This Year's Fancies, Are Passing Fancies, But Sighing Sighs, Holding Hands, These My Heart Understands
speaking of dancing in the new year...
i. december 1994
I’ve always had an aversion to dancing. From an early age, I’ve always thought that I was never good at it, lacking both the rhythm to be presentable or the enthusiasm for it that would at least give the appearance I enjoyed it. It wasn’t my fault. I was never talented when it came to the areas of my life which relied on drawing strength from one’s soul—aside from writing, of course. I was never given to dance and, I guess, dance was never given to me.
Breanne, on the other hand, had been born with both feet a-stirring and a spotlight already shone upon her when it came dancing. She took to it readily—graceful, steady, and with a keen sense of showmanship that often awed as often as it embarrassed me. I have never known a better man or woman on her feet as her.
So it was with these histories in mind that I found myself being poised the question of whether or not I wanted to cut a rug by my plucky companion. Whether it was a serious request or a playful taunt I shall never know because my hasty response put an end to any hope that I would leave her dance studio without dancing to some degree. With her, unfortunately, saying no is more often a suggestion rather than an answer in its own right.
“One dance, sugar? Please, thank you,” she said, tugging on my arm to lift me off the hardwood floor. I was fully content to remain seated, watching her prance around the room. She had mentioned that ever since she quit her lessons with Mrs. Harvick how much she had missed it. My visit gave her the perfect excuse to show off what eight years of lessons three times a week can buy you. I have to admit, something about seeing her almost float across the floor made it seem like fun and I did begin to harbor wishes of being able to move that well myself. She was music in human form and I was her helpless audience. I could have watched her for hours, whirling and swaying away. However, I drew the line at crossing the line from audience to full-blown participant.
“I can’t. I’d only mess you up,” I tried to tell her, but she simply wouldn’t be denied. She tugged and tugged until finally I let her help me up.
She left me standing in the corner of the room as she ran to the far side to change the music on the boombox on the table. She was all smiles. The tempo of the music changed from the jazzy number she had on to that of a slower pace.
I recognized the familiar strains of “The Flame” at once.
I nervously waited, unsure of whether or not I really wanted to do this. But as I waited, I watched her pirouette back to me, her simple ponytail swinging out like an extension of her. She was radiant in her anticipation. I watched as her lovely face, all dimples and warmth, focused back into view. I watched as her chestnut brown hair and oceanic blue-green eyes overwhelmed me in their spell. I watched as her soft hands made their way towards me, one on my shoulder and one stretched out front waiting for mine. I slowly wrapped one of my hands around her waist and took her hand in my other. She had on a ratty old t-shirt and a pair of faded black denim shorts, but she might as well as have been wearing an elegant ball gown with the way I was looking at her.
“You didn’t tell me it was going to be a slow song,” I said before we began.
Then, just like that, I was moving with her. Ostensibly, I was leading her, but every step and every motion she was carefully guiding me with her voice. If I’d been watching the two of us, I would have thought that we were moving at a snail’s pace. Yet, if she minded having to explain what I should be doing, she didn’t let on. She guided me through a simple eight-step progression that allowed me to save face, while at the same time really gave me the sense of just how seriously she took everything about dancing. This wasn’t something she did for fun; this was something she did because it was a part of her. Not only that, this was something she was insistent upon sharing with me because without knowing this side of her I wouldn’t really know her. When the song ended and she sprinted to re-start the tape, I knew that this next time she’d be expecting me to be okay with leading her for real.
When she bounced back to me and the song started once more, I held her tighter to me. I looked at her face, her cheeks flush with all the moving around. I don’t know if she could see it, but I wanted to show her how determined I was not to flub in front of her.
As we started up, I glanced to the room around us. “My god, there’s like a thousand mirrors in here, Breanne.”
“Focus on me. Don’t worry about what you look like, Patrick. Just worry about me.”
I must have misstepped a half dozen times. I came close to stepping on her at least twice. And at least one time I lost track of what I was doing so bad that we almost came close to falling down.
It didn’t matter.
