Dance, Dance, Dance
I felt pretty good about my conscientious eating choices for the day, and was feeling even better about my daily exercise. Robert and I are taking country dance lessons, so I was looking forward to a break from jogging and walking for a night of Western Cha-Cha. We are relatively new to the sport, but he gifted me with some spectacular boots for Christmas, so it really didn’t matter if I danced well or not, the boots made me look good anyway.
The Stampede, Denver’s premier Dance Emporium, is the scene of our latest undertaking, and I must admit is a pretty sweet set-up. Dance lessons are $3 each, and include a free fajita bar and $2 drinks. It’s a pretty big place, and very popular for country music fans. The clientele and dynamic are interesting to watch, with the early evening hours being frequented mostly by the middle-age to elderly crowd, such as ourselves, who are there for the free food, lessons and the chance to promenade around the mostly empty dance floor.
Having become Friday night regulars, we are beginning to see the same people there each week. My favorite is an older couple, who seem to be holding each other up as they dance around the floor slowly. She is thin and bent over at the waist, but wears the most elaborate outfits, including her fancy boots. He shuffles along, holding her arm as they step up onto the dance floor, then, like the game we played as children where we pushed against each other and relied on the tension to keep us both from tipping over, they dance the night away, slowly, to their own rhythm and pace. They’re delightful.
Then there’s “show off girl.” I think she is or must have been a dancer, because she always has the fake smile of a performer on her face, and doesn’t really follow any of the formal dances, but twirls and twists like its her own personal stage. Her partners are merely platforms to showcase her talent, and they obligingly offer their hand for twirling as she smiles and gestures grandly to her imaginary audience. I begrudgingly admit she has an extraordinary sense of rhythm, but she doesn’t look really happy when she dances.
Unlike Robert and I, who have a diminished sense of rhythm, but try hard and end up laughing as we are about to be run over by the crowd of dancers who always seem to be tidal waving us. Country dancing involves constantly moving forward, much like roller skating rinks. If you are caught unaware, as we often are, you look up to see the entire group heading your way. The elders, and the learners, are pretty considerate and will laugh at us as they dance around use, but as the night wears on the floor gets more crowded and there’s less room for error within the crowd.
We are definitely getting better though, and are slowly mastering the two-step, the twelve-step and the County Cha-Cha, which is proving to be one of my favorites because it feels like we’re actually dancing with each other, instead of just following the crowd. We will persevere, but I think next week we will take a break and go to Lincoln’s Roadhouse, where we can dance with reckless abandon, and not only will we not be judged as we bounce around with no formal footwork, but everyone else in the joint will be doing the same.
Another Year Older…
Yesterday signaled the end of one year. 365 days. But as I reflect on the past year, it feels to me like it is the end of a lifetime, and the beginning of a new one.
2013 brought me the news that Jess was going to have a baby, and a short nine months later, Petra was here. Jess and Za moved to Colorado and settled into a nice home in Longmont, and I moved into a nice home with Robert, where both of our families merged nicely for the holidays. I spend a good portion of my time tending house, which I actually enjoy. Hosting parties, cooking dinners and enjoying meals and leisure time in front of the fire turns out to be things I enjoy very much, although they are a lifetime away from my tiny apartment downtown, where the morning cup of coffee was the only thing I ever really cooked and enjoyed there.
For more than 20 years I mostly lived the life of a single woman, not worrying about a mate or what they would or would not want. I lived a life of survival while Jess was at home, then one of indulgence and often gluttony as I bounced from place to place, telling myself it was only until Jess settled down and gave me grandchildren, then I would consider settling myself.
And here it is.
Time for me to think about my future. And maybe apply myself just a little bit.
