When I was seventeen and dreamed big ballerina dreams, I also revered Aerosmith. I sat on the window ledge of Pacific Northwest Ballet memorizing Steven Tyler’s lyrics with my friend Jenna Butala. Crystals dangled from our necks. Names of boys like Santo vibrated against our lips, as we threw our buns back. Joe Perry jammed inside our Walkmans.
We had no body fat, and we could do splits against the walls and turn thirty two times on the tips of our toes whenever the urge compelled us. Frat boys begged to take us to concerts at the Space Needle, while random men on roller skates at Lake Washington flew down onto their knees asking us to marry them.
“Dream on,” we yelled at the top of our lungs and laughed as we strolled away in our cut-offs, never looking back at the men’s faces.
Then one day, after a boy named Pat suntanned his thigh with a paper cutout in the shape of I Love Jenna, Jenna quit ballet. She moved back to Hollywood, did Sprite commercials, married an actor named Bodhi, and became Dharma, from the series, “Dharma and Greg.” I went to college, majored in English, and fell for Caribbean Man.
The first few years apart, Jenna and I wrote 10-page letters to each other. She visited me once in Richmond, VA. We filled up on lukewarm coffee at a diner, talked about her tour as a ‘Legs Girl’ with ZZ Top, then her appearance with Molly Ringwald on the sitcom “Townies.” I mentioned that I was writing, and that I wanted kids someday. Then we drifted. I called her a few times. Her assistant filled me in. “Jenna’s too busy to speak. She wishes you well.”
Months later, I sent her a package with old photographs and our favorite Aerosmith tape. Hey, it read. Miss us. In return, I got a form letter from The Church of Scientology asking for a donation. At the bottom of it, Jenna didn’t even sign her name.
* * *
Years later, on a hot June Saturday, I’m riding in my husband’s car on our way to dinner. It’s my fortieth birthday. The windows of his Acura are rolled down. The black of the dashboard gleams in the evening sun.
“Listen to this, girls,” he says to my tween daughters.
I wait for John Legend’s voice to slither through the speakers. I wait for Ordinary People. But then the chord of an electric guitar takes me by surprise. Before I can place it, Aerosmith’s voice croons. Dressed in flared jeans, I listen to the emblem of my past.
“You like it?” Caribbean Man grins at the kids in the rearview mirror.
“Yeah, Dad,” the girls shout. “It’s slammin’!”
“Dream on,” they all yell at the top of their lungs.
I stay silent.
“What?” He raises an eyebrow in my direction. “Initiation to hard rock. What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing,” I say, meaning it. “It’s great.”
Nodding, I turn my thumb ring, the one that reads Dreams Never Die—the remnant of my ballerina days. But when Steven Tyler takes it up a notch, when my family rewinds the high-pitched sound over and over and sings louder and louder, all I see is Jenna, the ledge, Santo and the men, the ones zooming past us on electric-blue wheels, trying to grab onto our crystals. I can’t feel the car-window wind whipping my cheeks. I can’t see my daughters shouting the word dream. I can’t smell the Beyoncé perfume they snuck on their wrists. All I hear is the melody of long past days, of something gone.
When the song’s over, I place my hand on the dashboard. “Please, put on John Legend,” I say to Caribbean Man.
“Sure thing.” He releases the wheel then squeezes my fingers.
“God, mom. So uncool,” the girls say.
I try to retort something snarky but can’t. Instead, I stare at the road ahead, wonder where Jenna is, what she dreams of now, and I trace a finger against the mascara on my eyelashes, just like she used to do.