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Rita’s father loved music. He played an invisible guitar and sometimes sang along. Bluegrass could really get his fingers moving, and he would bob his head in time to the rhythm.
Other kinds of music got him going too—Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Credence Clearwater Revival, Cat Stevens. When Rita was little, she would sit with him in front of the stereo, a large bureau-sized piece of furniture in the living room. Whenever he put on a record, he raised his eyebrows as if he were surprised again by what came out of the speakers. He would grab his invisible guitar and play.
When Cat Stevens sang “Wild World,” her father sang along, matching the pitch and intensity. The deep crease in his brow and the wail in his voice was his way of telling her anything can be endured if you can sing about it.
When she was ten, she started dancing in the living room. She would close herself in, alone, and put on her dad’s Cat Stevens record. In movement she could say, to the armchairs and the end tables, what she couldn’t say anywhere else. She could trace the shape of the dread that stuck to her like her own shadow.
She used the whole floor for her choreographies. As she warmed up, she began to feel like she had come here from another world. She danced for days, weeks, always to “Wild World,” trying to get the choreography right. As she developed it, she made sure to use all the space, taking her small, thin body to the four corners, adding lovely dramatic gestures to the air above her head, sinking into her own core on the downbeat whenever Cat sang wild. This made her feel strong. She began to sense that she had come here willingly, that she had known, from that other world, that she would be plunked down into this terrifying one. She wondered why she would agree to such a thing.
She danced for two years like that, adding other music and choreographies, but always coming back to Cat. This was before she’d ever been called a bitch or a whore. But she must have known it was coming.
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published 8 January 2012