Darlings, it’s a perfectly puffy-eyed situation happening over here. Last night I sat outside and basked in the warm evening sunlight, and stared up into the tree that hangs over the patio. I could see patches of sky-blue through all the leafy green, wondered how far through the forest I would have to trudge to see a glimmer of success. It’s not the end of the world, it’s just a contest, it’s just disappointment. My husband has gently pointed out that perhaps it is not the contest, but that it is a deeper issue. I’m not in a satisfying career, strike action is taking place in Immigration sectors, and we have no idea what the future holds. And mostly, that I have so much to offer; a heart that is about to burst from wanting so much, but it feels like like few things are possible at this juncture. I’ve received some lovely emails, and comforting shout-outs, and I really appreciate it. What I’d like to do is print my competitive piece here. It’s not everyone’s cup, but I’m proud of it. And after all, nobody puts Baby in the corner…
It’s the middle of the week, I’m eight years old, I’m wearing a second-hand Brownie uniform, and my mother has just invited me to watch the last ten minutes of Dirty Dancing. Sitting on the sofa, crossing my legs like a lady, I recognized this as a rite of passage. If ever my parents brought a film into the house, it was promptly previewed with scrutinizing eyes. Many were considered unacceptable for viewing. Nonetheless, my mother decided the final dance sequence of this film passed the test. And I didn’t blame her. I had no idea what was happening, but I knew one thing: this couple had charisma. Their energy was so infectious that the only cure was for everyone to dance. I had so many questions. Who are these people? Why are they dancing? How did the homely girl come to be in the corner? And just who is this Johnny Castle character? All questions melted away as the scene progressed to its climax. Baby in her pink skirt, leaping into Johnny’s muscular arms and being lifted up into the lights, her arms stretched out, her heart open wide. My pulse was racing. Patrick Swayze was the most magnificent creature I had ever seen. It was then I made a silent declaration: that one day I would experience the entirety of this movie.
The following summer my Grandmother visited from Wales. She was a strange creature from the Old World, with a thick indecipherable accent. Alone with her one afternoon I seized an opportunity. “Do you like movies Grandma?” “Oh, I like Coronation Street”, her Welsh accent a musical swing-set, swaying up and down as she spoke. “Have you ever seen Dirty Dancing?” “Can’t say that I have”. “Really? Wow… it’s pretty much my favourite movie”. “What’s it about then?” “It’s…um, it’s about…dancing…that is dirty?” “I don’t know if I’d like that”, her frown line deepened. “No! Not “dirty” I’m not describing it properly”, I’m panicked, sweating. “Maybe we should take a stroll to the corner shop and look for it”. I knew there was a copy at Bob’s Mini Mart; whenever my parents went there to buy cigarettes or milk, I’d spot it on the shelf. I’d clutch the display case in my pudgy fingers, rubbing my thumb over Patrick’s face. Now with my grandmother in tow, anything was possible. Who was I to deny her an authentic North American experience? She had come all the way from the United Kingdom to stay a month in this sleepy little town, with few amenities beyond gas stations and grocery stores. She had never even heard of Patrick Swayze. Poor dear. We were both in need of an education.
“That was a nice film wasn’t it?” my grandmother smiled, satisfied as the credits rolled. I drifted featherweight back to reality. Nice didn’t even begin to cover it—this film was spectacular. As a family of six we didn’t travel much. Resorts that employed tough, yet tender dance instructors to teach lessons about life and love was beyond reach. That was a real concern for me; if I never went anywhere, how would my true love find me? At school I had few friends and was unpopular with boys—I had thick eyebrows, chubby thighs and an overbite; I was socially incapable and totally uncool. Often overcome with loneliness, I retreated into a cinematic fantasy world, yearning for love and adventure. Staring out the window onto the trailer park lot, I’d imagine Johnny Castle rescuing me from my unhappy corner of the world. How I wanted my very own musical montage, dancing to Hungry Eyes with a sweaty Swayze all up in my mix. He’d write She’s like the Wind about me, and nobody would blame him. I wanted to run, leap and be lifted overhead, light as air, my pink ballerina skirt floating angelically. I wanted to be raised up and swept away.
