Life is populated with people. Some are strangers. Most we’ll never even see, let alone meet. Indeed, the ones we will see, and know, and love can be likened to a handful of sand scooped against the earth’s vast landscape.
What a blessing to cradle that handful of humanity! And even more so to find a few friendships as the most effervescent specks. Those people sparkle like the sun never sets upon them. Then, they bring that glimmer to your life, as if their one speck–if you look ever so closely–encompasses its own world, and that person has invited you inside. Once that happens, a brilliant friendship is born.
Today, I am opening the book to one of my treasured friendships, and unveling a chapter of pure fun with a side of soul.
I hope my tale inspires you to revisit your dearest friendships, and admire the sheer wonder that backpacks with them.
Once upon a childhood memory, I longed to be a ballerina.
From the tender age of four, I pirouetted my way into love with ballet. Over the years, my dance teacher echoed my promise through sequined-sparkly gazes; perfected more so with equally pretty words. As time passed, she advised my mom to enter me in a pageant.
I arrived at the event bumbling and nervous. But once I graced the stage with my buttercream tutu, I twirled warm and fierce as the sun. Freckles beamed. Auburn hair shimmered; and the crowd dissolved in my mind. I soared alone in the glittery realm of ten-year-old Zen.
Unfortunately, this love affair was set to spiral.
Indeed, what came next deflated the hope that danced with me. In a sterile room, my mom dressed me for my formal showstopper. Trembling, I eyed the sea of blonde-haired girls—hair plumped and curled, pageant gowns flowering and flowing, makeup galore. I bunched the pitiful balls of my less than glamourous olive dress, as my mom brushed tangles from my hair. Like the braces tightening my teeth, I stiffened as my body walked into the spotlight. Insecurity, sweat, and a plain pained face floundered along with me on the runway.
Sure, if I was on a ginger casting call for the classic TV show, “The Little House on the Prairie,” I would have stole the blue ribbon. But I wasn’t.
And I lost…BIG-TIME. Like that last-place-kind-of-lost when your heart droops down into your ballet slippers, and there’s no pirouetting it back any time soon.
Hunter Lee Hughes noticed me for the first time in just this sort-of-state. Except I had bypassed the age of ten by a few decades. Instead, I owned a thirty-year-old heart that still wasn’t quite situated in the spot to bloom.
At the time, I briefly entered a Christmas party in my former place of Hollywood employment, Di Novi Pictures. From the crowd, Hunter gazed beyond my wispy awkwardness, and instead, “saw” me with eyes akin to my former dance teacher. Indeed, he glimpsed my promise.
Days later our mutual boss, Brad, connected us; and we met at a café. The same sun that seemed to grace me as I danced in that pageant, Hunter carried it on his back. In fact, I felt that surge of knowingness that happens when you meet someone who will stick in your life, and in all the right ways. A creative type with a puckish glint, I was hooked from the first handshake.
We talked for hours as if it was perfectly natural to orbit each other’s sphere.
Finally, I had met my kindred spirit!
As two singles maneuvering Los Angeles, Hunter and I aimed to grow our dreams and souls, at the same time we brought spirit and fun into each other’s lives. Misadventures also seemed to effortlessly find us. Perhaps our shared personality types, INFPs, contributed to it. We could spend endless hours enrapt in our imaginative worlds together only to forget the practical little things in life…like where we parked our car. As a result, there were towed cars, a stolen car, and a tiny-blue-egg of a rental car. But these chronicles can warm up for another time.
Today, ballet assumes front and center.
At the cusp of this tale, I had discarded my Hollywood dream in lieu of an unexpected one—teaching kindergarten. However, I still needed to pass an exam to continue with this profession. I spent a good deal of my time immersed in studying and preparatory classes. Of course, stress saddled itself with this territory, as my future hinged on successful scores.
Enter stage left…my greatest champion, Hunter! He suggested an antidote to the pressure.
In that moment, my gut screamed, “NO!”
In fact, I flashed back to my post-pageant routine of hiding in the woods behind my house whenever it was time to go to my ballet classes. From afar, my mom’s voice echoed my name. But it only inspired me to leap deeper into the woods. Now, a full-fledged tomboy, it was mortifying enough that bitty budding breasts popped into my leotard’s silhouette; but to add that last-place pageant pitfall…NO, I wasn’t going to dance class…ever…again.
Firmly, I closed the curtain on this razzle-dazzle dream.
Still, Hunter’s eyes gleamed while he spoke of the dance class, so much so that his infectious energy bounced my heart back to its bright spot. Hope accompanied it. After all, at one time, I longed to be a ballerina.
Perhaps now I could reclaim it in some small way.
“Ok,” I said.
I purchased a black leotard, gray tights, ballet slippers, and a shimmery skirt. If I was going to reenter this realm, I had to dress the part. And so, on the evening of my first class, I pinned my auburn hair into a bun; set my test-taking worries to the side, and boldly leapt into Hunter’s car.
Of course, I never asked Hunter any of the finer details. Surely, this lesson would be for beginners! No need to make frivolous inquiries. So stressed with studying, I forgot that Hunter performed dance pieces within LA stage plays to critical acclaim.
So, when we entered the large mirrored classroom, this scene greeted me.
There hovered a statuesque renowned Russian choreographer—dressed to the nines in his old age—equipped with a cane in stern hand. Beyond him, a wave of dancers decked themselves out with toned limbs, lovely outfits, and perfect buns. Worst yet, there were too many blondes to count, including Hunter!
With pride, he ushered me to my new dance instructor.
“This is my friend I told you about,” he said. “She danced ballet throughout her childhood.”
