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This isn’t actually a date, is it?

Will kept turning up.

After our first meeting for breakfast, we made plans to attend a local, outdoor music festival. The festival was free and didn’t require a tremendous commitment from either of us. We could, in the end, run screaming from the town square if things didn’t work out. We would arrive separately.

The last time I danced

The prospect of dancing in public unnerved me. My sweet Robert and I hadn’t danced in years. The last time we’d taken a spin around the floor was at Maddie’s wedding. As the sun glanced off the crystal glasses, and silverware tinkled on the last dinner plates in the beautiful hall, Robert had danced with complete abandon. He threw his arms wide in turns which made me dizzy. His face lit up with unfiltered glee.  

I was more reserved. 

By her wedding day in 2018, Robert’s behavior had become increasingly erratic. Maddie was worried he might say something inappropriate at her reception. She didn’t invite him to speak. But she needn’t have labored over the arrangements. In his inimitable style, Robert invited himself to speak. Following my speech, he found a kernel of his old self and stepped up to share tales of Trent’s most enduring qualities.

“I’m glad Maddie found Trent. He’s very clean. They’ve been living with us for the last three years. It’s like having a vacuum following you everywhere.” 

On cue, Trent leaned over to pick up a bit of stray crepe streamer off the floor of the hall.

“See there he goes again.” A swell of laughter rose from the room. As always, Robert found a way to delight his audience.

These memories were the backdrop to preparations for my excursion with Will. Over the past five years, my participation in the world had been limited to the narrow boundaries of my caregiving role and my job. My whole being had frozen. But the previous year, I’d moved Robert to a care home. Could I thaw? 

Have you ever dressed yourself?

This outing with Will felt enormously important, even though I didn’t want it to mean so much. I no longer knew how to dress myself. I couldn’t figure out what to wear. 

Ankle-length jeans had replaced my once becoming Bermuda shorts, so that was sorted. Though I didn’t have a top that seemed right, I refused to shop for anything new. This wasn’t really a date. This was just a get-together. 

Still, I ended up at a thrift store and almost bought an awful, too big, too tailored, button-down, short-sleeved, magenta blouse. It looked like something one might wear to the office on a hot day in August…in 1985. The only thing that saved me from the debacle of this purchase was the fabric. I’d be too sweaty in rayon. I had lost all fashion sense, though to be fair, I hadn’t had much to begin with. 

I ended up wearing a T-shirt that is quite amusing in the retelling. It was emblazoned…

“You cannot withstand the storm,” he whispered to her.
She whispered back, “I am the storm.”

Talk about aspirational. I was terrified to join the living again. I was a fossilized remnant of myself, caught in limestone. At least limestone wears away in time.

Setting the stage

Will arrived at the park early. (He was unencumbered by the fashion options available to him. He wore jeans, a worn T-shirt, and faded running shoes.) He’d place two folding chairs in a shaded spot under an oak tree, away from the hubbub of the dancing crowd. We’d have to make an effort to get to the dance floor. This was fine with me. 

We swayed, tapped, and clapped to the music from the safety of our chairs. Between the swells of music and the chattered introductions between songs, we talked. We talked about the type of music we liked, we talked about our kids (my two, his one), and we talked about how beautiful the day had dawned. 

After about 30 minutes, with the dappled shade shifting away from us, Will asked if I’d like to dance. I confessed that except at Maddie’s wedding, I hadn’t danced in over ten years. “Really?” he said, perhaps not grasping the terror I felt.

We snaked our way to the edge of the throng. Slowly, very slowly, we began to dance. Will was easy on his feet. My movements were tight, nearly rigid. It took a long time to pry my arms from my sides, to let them join the rest of me. Eventually, I started to…wait for it…enjoy myself. 

Old dogs

Nearly in flow, I suddenly caught sight of my old feet with their crooked toes and bunions. I stopped short, alarmed by their decline. My life with Robert had been long and loving. A great deal of time had passed. Enough time for my feet to become decrepit. 

I wish I could say that dancing that day freed me to soar again. But it did not. Recovering my equilibrium without Robert would be a years-long process.

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