Tuesday, August 28, 2012

An impossibly unexpected today

Somehow, today needed to be documented. I met someone.

As it is for the moment - ever the optimist, mind you - the cylinders seem to fit the holes, and the boxes the squares. The puzzle's corners found.

God willing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Twice Bitten, Thrice Shy

Perhaps two years into my marriage, my then-wife and I attended her sister's wedding. Among the preparations was an introductory class in tango.

I grew up in Crescent City, California. It's population in 1990 - when I moved there as a sophomore - was just over 3000. Since then, they've annexed the state prison for purposes of state funding allocations - a nifty accounting trick if ever I've seen one, and it's just over 7000.

Consequently, we had no clubs or dance halls or generally fuck-all to do as teenagers. Dancing didn't exist. It was the Pacific Northwest's version of Footloose, only no Baptists. My town's population that resided outside the prison walls was almost exclusively white with the exception of two Native American tribes. Again, dancing was not a culture.

Our "things to do" were either illegal consumptives or very Mayberry-ish activities: fishing, camping, hiking. There were beach bonfires and Wild Turkey. Going up into the mountains and stealing gas from the golf course at night.

I immediately joined the military once I became an adult, and dancing was not exactly a skill taught at basic training. By the time I made it to my first duty station in Monterey, California, raves were becoming the scene. What little time not spent studying and what little money I could scrape from an E-1's paycheck would go to trekking up to Berkeley and dancing the night away - notably minus the ecstasy. A point needs be made here, though: rave dancing is not dancing. It is white people just wobbling around to the sound of music. It's what we otherwise naturally do when asked to dance and we are untrained or unskilled. It was perfect for me.

The only thing easier is headbanging.

I was only in Monterey for a year, and then off I went to a bigger and scarier world where I spent perhaps 70% of my life deployed in a combatant role. No dancing in the Persian Gulf, no dancing in Iraq, Afghanistan or in the Horn of Africa. Coming home was restful and essentially became just a run-up for the next deployment.

In the meantime, however, my then-wife and I found ourselves in DC attending a tango dance class. Even before we arrived, I was nervous. I expressed this to her; I do not recall if she allayed my fear or ignored it. Importantly, this class was one of those where you stuck with your partner. It made sense -- we were going to tango together at her sister's wedding.

I focused intensely on every instruction the leader gave. I tried desperately over and over and over again to get the moves right. I repeatedly stepped on my partner's shoes. I apologized to her profusely, red-faced, but she stared back at me in anger. I knew this woman, even then. No more than thirty minutes into the session, my then-wife - tired of my two left feet - loudly interrupted the class and asked, "Can I switch partners?!"

I was crushingly humiliated. It cut me to the core. I tried to make a good social face of it - I in fact traded with another couple, but only after a minute or so of fumbling around with a blue-haired lady, I hurriedly excused myself and bolted across the dance floor and outside the building, where I waited for the class' conclusion.

Our marriage ended five years later.

Earlier this year, I was dating someone I met on OKCupid. She was aware of the story I've just recounted. On a late, drunken night returning back to my apartment, we walked by The Salsa Room, a cavernous and evidently extraordinarily popular dance hall less than a block from my home. She wanted us to duck in. I was surprised, to say the least.

We entered, and approached the bar. I tried to get a feel for the room; I would not be surprised if my mouth was agape at my admiration for the skill I was seeing -- the brilliant, flashing colors, wheeling and whirling and moving and thriving and syncing... it was all so beautiful. Not long after our arrival, I let the "fuck it" take over, and toed away from the bar and onto the floor where I just tried to move with the music. I asked my date if she would join me. "No."

"Why not? You wanted to come here."

"Because you can't dance. I'll dance with anyone here but you."

The night did not end well. Perhaps two months later, I left her. For that reason and many better.

Dancing has always been my achilles heel. Even before I became sick and everything became harder.

I used to believe (and still sometimes do) that I can do anything. That 12 mile run in the desert? Done. Qualifying for airborne? Done. Be selected for such-and-such? Done. Beat Zach at basketball? Crushed him.

But do anything other than that sort of white-guy shuffle/bump&grind? No. I cannot do it. Aside from having tried it, I've been kicked in the side enough to now be afraid to try. Which sucks, of course.

Maybe some day.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Shades of my Father

Recently my beloved daughter dropped my sunglasses, shattering one of the lenses. She was extraordinarily - and unnecessarily - apologetic. I have long come to expect her clumsiness. It's almost cute, now.

Nonetheless, later that afternoon, we had a shopping trip planned. We had intended to purchase new bedding; a 12-y/o is in a constantly-shifting sense of self, and expression. Her bed is but one means of this. I told her that morning not to worry, we'd just add the sunglasses shop to our trip.

When we arrived, I cautioned her: it takes me forever to select a proper pair of sunglasses. They have to fit right, and they have to look right. That the shape of my face has changed dramatically in the last four years only makes the trial more difficult. She took it in stride, and insisted on helping. It was a sweet offer.

We'd each pick a pair off the under-lit trays in an over-heated store, I'd try them on, and we'd independently judge them: "no."

At one point, she was off to one end of the row while I was more to the middle. I came across a pair of silver-framed, square shaped aviators. I put them on. They fit me. They... just fit. I wanted them.

I asked Madison - notably without leading her - and she cautiously offered a, "nooo, I don't think so." I replied, "Are you sure? I rather like them. My dad used to wear these." "Well, maybe..."

We continued to look on, but I kept them hidden away, just in case. I tried pair after pair, and none of them were right. We eventually discovered the exact pair that I had been broken, so I of course selected those, too. The saleswoman came over to offer that "buying one gets one half-off." How serendipitous.

Again, without prompting, Madison asks, "What about those silver ones, Dad?" "I thought you didn't like them?" "I think I do." "Let me see them again."

I rescued them from their hiding spot and put them on. Again, they felt right.

"They look really good, Dad," Madison proclaimed. She couldn't see what was hidden behind those mirror-lensed sunglasses. I'm afraid the look would have concerned her; she's too young to understand. But a part of it was pride.

I took both pairs to the counter and paid. The saleswoman asked if I'd like to wear a pair out of the store, and Madison replied in my stead: "The silver ones."

Here's a picture of my father and I when I was just a boy.

My father died unexpectedly to world and family in 2006. It rocked my family, and it rocked me. At the time, I became the so-called "head of household," because everyone in my very insular family looked to me, as the eldest son, to keep things together and get things done. While they grieved, I made plans. While they wept, I filed paperwork.

I lost him before I had the opportunity to feel as though I had earned his pride. Growing up, that's all I really ever wanted - my father's pride. "Son, I'm proud of you." I had so much achievement left in me before he passed, so much life experience to gain and perhaps even pass on to my own father. Our relationship had only begun to transition from one of father-son to one of man-to-man.

No psychologist, therapist, mother or lover will ever be able to convince me that in his absence, from somewhere in our individual or collective belief of heaven or the afterlife that he is, indeed, "proud of me."

So, instead, I am proud of him. He is, after all, an incalculable part of who made me. Wearing these Shades of my Father is only fitting. Not a day passes that I don't remember - and miss - him.