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  • Writer's pictureBethany Lynne

The Undesired Dance

Syncopated rhythm reverberated off the walls. Dancers filled the wooden floor in an array of brightly colored dresses and suspenders. I dodged my way past a few spinning couples to the outskirts to take a breather. My face was flushed from the exertion of fast-paced triple-stepping. My shirt clung to my back with sweat. My cheeks hurt from an extended period of grinning. Swing dances were a place I felt most alive.

I joined my friend standing next to a jazz-blaring speaker. I bent over, hands on knees, laughing a little, trying to catch my breath. He leaned over to say... something in my right ear. I couldn’t quite make out his words under the wave of sound.

“Did you hear about Kenny?” He looked concerned.

“No, what’s up?” I straightened up, my eyes darting around the room, looking to catch my next partner’s eye.

“... said he’s… hospital… could even die.”

“No.” I brushed his words away. “He’s got kidney stones.” I walked briskly to where my jacket was laid over the back of a wooden chair and coaxed my phone out of the pocket. The screen lit up, displaying a plethora of notifications. I slid my finger across each, dismissing them as I briefly skimmed their content. Finding nothing alarming, the thought crossed my mind to just text my friend Kenny, but then I came to the last message on my phone.

“I’m sorry to tell you… Kenny passed away this afternoon.”

The world moved slightly slower than it had before, my ears suddenly muted. Disoriented, I pushed my way through the dizzying mass on the floor, the 20’s attire, the swirling skirts, the smiling faces. My lungs couldn’t seem to hold their oxygen. I broke through the circle of people and bolted through the front door. I threw myself against the nearest wall, my palms pressed into the cool brick. I gasped for air, staring at the swirling rectangles before me. I felt I might collapse, blackout, or vomit. Later I would recognize these symptoms as “shock.”

I slid to the concrete, my shoulder relying heavily on the support of the wall. My knees pulled tightly into my chest, I whispered aloud, Cry. That’s what you do when someone dies. My body complied.

Oh God. I convulsed forward.

Horror pulsed through my chest. It couldn’t be true. My mind ran through what I knew of the stages of grief. I determined to process each stage, and arrive at the point of acceptance by the time I ran out of tears. A pair of arms wrapped around me.

“He’s dead.” I told my friend. I said it because it was a fact. I said it because I had to justify my tears and perhaps if I said it out loud, the truth would cement into my brain.

The group of my friends gathered to my left of my peripheral, trying not to stare. I found myself being ushered into a car headed back towards school. The inside of the vehicle held a strange tension, the girl next to me stiff and silent. We hadn’t been on the road for more than a couple minutes before the driver commented that the traffic was “killing her.”

“No, it’s not.” Someone snapped at her from the backseat, no doubt for the inappropriateness of her comment.

I gazed out the window, the city lights blurring past.

Death. It commonly finds its way into our vocabulary. We use it to articulate the extreme, the dramatic, the joking, the ignorant. Death itself did not scare me. Its companion, Grief, was far more intimidating. Grief was no longer a mythical creature. It had waltzed in my front door, taken my hand, pulled me close, it’s body pressed firmly against my own. It quickly familiarized itself with my shape, the ebb and flow of my breath, the pattern of my steps. It ran its hand down the small of my back, pulling me into an intimate tango, without asking my permission, and I was left trembling.

Three weeks later, I would find myself walking down a rain spattered path under the arch of intertwining trees. I hopped around the edge of a puddle.

“It’s been difficult, ya know… trying to figure out the whole grieving process.” I shrugged, playing it off, knowing the girl I was speaking to didn’t have much sympathy.

“My mom does counseling stuff, so I can tell you which stage comes next. I can tell you exactly what you’ll go through.”

I tried to explain to her it wasn’t something so predictable. It wasn’t predictable at all. Grief wasn’t the checklist I tried to make it when we first met. It wasn’t a friend or an ally. It was a demon who stalked behind me through the drizzle of rain, its steps matching my own as they slapped on the wet pavement.

Grief came to me at night, dragging its deformed shape through my window. It brushed past my hair as I tried to stomach a bowl of cereal at the breakfast table. It twisted the words of my friends, before landing in my ears, leaving me battered by their good intentions.

It would show up as the ghost of my dead friend in the silhouette of a stranger, morphing into his likeness. It would wave to me from unoccupied space, where Kenny should have been standing. Its favorite game was hide-and-go-seek, departing from my presence just long enough for my shoulders to relax their tension, only to come springing out of my closet at the most vulnerable of times.

Grief became a warden, and I its prisoner. What hope I had, sat like a starving child, ribs showing through a sheet of skin, cheeks gaunt, deprived of sustenance. Food did not rejuvenate, sleep did not revive, life itself seemed to drain out of my inactive fingertips.

“You’re one of most manipulative people I’ve met.” The girl from the rain splattered path would tell me a few weeks later. “I see that you’re sad... and I don’t know if you just want me to feel sorry for you?” Her friend would ungraciously add.

God forbid I should be a burden, an unpleasant person to be around, an inconvenience in my lament. Even if their unkind words held truth, could God please forbid me from having to listen to the folly of their conversation? While they complained of boys and clothes, of the untimeliness of their periods, and their “unendurable” cramps, I sat in sober silence, the still unbelieved reality of Kenny’s death making home in my vacant heart.

I tried to reason my way out of my lack of feeling. The stage of depression had run rampant for three long weeks, surely by now I should have reached the final stage of acceptance.

Laughter came on an unexpected day. I don’t remember what caused that dear friend to resurface, poking his head out of my gut, but it felt good. Grief tapped my shoulder and wagged its skeletal finger at me. For a moment I had forgotten that Kenny was gone. If I had remembered, perhaps I wouldn’t have laughed. But with each passing day, I found more reason to ignore Grief’s looks of disapproval, the corners of my mouth curving upwards.

Perhaps another friend, Time, would outlast Grief’s patience.

Five months later I would go dancing. My heart pounded as I ascended the stairs into the hall. The music sounded familiar, the dresses and suspenders were different, yet the same. The smiling faces and sweaty palms of the dancers invited me into a good time. There was no danger here. I would lose no one tonight. I slowly began to regain my confidence from Grief. I made eye contact and smiled. Today I wasn’t going to be bothered by its bedraggled appearance. At this dance, Grief was left outside the hall and I had the power of whether or not to let it in.

Perhaps the next night, I would not have the strength to keep it outside those large wooden doors. Perhaps it wouldn't try to force its way inside, or perhaps I would even choose to invite it in and even save it dance. It was a wounded creature after all, not knowing how to play fair or nice.

Perhaps if I learned to embrace it, even a demon could be tamed with Time.

- B

Dedicated to Kenny King 5/25/2016

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