Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Broken Ballerinas

As a child I used to take my candy money and go to a small junk store. This store sold antique gas signs, hubcaps, and various junk. The store was a dark disheveled mess that smelled slightly of motor oil and grease. The man ,whom I secretly believed was a magnificent collector of all things thrown away, would pull out a cardboard box for me. It's contents were my precious treasures. Broken ballerinas that had been separated from their jewelry boxes. Beautiful ballerinas that were no longer destined to dance and stand. They could be played with and collected. They could be bunched together as to never live a lonely existence again. I loved them with their different paint colors and hair styles. My little plastic delights. I spent everyday there until I had finally purchased every last one he had saved for me. I kept them in my generic eighties music box with pink satin interior that played Rain Drops Are Falling On My Head. I would spend large amounts of my childhood playing with them and making them twirl to the sounds of my music box. It was a comfort. I kept them always and when I grew older instead of playing with them I would occasionally take them out and look at them. My little treasures. They were like me, broken but beautiful, strong but small, colorful and different. Some were newer and some were antiques but I loved them all equally.
 At sixteen I moved back down to Texas. We were living in a one room house beside my grandmother and grandfather till we could get back on our feet. All of our belongings were stored in a big shed next to our tiny home. Not long after moving we had a drought. The grass had turned to yellow tufts. The ground had such deep cracks in it that one would imagine they reached straight to the depths of Hell. There had been declared a state wide burn ban. No one was allowed to burn fields or garbage. Cigarettes were supposed to be snuffed out in ashtrays or in water. No fireworks were going to be allowed on the fourth of July if this continued. That day was hot and windy. My mother, grandmother, and I went to go get bbq. My grandfather, who had a heart condition stayed home. There were tall grey black clouds in the sky. Darker than I had ever seen and I felt uneasy every time I looked at them. Something was wrong but I had no idea what. On our way home we were stopped by a road block. The main street was closed and we had to take an alternate path back to the house.We saw fields with fire blowing across the street and many brave farmers and volunteer firefighters trying to put it out. It was still far enough from our home to not be a worry. The acrid smell of smoke was thick in the air and hung like a wet blanket. Not unusual for Texas in the dead of Summer. As we reached home we ate and watched the news. Some moron had decided the burn ban was not anything to listen to and had burned some garbage in a barrel. The wind had blew the barrel over and the fire had spread over two whole counties. Right then, there was pounding at our door. The fire had finally made it to our street and the volunteer firefighters were trying to get everyone out in time. We loaded up into our vehicles. My grandmother went first in her van. My mother and I got into our car and waited for my grandfather to get the insurance papers and get into his van. It took him a little longer than he expected and we were getting worried. Then as he got into the van, like any good slasher film the stupid thing refused to start. By this time the fire had climbed the trees snapping and crackling. It was a hungry beast that devoured everything in it's path.  The earth had turned into a sweltering sea of orange, red, and black. The fire had now become a forty foot wall of flames bearing down on us and grandpa's stupid van was not cooperating. I believed that we were going to be roasted to the spot. I believed that we were going to die. The van finally jumped to life and we drove like bats out of hell. At the safe point people were staring at us. I couldn't figure out at what until I went to go to the bathroom. The restaurant was full and everyone was gawking at me because I was covered head to toe in thick soot. Our street was closed for three days. Our crazy brave neighbor had managed to save our houses by watering them down with the water hose and leaving it running on the butane tank. If he had not done this, the tank would have exploded like everyone else's had on the other side of our property. Because of him we were the last house on the street to still be standing. He could not, however, save the shed. The next few weeks were filled with grieving the losses. Many had lost pets, belongings, and homes. Many were not near as lucky as we were and we were thankful. My grandfather mourned his golf clubs, my mother mourned her couch and other furniture. I mourned my childhood that had turned to ash. My first teddy bear, my clothes, my awards and yearbooks, letters from friends and family, and most of all my broken ballerinas. They were now an ugly kaleidoscope of blackened glass, melted plastic, and warped metal. There was no trace of what these items had been beforehand. The were all black chunks of char. I never collected them again. There was no point in trying to relive the past. The beautiful ballerinas were left like I felt, melted. I loved them because like me the were broken. Like me they were unique and different. Like me they were lonely until I found them. Now they were gone. I was lucky to have still had a home. I was blessed to have had a few extra years with my grandfather. This event taught me that things are not really as important as you might think. I miss the ballerinas, but I don't need to have them.  I do think of them often. I wonder if any little girls collect things like that anymore.  And still anytime I walk past a music box in the store I always take a second to carefully wind it and see if it plays Rain Drops Are Falling On My Head.
                                              Neurotic Nelly


  1. We've had some serious fires around here recently. It's easy to get caught up in the numbers of acres and houses and dollars and people. You've put an intimately human face back on a horrible event. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Thank you very much Matti and Jennifer! Fires are very scary and dangerous.