Why my life sucks
by Geri Lazaro
2. My mom is in love (insert eye roll).
3. With a guy who is like 10 years younger than her!
4. My friends think he’s hot. (Gross)
5. I love ballet but our dance studio has a leak and we have to dance in this smelly studio that doubles as an aikido dojo.
6. There’s this Dojo guy who thinks the studio belongs to him.
7. Friends think Dojo guy is cute. (Ew.) (Okay, objectively maybe but still, ew.)
8. I’m failing algebra.
9. Need to quit either basketball or ballet. Or both.
10. Dojo guy keeps showing up! (Fine, he does aikido in the same building but whatever.)
11. Dojo guy is asking me to dance with him. And maybe he is as cute as my friends say.
12. I don't know what to do anymore!
Ines Bautista-Yao is the author of One Crazy Summer, What’s in your Heart, Only A Kiss, When Sparks Fly, All That Glitters, and Someday With You. She has also written several short stories. Among them are “Plain Vanilla,” “A Captured Dream,” one of the four short stories in Sola Musica: Love Notes from a Festival, “Things I’ll Never Say,” part of the Summit Books anthology Coming of Age, and “Before the Sun Rises,” part of the Ateneo University Press anthology Friend Zones.
She is the former editor-in-chief of Candy and K-Zone magazines and a former high school and college English and Literature teacher. She is also a wife and mom who lives in the Philippines with her husband and two little girls. Her books are available digitally on Amazon and Buqo.ph.
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This wasn’t the plan. I wasn’t supposed to be dragging my worn-out backpack across the wooden floor of this dark, stuffy studio that faintly smelled like sweaty feet trapped inside sneakers. I was supposed to be in our regular ballet studio with its warm, vanilla fragrance wafting from Teacher Justine’s scented candles. Sadly, it had a leaky roof and we couldn’t exactly do our twirls and pliés surrounded by buckets of water waiting to collect excess rain. And monsoon weather in Metro Manila meant lots and lots of excess rain.
So there I was inhaling stinky feet, which, I had to admit, I was used to. I play basketball and the smell of feet is something you build a tolerance for pretty quickly. But today, I wasn’t going to play ball. I was here to dance.
I plopped down on the floor nearest the mirror that spanned an entire wall from floor to ceiling. Turning my back to it, I slid my basketball into a corner and began to unlace my sneakers. It was time to morph from sporty Geri into the ballerina girl my heart so desperately craved to be. I blew my bangs out of my eyes and secured my short hair with a terry cloth headband. Yeah, I know. Way to be graceful. But that was all I had. It wasn’t like I could spend my allowance on girly hair accessories.
I pulled my soft, pink ballet shoes from my backpack, cradled them in my hands for a few seconds, and was about to slip them on when I heard the knob on the door turn. I felt my eyes narrow as I tried to focus on the figure stepping through. He was wearing what looked like a white martial arts kimono over a dark colored tee. He lifted his arm toward the light switch and the room was flooded in bright, white light.
“Who are you?” we asked at the same time.
I didn’t like the way he was frowning at me. And towering over me. I leapt to my feet. “I reserved the studio for our ballet class.”
He strode over to where I stood and dropped his dirty-looking backpack with a thud. “Well, every afternoon, the dojo,” he stressed on the word, “is ours.”
I looked around the empty room, noticing the blue mats stacked against one corner. Oh, right. There they were. But I couldn’t resist saying, “Doesn’t look like much of a dojo to me.”
“I’m here to set up the mats,” he muttered, giving me a look before marching over to them.
“Wait a minute!” I realized he wasn’t going to listen to me. “We’re here to dance and we can’t exactly do pirouettes on mats.”
“Didn’t you hear what I said? This dojo,” he paused and I tried really hard not to stick my tongue out at him, “is reserved.”
My hands flew to my hips, landing on the waistband of my basketball shorts. “I reserved this studio for the rest of the month. Our ballet studio has a leak—”
“I don’t care about your leak. You can’t have the dojo because I reserved it.”
That was it. Who did he think he was, throwing his weight around like this? “Look,” I spat out. “All we have to do is check with the secretary who will tell you that you,” I emphasized, “made a mistake.”
He stood there, his hands on one of the mats. “I did not make a mistake.” He threw it on the floor. I was about to walk over to it and shove it back against the wall when I figured that was going to be a waste of time. Besides, Teacher Justine and the rest of my classmates were going to be here in a few minutes and I still hadn’t set up the speakers or the rosin for our pointe shoes.