That night for that one dance she was perfect and I was perfect because of her. It didn’t matter that I was a lousy dancer and that was only my fourth slow dance ever; she made me better. Feeling her move in my arms, feeling the joy she possessed for this little thing called dancing, made me impervious to any self-criticism I might have had. For once, I wasn’t afraid of failing and looking like a fool inside. I was afraid of failing her. I was afraid of ruining that joy for her. That made me determined to make myself a better dancer for her. For one song, for that one song, I held her close and willed myself to make it special for her. I don’t know if any of you have ever had one dance where you lost yourself so completely as to forget you’re dancing, but that’s the closest I could come to describing the experience. We were there in that studio, but we were not there, so lost in finding that connection through the music that everything else faded away, including the thousand mirrors.
After it was over, she said I did a remarkable job. I tried to play it off that it was all her; she was the one who was doing the work, which was true. But, she told me, it was also the fact that I had trusted myself which made it work. She continued that as long as I worked on that she’d have me dancing across the aisles in no time.
ii. july 1998
I don’t often play miniature golf either. This isn’t so much due to a lack of talent as a lack of opportunity. Miniature golf is fairly low on my list of things to do when I want to relax with friends. It’s one of those activities that have to be suggested to me to realize that I actually enjoy it and usually have a good time doing it.
When Breanne and I have been together, which isn’t very often, and we lack for concise plans, most of the time we’ve turned to bowling as a pleasant diversion. We both enjoy it. We’re both decent at it. We also enjoy the fact that most of the time drinks are involved, which only up the festive atmosphere. Given that, it came as quite a shock to me when, while driving up the coast in her summer before college, she told me to pull the car over and into a miniature golf range. My mild amusement was only tempered by the lingering annoyance at the events of earlier that evening.
We had only an thirty minutes prior stopped at an Arby’s somewhere near Monterrey. The agreement had been that we would drive through and pick up some food, invalidating the need for any further stops before finding a town to bed down for the night. She was to eat first while I drove. Then, later, we would switch. No sooner had we made our way to the on-ramp when we drove past a vagrant in need of a good shower and shave, as well as a good meal. She instructed me to stop the car. No sooner had I done so and begun to ask what she was up to when she hopped out of the car and handed her half of the meal to the stranger. I watched as he shook hands with her, obviously thanking her. A few moments later she was hopping back into the car and letting me know it was okay to head back on the thoroughfare.
To be fair, it wasn’t as bad as I stated in the ensuing argument. She didn’t parcel out what I had ordered. She was doing it for a good reason. She was also informing that, if I wanted, we could consider the rest of the meal a snack and wait to eat once we arrived wherever we were lodging for the night. Yet, me being me, I still took the opening to let her know annoyed I was. Me and food have always had a weird relationship. The thought of giving a perfectly good meal away both was sacrilegious to my egotistical sensibilities and to my sense of timeliness. I had gotten it into my head, despite her protestations otherwise, one of us would get hungry later on, which would necessitate another stop before nightfall.
Eventually, after many alternating bouts of phrases beginning with “seriously” (mine) and “that’s just great” (hers), the rest of the trip had settled into an uncomfortable silence. When we both saw the sign for the miniature golf range I didn’t think either one of us was in any mood to partake of any of the fun to be had there. In fact, it was the furthest idea from my head to the point where I almost said no when she suggested the idea.
I stepped out of the car with great trepidation. I didn’t want to be stopping. Not only would it put us further off schedule, but it would also probably mean that I’d have to talk with her. She, quite frankly, was the last person I wanted to talk to at that moment. I wasn’t just upset at what she had done. I was also upset at the fact she had argued over it at all. I don’t know—sometimes I believe I take more umbridge at the fact somebody disagrees with me than the actual point of contention. That’s how that argument felt. In my heart, I knew what she did wasn’t that big of a deal. The big deal to me was the fact she had gotten me worked up in the first place.
