Tripping the Light Fantastic by Linda O'Connell
Published in Sasee Magazine February 2023
My husband asked me recently, “Do you like yourself these days?”
“Not my crooked teeth, droopy eyelids, and flabby belly. Do you like yourself?” I probed.
Aware that Bill’s milestone decade birthday was hitting him hard, I said, “We sure could dance back in the day. We hardly took a break. Whenever a fast song played, I grabbed your large hand, and you flung me to and fro; our steps were synchronized. People used to clear the floor and watch us dance. I am ever grateful you taught me to jitterbug in middle age when we met.”
He looked at me as though I had hurt his feelings. “We had a good thirty years of boogying. There’s no reason YOU can’t still dance just because my legs and back are giving out.”
I didn’t want my husband to think I was making a negative statement about his physical health.
“Oh honey, it’s not your legs and back that has put the end to our fast dancing. It’s my left knee. I couldn’t spin or pivot if I wanted to. And forget about you sashaying me under your arm and spinning me back and forth. For both of us, high kicks are a thing of the past. I can hardly lift my left leg high enough to tie my tennis shoe.” He smiled, relieved my comment was as much about my condition as his.
We returned to our television show. Then a commercial came on, an advertisement for a high-end hotel. The image was of a couple being served a plate of… nachos. Bill looked at me quizzically and said, “Well that’s a pretty common dish for an uncommon resort, don’t you think?”
I squealed with delight. “You might not be able to twirl me, but your observations and comments make my gray matter swirl, and I don’t mean my hair, because I still color my grays.”
“Well, there you go making me laugh!” my honey said. “And I wasn’t even trying to be funny.”
I commented, “I have to hobble down the hall until my knee loosens up, and you have to use a cane for balance, but we are still ‘dancing’ together. We can read one another’s moves and signals. We are still in rhythm sitting right here on the couch. If I tried to shimmy it would be embarrassing, and if we even dared do the Twist, we would impair our hips. Whenever we feel the urge, we should just dance in our seats. What do you say?”
My thoughts drifted into the past when Bill first asked me to dance. I had to admit I didn’t know how. “I’ll show you. It is really easy, just a few steps, one and two, three and four, rock-step. I can lead your every move once you learn the basic steps.”
I was embarrassed and offered my girlfriend’s hand.
“She can fast dance.” He led my friend to the dance floor and like a gentleman returned her to the table. As he asked again, I turned down his offer of an impromptu dance lesson.
The next week when my girlfriends and I returned to the dance hall, I accepted Bill’s offer. He had so many competent and available partners willing to Jitterbug with him. Still, he approached me, the one who continually stomped his toes and scuffed his shoes. But eventually, we made it work. I got the hang of the dance steps, and he began to add new moves, which made me whine, “No, I can’t.”
“Yes, you can if you believe you can and you allow me to help. But you can’t lead. I have to lead you. Okay?” So, I was doing the wrong thing the whole time? I knew it! But my dancing man didn’t reprimand me; he encouraged me.
I smiled thinking of our first dance, decades ago. Then I realized at our grandson’s wedding last summer, when Bill led me to the dance floor, he led with precision but allowed me to lead, so we would look as good as the family thought we were. We slow-danced; actually, we swayed in place remembering when we were vibrant, young, and had the stamina to dance the night away.
When our favorite fast song came on, my dear man, who usually wears jeans and casual shirts, looked like my prince dressed to the nines in a suit and tie. I felt like a princess when he smiled, presented his hand to me, and asked, “May I have this dance?”
With the same twinkle in his eyes, he led me to the dance floor and whispered, “This is for you, so honey, you will have to do most of the work.”
My big, always jovial, Irish man stood on the dance floor using hand motions to cue me. So what if I did the footwork and turned myself around? I was charmed. Winded and moving slower than when we first danced to Bob Seger singing Old Time Rock and Roll, we returned to our seats and Bill said, “That was for old times’ sake.”
It’s possible that was our last fast dance, but it was as memorable as our first. Only this time I didn’t dance on his toes, I danced on mine.
My dance partner’s fast steps have turned to a shuffle these days, and slow dancing has taken on new meaning: leaning on one another, supporting each other so we don’t stumble, walking arm in arm.
I said, “You asked me if I like myself these days. I do. I like myself, probably better than anyone else likes me, even if there are things about me that I resent. My lack of mobility just means I’ll have to dance down memory lane.”
“May I join you? I like you, too.”