The gracefully aged man glanced me up and down, curious.
“Hi,” I said, freckles quivering, sweat starting to pool.
“Well, let’s see what she can do,” he said, tapping his cane.
I tiptoed to the barre with tension and placed my left hand on it. As I gazed up none other than a regal blonde ballerina stood before me. The Russian rapped his cane a few times on the floor. Time to point our toes, and lift our legs, and do all-kinds-of-forgotten-ballerina-things. Of course, I was certain the blonde ahead of me could unravel the proper terminology from her tongue and it would sound heaven-sent. After all, her movements flowed angelic; while my cheeks blushed in a devil-shade-of-red.
“You there,” the Russian said. “Point. Point. Point. Straighten the leg.”
He gawked at me for what seemed like a full moon’s cycle, and I interpreted his look as such. Like I was an ostrich who’d planted her head in the wishy-washy sand for decades; and had only now found fit to look up, bleary-eyed, and hobble around a bit.
“Well,” he said with pure pity, “you have the legs of a ballerina.”
He forgot to say, “and not much more.”
I stared at Hunter from across the way, hoping (like always), we shared the same vision. That would be us bolting. NOW! But he smiled back, in the zone.
Then, it happened. A flashback like none other. We were meant to orchestrate an elaborate solo sequence across the room…
Yes, folks, the spotlight would strike again to pummel me back to that last-place-position.
And wouldn’t you know? That lovely blissful blonde of a ballerina assumed the prime position in front of me in line.
The Russian’s cane rap-a-tap-tapped.
Ballerinas leapt, and pirouetted, and created airborne grace; while my stomach churned to the cane’s melody. And, Hunter, he delivered the sequence with strength and adeptness.
But the blonde, oh, she soared into the realm of pure fluid perfection.
Certainly, this wasn’t shaping up as a Hollywood fairy tale rewrite of how the abashed ginger makes a comeback and trumps the beautiful blonde.
No, my dazzling debut as a 30-something wannabe ballerina went something like this…
Blip! Blip! Blip! Blip!
Blips of buffoonery in my pitiable ostrich-leap-sprints…that is.
Yes, it happened that quickly, and truly it looked that bad! I glimpsed Hunter laughing as confirmation.
Still, it broke the barrier of my nerves. In fact, the futile attempt made me downright giggle with Hunter. That’s when I pulled him from class.
This dream was dead; and now my mind, heart, and soul could live with it.
Laughing all the way, Hunter and I zipped to the nearest McDonald’s. My body eased into Ronald McDonald’s colorful plain world, and I reveled in a strawberry shake with a sunny side of fries.
“I’m never going back, you know?” I said.
Hunter smiled, the sun wiggling from behind his back and tapping me deeper into presence.
This would forever exist as our golden-arch-of-a-moment.
Beyond it, I aced my exam, soulfully fulfilling the unexpected dream.
I became a teacher.
Once upon a childhood memory, I longed to be a ballerina.
That dream bid adieu. In time, I did too.
At the age of 33, my soul directed me to leave Los Angeles.
On a moonlit night, Hunter helped me move the final item from my snug studio apartment—a plain olive futon. We succeeded in lugging the mattress down two flights of stairs. But on the last leg, it overpowered us.
It pirouetted along the steps, and landed with a giant thud.
We laughed uproariously as we lifted it and managed to finally position the whole futon outside. Then, we sat on it together in silence.
I am sure we both reminisced of our mischief as we gazed at the night’s twinkling skyline; the full moon highlighting our crazy beautiful LA chapter of friendship.
A dream within all of our dreams.
And fourteen years later—even with 3,000 miles in between us—Hunter continued to orbit this space.
In fact, he encouraged me to pursue my present dream in a tangible way. He called and nudged me to attend a writer’s conference with him in Washington DC. Despite my insecurities, Hunter’s Love drove me there.
We entered the building together. That’s when I spotted synchronicity rooting for me too. The name of my-novel-in-progress smiled at me in bold letters, Scarlet Oak. A dream, like Hunter, meant to stick, and remain en route to its final destination.
You see, that’s the thing about the best of friendships. They can pull you into once-upon-a-memory dreams. Push you light years past all comfort zones. Land you in just the right spot to grow.
And if fate calls for failure, well, that friend lets you know it’s OK to let go. Hunter did that for me. He showed (& shows me) that we’re alive to reinvent our dreams heartbeat-by-heartbeat.
Still, that handful of sand with its effervescent specks, it is the dream within all dreams, isn’t it?
The birth of a brilliant friendship. One that demands to be lived to its fullest, chapter by chapter.
I look forward to many more!
Be sure to keep scrolling for these special features…
I did it!
All About Amazing Hunter!
Some More Pageant Looks!
Another Funny Post!
Hunter Lee Hughes
If I could have one fun-filled wish for my daughter, Summer, it would be to find her Hunter in the world!
Hunter is not only any gal’s dream friend, he is a brilliant filmmaker/artist. He created a compelling film, Guys Reading Poems, which won many awards on the Independent Film Festival circuit in 2017-18. Check out my favorite clip of Hunter in the movie!
The Trailer for Guys Reading Poems
I wrote my friendship tale to this ballet soundrack. Play and reread to enter this dreamer’s world.
My Pageant “Sporty” Look:
LOL…I am! God bless my mom. She truly did choose outfits to try to enhance my tomboy authenticity. And she had vision, for sure; because now I appear camera-ready for a casting call for a Harry Potter film.
One Last Twirl:
Shine ginger! Shine! Because you’re about to flop!
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