Brooke Donelan, lovingly known to Michelle and many as Brookie Cookie, has danced with Michelle for as long as I can remember. Though complete opposite in stature: Michelle, tall : Brookie, tiny….their love for 3 things was the exact same. Dance and friendship and kindness. Thank you Brooke. Love you.
“On August first….” and the rest of the speech was a blur. I broke into pieces. My team looked at me through tear filled eyes and offered hugs. The single white rose in my hand trembled as I shook. It never hit me that hard before, but at the recital everything from the last 10 months came over me. The good, the bad, the joyful, the sorrowful all hit me at once as I looked at her picture and attempted to listen to my dance teacher’s speech. I heard whimpers from the crowd and realized just how much she meant to everyone. After the speech, I walked over to the table with her picture and attempted a place my flower in the vase accompanying it. As I mentioned, my body was shaking and my vision blurred with tears. I almost knocked the vase over so I just sat my rose in front of her picture.
Next, we danced. Or so I was told. All I really remember was grabbing Campbell after we ended in our final pose, and beginning a group hug with all 12 members of our team. Yes, 12 because Michelle most definitely was there, too. Just like how she was there at competition, pushing us to be our best. We all felt her, as we have many times previously. After the first recital of the day, Mrs. Chalk and Mr. Chalk came backstage to talk to us, Michelle’s friends.
We all shared a big group hug and Mrs. Chalk told us how beautiful we all looked. After reflecting on everything, I noticed in the dressing room that she wasn’t wrong. With our flower crowns and dresses we looked like angels. How very appropriate. I know that Michelle was wearing our costume in heaven and helping us dance on stage.
The Dance Express Pink Team
I only knew Michelle through dance, but what a bond you can make just by seeing someone once or twice a week. I wonder what I would be like without having her as a teammate. She always had the brightest expressions, biggest movements, most positive attitude, and a true desire to better herself and others. I remember the small things from our time in the studio together. How she dressed as Pikachu one year for the halloween party, making funny faces at each other in the mirror, her laughing after someone said a really bad joke, or her look of absolute determination after an instructor would say “Michelle! You have beautiful, long legs but you need to kick them higher!”
The comment about Michelle’s height made me laugh. We never we able to stand next to each other during dances because I stand at a whopping 4”10. She was always on the center of the stage, as it should have been, because the tallest people go in the middle and the shortest go on the ends. Her big smile and enthusiasm belonged center stage anyways. That’s one thing I try to replicate during performances. Her facial expressions. I haven’t come close yet, but that could be for the best. It makes it more special to have seen her animated face in person.
We have a tradition we do before every performance. We form a circle, hold hands, point out toes inward, speak to each other, then say 5,6,7,8…. DE! Now we have an addition to that. After our usual ritual, we all put our hands in the middle of our huddle and say 1,2,3, LIVE FREE! I really do love each and every one of these girls. We were close before, but now more than before. We text each other on the dance team group chat everyday. Every first of the month, we text about how much we love and care about each other. We encourage each other to live free like Michelle everyday. At the end of the day, I personally treasure everyone on dance team. We laugh, fight, and grow together like sisters. I wish I could see them everyday.
This trip was the last thing I got to do with Michelle (besides dance) before August came. I remember that my cousin, Jenna, and I were the main coordinators of the event and tried to get as many people to come as possible. We got a group of dance team girls to go on the trip and were filled with excitement as we waited for them all to arrive at King’s Island. My mom was nervous about Michelle walking into the park alone, and was texting me the whole 30 minutes it took for everyone to get to our meeting place inside the park. She mentioned after the trip that Michelle was the only reason she let me go without an adult. “If Michelle was there, how much trouble would you really cause? She’s too sweet to do anything irresponsible.”
Our group was very big, and hard to manage. So, to save ourselves from the stress, we split into smaller groups and promised to meet and ride the Beast together. I ended up in a group with just Michelle and Jenna, which was just fine with me. From that second on began one of the best days of my life so far. I don’t think we went a full minute without laughing!
We created so many inside jokes that day, and I’m proud to say that Jenna and I quote them almost every time we see each other. Two of which were born on the ride Banshee. On the way up the hill we were bored. So, being the dancers that we are, we did a ballet exercise called first, first, second, first (I’ll talk more about this exercise later). That little memory is quite possibly the most iconic for Jenna and I. The other inside joke happened on a corkscrew turn during the ride. I suppose the man riding near us wasn’t ready for it, and let out a really dull yelp. All three of us broke out laughing because up to that point the man, who was later named Disappearing Devin due to him being unnoticed, hadn’t made a single noise.
On Diamondback Michelle told us something she always said with friends from school. On everyone’s favorite part of the ride, a big turn before being sent into the little pool at the end of the ride, she told us to shout, “GOD BLESS AMERICA FOR FAST FOOD AND ROLLER COASTERS…. WEE WOO!” Of course Jenna and I did as told, and I’ll always remember the smile on her face as we all yelled this phrase as loud as possible.
