Getting dressed to go take dance lessons at The Broken Spoke tonight I put on a silk dress and look in the mirror. I am in Austin, visiting from Los Angeles. That’s what I do. I visit the places I had imagined an ‘us’. Where he was from, where he traveled for work, where he wanted to take me. For some reason, we don’t get there. But when we break up, I go.
The trips, I expect to work like leeches, ridding me of longing and restoring me to health. According to the ancient Greeks, bloodletting restored balance. But there is always a point, weather in Paris, the Sierra Nevadas, or now, Austin, where I wonder why I have to do this. People use leeches medically because of ineffective draining. I visit these places, hoping I can empty myself of the fantasy, hoping that as much as it stings, I will let go. It is both indulgent and purposeful. J. talked about Austin, talked about us coming here, to this place, The Spoke, to dance.
The last time we danced was after the Thanksgiving, when I made a salad that cost seventy dollars because I wanted to impress people. It sat on the serving table untouched, a buffet wallflower. Back at my house the mandolin I bought to get the fennel epidermally thin sat in a drawer and mocked me for the rest of the year. We brought the salad home and when we slow danced in my living room, none of it mattered. I couldn’t two step and J smiled and told me he wanted to take me to the Broken Spoke. He said that would make him happy. I pretended like it was a little thing, but I tucked it in my brain book, a pressed flower I could take out and marvel at when he went back to Texas. A man wanted to take me dancing. I had told him I didn’t want to fall in love with someone unavailable. He went back to Texas. I hoped he would return, but when we spoke a few months later, he had a new girlfriend. I never learned to two step, so… here I am.
When I walk in, I get a diet coke and sit down. A solo guy at the next table, young, goatee, well manicured, dense in frame the way these boys are. Sort of breaking the seams of all the denim. Unapologetic in their I-played-team-sports-bodies. He looks over at me. LA is full of individual sport men. Men who like to swim in their jeans and the ocean. He asks me what I’m drinking. I say diet coke. We chat. We are both here alone. I ask him what brought him here tonight. He says he’s preparing for tomorrow night. As tomorrow night is Valentine’s, I smile. I tell him he’s a good guy. He blushes. For real. “She wanted to two- step,” he says. “I’m gonna surprise her.” He asks me why I’m here. I tell him the truth. I had been seeing a person who had mentioned taking me here a while back. He was gone, but I was in Austin. So I figured I’d take myself. The young guy is prepping for Valentine’s future. I’m clutching Valentine’s past.
He asks me a bunch of questions. He tells me I smell good. He asks what it is. I tell about three people a day who ask. It’s Rain from the fragrance store in NYC. Some young girls walk in. Hot early twenties fillies. I dart my eybrows up and down in homage to their cloud of fresh sex. Nahhhhhh…..he says, you’re hotter than all them. Gramma says thank you, I tell him. He, Chris, is thirty. I am thirty eight. He asks if I’ll be his partner for the dance lesson. Of course. There’s a girl awaiting his moves tomorrow. I feel proud to be a dance fluffer. We have the lesson along with ten other couples of varying skill and intimacy. He is adorable. Repeating slow, slow, quick, quick, slow, Willard from Footloose-esque, born and raised in Austin.
The dance teacher is the daughter of the original owners. She’s barely five feet, with kohl rimmed eyes, a hands free mike, and wisdom for days. This is what I take away from the Kentucky Fried Dr. Ruth. What I want to apply in future relationships. Not because it’s right or wrong, but because it is more fun. I think about how these applied to my last relationship, these rules for two-stepping.
- Let the man lead. Did I want to lead? Of course. But my lead involves a lot of free form/improv. If I am leading the dance we are at a Phish show. Yech.
- Stop trying to direct things. I wanted to define his ardor as unreal/too intense/ a midlife crisis because it was free of drama and confusion. I am mostly used to drama and confusion. Plus, peace is confusing for the ego.
- You fit in the pocket of his chest. Yes, I did. In two stepping, the ‘pocket’ is where your heart meets his chest, left hand on his shoulder. In afternoon napping, it is where you rest your head. The human jigsaw puzzle has it’s own wisdom. If you fit in the pocket well, stay.
- Women, keep looking forward. What goes on around you, the peripheral is none of your business. Things going on around me included, his living in another state, me trying to push projects up hill, feeling scared about surrounding obstacles.
- Your chests meet.
- He needs to be grounded. He liked having us meet in exotic locales. This felt ungrounded. But now that I’ve spent some time in his hometown, I understand we all have a need for novelty. Still, I wanted to feel him grounded.
- His feet will drag on the floor. That’s fine. He liked a lazy afternoon brunch. Not fine! Not fine! Notes to self, relax. A little feet dragging is probably good for you, spaz. I believe Sunday afternoons are for the New York Times, sex and laundry. But I could make space for hollandaise if it made him happy. He did a lot make me happy.
- Let him make his decisions and you acquiesce. See above.
- You are the object. The dance is about showing off the object. I am fond of this. It took me many years, but I am fond of this. Also, I own more silk dresses as a result.
- Unless you wanna be a ballerina alone, let him twirl you. I was taking ballet classes in LA and wondering why it felt so strange. I wanna be twirled, not some solo girl on a box.
Chris asks me if I have any tattoos. I say no. He asks me what I’d get if I got one. I don’t want to insult him, but tattoos aren’t part of my fantasy. I can see some ink poking out of his shirt on his meatcake bicep. “You have tattoos?” I ask. “It’s in process,” he says. I nod, “tell me about it.”
“It’s a pumpjack with St. Michael coming out the top of it on a rainbow.” I smile. I have no idea what a pumpjack is (it’s an oil well pump). I love this guy. He asks if he can get me a drink. I smile, “Gramma’s not drinking.” “You call yourself Gramma again, I’m gonna kiss you on the mouth,” he threatens. “I’m tellin’ you. Imma steal a kiss.” He looks serious. He may be joking. Either way, it’s probably time to go home.
An old man walks up in a baby blue shirt, sticks out his hand. I accept the offer. He says he is James. He is perhaps eighty, with half moon eyes and a bolo tie. I tell him, I’m Amy. I’m new, not a great dancer. He grins, laughing at me his face full of secrets. I already got what I wanted, he says.
I flinch. What did he ‘get’? What does this man want? What does any man want? I break the rules, turn my head to him, prepared to hear something lascivious, something that will make me feel gross. My mind is a cynical defensive bag of cess. His black cowboy hat bobs as he laughs at my fears. “Your big smile,” he says grinning, moving me expertly across the floor. Slow, slow, quick quick slow…
Amy Turner is an author, essayist and TV writer who just this past year had two pieces published on The Huffington Post. She was a Producer on ABC Family’s “MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, ” a story editor on CBS’s “THE EX LIST” and a staff writer on Aaron Sorkin’s NBC drama, “STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP.” She’s working on a nonfiction collection, “Cool Girls Die Alone” and does some some twittering at @turnerleturner.
Featured image courtesy of Matthew Ragan.