To Dance With No Music
Lois Cloarec Hart
She has forgotten so much.† I wonder if the day will come when she forgets me.† It seems impossible.† I can barely conceive of a time when this love we have shared and revelled in for so long will not shine for me in her eyes.† But then, so much of what was once inconceivable has become our daily reality.
She once did the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen, and laughed when I marvelled at her speed and inerrancy.† Now, her pencil moves slowly and uncertainly over a book of simple childrenís puzzles.† Often, I will look up from my newspaper to see her staring into space, eyes unfocused and hand stilled.
I wonder what she is thinking.† Does she remember?† Is she bitter?† Does she even recall how we metósun and shadow, song and silence?† We were so different.† I had married foolishly and divorced bitterly.† She, always more self aware, refused to fall into the trap of cultural expectations.† She was a career woman, she declared merrily; the law was her mate, the courts her home.† She had no time for the demands of husband and children. And at her assertion, all within earshot would nod knowingly.† None could deny that drive and ambition eclipsed all else in her life.
Then I entered her orbit.† We came to each other late, already middle-aged and set in our ways.† Our friends declared we would never last.† Too different to find compatibility, they insisted.† Yet we made a virtue of our mismatch.† As the spotlight moved with her, I remained contentedly in the wings.† Then when the curtain fell and the audience absented itself, we moved together as if our bodies and souls had been designed only for each other.† In a deserted parking garage, in our kitchen, in the shelter of any four walls anywhere, she would take me in her arms.† In the voice that had dazzled legal experts near and far, she would sing softly, and we would dance.
I had lived small all my life.† She taught me the art of living large.
I was keenly aware that those who knew us casually considered me a doormat and wondered aloud what she could possibly see in me.† In the early days of our relationship that knowledge hurt, though I said nothing.† But my distress ended the night of a dinner party we gave shortly before our first anniversary.† By then our roles were clearly defined: it was her responsibility to entertain our guests with her wit and charm and inexhaustible supply of insider stories; it was my job to ensure the practical details of our parties.† The arrangement suited us.
I was in the kitchen when the peal of our doorbell signalled a new arrival.† I paid little heed.† Though her friends were slowly becoming mine too, this soiree was dominated by her peers, the cityís legal elite, few of whom I knew.† Meeting my friends for a party generally meant an afternoon at the lake with hamburgers and beer.
When the Brie and fruit were arranged to my satisfaction, I returned to the living room, setting the tray on a sideboard.† I cast an eye over our guests and looked for empty glasses to refill.† When my gaze fell on my partner, my heart fell.
Standing entirely too close to her was a woman I knew well, and loathed.† The new arrival had been described as my ďcompetitionĒ by those in our circle who enjoyed a good catfight.† I held no illusions.† When it came to my rival, I was not even in the running.† She had an exotic beauty that I could never match.† She spoke four languages fluently and had earned advanced degrees from several prestigious universities.† Her sense of style had been photographed and written about by countless fashion magazines, and her family was descended from Prussian royalty.
I was a dray horse in comparison, and my rival never once let me forget it.† She initially dismissed me as a flingómy partnerís way of getting back at her for a fight theyíd had.† It was one of many in their tempestuous on-again, off-again relationship.† When our own nascent love affair blossomed and flourished, my rival was astonished at my partnerís poor taste and said so loudly and repeatedly.† Because both my partner and rival served together on many of the same arts and charitable committees, there was no avoiding the woman, try though I did.
My partner laughed gently at my fears, reassuring me that the other woman meant nothing to her any longer and never would again, that she loved only me.† When I was in her arms and in our bed, I could believe her.† But when I saw news photos of them at social events I refused to attend, I could not mistake the proprietary look in my rivalís eyes or the possessive way her hand so often rested on my loverís back.
I was deeply relieved when my rival left the city on a European tour four months earlier.† I should have known her absence only postponed the inevitable.† Heartsick, I watched now as she laughed at something my partner said, tilting her head flirtatiously.† My distressed gaze slid down my rivalís sleek body, encased in a sheath that undoubtedly cost more than a year of my wages.† Unable to look away, I stared at her feet, clad in glistening black stilettos that did wondrous things for her long, long legs.
I glanced down at my own feet, shod in flats.† I had thought them both practical and attractive when I bought them.† Now my traitorous mind fashioned an image of two women floating around a deserted dance floor, locked in an embrace that left no illusion as to how they would end the night.† Neither woman in my fantasy wore flats, but one of them wore those damned stilettos.
I closed my eyes in anguish, only to hear my name called softly across the room.† I donít know how I heard my lover over the crowd.† It should have been impossible.† Yet when I looked up, her eyes were locked on mine and her hand was extended to me, beckoning me.
I hesitated.† I was uncertain that I could bear any more of my rivalís vitriol with any semblance of grace or dignity.† I wanted to retreat, yield the floor without a battle, but my dearest would not allow it.† When I did not go to her, she came to me, her eyes soft with love and her smile joyful at my presence.
I donít even remember what she said to me, but I do remember what she did.† In the presence of her peers and colleagues, those who could facilitate her rise or precipitate her fall in the career that had defined her life, she made an unprecedented and indelible statement.† She slid her arms around me and placed a gentle kiss on my stunned lips.
