A Memoir of Courage After a Life-Changing Accident

I also took, in fact, no academic classes at all that year, only dance classes. Once upon a time, I had wanted to be a ballerina. So goes the story of countless little girls, I know, enchanted by the smell of the wood floors, the lyricism of the music, and even the attire—the second-skin leotards, pink tights, and satin toe shoes. I had commitment, anyway, taking dance classes nearly every day of my life since childhood. With my too-flat feet and too-wide hips, however, ballet was not a realistic career, and at nineteen I rarely considered whether I was good enough to dance other forms professionally, assuming that I would finish college first.

That car accident destroyed any chance I might have had of a later professional career as a dancer; my neck has never moved much since. Yet dance saved me after the car crash. A year of intensive dance classes, ballet, jazz, and modern, rather than physical therapy, repaired my body and spirit. I would carefully detach the neck collar which the doctors insisted that I wear for six months and, finally feeling like myself again, would spend hours at the barre pushing my body to regain its old flexibility and strength. One of the true beauties of Brown University's lack of distribution requirements is that a student can actually get away with taking only dance classes. The other beautiful thing about Brown—my appalled parents only discovered how I had spent the year (and their tuition money) well after classes had ended, when my report card arrived home. I did at least get straight A's that year. (I think it's hard not to get an A in a dance class, frankly.)

The car accident had unleashed chaos, but order had been quickly restored. The accident didn't change me—not in any profound way. Impervious to viewing the accident as life-altering, I experienced no startling or epiphanic insights. Nor did I develop any new ethos, worldview, or philosophy in the wake of the ordeal. The only psychological aftershock of the accident was that I became phobic of heights, mostly of falling. I wear the angry scars that run up and down my legs as my own red badge of courage, and I have hidden the permanent holes on either side of my temples with bangs for decades. I had neatly sidestepped death; walking away, I assumed, unscathed, I rarely thought about the accident again. In later years, the event merely served to confirm my status quo—decidedly fortunate, nurtured. And alive.

Chapter 1 A Wilderness of Sweets A wilderness of sweets . . . Wild above rule or art; enormous bliss. —John Milton, from Paradise Lost

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