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I still live for the holiday season. I love hearing The Nutcracker Suite.

But it’s a different feeling now. I am not jolted by adrenaline but filled with sadness because something is missing. People still ask me if I will dance again.

When I was two, my mom enrolled me in ballet just to keep me busy. I would go twice a week. I was not a fantastic dancer, but I loved it.

My mom is an interior designer, a vibrant, domineering woman. She always looks nice, no matter what is going on. Hair and nails are done regularly, and she wears heels, never sneakers. Her wardrobe is full of color that matches her flamboyant personality. Although she is authoritative, she has a certain grace. She describes herself to others as the “architect of interiors.” It’s an accurate description. She has that architectural firmness but also a softer elegance.

My dad is a public defender for San Diego County. He is a tall, dignified man. He graduated from San Diego State University and is a member of Phi Beta Sigma, the black fraternity. He is a kindhearted person. He rarely raises his voice. He avoids conflict and would rather talk a problem out. His is the voice of reason, though no one except my mom can ever win an argument with him. His lawyer side not only made him a great debater but a great confidant. I can remember coming to him when I was younger and had a problem.

“Talk to your daughter,” my mom would say to my dad when he got home from work. It was something she said only when I got in trouble. It was as if she would disown me for that moment.

“Daddy, I have to go to bed early,” I’d whimper as I approached him.

He always started off with “Tell me what happened?” His voice was soft. In those four simple words I felt the comfort and concern he had for me. This masked his underlying curiosity to dig through the story to find out what really transpired.

“Nothing,” I replied innocently, hoping my sad appearance would make him go easier on me.

“That’s not what your mother said.” Dang, he knew. They must have talked about it before he got home. There was no use lying to him. He always found out the truth.

“I went to the store with Mommy and I, uh, accidentally knocked over a vase. I didn’t break it or anything. But Mommy is acting like I did.”

“Doesn’t she always tell you not to touch anything?” His voice was sterner, less consoling.

“Yes, but…”

“But nothing. Why didn’t you listen to your mother?” Now he was becoming unsympathetic.

“I just wanted to see what it felt like. It had a pretty design on it, and I wanted to know if you could feel it. I didn’t think it would fall.” I started to cry.

“You shouldn’t have done it. I agree with your mother. Going to bed early is an appropriate punishment.”

I marched upstairs, unhappy with the outcome of this conversation.

I also remember him coming home upset and stressed over his new cases. He has defended murderers, rapists, and child molesters. He’s never done it for the money. He just wants to help people and do something he loves. With so much negativity from his job, we used the arts as an escape. The beauty from ballet and interior design offset the ugliness of crime that my dad worked with.

As an interior designer, my mom is involved in the visual arts. But, even as a lawyer, my dad’s court cases are like performances. Lines are practiced, witnesses are prepped, and the judge acts as the director, maintaining the flow. Dad is one of the performers.

My mom grew up in New York. She misses being close to the theater. She sometimes jokes about moving back East. Her favorite thing to say is “I am a city girl, and Temecula is too country for me.” She holds her head high, showing pride for where she was born and delighting in sharing it with others.

My dad did not originally intend to be a public defender. He wanted to be a district attorney. But he liked the freedom of making his own decisions rather than having to answer constantly to someone. He and I are similar in that way. We like freedom. That’s why I enjoy dance so much. There is nothing holding you back. It’s just you and the music.

In our suburban neighborhood, we are one of the few African-American families. Temecula is not known for diversity. There are Native Americans, because of Pechanga, but the area is predominately white. I did not have many African-American friends, maybe three or four in the whole 16 years I lived there. That was fine with me, though, because my family taught me not to see color.

Before each school year my parents would sit my sister and me down and explain the importance of doing well in school. My mom would stand in front of the TV in our family room as my sister and I sat on the sofa.

“You have to work twice as hard in order to be on the same playing field as all the other kids,” she would say, referring to the fact that we were the only black kids in class. She wanted to refute the stereotype that all black people are uneducated. Her speech always ended with “Education is the key.”

By the time my sister and I reached high school, we grew tired of this ritual. Sometimes she varied the words, but the message was the same. It was ingrained in our heads.

Although I lived in a white neighborhood, my parents made sure that my siblings and I were exposed to different cultures and lifestyles. We have driven to New York twice. On the way there, we saw that not everyone lived in nice houses like us and that there weren’t cities everywhere. In Kansas, there were miles and miles of fields, not a person in sight, just animals. We have taken a cruise and a trip or two to Mexico. And for my 16th birthday my mom and I went on a trip to France and Italy. Since we lived in between San Diego and Los Angeles, we had the option of going to either city to see plays. I was mesmerized by The Lion King, was enchanted by Wicked, and fell in love with The Nutcracker.

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Kathryneileen Dec. 3, 2010 @ 7:39 p.m.

Love this story. What made it moving was how the brother's illness gave the writer a new perspective, and how she is willing to put her family above her personal desires. Excellent.


Eva Knott Dec. 9, 2010 @ 3:02 p.m.

This good story was so fresh and sincere I read it twice. Thank you, Cynthia Washington. Eva Knott


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