“Well, neither did I.” I pushed both hands against the door and stomped through the narrow hallway to the administration office. Well, I tried to stomp but couldn’t actually manage it in my soft ballet shoes. Padded was a more appropriate term.
I knocked on the pale wooden door and didn’t wait for an invitation to enter. “Ms. Sue,” I began as she peered up from her cluttered desk. “There’s this guy saying the studio is reserved for—”
I spun around and jumped back when I discovered he was standing right behind me in the cramped office. I didn’t want to be closer to him than I had to be. And being in the same spacious studio was already more than I could take. I banged my butt against Ms. Sue’s desk, pitching a few papers to the floor, and yelped.
I glared at him when I heard him snicker. Ms. Sue, however, was already next to me, her hand on my waist, asking if I was okay.
“I thought you said you were a ballet dancer.” He smirked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” That stung a little bit.
“Well, aren’t ballerinas supposed to be graceful? That wasn’t exactly an act of grace.” As the corner of his lip curled upwards, I gripped the edge of Ms. Sue’s desk to keep my hands from grabbing something like that glass paperweight over there and hurling it at his smug face.
Ms. Sue raised both hands and waved them in our faces. She was tiny, maybe not even five feet, and she looked even smaller next to him. It was then that I noticed how tall he was. The guys I met were usually around my height, which was four inches below six feet. But to look at his annoying smirk, I had to bend my neck back a bit. “I’m so sorry, Bas,” she began in her high-pitched voice. “Geri is right. The studio is hers at this time. Didn’t Sensei tell you?”
He bent his head and shoulders in what looked like a bow. This guy really internalized his costume, didn’t he?
“Thank you, Ms. Sue. No, he didn’t.” He gave me a tight smile. “Sorry about that.” And turned away.
That was it? And I was ready to fight. I stood there watching him walk back to the studio when I felt Ms. Sue tap me on the back. “He’s really a sweetheart. Just very passionate about aikido.”
I shook my head and turned to thank her. I made sure to confirm that I had reserved the studio every weekday afternoon and every Saturday morning for a month so I wouldn’t get into more trouble with Dojo guy, then I jogged back to get the stuff ready. When I arrived at the dojo, uh, I mean studio, the mat he had put on the floor was already against the wall and he was nowhere to be found. I didn’t bother to check if he was hanging around outside to thank him for doing that. By then, I had lost precious minutes arguing over the legitimacy of my reservation.
I tugged off my shorts and tied my delicate, pink skirt around my waist. I was already wearing my pink tights and black leotard underneath my basketball clothes. I pulled at my hair in the hopes that maybe today was the day I could finally tie it into a ponytail, but no such luck. I had to be happy with the headband. I was growing my hair out because really, have you seen a shorthaired ballerina? Short hair worked when you played ball. Once during practice, someone yanked my ponytail hard while I was trying to do a layup. It had hurt so much, tears stung my eyes. And I don’t cry. And never on the court. That was when I decided it was not going to happen again. So off to the barber’s I went.
But when Teacher Justine came to school two years ago to take over my freshman P.E. class, forcing us to do what she called layman ballet, I felt like I had tasted ice cream for the very first time in my life. The same arms I used to tap the ball in an attempt to steal could extend above my head in a graceful arc. The same feet I pumped across the court to make a basket could go on tiptoe and lift me up. I surprised myself by chasing after Teacher Justine when P.E. ended and begging her to let me know how I could enroll in her class.
“You’re older than the usual starting age, but you have great proportions, Geri Lazaro.” Those words were like an ice-cold bottle of Gatorade after realizing I’d forgotten my water jug halfway through basketball practice. Thus the terrycloth headband and the dream of getting hair extensions.
“Did you see him?” My ballet classmate Helena, whose hair was always in a perfect bun without a single strand out of place, floated over to me, pink skirts flapping up and down in her rush.
“This guy! I can’t believe you didn’t see him when you entered.” Then her bright, excited expression fell. “Oh, Geri, I hope you weren’t wearing your basketball outfit when you arrived.”
I pulled her phone closer so I could study the image on it. I blinked when I saw who it was. It was Dojo guy. He was talking to someone else in a martial arts kimono too. A girl with long hair cascading down her back. So there was no question of who Helena had just stalked in that photo. I put Helena’s phone back in her hand and wrinkled my nose. “Ew. Yeah. We kinda got into an argument.” I saw her eyes widen. “And yeah, I was wearing my basketball clothes.”
“Geri!” She raised both hands. Even in her frustration, she did it with such grace. It was no wonder she was Teacher Justine’s star pupil. “What on earth did you argue about?”
