These days I go to the ballet whenever I can, but the experience still feels incomplete without my mother. After seeing La Bayadère in Paris, where I spent a winter, I called home as I left the theater, needing to tell her about the exquisiteness of the dancers, about the Frenchman beside me who cried through the first act. I wanted her to have seen it. Or maybe I wanted the impossible: to be a grown woman walking alone on a frosty Parisian sidewalk, but also to have my mother with me always.

Recently, one afternoon at my parents' house in San Diego, I parked myself on the couch. Mom was busy in her sewing room, but I wanted her to come sit with me. She would have if I'd asked, but only to be nice, to please me. At this point, I preferred her to please herself but wasn't above trying to lure her. On Apple TV, I typed "Baryshnikov" in the YouTube search box and chose a clip of him dancing competitively with Gregory Hines in the defector drama White Nights. Before it was over, Mom had settled next to me. I chose another: teenage Baryshnikov in class at the Vaganova ballet school in Leningrad. The resolution wasn't great; the old footage flickered. Still, we let it play to the end. We were watching an astonishing artist. We were witnessing the passage of time.

Maggie Shipstead recently published her second novel, Astonish Me


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