We walked to the front of the building to rent our putters and balls, amid the cheesy medieval décor and even cheesier soft hits music playing over all the speakers they had placed across the course. We both paid our fees separately. I was about to ask her about splitting the greens charge when she took it upon herself to pay for the entire thing.
“That’s for giving it away. We’re even now,” she announced to no one in particular, her back to me.
I followed her to first hole and we began to play. It was like playing with my dad all over again. She was using my excuse of being in a hurry to criticize my every move. If I wasn’t taking my turn fast enough, I was being accused of purposefully missing shots to prolong it. If I wasn’t concentrating hard enough, I was intentionally trying to distract her. It was horrible. I consider the first ten holes the worst holes of golf ever played anywhere. We were both obfuscating the tension that was still underlying the evening. Neither of us wanted to discuss the matter any further, but you could be that the fight was far from over. We had merely found other means to express our frustration with one another.
Not for nothing I suggested that we might call it an evening and get back on the road. More than anything, I thought once we got to the motel that everything would sort itself by morning. I had never gone to bed mad with her—not while we were in close proximity with one another, at any rate—and I was sure that night wouldn’t be the first night we broke that trend. She wouldn’t hear of it, though. Hell’s bells, we started this thing, she said, and she’d be damned if we didn’t finish it.
It wasn’t until we got to the 11th hole that everything took a turn for the unexpected. I’m a hopeless romantic, but even I would have thought a miniature golf course an unlikely source of a memorable night. We had both parlayed our animosity into our game. We arrived three strokes of one another in what was turning out to be quite a contest. I’ve never been as competitive as Breanne, but the fact she was ahead of me was gnawing away at me endlessly. I wanted to beat her and beat her bad. As much as she’s been my friend and more, she’s also been a source of needless jealousy and feelings of inadequacy. Not only did she take to a great many more pursuits more effortlessly than I did, she had also gone to great lengths to assure me that it didn’t matter which of us was better… as long as I knew it was her. There’s a reason why I go to great lengths to limit what I do to things I know I can do well; I’ve always felt like I was in her wake. It wasn’t just one game for me at that point. It wasn’t just about the food or being late, or even her constant harping on me during the game. It was really about showing her up at something for once.
I took my position at the beginning of the hole with admitted venom in my heart and an eye towards regaining the lead. I hit a decent shot which parked me five feet from the hole for a par four hole. Yet just as decently she banked her shot inches in front of mine to the hole. The grin on her face was one shade shy of unbearable. The noticeable thing about Breanne is she gets this luck of smug satisfaction that a multitude of people have mistaken for arrogance. I don’t know if it’s so much that as the unassailable confidence. After all, if you’d spent eighteen years more or less succeeding, when one more success came your way you’d be smiling too.
Since she was nearer to the hole, she took her swing first.
The sound of her ball ringing into the cup was disappointing, but I still had my shot to tie her.
I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if was forcing it or I was somehow fated to miss that shot. Whatever it was, I watched my ball lip into the hole and then right back out. I had fallen another stroke behind her.
When she opened her mouth to rub it in, I did something uncharacteristic of me. I told her that she could just shut up without an ounce of joviality in my voice. It stopped her dead in her tracks. The forcefulness of the tone over something small must have told her volumes about my state of mind because she didn’t say another word. She stood there. She stood there like she was the thirteen-year-old girl she had been when we first met, the only time she had ever been cowered by my bellowing. She said it had reminded her of the tone her daddy took with her when he wanted to be obeyed. Since that time, she took it from me for what it was, empty roaring by a person who was quite often prone to empty roaring. Most of the time, she would have laughed in my face and told me to grow up. We would have moved onto the next hole and that would have been that.
I think it took what I did next to really open her eyes at just how upset I was.
I threw my club into the nearby streamlet, which, unfortunately, was characteristic of my behavior at the time. Then I sat down on a bench close by and closed my eyes. The frustration had finally gotten to me.
I felt her sit next down to me more than I felt it. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t try to put her arm around me. She didn’t even try to move. By the time I opened my eyes again we’d been sitting there like that for a few minutes. Granted, I think I was overreacting, but feelings are never bad. It’s not acting on them that gets us into trouble. And right then I was feeling pretty shitty.
