Dancing In The Dark
Updated: Mar 22, 2018
It was a Quarterflash song. Jesus. Quarter. Flash. I don't think I've said those two words together in over twenty years.
"I'm a gonna harden my heart. I'm gonna swallow my tears. I'm gonna turn. And. Lea- heave you-hoo here....."
My mom was dancing alone in front of the mirror. It was early in the eighties. My dad had recently left the house- they were in the middle of dissolving their 13 year marriage. Which would put my mother somewhere around 33. Which means she's pretty hot, with her long auburn wavy hair, clad in tight high-waisted Lee jeans and wine colored silk blouse buttoned down to reveal the chunky gold necklace.
It was cold outside, so she would have been wearing hose underneath those jeans- even indoors. That's just how the midwestern ladies rolled back then. Still hosiery everywhere -all the time. Even in the blistering summer heat. So I remember watching the way her feet worked on the carpet in those nude hose. Up and down and twisty turning a little bit on every down beat. Her hips swaying back and forth in perfect rhythm.
"I'm a gonna harden my heart..." Gonna pronounced like Own-a with a g. Big gross dipthong. The lead singer lilts the end of the word upwards in a little country mannerism, like a tiny high pitched gasp. Blecch. I hated that song even back then. And the funny thing was.... I remember being caught in the moment- not because I was so enthralled by my mom watching herself dancing in front of the mirror. But because I felt TRAPPED there. Almost forced to watch, since I was probably all of 12 (burgeoning on angsty teen years...knowing everything about everything) and sort of annoyed slash mortified to have caught my mother in this private moment. Like, how DARE she do this knowing I'm in the house? Yuck. This is so embarrassing for me. Her hip swaying was so effected. To me it mirrored the singer's mannerism, like there was something inauthentic about it. Like she was performing as if someone else was watching besides her. (Well- there was. There was ME watching. But unbenownst.)
So there I sit perched on the threshold of the opening of my flower-- so to speak-- as a woman. Watching my mom- very much a full blown, gorgeous, sexy woman dancing alone in a mirror. To a female empowerment song that's basically saying Fuck You to the guy who just broke your heart.
So of course, all the confusion of an adolescent caught between her loving, grieving parents splitting up their marriage, comes crashing down on me in this moment. Because that's of course, my DAD whose words are apparently lies. Lie-Hies, if you wanna get technical. My dad whom I love so deeply. My first and foremost figure of masculinity who loves me to his bones also...and whom I know is torn up inside over the decision he made to leave his family.
"Darlin in my wildest dreams, I never thought I'd go...but it's time to let you know...."
Remembering now how "eew- gross" I thought my mom was in this tiny shard of a memory- it becomes clear to me just how much that feeling of disgust was constructed in self defense. To save me from all the scary feelings. From the actual feelings of deep loss, confusion, fear, powerlessness, worry, isolation and abandonment that were all rolled up into a big hairy ball when my father walked out the door. So much easier to decide my mom was weird and that her vulnerability was weak and therefore kind of icky. And so begets the first stitch in a life long needlepoint of defense mechanism that I've been seeking to tear apart, lovingly, for the last 15 years or so.
See, this image of my mom flashed itself upon my brain at about 4:21am two nights ago. You know, that hour or so I'm awake almost every night, regardless of diet or alcohol consumption or exercise. That hour of the wolf I've become so well acquainted with. Those grueling minutes that frequently used to house my full blown anxiety attacks, but now have thankfully gone back to displaying the more mundane programme of simply tearing apart any good feelings I have.
So two nights ago, amidst the wee hour, internal ricochet slowly increasing in volume from "you're not doing enough for this or that kid blah blah blah--to-- that deadline will never get reached blah blah blah--to--no one's gonna listen to this crazy new record you've made blah blah--to--you're lucky your husband stays married to you, you're such a mess blah--to--or my GOD you've got to clean out the flipping coat closet ..."
"I'm a gonna harden my heart" blasts through my brain. With accompanying memory above. And I feel like my mind is playing tricks on me maybe here....but maybe is also trying to provide a little relief. (Comic relief?) There's something so great about how life tends to work in this way: The thing you think is the dumbest, the cheesiest, the least inviting, or the person you find to be so intolerable in a social setting....is many times exactly the thing or soul waiting as a key reveal for you to get deeper connected to your true self. To your humanity and to your self forgiveness and forgiveness of others.
This has happened to me many times. The new mom who just "annoys me" in my kids' class.. the one who "I don't know honey, I don't like the way she talks, her laugh is SUPER annoying...." This is inevitably the woman my husband will remind me, upon hearing rant number 3 about her, to ask out to coffee. "WHY? What would we have to say to each other?" But he's always right. One way or another- whatever annoys me, sticks in my craw--needs to be ferreted out. Sat down with. Allowed to give voice. And then I always find something there. Either a point of connection or a lesson in how I judge my own nature and find it unappealing in the faces of others.
So this moment in time reminds me...now that I am in my forties with a marriage and kids of my own... with my own high waisted Lee jeans that I choose not to wear with hosiery...with my own wine colored silk blouses and long brunette hair....I'm reminded to lead with love and forgiveness. Because now I do have so much more empathy for this version of my mother dancing to the Quarterflash song. Because here in this memory, not only is she my mother, but here in this space and time, she is me. Propping herself up with this song. Back when I was 12 and not ready or able to love myself despite or alongside all my vulnerabilities, it was torture to watch my mother navigate her own way through trying to reclaim her mojo after having been "left."
And now that I'm birthing a new voice of my own, I need propping too. I need to find a way to dance in the mirror to some song that makes me feel powerful- witnessing my own self be vulnerable and desirable at the same time. Human. Real. And that's hard. Because it requires me to unstitch the defense mechanism needlepoint. It's so safe to appear not to care...not to try...not to dance. But I must no matter what those voices tell me at 4am. It's perhaps the only true defense against them.
And now I must leave you with what is arguably the most laughable video ever made.
Just to remind all of us not to take any of it too seriously. Especially at 4am.