Twenty years later, I met my husband in New Zealand. In amidst a music festival crowd I saw Benjamin and knew that I was home. Our partnership was immediately tempered by deadlines, departure dates and other logistical elements of our different birth rights. We married eight months after meeting, and fuelled by temporary working visas we travelled for two years before settling in Canada. We were finally faced with the dreaded immigration process, which pressed on a visceral, adolescent nerve. Johnny and Baby didn’t want to be separated either. They were divided briefly; the conservative type at Kellerman’s couldn’t accept their attachment. But in the end, Johnny came back for her and much dancing ensued. But would they really have stayed together after the summer in the Catskills? Would Baby not attend Mount Holyoke College or join the Peace Corps as planned? Would they just ‘promise to keep in touch’? Somehow I can’t imagine Johnny Castle being your pen to paper, stamp to envelope kind of guy; he’s a lover not a writer.
When is a summer romance really worth fighting for? How do you know that you have truly found ‘the one’? When you are willing to fill out the paperwork? The permanent residency process is a totally unromantic yet completely necessary venture, and an excellent device to weed out the weak. The fine folks at Immigration in Vegreville, Alberta need to know everything about you and your partner. To prove that our marriage was a genuine, conjugal relationship a paper trail was required. We provided forms, financial documents and supplemental appendixes, with references, letters, photographs and old bills addressed to both parties. This lengthy task combined two fears: not finding a common country with my husband, and really complicated paperwork. We were happy to confirm that we had not desecrated churches, partaken in genocide or organized any political uprisings. We had confidence in the evidence that supported the legitimacy of our marriage. For us, the medical exam was the greatest cause for concern. “What if they find something and I have to leave the country… I’d have tuberculosis and you’d be on the other side of the world”. Benjamin whispered as he squeezed my hand in the waiting room. “You’ll be just fine…there’s nothing wrong with you” I assured him. Of course I don’t know that, I’m not a doctor; I don’t even watch enough Grey’s Anatomy to peg a guess. But his nervousness planted a seed of doubt inside my mind: what if something was wrong? In life and in health, nothing is certain. Patrick Swayze, once physically fit, athletic, healthy and gorgeous, died at 57. It’s as if Johnny Castle is the immortal girlhood fantasy, but Swayze represents the crushing weight of reality. There are no certainties, the universe is not fair; my existence is not the exception, nor is the life of the man that I love.
During Benjamin’s medical I waited in the reception area, tucked in the corner with a magazine, a noose of anxiety tightening around my neck. The reading material was limited so I lingered over the calorie-wise recipes and parenting tips in the lone issue of Canadian Living. An elderly couple appeared at the desk and were discussing the woman’s upcoming surgery with a doctor. The doctor answered her questions with a smile, offering support and information. She blurted out, her voice quivering: “I’m really scared. Will I be alright?” Yikes. The doctor didn’t respond with absolute certainty, he simply offered wishes for a surgery well done. Being an empathetic eavesdropper, her vulnerability made my heart swell with sadness. The doctor excused himself. The couple, stooped and weathered, slowly shuffled to the exit. He was holding her small beige handbag in his left hand. On his right his wife lifted her tiny arm and linked herself to the crook in his elbow. They exchanged a familiar glance, leaned closely together, passed a corridor and disappeared from sight.
Tears strained against my eyes like a storm front against a window pane. I held my breath to cease the impending waterworks. I wondered if they remembered being young and in love and just starting out, whether their relationship grew from flimsy childish illusions about romance to a solid refuge of sustenance and care. I wondered if any of their past struggles and sacrifices even mattered anymore as they edged out of the clinic and closer to the end of their lives. Sitting in the stillness of the clinic waiting for my husband to return, I thought about what happens after young love. After summer sunshine when autumn leaves fall and frigid winter sets in, when it is harder, when we are older, is when love burns its brightest. It is when you are backed into a corner and somebody who loves you pulls you out of the shadows and lifts you up into the light.