The dances behind us.

The salt water stretches backward like spilled ink.

My sister always straightened her legs out over the rough, wooden planks of the dock, feet dangling alongside mine. We moved gingerly, careful not to stir up the wood into giving us splinters.

Under the star-heavy beach sky, it was the back-lighting of the picture windows that kept us riveted, eyes on the stage where the sensual shadows of our parents, Doru and Lydia, kept dancing. All those glasses of wine never posed a threat to the integrity of the tango between them. They knew the steps as if someone had sewn them into their soles.

We’d marvel over the way his hand curved under her supple back, dropping her almost to the hardwood floor, before saving her, the gallant flourish, maybe the magnet drawing the dance tighter. For the two little girls on the dock, the music was limited to the pulse of waves lapping the shore and the heaving, grunting of boats against the ropes binding them to the schedules of their domesticated human owners.

We learned something visceral about love from this montage. Like this: The way a man loves a woman requires him to let her fall just gently enough to make room for the exhiliration of his catching her.

But Lydia, our brilliant, fiesty, restless mother, sought more from life than the security of standing still. Doru, our handsome, well-disciplined, and charismatic father, loved best the moments when the cause and its corresponding castle were clearly marked. His knighthood depended on clear instructions and boundaries. A dance must be one which has been marked and scuffed on these floors before them. And they were the best dancers we’d ever seen- no one held a candle to their magic when they picked up where the last dance left off.

Sometimes I wondered what it would feel like to invent a dance with another person- with the boy that would become the man that would marry me. The watching of it might reveal haste and division, confusion about what comes next and all the anxiety of being compelled to find a step of our own and then agree upon it in a world where we’d learned to rely on the steps of those before us.

I married a man who, like me, chose to invent his own steps. We spend the days trying to match our feet to the speed of the melody, always shifting, never certain when a particular sequence is good enough to keep and master.

The three small faces watch us with worried eyes. The mother in me wishes to cover their faces with my palms so they can’t peek- not just yet.

“We’re not ready,” I whisper, the comforting smile, “We’re still learning”. We blush, embarrassed, slightly angry that it’s taking us so long, secretly certain that the other’s clumsiness might be to blame.

My parents, the impeccable dancers, divorced when my sister and I went to college. Maybe the lack of an audience made their dance less meaningful- no reflections from the picture windows to reveal the light’s glint in our shrunken world. The divorce ended my favorite love story on an unspeakable note. Still, the words won’t settle into something I can absorb and pass along to my kids as family history.

He and I have yet to discover that dance we pledged to invent based on the specific crevices and contours of our passionate hearts. Sometimes the search ends in tears; the little faces look worried again, wishing perhaps that we would just settle on one of those popular dances they see other couples doing on the tv or in their living rooms. The Macarena maybe. Or the Electric Slide. The waltz seems to have served humans well for centuries.

Sharpened, I wonder the same.

Who are we- this man and this woman- to need something as special and sacred as a dance all our very own? What makes the seeking- the anger, the frustration, the bruised toes- worth the smudged reflections? Why do we stand where others sit, fall, golf, shop, or take to the therapist’s couch?

Love is too brittle a word.

We stare at the waves side by side, not touching, touched, apart. We hope that our desire and our dream dance will be worth the uncertainty. His hands know how to hold my body even at the moments when it takes more than love to hold me from running away.

It’s the hearts that handicap us in formulating the dance. But these same hearts are the ones for whom we promised to imagine the dance.

And so we continue, sometimes shuffling, often slipping, over the revolving floors of our shared life- both creators and creatures of this Eclectic Slide.

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