There were several more inside jokes from the day, but the best of all was the receipt. All three of us bought a locker to store our bags so we could walk around the park quicker and ride the rides without bag holding areas. We got a little slip of paper with our locker number on it. Michelle took the job of holding the receipt for everyone while we rode the new ride Mystic Timbers. The ride was quick and whipped us around quite a bit, so when Jenna and I saw something fly through the air, Jenna began to scream, “THE RECEIPT! THE RECEIPT!” I laughed because I knew it wasn’t the receipt at all, it was a pair of reading glasses that had flown up into the air and nearly hit all of us. At a section where the ride slowed down, my and Jenna’s insane laughter was heard by Michelle, who turned around to see what was going on. Jenna calmed down slightly and informed Michelle that she had lost the receipt mid-ride. Michelle was really confused. She pulled the receipt out of her pocket and twisted around in her seat. “Guys, I have the receipt right here!” she said in between giggles. I had been wheezing with laughter watching this all go down. Finally, I collected myself and said, “Jenna, it wasn’t the receipt it was someone’s reading glasses!” About then the man who lost his glasses reached up on this head and made a remark about getting his glasses back. We all must have laughed for five minutes straight! To this day I crack up when Jenna reminds me of the receipt.
The rest of the day was amazing, but those are the best moments associated with her for me personally.
Secret Dance Buddy
At dance we have “secret dance buddy.” These are much like a secret santa, except they run all dance season. Michelle was my dance buddy the year she passed. I often reread the notes she gave me throughout the year. I have most of her gifts she gave me during last year. I read the cards and notes she left behind for me the night she died. Some of her messages are in a frame in my room. Others are on my corkboard near my bed. I have three gifts from her in my room right now, besides the notes. A stuffed dolphin toy, a mint green purse, and a mason jar filled with little goodies like bath salts and chapsticks. She really took my little “list of likes” to heart. I mentioned that dolphins are my favorite animal, that I love mint green and blue, and enjoy relaxing times during summer. She always went above and beyond to ensure that I felt special after receiving a gift. Well, mission accomplished Michelle!
In order to fully understand her signs, you have to know something. One of our favorite ballet barre exercises is first, first, second, first (first position, second position…). I can’t really put a finger on why we love it, we just do. One of the songs that best matches the exercise is “Shut up and Dance” by Walk the Moon. We did this exercise during dance camp the evening before Michelle died. Now that you know, I can begin….
The first sign occured while i was getting dropped off at school. I was texting on the dance team group chat, of course, about whether or not I would go to a Ballet and Bows class in honor of Michelle. The studio is a good distance from my house so convincing my parents to let me go to extra classes would be a challenge. Right as I began to text the group that I couldn’t go, the song Shut up and Dance began to play in the car. I remember thinking, well played Michelle…. well played. I couldn’t help but laugh as I filled in my team on what had happened.
Another miracle occured while I was on a field trip to King’s Island. As you know, I already have strong memories there regarding her, so when I went there I felt her already. I remembered our old inside jokes from the day. I remembered them all at once, then “Shut up and Dance” began to play throughout the park. I was still in shock from the song when a butterfly began to flutter around me. I thought things couldn’t get better but right as the butterfly began to fly away a gust of wind blew my #livefreelikemichelle bracelet in ways that I could only describe as dance. She was there, walking beside me in my mind reciting all of our inside jokes from our late July visit.
Another sign didn’t occur at one specific time but as more of a reoccuring event. My livefree bracelets. I have three different kinds as of right now. One that is the same style as most other people (mine is rose gold with with grey bands), a custom one (mint green with charms), and the one I received from the studio (pink and navy blue writing). My days, especially at school are best when I’m wearing them. On the days when I forget to wear them the test seems harder, I miss my transfer bus, or my hair is more of a hot mess than usual. This sign might be all in my head, but I still enjoy the thought that these bracelets are protection from bad days.
During the middle of August, 2017, Jenna and I returned to King’s Island with my mom, brother, and another one of my cousins. This was our first visit since Michelle’s passing and both of us were a little choked up as the memories flooded back. Jenna and I made an effort to relive every single memory and inside joke that day. We stopped walking for my cousin to attempt a basketball game. Jenna and I were leaned up against the gate that separated us from the game. Out of nowhere, a butterfly fluttered around my face and landed on Jenna’s back. The butterfly stayed on her long enough for us to smile and snap a quick picture. Here’s why this was a miracle…. Michelle promised us one more trip to Kind’s Island before school started. She wanted to uphold her promise to us.
When I received the texts from my dance team that Michelle had passed away, I was watching the movie Descendants 2. This was a little sign because at King’s Island Jenna, Michelle, and I had a long conversation about the great soundtrack and impressive choreography from the movie while eating Larosa’s by Vortex. We talked about how it was a step up for Disney Channel movies. I remember laughing as we said, “Well….it’s pretty good for a Disney Channel movie.” Every time I watch that movie, I go back to our conversation and smile. I know the whole soundtrack and can pretty much quote the whole film. I am aware that I’m 14, which is considered too old to appreciate a new Disney Channel movie, but I just can’t stop watching it because of the good memories attached to it. Jenna and I also have countless inside jokes that accompany the film (of course).
The last Michelle Miracle I’m going to write about took place during competition. I felt hands helping me through A Dance for Michelle. During a step where I arch my back I felt someone pushing my arch. When I went up into my handstand, I felt hands holding me in place. After the dance, I ran offstage and hugged everyone. Jenna was frantic and claimed that she had seen Michelle in the audience. I knew these two events weren’t coincidence.
Michelle goes through my mind every day. I’ve written poems and drawn pictures that were inspired by her. I’ll leave you with the last lines of one of my poems.
❣ My last words to you are as true as they can be,
whatever you do, live free, live free. ❣