My immediate future holds for me, for the first time in more than a decade, the challenge of losing weight. I’ve gotten soft and fat (or at least 12 pounds bigger) since I quit smoking, fell in love and moved to the suburbs. Like most of my life, I haven’t had to put a lot of thought into my weight, and could enjoy McDonald’s for breakfast, Taco Bell for lunch and mac and cheese for dinner without gaining weight. I like to pretend it’s the not smoking that has led to my weight gain, but the stubborn roll that has settled around my belly is screaming “pre-menopause.”
My easy choices are endless. The internet is ripe with quick-fixes. Garcinia, Green Coffee Bean Extract, body cleanses and dozens of other products that claim to melt the fat away without my having to actually do anything. Unfortunately, I know better, so while it’s tempting to try them, I think I will shy away from the easy route and try the old-fashioned cure; smaller portions, more exercise, less alcohol.
Maybe an old-fashioned corset will be the answer.
THE ADVENTURES OF BIG DAVE…
I have successfully completed my move to the suburbs, and although I still rely on, and thoroughly enjoy taking public transportation, I have purchased what I deem the “Colorado State Car” to get me around in case of emergencies and on weekend when the buses don’t run to my area. I am the proud owner of a Volvo station wagon, which accounts for probably one-third of all cars on the road in Denver. The other one-third are Subarus, and the remaining one-third make up all other cars on the road.
My particular Volvo is silver and came with a ridiculously cheap price tag, perhaps because the previous owner may have died in it. I’m not sure what the story is other than the man died, had a lot of health problems, many of which I suspect were self-inflicted, and his family wanted to get rid of the vehicle as quickly as possible. I drained my car fund and handed over the cash, fully aware that the car needed quite a bit of work and may be haunted. I call it Big Dave, after its owner, whom I assume was a big man because of all the crumbs, candy wrappers and chunks of hamburgers I found under the seats as I was cleaning the car.
It’s been more than two years since I have driven regularly, and I am hyper-aware now of pedestrians and cyclists as Big Dave and I cruise the burbs. I find my old habits behind the wheel are insufficient here now, as I roll through crosswalks and occasionally disregard the yield signs hidden behind trees at intersections. I’d forgotten how driving gives me the opportunity to see things differently, and to spend time in my head as I wait at lights with other drivers. The faint smell of anti-freeze and a small exhaust leak take me back in time to when Jess was still little, and I had purchased an old Chevy Citation for $400. It smelled the same way the entire time I owned it, which included kids starting school, commuting to my first “real” job, and passing it down to Becky after I purchased a new car.
My time spent in the Citation included a lot of time with my older sister Debbie, as we raised our kids together, lived next door to each other, went through divorces, jobs and boyfriends together. We were thick as thieves, and as long as Debbie told me things would be okay I knew they would be. As I cruise around in Big Dave I long for those days again. Tragically, Debbie has disappeared from my life, after having spent more than a year in a rehab facility, battling her addiction to drugs and alcohol. I had high hopes that she had conquered her demons, and for a while was sure that she would win. I looked forward to the day I would see her again, the old sister that I grew up with. But for reasons unknown to me, she left the program and last I heard was headed for the streets.
I have dealt with my emotions about Debbie largely through denial and ignorance. If I just don’t think about her, or her circumstances, or the horrible truth about addiction, then I could pretend there was nothing wrong. I could pretend it would all work out. Now my thoughts are filled with anger and fear. Anger that she walked away from the one program that could help her, and fear of where she is now. Anger because I don’t have a bunch of money to pay to fix her, and fear that she is not fixable.
Like Big Dave, I know she has a lot of things that are wrong with her. But, like Big Dave, I’ve always believed she was a solid person and with a little help could become great again…
My first grandchild, Petrichor Quimby Augustus finally decided to grace us with her presence late Saturday night. Petrichor means the scent of rain and Quimby is a family name. We call her Petra, and spend most of our day staring at her beautiful face as she sleeps. I am at a loss for words to describe my feelings about this new addition to my family. Looking down at her is just like looking at Jessica 25 years ago. They look exactly the same, and I can hardly believe that this is my granddaughter.
