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The Apprentice

My parents named me Marta, but in the 4th grade, I added a silent “i” to it. I still pronounce it “Marta” but I spell it “Martia.” At first I just used it with my friends, but later that year, I told my mom. She was cool with it. I told her I just liked it better this way, and that I hoped I didn’t hurt her feelings by changing it. Since she said she was cool with it, I didn’t have to confess that I also did not want to anger her or scare her or any of the other stuff that makes feelings hurt. We didn’t change my name legally, though, so it was a slog in the next few grades to get my teachers to accept the fact that I was going to turn in work signed with a name that was not on their rosters. In 5th and even into 6th, I had to break it to them one by one (and they would usually also call my mom) but by 7th, my legend had preceded me. It’s a small town.

I’ve been dancing since I was 5: ballet, tap, modern, hiphop, and acro-dancing, recently pointe and even dance competitions. I’ve clogged. I’ve swung. Swinged. I like the sexy kind of music video dancing, but I also feel a deep sense of pride and accomplishment when I do a perfect coupé either as part of sauté or en relevé. I love when the teacher uses me as the example.

Once I choreographed a dance for me, my sister, and Mia, who is also my neighbor. We did it in our garage, because the yard is rough. Pirouette! Arabesque! Turn two three, Grapevine. And fold down to the ground. It was to a Selena Gomez song we all liked. We were having a great time, looking good, until Mia’s brother invited himself in and laughed at us and cracked himself up with rude noises. He’s always been kind of a jerk. I remember when we were playing horse races – this was a while ago – and first I was a girl named Carolina and my sister was the horse, then we switched; and he stood in the grass between our houses and started making weird horse noises and rolling his eyes.

In my school, seventh graders can go to the fall dance – Homecoming – and the spring dance – Prom – along with the 8th and 9th graders. I went to Homecoming with Mia, Billie, and Grace. We joked about slam dancing, freak dancing, and sandwich dancing but mostly we just tried to keep our hair and dresses from getting wrecked, to look more popular than nervous, and not to attract the attention of the moms. There’s a row of moms against the wall, and they have to come talk to you if your hands are not on the waist, shoulders or hands of the person you’re dancing with. Or if they can’t see daylight between you. The four of us did some group dancing, kind of ballroomy. When the slow music came on, we would go over to the snack table, or if that was too full, even foosball. Finally, I dared Mia to dance with this guy from her homeroom that she likes, and she did, but she only asked him for a fast one.

Prom is coming up, and there are posters about it everywhere:

  1. Answer the survey! Tell us your taste in music!

  2. Get the corsage/boutonnière! (It helps fund the event.)

  3. Wear comfortable shoes!

Music-wise I have two words for them: Janelle Monáe. And not that they asked, but my mom said she would drive whatever group of us wanted to go, and yes, she would spring for a dress and corsage in exchange for some yard work. How much yard work buys a $100 prom dress, you ask…

So I’m in the yard with a rake and a lopper, when whoosh a paper airplane grazes my ear. It’s not just your basic lame dart, it’s got wings, fins, a nose, fuselage and tail stabilizers. One wing says “Martia.” The other says “Will you go to prom with me?” It’s got smiley faces, a heart with an arrow, and a phone number labeled “Aiden.” Mia’s brother.

I call him up. “Aiden,” I say.

“Marta. Hi,” he says.

“Is this a dare?” I ask.


“Does Mia know you’re asking me?”

“Uh, maybe. I asked her if you were going.”

So that’s how my mom ended up driving me, Mia, Aiden, Billie, and Grace to prom. It was a tight fit. Billie had to sit on Grace’s lap. And Aiden, it turns out, can really dance! He can cha cha and waltz and do Irish dancing and he has this kind of boogie shuffle that looks cool and that he can do for a long time without getting tired or looking lame. And he danced with Billie and Grace, too, but they mostly danced with each other.

“How did I not know you could dance?” I asked him. But what I really wanted to ask was, “Do you realize we both have silent “i”’s in our names?”

“My dad taught me some moves,” he said, “but the boogie shuffle is my own.” When what he really wanted to say was, “Do you realize we both have silent “i”’s in our names?”


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