Happy Sunday morning everyone! I’m sitting in front of our space heater that looks like a little fireplace with my loyal Ernie dog sitting beside me. It’s a cozy scene, considering it’s only 29 degrees outside. Today is story day, so here’s the latest installment in “The Collection” that will be published sometime this next year. As always, feedback is welcomed.
Déjà vu Dances
2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey
After serving over twenty years of marriage, my husband and I parted. Suddenly, I found myself alone for the first time. There were lots of adjustments. Some good. Some bad. Some easy. Some hard. My two-bedroom apartment, which I put together with the help of friends and hand-me-down furniture, was very different from a four bedroom house in the country where I had spent most of my adult life. Going to work everyday after a life at home with children was a struggle. But yet, life was good. I didn’t have to referee teenagers who decided to live with their father. I didn’t have to clean up after anyone else, and I didn’t have to watch a television program I wanted to watch. My first year after divorce was a year of solitude and navigating through a new life of different experience, responsibilities, and learning how to cook for one.
The mere mention of the word “dating” paralyzed me. Instead, I went on wonderful trips with two East Coast travel agents who befriended me, and I had a wonderful time running away from my reality a week at a time. We traveled to places I never thought I would have a chance to see, as we cruised through the Caribbean, island after island spending hours at a beach, enjoying “girl time,” and the attention of the exotic men who were at our beck and call.
After a year of solitude and escapism, though, I decided I didn’t want to live out the second half of my life alone in a two-bedroom apartment with my cat Henry. If I didn’t do something soon, I knew I had to make a change, but I didn’t have a clue what to do.
During that first year, I watched four of my friends, who got divorced around the same time I did, struggled with re-entry into this strange world of middle-age dating. Babs plunged forward within a few weeks after her divorce, joining a separated and divorced group in Milwaukee. Connie built a life with her golden retriever and two cats, while Jenny decided she would rather center her life on her career.
Babs always wanted me to go with her to one of her dances. She argued I had loved dancing in school and that hadn’t changed. And she was right. I did love dancing. Dancing until dawn on the cruise ships had been a blast. How could this be different? So, I agreed to go.
When “D” Day – dance day—arrived, I primped like a teenager, trying on every piece of clothing I owned. My bedroom was strewn with my entire wardrobe, and I realized I only owned “nine to five” suits and a couple of pairs of ratty jeans. The closest thing to a party dress I had was a plain, black, A-line, dress I had wore for my aunt’s funeral.
Babs picked me up around 7:30 p. m. to drive the 40 miles to the dance. As we zoomed along the freeway, she laid down the “rules of engagement” for the evening. “You remember why we’re going to this dance, right?”
“Sure, we’re going to dance and have fun.” I smiled innocently.
I was confused, “I didn’t know there was a ‘besides that’ connected with our night out.”
She spoke like an Army DI prepping a grunt for combat. “We’re also going to meet ‘new people.’”
“What new people?”
“Men, stupid. I don’t want you hanging around me. You go your way, and I’ll go mine.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You mean the minute we enter the door you’re going to abandon me?” If I had known this, I would have stayed home and watched “I Love Lucy” reruns.
“You’re a big girl. Don’t make it sound like I’m putting you on a doorstep.”
“Well, that’s what it feels like.”
“I want you to mingle. Walk up to people. Make small talk. Jump in the pool.” She took a breath and changed lanes. “Believe me, this is the best way. I’ve tried going with other girlfriends who stuck to me like glue, and I didn’t get a chance to dance with a guy all night. The last thing I want to do is to end up dancing with you.”
I looked out the window at the darkness and mumbled, “So much for a fun time together. I didn’t think we were on a guy reconnaissance mission.”
“Sometimes you are so ridiculous.”
A few minutes later, Babs turned into a church parking lot. “We’re here!” She unbuckled her seat belt and made a beeline toward the door. She turned and motioned for me to follow her.
I pulled up the hood on my coat, put my head down to enter combat, and bravely fought the winter wind as my feet crunched through the hard, Styrofoam snow to a door marked, “S & D Dance.” I followed Babs down a beige, parochial school hallway and hung our coats on hooks on the wall. Then Babs swished over to the sign-in table. She handed a gray-haired man with wireless glasses a $10 bill. “Two,” she said, then slapped a stick-on name tag on my chest that simply said, “Barb”
We walked through the gymnasium door and cigarette smoke hovered overhead like a fog. Paper streamers had been strung from the ceiling. A stale beer smell completed this “grown-up” high school event. Babs ushered me over to a group of mixed company announcing, “Hi guys – I want you to meet Barb.”