She claimed me.† In front of those for whose good opinion she had always practiced the utmost discretion, she defined my place in her life.† Given her deep reticence about our love, de rigueur for the times, it would not have surprised me if many in attendance that night assumed I was the maid, hired for the eveningís entertainment.†
Our invitees were far too well bred to react openly to our kiss.† They were sophisticates, and even in an intolerant age, would have considered it jejune to gasp.† Though my partnerís sexuality had been rumoured, few but those women admitted to her bedroom knew for certain.† The hum of conversation barely faltered, but I have no doubt we were later the topic of conversation for all our guests.
If she didnít care, I didnít care.† I had no august position to lose, no career in which I had vested my heart and soul.† If I lost my clerical job, I would find another.† It was not as if she ripped open my dress and made love to me on the dining room table.† It was just a kiss, after allóa brief, simple kiss, nothing more.
Yet it meant the world to me.† Later, when my rival slunk away and our company departed, I tried to tell her, with words fumbled and inadequate.† The look in her eyes told me my efforts were unnecessary.† She understood it allómy insecurities, my doubts, my cowardiceóand she had defended me in the only way she could.
Speechless with gratitude for her courage, I took her hand and led her to our bedroom.† I let my body speak fiercely what I could not say.† When at last she lay exhausted in my arms, she whispered of her love, of how there would never be another.† Though I never once felt worthy of her gift, I accepted it with shy gratitude.
Did we live happily ever after?† No.† Over the years there were times we fought, times we stopped talking altogether, times when our lovemaking became routine or rare.† Yet I can say with absolute certainty that my only regret was not meeting her when I was fourteen instead of forty-five.† Even the day our lives changed forever, that never changed.
She had been a judge for less than five years and already her name was being bruited about for a State Supreme Court opening, though my presence in her life made such an appointment unlikely.†
Life was good, but as small everyday lapses evolved into larger memory issues, we both grew concerned.†
Alzheimerís, the doctor pronounced, and in that one word, crushed our dreams.† She could have stayed on the bench.† She had perhaps another year, even two, before any noticed her brilliance had dimmed.† But she was fiercely determined not to stain her record.† She resigned the day after the diagnosis.
That same day she turned to me, her eyes bleak with despair.† She told me, when the time came, to find her a bearable place to abide and leave her there, to go on and live my life without her.† I did not even dignify her words with a response, but my opinion of that idea must have been writ large on my face.† She reddened, lowered her eyes, and never spoke such nonsense again.†
Instead, her intrepid nature immediately reasserted itself.† We would see the world, she declared.† So we travelled, criss-crossing the globe, and I became the keeper of our memories.† I remembered hotel room numbers and train schedules and flight arrangements.† I remembered names and places and dates.† I remembered old friends encountered and new ones we made on our journeys.† The force of her charisma, as always, drew those we met into her orbit.† So I remembered the stories she told, gently coaching and correcting if needed or, if it seemed safe, letting her fly without wires.
One evening, as we stood together at a shipís railing watching the sun set in the South Pacific, she turned to me in tears.† Before she even spoke the words, I knew this was the end of our travels.
We went home.† Our friends who had not seen us for many months were shocked at the changes in her.† She, whose fiery legal battles were legend, had grown tentative, unsure of herself, and thus unsure of the world around her.† And I, who shrank from crowds, who took shelter in my beloved books, who had played Martha to her Mary for all the years of our union, stepped forward.†
I shielded my love, protecting her ferociously even as her mind dimmed and she grew unaware of the pitying stares and sorrowful looks of our circle.† A new doctor to be dealt with?† I spoke for her.† Benefits to be applied for?† I wrote for her.† Battles to be waged over her legal legacy?† I became her staunch advocate.
For the love of my wife, I left my comfort zone in the dust.† I think I became the woman she always thought I wasóstrong in her defence, passionate on her behalf, confident that none could care for her as I could.
These days there are pills to be sorted, bills to be paid, and chills to be chased away with a warm blanket tucked around her weakened legs.† I do all these things and willingly, for she has been my life these thirty years and will be until her last breath.
I am not unrealistic.† I am also not young, and the wearisome days drain me.† I know there may come a day when I cannot keep her at home any longer.† I have already begun to investigate assisted living facilities that will meet both our needs, for I am determined to stay with her no matter where she goes.
But for as long as I am able, she will remain in the home we have shared.† She finds comfort here, in my voice, in my touch, in finding me next to her each morning.† Sometimes she even finds a smile or two.
I am a shower singer, at best, always shy of being overheard, and age has not improved my warbling.† But we grew up in the same era, and the old music is familiar and beloved by us both.† Now, with her voice stilled, I sing to her.† When nothing else can, the music still reaches her.
Sometimes, on unsteady legs, she will rise from her chair and open her arms wide.† And as Iíve done a thousand times before, I step into her embrace.† I sing softly until my voice is too choked with unshed tears to continue.† Even then we go on, swaying gently to music inaudible, except to our hearts.
© Lois Cloarec Hart