Dance class still remains the one bright spot of my days, a place I can go where things make sense, where music and beauty are more important than death and sickness, where choreographed movement is powerful enough to tame even the chaos of my life. (Even though my abusive brother is gone, my 97-year-old father is still riding the rollercoaster of old age, alternating between neediness and the need to control, between accepting God’s will and clawing to live, between practiced saintliness and grumpiness.)
During the 3000 miles I traveled on my recent journey, I never once felt at home, not even when I returned to my home state (where technically I am still a resident). I certainly didn’t feel at home when I came back to my father’s house — for me this lovely house has always been a place of death and dying, mental imbalance and grief. (Only the grief was mine. The death, dying, and mental imbalance belonged, in order, to my mother, father, brother.) The one time I felt I had arrived anywhere was when I stopped by the dance studio after my trip. The teacher and my fellow students greeted me with delighted smiles and hugs, held me while I wept, took me to lunch. (Even though they didn’t all understand my tears, considering the abuse I’d been subjected to by my brother, they did understand grief.)
I’m still fighting an allergy-induced sinus infection that kept me from class yesterday, but I was determined to go to jazz class today. I’m glad I went. After we did our warm-ups, we started learning a new dance.
A year ago, when I took my first jazz lesson, I wasn’t sure I’d ever learn the steps. I couldn’t tell what the teacher was doing, couldn’t pick up her cues fast enough, couldn’t make my arms and feet do different things at the same time. By the end of the month, I knew enough so I could write down the first steps of the dance, and I practiced. Now I know that dance plus two others. And today we started a fourth.
During class, while she was counting out the beat as I’ve seen so often in movies — five, six, seven, eight — joy welled up inside me. I was dancing! Actually dancing. Me, who previously could only balter. (Means dance clumsily, for those of you who don’t want to look it up.) Actually, that’s not exactly true. I just wanted to use the word “balter”. I was simply a neophyte. My dancing up to a year ago had mostly been bobbing to a beat, though I did sort of know a polka step that my Polish mother had once tried to teach me before losing patience with my lack of rhythm. (Around that same time, my once-upon-a-time tennis champion father tried for an hour one day to teach me tennis before losing patience with my lack of talent.)
I don’t know where my life is headed. Well, obviously, none of us do. But big changes are coming and soon I won’t have a place to go, nowhere to call home, no place I particularly want to live, no one in particular to make a life with.
But for now, there is one thing I want (need!) to be . . .
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.