“Wade in the water, wade in the water, wade in the water children”. I am walking on stage, dressed in a white linen dress, billowing around me. Some long blue silky fabric appears to flow back and forth across the stage, mimicking water. I am finally dancing in Revelations. My body is moving to the rhythm of the music. This is what I always wanted. Peace invades me. I am an Alvin Ailey dancer. My heart is full of serenity, happiness and beauty. Suddenly the stage goes dark. What’s happening? I feel cold. Somebody is coming at me…
Two of the neighbors had come to see me and explain that Ati would scream almost every night, a piercing scream that would wake them up at once. I couldn’t hear her because my bedroom was insulated with egg cartons my uncle had help installed on all four walls. When I would go to sleep, every morning at 2:00 p.m., I would put some nature sounds CD and I couldn’t hear anything else. I decided to speak to Ati.
I had taken the habit of entering her apartment directly, without knocking. It had been already four weeks that I was cooking for her and taking her to her physical therapist appointments. Teju would call every Sunday to hear about the week and I would mention all the ups and downs. There were not that many ups to talk about. After that first time Ati had spoken to me, she had not talk to me or anyone else again. Her friends had tried to come visit her at the beginning but she was so despondent that visits became scarce and finally stopped altogether. Her teacher had to leave for a workshop teaching tour.
Ati’s beautiful hair was unkempt and had become matted. I had asked my mom to come over to help. She came over one day and after talking to her softly for a while, she took her by the hand, like she would do with my little sister, Emilie, when she was a toddler, and brought her to the sink and washed her hair and combed it. When I came back from my apartment where she had sent me, I looked at Ati ans saw that her eyes were red. Emilie who had tagged along with my mother, was just staring at the giant Jamar Roberts poster on Ati’s living room wall. Jamar Roberts was leaping and seems like he was going to jump out of the picture. Emilie’s dream was to become a dancer and at 12 she was already pretty good according to her teachers. I could see that Ati and her surroundings were intimidating her because for the first time I had know her, she was very quiet.
“Ati, the neighbors are complaining that you scream and scare the hell out of them at night. They are threatening to call the landlord, we need to fix this.” What was I thinking? I had enough issues with my own life and I was taking over someone else’s problem. The thing was, with Ati, you couldn’t help but want to take care of her and hope to make her feel better. The only problem was I had no idea what I was doing.
“Do you want to go to the library with me in the evening? It’s quiet over there and if you sleep during the day, nobody will hear you and you can scream as much as you want.” This wasn’t going to work as a permanent solution but sometimes you need to work with what you have and right now, that’s what I had.
I had talked to my supervisor and she had said yes right away after I had introduced her to Ati.
I took Ati one evening and I told her that she could wander around as long as she would stay inside. As soon as I said these words, I bit my lips. After what had happened, it wasn’t very likely that she would go walking out by herself.
As I was reshelving the books that had been out that day, Ati sat in the children section and opened a picture book; “Little ballerina” that had been left on the kids’ rainbow table. She didn’t move from the ABC rug during my whole shift and when we left I couldn’t help but thinking that she looked more peaceful.
One Sunday in October, my mom and Emilie came to pick me up to have a picnic on Virginia Key beach. I was hesitant about leaving Ati by herself. I stopped by her place. She was staring through her curtainless window. The Turkey vultures had just come back from up North and a couple of them were soaring above the glass towers in front of our building.
” Ati, come with us, we’re going on a picnic,”I said.
Emilie came in and hugged her softly. Ati shivered but let her do it. My mother picked up the brush lying on her dresser and combed her long hair. Ati looked at us silently but stood up and followed us.
We had a picnic of potato salad and turkey sandwiches under the seagrapes. The sky was cloudless and the water was calm. Some sandpipers were walking busily. Sarah was practicing her aerial and she kept missing and putting her hands down at the last minute.
After observing her for a while, Ati stood up and walked to her and whispered something to her ear. Emilie was in shock but she tried again and she got it. She squealed with delight and then looked at me feeling sorry as she knew I couldn’t stand noise. She ran toward Ati and almost tipped her over and hugged her really tight, saying thank you. I saw Ati smiled for the first time since April.
Later I asked her what Ati said. ” Forget your fear. You are weightless,” Emilie said.
Emilie wanted to take Ati to her dance studio but I wasn’t sure if Ati was ready yet to see other dance, something that was her passion before the accident and that she couldn’t do anymore.
She kept having nightmares. The reason I knew is because I had begun to sleep in her living room to keep a better eyes on her. The piercing noise would even come through my noise cancelling headphones.Her friend had come out of coma but her parents had decided to move back to Pennsylvania where they were from and we hadn’t heard from her since.Ati had refused to go see a psychiatrist and I was wondering if what Teju and I had decided was becoming harmful and my anxiety was getting stronger.Ati would listen to my mother sing to her in French and tell her stories she would tell me and Emilie when we were little before bedtime.
Emilie had suggested to Ati that she should keep a diary like the one Anne Frank had kept and that she was reading in class. She had told Ati that she didn’t need to write, that she could just draw pictures. One day that she was shopping with my mom at Target, she had picked one up for her with a pink fuzzy matching pen.
Ati had looked at it with suspicion but Emilie wouldn’t take no for an answer and she opened it to the first page and told her to draw something. I was waiting for a cue from my mom but she was looking at Ati and a couple a seconds passed.
Then Ati in few strokes of the pink pen, drew a ballerina. Emilie was elated.
I would come to Ati’s place during the day to study and make her a sandwich. I would see her draw and write always quietly.One day as I was bringing her another peanut butter jelly sandwich, she stopped me and took my hand and brought me to the kitchen where something was simmering on the stove. ”pepper soup” she said and from that day on she cooked our lunch.
“Lift every voice and sing…”My mother sings along with all the First Baptist church members. As the hymn ends, we all bow our heads. She is holding my hand. This is our special time. What makes it even more special is that my mother is atheist. As I kept asking questions about god, she decided one day to take me to church. She marched in sanctuary one day, the only white woman there, with confidence and asked about Sunday school where she enrolled me on the spot. The first few times, people kept asking her if she needed help as she didn’t look that she belonged there. After a while, people got used to her and it became our special place. I feel so happy here. It is just me and her as my brother is at home with dad. Today I am wearing a pink smocked dress that I like to twirl in. The deacon finishes his speech, and asks everyone to hug someone and tell them we love them. My mother hugs me and I can smell her Nivea lotion. Then light comes off and feel myself fall.