Everything blurs into swirls of color in the darkness. I pick out the other girls who will dance with me because of the blue patches floating above their heads. Those are feathers, but I can’t see them, the same way I can’t see if that person dressed in red is someone I know or someone I don’t know, dressed up as some bad guy, playing a part in a story that no one has bothered explaining to me.
The last time I danced without contact lenses I was a card in Alice in Wonderland, one of the diamonds. I couldn’t see to spot and every time a pirouette came up in the choreography I felt out of control, like the stage and the darkened audience could start spinning around me at any moment. Focusing my eyes on one spot while I turned would never be able to fix that.
Then I got contacts and my biggest concern onstage became whether or not my toes had stained tips of my tights with blood when I took my pointe shoes off, not whether or not I’d be able to see to take my pointe shoes off.
But now, one minor bacterial infection later, and I’m reduced to the place I was ten years ago, leaning right up to the mirror till my eye and the false eyelash between my fingers fade into view. I peer at an armband, puzzling out its pattern of gold sequins. I put my hand on another girl’s wrist, pull our faces too close together so that I can recognize her through the makeup and dim light.
Later, when I’m taking my makeup off, I pick up the box of cotton swabs, searching for the little lines of dark between them so I can take just one and get the final bits of foundation and eyeliner off, put another round of eyedrops in, and retrieve my eyeglasses from their perch atop the boxy television set.
The man next to me says something, tells me I can take as many as I need. His face is painted in red, but he’s talking in perfect English so I know who he is. The English made that clear. The English also confuses me, after hours and hours of half-understood Indonesian and fully-understood pointing.
“No,” I stammer. “I mean. One. Sudah.”
“Oh, sudah,” he says, and the Indonesian is actually a relief.