Winner's Circle | Nonfiction

From Degas, Danseuse à la barre, oil thinned with turpentine on prepared green paper, courtesy British Museum

Solo Pas de Deux

I waited. Dressed in black leotard, pink tights, a sheer wrap skirt, and a light sweater over my shoulders, I stood at the living room window. I wore slip-on shoes I could toss under the classroom bench as soon as I arrived at Lana’s School of Dance for my weekly evening ballet class—the only class for which I did not have to grade student essays.

My husband came into the house without knocking, and I rushed past him, irritated not only by his tardiness, but also his persistent habit of ignoring boundaries. We had agreed, since the separation, that while I lived in the Moon Street house and he did not, he would need to knock and wait on the porch for me to open the front door before he entered, unless we’d made prior arrangements. That agreement had never stuck, yet I felt begrudgingly grateful for his being here with the kids.

I flung my ballet slippers and purse into the front seat of my car, got in, and clicked the seatbelt before checking the rearview mirror and looking over my left shoulder, painfully aware of leaving in a rush of frustration as I backed down the driveway. Had I kissed the kids good-bye?


The car struck something. Hard. Time and my body halted, mid-reaction. Looking over my right shoulder, I saw the oxidized old Nova—which had been parked too close to my car in the driveway and in my passenger-side blind spot—slowly rolling into the quiet street. I jumped out of the Altima, ran toward the house with one more glance at the receding Nova’s trajectory, and burst in through the front door, shouting, “Your car! Come quick!”

“What?! What happened?”

“I backed into your car and it’s in the street,” I said, pied-pipering my way back through the front hall, trailed by my husband and children.

He sprinted across the yard to retrieve his car from the street only to discover its doors were locked.

“The KEYS,” he yelled. Both kids bolted into the house. I stayed outside, having no idea where he might have left his belongings, and watched for after-work traffic on our residential street. Meanwhile, glowering, he guarded the Nova.

“Hey! Where’s the Altima?” he screamed at me as our daughter ran out of the house, looked both ways, and delivered the keys while our son stopped, saucer-eyed, at the edge of the sidewalk. Only then did I register the obvious: our lonely driveway.

He opened his car door—the one with the random drive-by bullet hole—and started the Nova, while I wondered where my car was—the car I’d just unwittingly used as a battering ram, sending my husband’s car into the street; the car I was supposed to be driving, at that moment, to the studio.

Huddled together on the brown grass near the dying rosemary bush, the kids and I watched their Dad steer the Nova to the curb and shut off the engine. Ah, Shut Off The Engine—that key step to securing a vehicle and the very thing I had failed to do when I abandoned the Altima.

“So. Where the hell is it?”

“Maybe someone stole it!” It was Albuquerque, after all, highest auto theft rate in the country. And my purse was in it. Shit.

Our neighbors on the corner had come outside to watch the farce unfold. Alex called out to us, “Is that what you’re looking for?” He pointed down the perpendicular side street at a group of trees.

From their dining room window, Alex and his wife had seen the driverless Altima, still running in reverse, back itself down our driveway, cross Moon street, and roll past their house where it lodged, two houses down. Stopped by an old elm tree and thick hedge, one back tire lifted onto the curb, the car was barely visible from where we stood. My husband sprinted down the street, shifted the Altima into drive, and returned it to the driveway. It was too soon to laugh, and I was determined not to cry. He jerked the emergency brake into place.

The entire escapade unfolded like a Twilight Zone episode, our chaos playing out on one plane and the rest of the world standing still. No other cars on the road. No injuries aside from ego. No property damage (other than what I’d inflicted on both our cars). When time resumed its normal pace, I was well and truly late for, and desperately in need of, my ballet class.— My husband exited the vehicle, holding the driver’s side door open for me and slamming it shut as soon as I hopped in. He ushered the kids into the house without looking back. I hadn’t heard any scraping sounds or odd noises coming from the wheels, so I backed out with an extra dose of caution before speeding off to class—a single hour of calm in the midst of a messy marriage.

*          *          *

I adjusted the elastic on my ballet flats, mouthed “I’m sorry” to the instructor, and joined the barre exercises. I eased into the predictable front-side-back-side rhythms of fifth position battements tendus for a count of eight. My inner thigh muscles exerted tight control of my legs to execute the disciplined, regulated fundamentals.

“Same thing. Other side,” voiced the teacher over a Verdi recording.

What a joy, always, to pirouette, place the opposite hand lightly on the barre, and repeat the pattern. Chin up. Shoulder blades down, away from the ears. Elongated neck. Arms active but relaxed. Front, side, back, side. Point and flex. Plié, relevé. Hold, two, three, four. Smile and breathe. I could almost believe my body was made to dance.

In this one hour a week—sometimes it was the only hour—I found my center, an inner place of balance and poise. Aligned from the crown of my head, through my tailbone, down to the soles of my feet, I stepped away from the barre toward the middle of the worn hardwood floor facing the mirror, facing myself.

Author's Comment

My memoir is about women’s self-determination and personal agency. We’re in danger of losing ourselves if we let others (people, institutions) prescribe our lives, a lesson I learned after decades of devotion to a faith and marriage that no longer made sense. I had to find faith in myself to embrace an uncertain future—rediscovering dance as an adult was one of many ways I reconnected body, mind, and soul during a difficult time. A whole new generation of women is deconstructing their faith, challenging patriarchal and political assumptions, and hungering for our over-sixty stories.

Rabbit Sun, Lotus Moon
by Andrea Millenson Penner
Andrea [Andi] Millenson Penner’s second collection of poetry, Rabbit Sun, Lotus Moon (Mercury HeartLink), invites the reader to experience the soulful nourishment of "this one precarious life between earth and sky." Poems arrive like handwritten letters—unexpected, delicious—from the territory of the poet’s heart. Much like the desert Southwest of the United States, these poems evoke a stark landscape of longing, the promise of rain after grief, and both the expanse and immediacy of human experience. With cover art by New Mexico artist Meg Leonard, Rabbit Sun, Lotus Moon was named a finalist for the 2017 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award in poetry. Andi is currently working on a chap book, a third book of poetry, and a memoir, with recent work published in literary magazines, blogs, and anthologies. You can follow her on In Our Own Ink. Available from Amazon and


Andi Penner, PhD, has published in literary magazines, anthologies, and academic journals. Her second book, Rabbit Sun, Lotus Moon, was a 2017 Arizona/New Mexico book award finalist for poetry. Publisher of In Our Own Ink on Substack, Andi is completing a memoir about finding faith in herself after leaving a life of faith, from which this essay is an excerpt. Her newsletter can be read at Substack.

One Comment

  1. An inspiring article showing how important self-care is during times of great personal change. The writing was electrifying as I could feel the author’s disbelief around losing not one but two cars in her haste to get to her much needed ballet class.

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