine when you hear a creak in an empty house.
I pull in a tight breath, eyes wide, as wind whips my hair. I feel a fluttering in my belly, in my chest, in my limbs. What is going on?
Another groan, creak, step. Step, step, step. Someone is coming towards me, but they must be behind the curtain. The stepping stops abruptly, and I’m forced to watch in silence as the curtain ripples in this breeze that seems to vibrate my whole body.
“Scarlet.” A whisper. I peer into the dim light, trying to find the source of the voice. “Scarlet?” Normal volume now—a woman’s voice. No—not any woman’s. Aspen’s.
Another groan soars through the atmosphere, and my limbs feel tense, woven. I rub my left arm with my right hand. Coarse skin assaults the nerves on my fingertips. “Aspen? Is that you?”
“Scarlet, why are you shuddering so?”
“Where are you? Why can’t I see you?”
Oh? I panic as the wind picks up and my legs go rigid. The curtain is whipped around like a feather in a storm until it cascades to the stage. No, wait. Not the stage. Dirt. Moist dirt cakes around my feet. I look up, and the stars twinkle back at me from the night canopy. I try to turn my head, but it only moves mere millimeters, if that. I am in a forest, surrounded by trees, and my breath is now one with the wind. I don’t see Aspen anywhere, and I can’t move. Something skitters up my arm, and I cry out, try to swipe at it, but I’m frozen in place. It climbs up into my hair and enters my ear—a soft thing with prickly feet. A shiver runs down my body. What is the thing doing in my ear?!
But then, I feel something else. Something soft and human, like a small palm on my torso. It warms, it searches, it soothes. I manage to look down and see a child—a little girl with brown wavy hair, her hand on my belly. She smiles, tilts her head up. Her gaze roams the night sky over my head. She breathes, and I melt. I know this girl. I know. I know. It all hits me, then. Who I really am.
Aspen’s fluttering leaves wave at me from behind the girl, and she dips her head just slightly. Haven came back. She came back!
The little one whispers against my bark, “I’m sorry. I had to be away for awhile. Grandma has left this earth, and my family had to make sure everything was taken care of after her journey. But I’m back now.”
She begins to climb me, her little feet tickling and scraping on the way up. She sits on my outstretched arm, and I hold her there as she gazes at the twinkling orbs through my branches. All the world’s a stage, and I had let myself embrace the fantasy that I must be a star in order to be loved. To be found. To matter.
The girl—my little Haven—embraces my arm, and the wind—my breath—caresses her hair. No. I think I’ll stick with being a prop from which children can dream with the stars, can breathe in the open air and find refuge from life’s unexpected woes.
I am shelter, I am life and hope for the Havens of the world.