Jess was a trooper through the birth, sticking to her plan not to use an epidural or medication. Her labor was long and hard, about 48 hours from start to finish. But she pushed all 8 lbs 15 oz of beautiful baby out. When I saw Jessica right after the delivery, I nearly panicked, but managed to hold myself together. My little girl looked so pale, and had broken blood vessels in her eyes from pushing. She looked small and scared in the big hospital bed, and even though she was now a mother herself I wanted to pick her up in my arms and rock her.
Now that we’re home I am seeing the great mother Jessica is, and reminded of how powerful the instinct is. Seeing my baby with her own baby is amazing, and literally leaves me speechless.
A NOT SO RIGHTEOUS RUN…
With cooler temperatures I resumed my daily run in the park near the office. It’s about three miles around the park on the dirt path, with a smaller concrete path below. I’ve been running, or rather walking mostly, for more than a year, and have come to see a lot of the same people exercising. Bike riding through in the morning on the way to work I run across the morning walkers, who are out with their dogs and/or friends and enjoying the start of a new day. Biking through the park in the evening on the way home, there are soccer moms killing time, and horribly annoying cyclists who think they’re riding in the Tour De France and own the pathway. Then there are the mid-day joggers, such as myself. Nobody’s really happy, we’re all red-faced and huffing in the mid-day sun, with looks of disgust and pain on our faces. The nooners are there just to get our exercise out of the way. There are no smiles, nods, or small-talk as we pass each other. There is only the desperate look of determination to get it over with.
When I first started jogging around the park last year, I came across a relatively young man, perhaps early 40’s, who was struggling at one of the workout stations surrounding the path. He was slowly working on doing sit-ups, and I thought he looked a little weak for such a young man. Then he got up and began walking, and it was obvious he was recovering from a stroke. He tediously drug his leg along behind the rest of his body, his arm hanging limply at his side. I had circled the park and was on my way back in the time it had taken him to drag himself to the next exercise station, where he was forcing himself to clutch the bar in front of him while he stretched. I watched him slowly get a little stronger each week, but haven’t seen him this summer, since I’ve mainly been riding my bike for exercise.
But I saw him again today. And I barely recognized him. He still has a slight limp, and if you look closely you can tell one arm hangs lower than the other, but aside from being a little slow, you would never know he was the same broken man from a year ago. He jogged slowly from station to station, and even though I passed him on the trail, my little 30-minute jog seemed insignificant compared to the great lengths that stranger has gone to for his own health.
I stepped up my pace slightly to assuage my guilty feelings of my inadequate workout, and was feeling pretty righteous again as I rounded the corner at the far end of the park. The exercise station there is one that’s used for upper body workouts, including a pull-up bar. I once made a goal of being able to do one chin-up, and actually exceeded it by doing two pull-ups, and I remembered my glory days fondly as I approached the station. After all, nor many 40-something-year-olds could even do one pull-up. Or so I thought. An older man, another regular I had seen circling the park for exercise, planted himself beneath the bar. What was left of his hair was gray, making me believe he was nearing 60. He reached up and grabbed the bar with both hands, and almost effortlessly, pulled himself up above the bar. Wow, I was impressed. Then he did it again. And again. And again. Twelve pull-ups he did, without shaking arms or struggling with his legs to kick himself up and over.
He finished and caught me watching him. I applauded and gave him a thumbs up, and he smiled big and took off walking to the next station. Although my muscles thanked me for the meager workout, I didn’t feel as good as I had hoped after my jog, but am determined to run a little faster, do at least five sit ups and attempt the pull-up thing again tomorrow.
FLOODS OF CHANGE
I knew the birth of my first grandchild would be a life-changing event, but the circumstances surrounding her pending arrival have become historical. Petrichor, or the “Scent of Rain,” is the name my lovely daughter and her mate have chosen to bestow upon her, and for months now we have all embraced it, with rainstorms bringing smiles to our faces.