I was beginning to think our little vacation was in trouble. I was beginning to think that, like many things I do, I had proceeded to ruin a perfectly good time with the one person I’m really capable of having a perfectly good time with. I was beginning to think her and I making this jaunt up the coast was a bad idea. We were only three days in, with four more to go, and we were already at the point where I was throwing clubs and telling her to shut her mouth. It wasn’t looking good.
Two or three minutes after I opened my eyes, with me all set to call it quits and suggest we turn around back home, a song came on over the speakers:
“Breanne, I have a question.”
“You don’t think it’d be too weird to dance at a miniature golf course, would you?” I asked, again uncharacteristically.
“I don’t think it would be too awkward at all, darling.”
When you’re with someone so much, when you spend so much time with them, I think you begin to lose track of everything that you found agreeable about them. Too often you start to tunnel in on only the aspects of their personality that you find rank and base. Too often you start to substitute history for honest effort and tread upon the path the two of you have walked before. It becomes like a ceremony where you re-enact the same rituals, repeat the same stories and phrases, retire the idea that there is anything new under the sun for the two of you to explore. Hell, even I’ve gotten sick a time or two when I knew a “Hell’s bells” or “no more, no less” was coming.
I wasn’t sick of her that night, though. That night was new. That night was fresh. That night was exciting. Gliding her around the manicured fake greens, with all manner of bad lighting shining down upon us, and the wistful sounds of Harriet Wheeler accompanying us, I felt like we were the first people who had ever danced in history. It wasn’t the moment; it was the company. The first time in her studio had been planned. She knew all along that I was going to dance with her and do a poor job at it. In fact, she had admitted as much years later. It had been her plan to show me a few steps in order to get me comfortable with the idea of her as a dance partner. The first time in her studio I had been the pursued.
On the miniature golf course, there wasn’t a pursuer and a pursued. There were just two people sharing a moment that had never been shared before by anyone.
She would have felt like an angel if I knew what angels felt like—soaring as she had us above our situation, moving us as if no one had ever been hurt, making everything okay for the three or four minutes the song lasted. The slightness of her sking, the trace of her fingers, the lingering wisps of her hair catching the air as we circled around the ground, gave me the impression this wasn’t just a simple attempt at reconciliation. This was a balancing of the scales. Maybe there had been tension building between us for a long time before that night. Who knows? With a few steps and a few hurried glances to one other, we set right what once was wrong. We claimed that night as a night to remember, if only because we were the ones who lived it. We touched and it was like we could never let go of one another.
The first time I had danced with Breanne she had been no older than fourteen. A child.
That night, almost four years later, I was dancing with the woman she had become. She was still as confident and manipulative as ever. But I think with her maturity she had also learned something else that was missing from that first time. There was a gentleness to her that had been absent somewhat from the time in the studio. She was teaching me. She was expecting of me to learn from her. She was the person who knew what she was doing and I wasn’t. This time was different. There were no expectations. There were no lessons being taught or learned. We stood as equals that night, equals without a cause or an agenda. When I asked her to dance it wasn’t to distract me from the animosity that had begun to well up inside of me for her. It was to heal that selfsame animosity. And when I told her that she was a wonderful dancer and that I’d remember that night always, it wasn’t to flatter her or butter her up into forgetting what I did.
It was to tell her I was sorry.
We didn’t dance to avoid fighting. We danced as a continuation of the night, as the inevitable conclusion to a night that began in frustration. Sometimes when you’re frustrated with an individual the only thing you can do to end the cycle of frustration is remind yourself why you’re with the person. Sometimes you have to remind yourself why you appreciate a person before you can begun to remember why you love the person in the first place.
As the song came to a close, I felt her let go of and start running towards my Plymouth Duster.
“Where are you going?” I asked her, confused.
“I’m going to get my cell phone out of the car and I’m going to go and see if I can get that radio station to play ‘Cry’ again,” she yelled back at me.
I could only shake my head and wait for her return.