This is a piece that I love, hopefully you will as well!
Music tiptoed through the air, fluttering around us as we stood in our living room. The air was stale, but was soon to smell lemony and fresh. Everyone was gone, but Mom and me. We cleaned, reorganized, and redecorated like we did every Saturday. Mom would stand at one end of the living room in a hopeful stance, envisioning her utopian living space. Then we would rearrange the couch, chair, coffee table, side tables, lamps, and rocker to suit her imagined room. Dad was probably at work, or outside tinkering on a car, while my sister, Amber played with the neighborhood kids. I reminded myself as we cleaned of the deal I made with Mom—exchanging my cleaning services for the right to attend a dance. Usually once a month, our YMCA hosted an event for minors between the ages of 10 and 14, which almost always included a dance, and in order for me to go, I had to roll up my childhood sleeves, put on my big boy gloves, and help clean our house.
“You done cleaning the bathroom sweetie?” Mom said in a hopeful, yet irritated, voice because it always took me way longer to clean our small bathroom than what it should have taken.
“Okay, well hurry up,” she stood, hands on hips, in our Faun Pink living room. “Come out here! This is my favorite song.” The strum of guitar chords and pounding of piano keys began to play Amazed by Lonestar. A soft, masculine voice sang to us both, “Every time our eyes meet…”
“I’m coming,” I said, dropping my cleaning supplies and running out of the bathroom, eager to take every training opportunity.
“Now remember, your left foot goes here,” she pointed her oil stained finger along with her left big toe to show the exact spot, “and your right foot should be about a shoulder’s width apart, here.” She made sure I was positioned precisely because if not the whole training session was thrown off. “Place your foot directly in front of my left foot, here. Now, rest your hands lightly on my hips, and make sure your arms don’t move too much because you want to lead the dance.”
After each dance, classmates returned to school talking about how “awesome” the dance was. But I had never been able to go. Not that I wasn’t allowed to go, but I worried because I usually did not go anywhere without Mom. Though she reassured me that I danced well, I worried that I did not. My 10-year-old self was fearful of being laughed at but I practiced with Mom every chance I got. That day was no different from any other practice. The only difference was later that night I got to show off my moves to peers.
Now, looking back, I see her desire for me to be the man of the dance. In that moment, she said something to the extent of, “You can’t lead if you can’t keep yourself positioned properly.” True, in that instance I understood what she was saying. The male has to be strong in order to lead the couple. No, I am not a trained dancer, but I do know that the only way for a man to lead a female counterpart in a dance is by having a strong core, sturdy hands, and a graceful glide. Abstracting Mom’s comment a little, if the only way for a man to lead in life is by having himself positioned properly, how do the men in our family lead? Almost all of the men in our family have left their wives and children. Her father, for instance, while a great man in many ways, left Granny and two children when Mom was ten. Is that a good position to lead, or leave, a family in? My father, again, trying to be the best provider he could, worked constantly while I was younger, but it left me to be raised by Mom, Amber, and Granny—three women. I knew how to act as a woman, how to talk to women, and how to flirt like women, but not interact with men like my dad. Is that a good position for a man to leave his son in?
“You want to move with my hips,” she told me as she, of rhythm to the music, swayed her hips back and forth. Slowly, she explained the need to keep the consistency accurate because if I sped up I would swing against the sway of her hips. Posture, she reiterated, I have to remember positioning myself properly was the manly thing to do. Girls do not like it when guys lead with terrible posture. I kept my back stiff and my shoulders squared as if I were an ironing board. “You need to stand up straight,” Mom said as she pulled my hips toward her with a manly grip and pushed my shoulders back. Squaring me up—“Make sure you keep a solid core the whole dance,”—she reminded me as she rolled my shoulders forward a few times and then back. We danced. Together, swaying back and forth, back and forth, moving and turning about our living room. We rocked to and fro atop our Royal Blue carpet that was picked to match our couch. The pink walls and blue carpet made it painfully obvious that Mom was colorblind.
Step for step, she moved her left foot back and I moved my right foot forward and then pivoted a little on the right hip and moved my left foot back at a 45-degree angle. I mirrored that movement to Richie McDonald’s country draw as he sang, “Every little thing that you do/Baby I’m amazed by you.” As we glided across the floor like we were floating through air, or as if we were marionettes being guided by the smoothest instructor, I looked at Mom’s delicate face with her eyes closed carrying a hint of a smirk as she moved with the music. I peered into the deepest portions of her artistic soul, she looked at me and said in the sincerest voice, “Do you have any questions or want me to recap anything for you for the last time?”
As we circled the room, avoiding furniture, in a semi-professional gait, I felt confident with her for the first time. The moment allowed me to truly connect to Mom for an instant, but I sarcastically replied, “I don’t think so. But remember, Mom, I’m not a professional, so do you really think my ‘dancing partner’ is going to be doing this?” I hesitated when I asked and, with my left pointer finger directed at the ground, making imaginary circles in the air.
I imagine her peeved facial expressions, taking a second before replying, “You need to impress your dancing partner, Levi.” She looked me directly in the eyes with her arms draped over my shoulders. “Girls like guys who can dance,” she said. “Do you want to impress the ladies?” asking in a bold tone that implied that would be the manly thing to do. “Or do you want to be the loser boy who stands along the wall,” she queried as she motioned to the side of the room, “while another guy comes by and sweeps your girl off her feet with his dancing?” She passively made her point. I did not want to be a “loser guy.” I wanted to be the man who stood out in a crowd. I wanted to be the man she wanted me to be. I remember standing in our hideous pink and blue living room picturing my dancing partner as tall and thin, but not too thin. I wanted more of a husky dancing partner, dressed to impress anyone who would see us gliding across the dance floor. A partner that was fairly tall, with piercing blue eyes that I could loose myself in as we circled the dance floor. A husky man with strong arms that could move with my hips, braced properly with a strong core that would captivate any audience we pivoted in front of. I was not picturing a girl. I was picturing myself with a nicely dressed, handsome, assertive man.