Apparently little Petra is demanding the level of attention worthy of her, and the entire state of Colorado is experiencing the scent of rain, as half the state is flooding, including Longmont, the home she will be coming into. Historical levels of rain have fallen this week, as Petra gets into position to be born. Mountain towns have been flooded and cut off from the rest of the world, and roads have been washed away, stranding motorists and homeowners. Rain has fallen for nearly a week, with no end in sight.
A MAN AND HIS BIRD…
I watched the man as I waited patiently for the L bus to bring me home from an overnight visit with Jessica in Longmont. Being a conscientious commuter, I sat on the bench in front of the designated loading spot for the bus. The man was large, looked to be about 30 or so, and paced back and forth behind the bus stop shelter. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, waiting for him to swoop in when the bus pulled up and butt in line. I really am a stickler for bus protocol, and it really angers me when people just strut all around the bus stop, then jump in front of those who patiently waited in line.
The man eventually tired of pacing and came to sit on the bench across from me. He was holding something very carefully in his hands. I looked closer and saw that he was cradling a small sculpture. About six inches around, it was a piece of driftwood with a tiny yellow and green ceramic bird perched on it, and was decorated with flowers and greenery. He held it as if it were made of gold, and I felt compelled to compliment him on his trinket.
“That’s pretty,” I said. He smiled really big and stammered a bit when he responded.
“Thank you. It was an expensive bird,” he said, stroking the fake bird from head to tail. “It cost me fifteen dollars.”
“Well, it makes me happy to look at so I guess it was worth it.” He smiled again and I realized he was perhaps not the sharpest tool in the shed. His clothes were clean, and he chose his words carefully, and I couldn’t help by smile myself as he told me the story of his bird.
“I liked this bird because he sings.” He pushed a button and the bird’s beak began moving and his tail flitting about as a chirping sound came from the trinket. “And look, he comes off the log, so if I don’t want to take him out with this, I can just take him off and put him in my pocket.” He plucked the tiny bird off the perch to demonstrate how easily he could remove it. He stroked it lovingly before putting it back on the perch.
“Well that’s definitely work it then,” I said.
“Yeah, there used to be a bigger bird on this stick, but I don’t like him as much so I leave him at home usually.” I raved about his bird and how pretty the set up was, and he was obviously proud of his plastic pet. After a few minutes his voice got serious.
“I worry about this little bird though.”
“Oh, how so?” I asked.
“I worry that he’ll get picked on. I’m worried he’ll get bullied by people.” His concern showed in his eyes.
“Why would anybody pick on him?” I asked.
“Because he’s MY friend. Sometimes people are not nice to me, and I worry they will be mean to him too.”
Luckily the short bus showed up and the big man jumped up with his bird to catch his ride. I sat at the bus stop, crying behind my sunglasses, and hoping that nobody would be mean to the little bird today…
A HAUNTING EVENING…
It has been quite some time since I’ve been able to enjoy the luxury of sleeping with my windows open downtown. Temperatures have been high during the day, but lately the evenings have been wonderfully cool, so last night I blocked open all the windows and fell asleep to the rhythmic humming and clanking of the air conditioning unit on the roof of 7-11, across the alley from my apartment.
I was yanked out of my peaceful slumber at 1 a.m., to the sound of screeching tires on pavement. I sat straight up in bed, adrenaline pulsing through my veins, and heard more screeching of tires braking, then the distinct sound of metal smashing into metal. That was followed by the horrific sound of a vehicle rolling over and over again, then the sound of light poles and metal being torn apart, followed by loud thunk which caused my building to shake. I looked out my window to see dozens of people running down the street toward the sound, and I knew immediately it was a horrible crash.
Somewhere in the distance I heard the primal cry of a man, actually it was more of a wailing, and it grew closer as the man ran toward my building.
