I woke this morning from a dream that is haunting me. But not in a bad way.
I was a young child — maybe 8ish. A very poor child, living in a big city. I wandered past a huge, ornate Catholic church, and the door was open. Intrigued by the beautiful space, I went inside, just to touch the white, gingerbread ironwork railings that ran up and down the many short staircases that led from one seating level to another.
They were in the middle of the dress rehearsal for a play that involved twenty or thirty young girls as extras, and it was chaotic. Someone saw me and assumed I was one of the actors, and before I could explain, they had dressed me in a pretty white dress and shoes, handed me some props (gloves, a fan, etc.), and shoed me into a line of girls headed onstage.
Of course, I had no idea what to do, but a hardscrabble life teaches one to observe and emulate, so I followed the other girls.
I was awestruck. I’d never worn anything so pretty, and so white, nor been in a place so beautiful. I couldn’t believe my luck. More than anything, I didn’t want them to realize I didn’t belong and throw me out.
At one point, we girls were lined up at the railing of a balcony. One of the primary actors was with us, and he had a line that asked, “But who would _____________ (do some scary, risky maneuver that I cannot remember)?”
Without thinking, I spoke up in a nice, loud voice that projected. “I would,” I said — at exactly the same moment as the girl who was supposed to speak that line. She shot me a look to kill.
At the end of the evening, as the props and costumer managers took back my pretty clothes and things, they said, “We’ll see you tomorrow at 6.”
So I went back the next night. This time, they put me in an even prettier, more elaborate white dress and the sweetest, softest, white leather ballet shoes. Someone fixed my hair (long and blond, like it really was at that age) into an elaborate hairstyle and pinned on a hat. And the props they handed me had little candies with them — the gloves were stuffed with M&Ms, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were glued onto the fan.
That was actually the only detail that was dreamlike in the sense of being unreal. I get giving young children candy to distract them when they have to sit still for several hours doing something that might get boring. But nobody would give chocolate to little girls in white dresses!
We went through the play, and again, I followed the other girls, feeling like a princess in a fairy tale.
The other girls seemed mad at me, but as a dirty, destitute child, I was used to being snubbed. It seemed worse than usual though.
Eventually I realized that my prettier, more elaborate dress had originally been given to a different girl, but her feet were too big for the dainty leather slippers that went with it. With the dress had also come a promotion to a bigger role. Still not a speaking role, but I was the girl the prince would notice as he strode into the room and choose as his bride. Apparently the director had noticed and liked my starstruck expression.
Of course, I wasn’t acting. I truly was starstruck. I’d never been in place like this, nor with people this beautiful. Heck, I’d never been around people this clean before.
I allowed myself to just experience it. I knew my face was broadcasting the wonder I felt, but I didn’t try to tamp it down. I let myself just live in that one, magical evening.
I didn’t want it to end, but of course it did. Eventually the prince chose me, and then pulled me to the front of the stage for a bow.
Then the lights went out, and everyone scattered. I had to return the dress and hat, though they let me keep the fan with the peanut butter cups still attached (I had eaten the M&Ms, savoring them one by one, so I could wear the gloves).
I wandered through the church, touching the white, wrought iron railings that had called me into the building. There were lots of nooks and crannies, and I thought maybe I could slip into some dark corner and spend the night in the warm, scented space.
But there were too many people, cleaning and putting the church back to order for mass the next morning. I resigned myself to returning to my own life.
I found myself in the narthex with a group of people waiting for rides, and I joined them, just to delay the inevitable.
One of the girls from my line was there, and she shyly offered me one of her candies. “You were really good,” she said.
Then the director of the play came bustling in, looking a little frantic. “Oh, good! I found you!” He thrust a card into my hand. “Give this to your mother. Tell her I am so sorry I haven’t pulled you into the theater program before.” He squeezed my hand. “But you’re here now. This has all the information about the next show. We will see you next month.”
That’s when I woke up. I had a hard time shaking the dream though. Initially I didn’t recognize my bedroom. I was confused to find myself in such an pretty, open space because I had thought I was going back to my small, petty life.
When I finally realized/remembered that this beautiful space is my home, I felt all the wonder of that starstruck, white-dressed little girl.