Will you dance with me? The cost of bitterness...
by Michael Sanchez
(Los Fresnos, TX)
“Will you dance with me?”
The nearness of the voice surprises me; as does the strong and resolute tone of voice, as if she had to gather up her courage to ask. I look up to see a beautiful young woman holding her hand out to me. Her face has vaguely familiar features. I take her hand and allow myself to be led to the dance floor. As I hold her in my arms and we start to dance, there is a familiar, yet somehow alien, closeness to the contact.
The beautiful young woman is my daughter and this event, my oldest son’s wedding, is the first time I have seen her in eight years. Her mother and I were divorced when Kaitlyn was ten. Like so many angry divorcees, her mother executed a full court press to estrange my daughter from me as emotional and psychological punishment. I was billed as the implement of evil that was responsible for all the pain in my daughter’s world. I do believe that I was blamed for the Gulf Oil Spill and the Haiti Earthquake as well. The psychological blackmail levied against her caused my daughter to estrange herself from me, for fear of losing her mother. I hadn’t even had a conversation with her since she was 12 years old.
As we danced, there was a confusing mix of comfort and familiarity blended with feelings of loss and that disorientation one experiences from being out of touch. I knew her… but I didn’t know her. I knew the little girl who, when I would come home from work, would run to greet me; stop, back up, get a mischievous glint in her eye and then launch herself into my arms. But I did not know the young woman I was dancing with. The years I lost were so evident at this moment that a wave of sadness came over me.
As the music played, the years, the anger, the pain of estrangement and our mutual unfamiliarity with each other seemed to melt away. We chatted about dogs, life, and other small talk as if those many years of estrangement had never happened. I felt a surge in my heart of life’s cruelest and most destructive emotion… hope.
The song ended and my daughter went her own way. It wasn’t going to be that simple. She wasn’t just going to come to my table, meet my wonderful new wife and pick up where we left off. But her asking me to dance was an olive branch. It wasn’t lost on me that she waited until after her mother had left the reception before proffering this branch, but it was a sign nevertheless. The truth was that I missed my only daughter terribly. Her self-imposed absence from my life was something that troubled me greatly, and hurt me very deeply. I loved her as only a father can love his little girl.
My sons, who maintained contact with their sister, told me that after the wedding, when she was asked if she was ready to re-establish a relationship with her father, their sister simply said “I’m not ready for that yet”. But cruel hope grew in my heart. The dance was a small gesture that indicated that things were thawing out. All I have to do is be PATIENT. Give her time. She will see that she needs her father. She will see that her father loves her. She will realize that it isn’t possible that I was the devil incarnate and her mother was the sainted virgin. I just had to be patient… I had HOPE.
I am awakened from this memory by a sob. My eyes are closed, but the sound of a soft stifled sob was all it took to bring me rocketing back to the present and out of my day dream with a physical jolt. I open my eyes. I am looking at the Gulf of Mexico. Dawn’s first rays of sunlight shimmer on the quiet early morning waves in a way that almost adds volume and texture to the soft rasping of the waves as they lick the shore and then retreat. The scene is peaceful, but also ominous. There is a song stuck in my brain far down in my consciousness and I can’t identify it. The song is familiar and is repeating continuously.
I have a white rose in my hand. Reality set in with the intensity of a slap in the face on a cold day… I remember where I am and what I am doing. It is July 23rd 2012. That dance was 2 years, 4 months and 11 days ago, and yet it seems like yesterday. The hope that blossomed in my heart after I danced with my daughter has been absolutely, utterly and completely shattered. There is no hope in my heart any more. Patience won’t do me a damn bit of good now… and the pain is almost more than I can bear. You see, four days before, I was notified that my beautiful daughter, now 22 years old, was found dead. She was ripped from the world and our lives by a single gunshot. The hope that I desperately clung to for years mocks me now. The chance to be my little girl’s father again is gone, my daughter is gone. Neither will ever come again. Hope is very cruel.
I am already shell shocked from the loss of my daughter so young in life. I am also reeling from the devastatingly difficult fatherly duties that I had to perform subsequent to her death. From making arrangements for her cremation and seeing her body, to sorting through her personal property, to making arrangements for the private memorial service I am leading at this moment; I can feel my emotional resolve quivering under the strain. I have been strong up until this point. I am always strong in a crisis. But now I have to do something that I don’t want to do. Something I’m not really prepared to do. I have to let go of my daughter. I have to let go of the hope that if I were patient enough, she would be a part of my life again. I have to let go of all the hope that I clung to for so many years; and the pain is crushing me. All those years… all that hope… The song is still in my head, but it is moving closer to recognition. I can tell that it is a Kenny Chesney song, but I can’t identify it. It is distorted by the torrent of pain, sadness, anger and hopelessness that I am feeling right now.
Ok… The rose... I have to do this. Each participant in the memorial service was given a white rose. The rose symbolized Kaitlyn’s innocence in life and the peace that everyone who loved her prays that she has found now. After the memorial service is concluded, each person in their own way will say goodbye to Kaitlyn and throw their rose into the ocean; symbolically letting her go, releasing her to God’s care and acknowledging that she is gone forever.
Everyone took their rose and wandered toward the water. Each person immersed in their own pain, their own sadness and their own thoughts. The sob of one person is what jolted me out of my memory of that dance. I don’t want to let her go. I never even got her back!!!!! How can I let her go now? I want to go back to that dance. I gently press the rose to my lips and kiss it like I used to kiss her forehead when she was a little girl. I press it to my heart in an attempt to ease the pain I feel. In this instant, the pain is physical. I feel like an Aztec sacrifice, having his beating heart ripped from his chest. And the music is still there.
I hold the rose to my chest not wanting to do what I know I MUST do. With tears streaming down my face, with my composure teetering perilously over an emotional abyss, I kiss the rose again and gently toss it into the water. I watch the rose move gently with the current. A piece of my heart and the hope I held for so many years of being her father again drift away with the rose forever. I can hear the song clearly now, repeating over and over in my mind.
“...and if I'd a known that dance was going to be our last dance... I'd have asked that band to play on and on, on and on, on and on...”