“Hi, Barb!” they yelled in unison. When I heard their chorus, all I could think of was the Cheers sitcom bar group yelling, “Norm!!”
Babs said. “It’s her first dance,” She poked a guy with black, slicked-back hair, “so be nice!”
The greasy guy smiled at me as if to say, “Mmmm. Fresh meat.”
I forced a smile and excused myself, saying I needed a drink.
I walked over to the window where the drinks were being served. I smiled at the guy and said, “I’ll have a Coke, please.” Without looking at me, he grabbed the soda hose and pushed the “Coke” button.
“That’s a buck,” he said, pushing the soda toward me without looking.
I paid him and found an empty table on the periphery of the dance floor to watch the crowd. By now, the lights had been turned down low the room was completely dark except for the colored floodlights that were behind the four-piece band. A balding, pot-bellied Mick Jagger wannabee took hold of the microphone and started screaming, “I Can’t Get No, Sat-Tis-Fac-Tion.” Suddenly, the room erupted. Males who had been plastered against the wall, grabbed female partners who were lined up on the opposite wall. They hit the dance floor wiggling, shaking, and jerking to the familiar sounds of the 1960s.
As I watched them, I felt like I had been plopped down in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Babs scowled at me as she hopped and flailed with the rest of the crowd. She whispered something into her partner’s ear after the song ended and came over to me.
“Is this what you’re going to do all night? Sit on the sidelines and watch? Get out there and dance! Go ask somebody!”
Just then the drummer smacked his sticks together and began the old drum solo of “Wipe Out”
Babs screamed, “My favorite!” She hustled over to a wallflower gigolo dressed in a polyester leisure suit and began wiggling, while he jerked like he was having a convulsion. But the pounding beat of this “oldie” made my lonely feet under the table tap out the beat.
A 50-year old hippie with shoulder length gray hair came toward my table, and I prayed, “Oh, God, please – no.” Thankfully, he grabbed the hand of another woman sitting next to me and pulled her out on to the floor, as the drummer went into a frenzy as he pounded out the drum solo.
After the song ended, the crowd dispersed to their boy and girl groups on opposite walls again. I wondered whether high school routines every died.
Then it happened. I felt a tap on my shoulder. After the hippie and the guy with slick-backed hair, I held my breath and turned around. There stood a good-looking man dressed in a business suit. He smiled. “Hi, my name is Jim. Would you like to dance?”
The band was playing, “Do You Love me, Surfer Girl?” With relief, I answered, “Sure.”
After the dance was over, he said, “Can I buy you a drink?”
“That would be nice.” We walked hand-in-hand to the guy pouring sodas at the window.
I danced with Jim for the rest of the evening, and when the band played the last song, Jim twirled me for the final time . Bright lights came on, signaling it was time to leave. We walked to the coat rack, and he slipped my coat over my shoulders. “I had a really nice time tonight, Barb.”
I laughed and said, “You’re my night in shining armor.”
He looked at me with a puzzled look. “How’s that?”
“You saved me,” was all I could say before Babs came busting in between us.
She looked Jim over from top to bottom and said to me, “See, I told you’d have a great time!”
I just glared at her. Jim broke the silence and said to me, “I hope I see you at the next dance.” He turned and left.
I smiled and said, “Maybe.”
Even though Jim had salvaged a dreary evening, I vowed there would be no “next dance.” It broke my heart to see so many broken souls trying so hard to relive their “glory days” of high school, as they faked having a good time.
I turned to Babs and said, “Don’t you feel like you’re experiencing Déjà vu?”
She looked at me like I was speaking a language she didn’t understand. “What?”
“All evening I feel like I’ve been sent back in time.”
“You watch too much Star Trek. But then, you always have some smartass comment to make, don’t you?”
Babs blasted me. “Why is it so hard for you to try something new? Why do you have to put me down because I love to come to these dances?”
“You call this new? This dance was anything but new! Dancing to same music, in the same way we did when we were 16 years old is just a little too weird.”
Babs shot back. “So you didn’t have a good time?”
“It was okay.” It was really horrible except for meeting a nice man like Jim.
“You’re hopeless. Let’s just go home.” Babs turned in disgust and hustled into the frigid night.
As we rode in silence, I felt a little sorry for her. I had spoiled her good time. I should never have let her talk me into going to this ridiculous dance. Right now watching a rerun of Star Trek, eating a bag of microwave pop corn with my cat Henry sitting on my lap sounded like a much better alternative to what I had just endured. At least those time-continuum stories didn’t leave me feeling like an old fogie whose glory days were in the rear-view mirror.