Wednesday, 06 January 2010
The Last Dance
By Mickey Goodman of Travelgram
...And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance I hope you dance
- - Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers, recorded by Lee Ann Womack
Whenever I hear Lee Ann Womack’s I Hope You Dance, I remember a bittersweet weekend in Chattanooga when life was filled with hope. The lyrics seemed the answer to an obsession I harbored during my husband Phil's long battle with cancer -- a wacky notion that if we went dancing, he might waltz into a future without chemo and radiation.
One weekend in spring six months before I lost him, our travel buddies Van and Gladys suggested we drive to Chattanooga for the weekend. Van had found a special at The Chattanoogan, a new upscale hotel and one of the centerpieces of the city's efforts to transform the downtown area. The sale was irresistible -- two rooms on the club level for the price of one.
Phil was recovering from the second of three surgeries - plus chemotherapy - and I was dubious. Should we? Could we risk it? He was adamant. "I want to go," he said. "I want to take you dancing."
It was a curious remark from a man who normally had to be dragged onto the dance floor. Though he was certainly bore no relation to Fred Astaire, his dancing ability had a certain jeune ne sais quoi. I had always loved being in his arms following his awkward two step. Though he never let on, I suspect that the notion to go dancing had come from my continual off-key humming of Womack's song.
The four of us struck out for the two-hour drive to Chattanooga from Atlanta early the following Saturday morning. The spring sky was crystal clear and full of promise. By the time we arrived, my worry genes kicked in. Phil tired so easily. Should he rest before we head to the Tennessee Aquarium?
Once again, Phil insisted. "If I get tired, I’ll sit down. Don't be such a mother hen." In fact, his only nod to failing health that weekend was borrowing the aquarium's wheelchair and allowing Van to push him down the winding three-story ramp.
The two men wheeled ahead, sharing man stories and bad jokes while Gladys and I strolled behind, enjoying the floor to ceiling tank of fresh water fish that swam alongside. We chatted about “important” things like grandkids and spring clothes, deliberately avoiding the subject of Phil’s latest test results.
We caught up with the men on the bottom level where a crowd was pressed to the tank watching a lone diver release fish treats into the vast tank. It was a veritable feeding frenzy. Unexpectedly, an intrepid, one-legged duck dove from the top at warp speed. In one fell swoop, he grabbed a large morsel in his wide orange beak, then soared back up to the top as if jet propelled.
Amazed, we watched the strange athletic feat replay until only crumbs remained. My curiosity ran rampant. Why would a duck dive to the bottom of a three-story tank when his feathered friends dined on the surface? A guard explained.
On terra firma, the duck's handicap made it difficult for him to compete for food with two-legged brethren, so either through sheer persistence or desperation to satiate his appetite, he had taught himself to dive to the bottom. There, he was the only feathered creature amid a host of gilled tank dwellers who surprisingly deferred to him.
I couldn't get the curious sight out of my mind. I suppose I was looking for a metaphor that just as the duck had overcome adversity, Phil's strong desire to recover against huge odds would conquer the dreaded cancer beast.
That evening, we joined Van and Gladys in the hotel restaurant for a glass of wine – "medication, be damned!" - and a romantic meal. Strains of the big band music we loved wafted from the lounge and I teased that I was a mere baby when I first heard Chattanooga Choo Choo and Sleepy Town Gal on my parent’s RCA Victrola and certainly not old enough to have ever danced to them.
The others rolled their eyes. Van had served in the Air Corps briefly just before VE day and had courted his intended at victory dances. Phil's age put him somewhere in between.
After dinner, we moved into the lounge and had barely settled in before Phil led me to the tiny wooden dance floor. I basked in the sheer normalcy of swaying to the music with the man I loved. In my mind's eye, I could see Lee Ann Womack smiling.
It was to be our last dance. A scant six months later, Phil died in my arms.
Now, whenever I hear the strains of Womack’s tune, I smile and remember a time when we had a chance to sit it out or dance. And we danced.
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]