~ Brightness: Swinging Blind ~
Mom had been blind for several years. The darkness came upon her in stages as the brain was dying from necrosis. The radiation that killed the tumor killed her sight. She had a new friend. Sure she’d had friends BEFORE she went blind, but this was different. Her new friend was blind, too.
My sister’s husband watched the kids so she and I could go to the last dance night of a local Swing Dance Weekender. Nicky and Mom decided they wanted to come too. I was a little nervous. It was hard enough to take my mom sometimes, and with Nicky in tow, it really was the blind leading the blind. How could we say No, though? Of course they could come.
Slipping in the Laughs
We slipped into the backside of Scottsdale winding our way past towering windblown rocks. Chances Are sat beigely on the corner. The parking lot was crowded, near full. I dropped my passengers at the door and eased my hulking minivan between a Cadillac and Oldsmobile. Awesome. I love old people joints.
We spied two tables of swing dancers, three of seniors. A mammoth oblong bar was packed with blue-hairs sipping cocktails and smoking. A small dance floor and New Orleans Jazz band were tucked into the corner. This ought to be good.
“Would you like to sit with the dancers?” The hostess asked in a Scottish accent, “Or I can putcha in a booth on the other side.”
“We’ve got more on the way. They’ll be eleven or twelve of us,” I replied.
“Oh, then we had better putcha over on this side.”
Family members trickled in. Our waitress was quick with drinks and the spirited liquid slid down our throats and opened our laugh boxes. Mom glowed. No one had seen her this happy in years, at least not since the tumor bent her personality in weird angles.
Two hours and many drinks later our food arrived. Mom was three drinks down and thought her food tasted like upscale gourmet. I didn’t know if it did. All I knew, I was happy that Mom was smiling. Nicky loved his food, too. His childlike wonder mixed his intelligent babbling into a contagious stew.
“Judy, Judy, is your mother here?” Nicky asked, “Where’s Judy.”
“I’m chewing,” she said between bites.
“This is good, almost as good as your cooking, Judy,” he said.
Mom had always been one of the best cooks in the family and how she’d continued this talent with her new blindness was a mystery.
“Tammy, did you ask them for real butter?”
“Yes mom. It’s on the way, but if it takes as long to get the butter as it did the food, we may have it for desert.”
We laughed and she forgot about the butter. I was grateful. Since the tumors, Mom had laughed less and was easily irritated when she never would have been before. She’d say, “You don’t understand what it’s like to be blind.” We didn’t. But I did understand that this woman taught us respect and selflessness and when she dissolved into self-pity I was at a loss at how to reconcile those ideas.
“Hey, whaddya think,” Nicky said, “Would the…do you think I could sit in with the band?”
“We can ask,” I said and looked at my sister. She’d been taking dance lessons from Dabney. His dad was the band leader and responsible for the gig.
“You know I’m no good at asking favors,” she said, “you ask.”
“You know him better than I do,” I said.
Nicky’s face shone like a summer moon. My childhood Mom shimmered through the impostor she’d become.
“Okay. I’ll ask.” I downed my last bit of liquid courage and tracked down Dabney.
“Sure,” he said, I’ll ask my dad.” Minutes later he came over and told Nicky he was on for the next song.
Blind Man at Bat
Nicky took my arm, his body excited and taut, a corn kernel about to pop. I helped him onto the stage. He situated himself behind the keyboard. Nicky banged the keyboard like he was typing a letter. Misbegotten notes hung in silent air. Not a murmur or clink of drinks was heard. My heart sunk to my toes. Pain pressed behind my eyes, ready to tear. My heart ached for him.
Then, BAM! It was on, the beat, the music, the melody. The guitarist picked up her instrument and plucked harmonious notes. The drummer tapped his skins. The trombone slid and the band fell into line. Patrons, dancers, and waiters stretched and leaned. The room bent towards the blind man at the keys. Dreams whispered on enchanted notes.
“Would you like to dance?” I asked Dabney.