She started pressing something on her phone. In a few seconds, I heard mine beep in the depths of my backpack. Had to remember to put it on silent during class. “Did you just send me his photo? I don’t want it.”
“So delete it.” She grinned, a teasing look in her dark, round eyes. “Why were you fighting?”
I walked toward the power outlet to plug in Teacher Justine’s portable speakers. “He was in here freaking out that the studio belonged to him at this time. But I sorted it out with the admin secretary.”
“That doesn’t sound like something you have to fight over.” She tilted her pretty head to the side, her gentle voice a perfect match to her fluid movements. “Is it because you have issues with cute guys?”
I gaped at her. “What do you mean? I do not have issues with cute guys.”
“Yes you do. You can’t stand your mom’s boyfriend. He’s gorgeous.” Helena’s hands flew to her tiny waist.
I reached for the remote control of the air-conditioner, which hung on the wall, and pressed the green button. As cool air began to permeate the room, I turned to face her. “My mom’s boyfriend is not gorgeous. Stop being gross, Helena.”
“Maybe if you weren’t in those horrible basketball clothes, you wouldn’t have been so combative,” she countered.
Helena nodded. “Sorry, hon, but you get a bit aggressive when you’re in them. Why do you still wear them? It’s not like you attend training anymore, right?” Her brow furrowed as if she were trying to understand the complications of my challenged wardrobe.
“I still do! It’s not basketball season though, so Coach lets me leave earlier to make it to ballet on time. But because I can’t exactly walk around in just my ballet clothes, I put my shorts and jersey over them for the trip here.”
“Are you sure about this, Geri?” Helena bit her lower lip. “Have you ever considered ditching basketball? Are you truly planning to make a career out of it?”
“Hey, the Philippine Basketball Association is starting a women’s league!” I protested. But I knew it was useless. Helena didn’t care about sports. I think the only time she ever watched basketball was whenever I had a game and afterwards, she’d keep asking me why this or that happened. It was tiring but I was grateful for her support.
I got down on the floor and extended my legs into a good stretch, hoping that would get her mind off my sport and Dojo guy.
“Oh, Geri, if you angle your leg like this, you’ll get an even more satisfying stretch.” She floated down next to me to get into the position.
When I had first started, Teacher Justine assigned her to help me catch up. I still had a long way to go, but Helena, who had been dancing ever since she could pull her ballet shoes on her tiny chubby feet at two-and-a-half, was the most patient teacher ever. She was just a pest when it came to boys. And other things too. It was like she had an agenda to make over my life together with my dancing skills.
“Good afternoon, girls.” We looked up to see Teacher Justine glide into the room. Behind her were the rest of our classmates.
I scrambled to my feet and we curtseyed together. I swear, it wasn’t planned, but the proud smile on Helena’s face told me it was now going to be our standard greeting whenever Teacher Justine entered the studio.
Teacher Justine stood in the center, right next to the mirrored wall, her heels together and her toes pointing outward in classic ballet first position. I don’t even think she was aware she was doing it. Her tummy was tucked in and her back was ramrod straight. She sniffed the air and turned her head as if searching for someone. “Geri,” she began. I stood up straighter. “Please take the candles from that paper bag and light them. I don’t know how we can dance with this smell.”
I curtseyed again and tried my best to be light on my feet as I rushed to retrieve the candles and return to my spot in front of Teacher Justine. We were only seven in class, so there was no way I could hide behind Helena. But then again, I wanted to do this. I wanted to be a ballerina. It wasn’t because of the flouncy skirts, elaborate costumes, studded tiaras, or even the satiny, pointe shoes. It was how I felt when I was moving my body to the music: strong, powerful, in control—yet not. As if something more graceful was powering through me and I was a conduit, a channel for all this movement. As I danced, I felt as if everything was right in the world—as if I was doing what I was born to do. It wasn’t like that on the basketball court. Sure, I loved the rush, the adrenaline, the bond with my team, even the sweat that cooled me down after a hard drive, but it wasn’t anything like this.
I concentrated on tucking my tummy in just a little bit tighter and holding myself up just a little bit straighter as I extended my arms on either side of me. Each miniscule movement had to be precise, controlled. I could feel the beads of sweat form on my nose and I was dying to rub them off, but as Helena says, “Always dance as if you were onstage.” When Teacher Justine inclined her head in approval as she drifted by me, I felt my heart lift. It didn’t matter where we were dancing—smelly studio complete with annoying Dojo guy or a brightly lit stage with hundreds in the audience. What did matter was that we were dancing—that I was dancing.
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