48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Essay #46: powerless or powerful?

In Love on January 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Big storm last week, with knee-deep snow. It knocked out power and phone and thousands of trees. The tall locust in the back yard cracked, and several huge limbs crashed down, scraping the house. My next-door neighbor heard it and yelled, “Are you okay?!” A broken branch dangled 15 feet above the northwest corner of my roof. She stood lookout in the front yard while I gathered blankets. I slept at her house that night, frightened.

That kind of fear doesn’t dissipate immediately, especially since the branch continues to hang over the house. I called the landlord (no phone), his son (no response), and two arborists. Yesterday one of the tree men made it down the drive and took a look. “I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” he said, “the branch is hanging by some strong cords. Locusts are resilient, like taffy. But listen to your intuition. If you get scared, get out. And beware of the wind.” He estimated three weeks before he had time to take it down. So relieved to finally have an expert opinion, I started crying. I break down after the catastrophe.

Back in November, I emailed an alleged friend: I am uncomfortable with the way you hug me sometimes. Too intimate. Distressful. Her response? “I am not coming on to you.” No apology.

Because she was out of town, I continued to attend rehearsals for a dance we were both part of. But eventually she showed up. I ignored her and tried to tough it out, but my body was deeply unhappy. I needed to feel safe. I needed to speak to her. After rehearsal, I asked another dancer for moral support. Without mentioning names or details, I said, “I have to speak to someone about something difficult. Will you wait for me?” She said, “Yes, no problem.”

The too-intimate hugger and I stepped out into the hall. “You got my e-mail?” I said. She nodded. But imagine my surprise when she started to tell me how hurt she was. “I was slammed!” she said, hand to heart. My friend Anger started to get up. What? No apology? No how are you? This is the person you protected for several months, struggling with how to preserve the friendship? Anger raised my voice and shook my head. No no no no no! The discussion became heated. A dancer yelled down the hall, “Good NIGHT, Elizabeth! See you MONDAY.”

In other words, shut up and go away.

Since we weren’t communicating anyway, I did shut up and went back into the studio for my street clothes, shaking so hard I couldn’t put my shoes on. Everyone left, even the one who promised to stay. The choreographer gave me a brief hug, told me how to lock the door, and departed. I sat in the dark for a long time, until I stopped crying. Not one person asked if I was okay — not then, not since.

I receive almost daily emails from the collective’s listserv about rehearsals and labs and brunches. I answer none of them, and dropped out of the dance piece.

I shut up and went away.

And took a good hard look at the people I had been spending so much time, energy, and money on. Dance, for me, is about joy and self-expression. But if I don’t trust the people I’m dancing with, Joy takes a holiday.

The power is back on in my house, and the phone works. I am no longer four years old, waiting for the roof to cave in. I can pack a bag and get out.

  1. Dancing is such a joyful experience. I can imagine how crushing it would feel to come to rehearsal week after week with that “limb” dangling over your head. Feelings of respect, concern, and friendship are crucial when we express ourselves with body movement. I am sending you a cloak of healing prayer, filled with love and light. From one dancer who loves your joyful energy, please accept this energetic embrace, my friend.

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