“Nah, I wanna watch, give the man his due. Wasn’t sure how this was gonna go down.”
“Yeah, me either.” I smoothed down my skirt with sweaty palms.
“He’s way better than I thought he would be.”
“Yeah.” I relaxed. “Whadda jam.”
We tapped our feet and watched in awe as Nicky’s fingers danced upon the keys. The drummer kept a steady beat and Nicky syncopated jazzy rhythms. The floor filled with hopping bodies.
“Oh hell, I can’t stand still,” Dabney said. “Come on.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the floor.
Our feet could not be contained. We swished sweet Balboa Swing to the blind man banging on the eighty-eights. More couples joined the ride until the floor was packed to the brim. Hot rhythms gave way to slower sultry tunes and back again. The lively Bal-Swing melted into a slow Lindy blues jam. All my senses tingled as I was twirled around the floor. I gave into my lead’s every tug, call, and bend. Miraculous music twined around legs and hearts.
Dancing in the Dark
I took a break to cool my flushed body and let a crisp Vodka Gimlet slip down my throat.
“Tammy is that you?” Mom called.
“Yeah, I just stopped back for a drink.”
“Is Nicky having fun?” she asked wistfully. The lost little girl in her peaked out. What was it Kahlil Gibran said about love, about knowing the pain of too much tenderness? Ever since I became a mother my heart’s had a fleshy patch that bleeds for the pain of others where it never did before. I blistered at my mother’s loss.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I miss dancing,” she said.
“Well, then, let’s dance.”
“I don’t know if I can do it blind. I get kind of dizzy, now.”
I didn’t know if she didn’t want to dance or just didn’t want me to lead her. She was a bit old-fashioned. As if on cue, my old dance teacher walked in. I waved and smiled big.
“Hi Paul.” He sauntered over and I gave him a big hug. “You remember my mom, Judy?”
“Sure, how are you Judy?” He thrust out his hand. I had forgotten I hadn’t seen him since my wedding, before the second tumor.
“Mom’s blind now.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
I tilted my head and gestured for him to ask her to dance. There was a two beat silence as he decided what to do.
“Judy, would you like to dance?” I smiled, my eyes prickled. I took a big gulp of my drink.
I helped my mom to her feet and placed her arm in Paul’s. They ambled toward the dance floor. As I watched him float her around the floor I was flooded with memories of her dancing with Dad in the living room, of dancing with Grandpa, her daddy, at my wedding, of her dancing around the kitchen with a wooden spoon. I missed the her that used to be.
Paul escorted her back. Her face was flush and glowing, her blue eyes bright and happy. I wanted her to stay like that. I wanted to remember this mom, this one, so full of life and love. So when she called me in tears, (and she did regularly), because she’d spilled a can of beans on the floor and couldn’t see to wipe it up. Or when she called to tell me her neighbor stole her prescription of Percocet. Or how she felt awful that she’d never seen my beautiful children. When she was overcome with bitterness and negativity, I could reach back and remember her like she was tonight, like she was when I was growing up.
Nicky sprinkled the last song across the pinao and put a cork on the night. They invited him back to play again. I wasn’t sure who had a bigger smile: Nicky or Mom.
The end-of-night ritual began much like it started, but in reverse. We saw to the waitress, collected the purses, and took one last sip of our melted drinks. Nicky, Mom and I stepped into the cool night air. The darkness blazed with a new light.
Do you have family members who swing dance or who inspired you to dance? Do you know other people who have overcome handicaps? For more personal stories you might like these: Summer, Casbah, Party, Confessions
Tam Francis is writer, blogger, swing dance teacher, avid vintage collector, and seamstress. She shares her love of this genre through her novels, blog, and short stories. She enjoys hearing from you, sharing ideas, forging friendships, and exchanging guest blogs. For all the Girl in the Jitterbug Dress news, give-aways, events, and excitement, make sure to join her list and like her FB page! Join my list ~ Facebook page