“Kristiiiiiiii!” The scream sent shivers down my spine. I assume Kristi was in the accident. Or maybe she had been walking across the street and been hit, or maybe the cars wrecked trying to avoid her. I tried to put the scream out of my mind as I watched out the window as the street filled with concerned bystanders.
Now I’ve seen a lot of traffic accidents when I was covering the news. But I always arrived after the fact. But last night, high above the crowd gathered in the alley way, the conversations and sounds wafting up through my window as they assessed the severity of the accident made my skin crawl.
“Oh man, I hope nobody was in there.” “They’re dead. They’re dead for sure.” “Shit man, somebody’s dead.”
I couldn’t get Kristi out of my mind. I felt a desperate need to find out if she was okay, so, irrationally, I threw on a sweater and my slippers and went outside. A car had indeed sheared off the corner of the building attached to mine, and I stood in the shadows of the flashing red and blue lights, waiting for someone to mention anything about Kristi. The police arrived and ambulances followed, but I kept my distance around the corner. I desperately wanted to know Kristi was okay, but at the same time had no desire to see that she was not. I watched for a few more minutes, and searched the crowd for the source of the wailing man, but never found him.
I went back upstairs and tried hard to go back to sleep, but never really did. I couldn’t stop wondering about Kristi…
I HAVE BEEN ASSIMILATED
I have lived in Denver for nearly 2.5 years now, and just this morning I felt like a true Coloradoan. I headed out for the office on my bicycle early, relishing the weekend commute when there are hardly any cars on the road to contend with, and the bunnies, squirrels and prairie dogs are out in force. Clad in my padded biker shorts and Columbia jacket, I sped along the bike path with reckless abandon.
Initially I feared riding too fast, and most of my ride was filled with thoughts of crashing, and which body parts would I want to sacrifice as I tumbled into traffic. Today I enjoyed the thrill of the speed I achieved riding downhill, peddling faster and racing around turns and through empty intersections. The cool wind whipped at my jacket, and Natalie MacMaster blasted her fiddle music in my ears as I whizzed along, ringing my bell and darting around the morning walkers who were out enjoying the trail.
I no longer felt like a foreigner, I felt that this is my home. Every intersection and every park I rode through was familiar, and I cut through several neighborhoods without fear of getting lost. I couldn’t help but smile each time I rang my bell at those in front of me, and issued an enthusiastic “good morning” as I passed them. One elderly gentleman apparently couldn’t hear my bell, and when I noticed he and he dog were not moving aside I slowed down as I approached. My “good morning” startled him, and his dog, and they both turned with looks of sheer terror on their faces. They immediately melted and smiled back when they saw that it was merely a middle-aged, grinning, goofy-looking white lady hoping to pass.
When I first moved to Denver I was not impressed with the hospitality of the people, and still have found few individuals that I would consider friends, or even close acquaintances. But having spent a great deal of time in the outdoors lately, I have indeed fallen in love with Colorado. I never imagined an average day for me would entail 15 mile bike rides or 10 mile hikes. And I certainly never imagined waking up every day excited to see what the day would bring.
Much like the song from the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show, I feel like I’m in a time warp. I watch Jessica’s belly grow each week, and I watch all the excitement, anxiety and joy that she is going through as she awaits the birth of her first child. As my child, it’s all new to me to see her begin a new life. I’m very happy for her, and know she is finally getting to experience the pure joy of being a parent. But I also know she will probably never sleep until noon again, and that a good portion of her days will be filled with concern for her child.
As I watch her nesting in her new home, I have vivid memories of 24 years ago, when I was in the exact same position she is. I remember very well the summer heat, carrying her inside of me, happiness and excitement at the beginning of my new life. I remember all the feelings, and I remember dreaming about my future.
Now I am my future. And all of my worlds seem to be colliding. It’s like I’m 20 years old, and 45 years old, and 65 years old all at the same time. I can remember the past, am loving the present, and can see a future full of love and grandkids. I guess I never really expected to live this long. Not that I planned on dying, I just didn’t picture this far ahead in my future.