From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

Ballerina on a Pink Horse

When I was a teenager, my sister Josie had an accident.

At that time, she owned a beautiful music box topped with delicate figures of fine porcelain—a ballerina on a pink horse. The ballerina, pirouetting gracefully on one leg, balanced with one pointed toe secured firmly to the back of her steed. When the music played, both figures revolved with poise and elegance. The music box ballerina danced in the morning; she danced in the evening; she even danced in Josie’s dreams. And whenever the ballerina danced, Josie’s heart took wing.

When Mom presented that music box to Josie on her seventh birthday, my sister fell in love. She fell in love with dancing. She wanted to be that ballerina on a pink horse. Josie begged and pleaded with Mom for lessons. And our mother—never one to deny her daughters anything—said yes. To my great surprise, Josie approached ballet with a focus and a fervor that could only be described as true love.

While other kids were out playing, Josie was in dance class. And when she came home from school, she would go to her room, wind up the music box and dance some more. Sometimes her girlfriend, Anna, would come over. Anna would help Josie with her regular school exercises and lessons, making sure my sister didn’t stop until she got everything right. And when Josie was feeling down, Anna was there to offer encouragement and kind words.

They were the best of friends.

Anna was always a nervous observer on those occasions when Josie chose to practice her balancing act on the high rail fence near our house. The height of the fence seemed to increase Josie’s excitement, and the narrow width of the rails provided a welcome challenge to the limber, self-confident athlete. One day, several of Josie’s schoolmates were also on hand to watch the high-altitude performance. Eager to demonstrate her skill as the kids egged her on, Josie attempted some of her most difficult maneuvers—including one where she placed the arch of her left foot just above the knee of her right leg while pirouetting. But she wasn’t wearing her toe shoes at the time. And she wasn’t performing in the safety of her bedroom or the practice hall. She lost her balance, tumbled to the ground, twisted her knee and was unable to get up. Soon afterward, Josie made the trip to our community hospital by ambulance with our mother at her side.

Now, Josie was lying on a hospital bed in traction with a cast around her leg. Today, the doctor was coming in to tell her when the cast was coming off. My sister was impatient; she wanted to be in her toe shoes and back on the dance floor.

Josie shivered with excitement when the doctor finally entered the room. But he had bad news. The X rays confirmed that her leg would heal fairly well, but she could never dance again. He said her knee could not take the pressure, nor would it support the agility needed for ballet.

Josie was stunned. She stared at the doctor in disbelief. His news had wounded her more than the fall. With the thought of never dancing again, her heart fluttered to the ground like a wounded bird.

The first night home from the hospital was spent in a deep sleep. But morning brought no relief. The first thing Josie saw when she awoke was the music box. She picked up the fragile porcelain and threw it against the wall—hard. It shattered into a thousand pieces. For the first time since the doctor had spoken to her, my sister cried.

Josie stayed in her room for the next few weeks. Inconsolable, she wanted no sympathy or help from anyone. When Anna came to visit, Mom had to turn her away. For the rest of the summer, friends phoned and sent get-well cards. The calls went unanswered, and the cards were left unopened on Josie’s dresser.

Finally, September came and it was time for school. Josie would have to leave the sanctuary of her room. Now, even though the cast was gone and she wore a temporary knee brace, Josie was still on crutches.

Mom bought her a new dress in the hope of cheering her up, but to no avail. Josie felt lost and abandoned. Without her dream, there was no joy in her heart. So, with her backpack slung over her shoulder, Josie grabbed her crutches and left the house. Mom and I watched as she walked toward the school bus. Anna was there, waiting on the corner.

Josie had turned Anna away during that long summer, but now there was a strange attraction. You see, Anna had worn leg braces and used crutches most of her life. The polio virus had crippled her when she was only five. Anna had always dreamed of becoming a runner and competing in the Olympics. But as her disability grew worse and there proved to be no cause for hope, Anna was still a happy person. Deep in her heart, Anna knew she was a runner. She always had been and always would be.

As the two girls drew closer, they both started to cry. Then they began laughing—right out loud! They laughed until they cried. And for the first time since the accident, Josie smiled. Like Anna and her dreams of running, Josie knew she could never dance again. But deep inside, my sister would always be a ballerina on a pink horse. She always was and always will be. With that thought, her heart took wing and soared.

Barry Ettenger

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