Joining The Dance

By: Allison Backous

Having thought, for many years, that I’d spend my life aching for what I’m about to say, it feels strange to write these words down. But I’ve spent the past five months knowing it, knowing it to my bones.

I am in love.

And there aren’t enough poems or pop songs to capture what I feel and know, what Jeremy and I know together. That it is both awesome and absolutely ordinary, a mystery that we find ourselves grinning about on his couch, our coffee cups sitting atop his mail, my hand wrapped in his.

We’re in love. We love each other. It has been a long time coming, and it also feels like love itself has been waiting for us, swelling around us, rejoicing over what has finally come for us both.

It’s the prayer of St. Raphael, which I’ve prayed for years, answered: “Lead us towards the ones we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us!”

It would be foolish to say that this isn’t terrifying. We’ve each been through too much to ignore the fact that we are just beginning. That we, as Dyana Herron put it so beautifully in her last post, are children.

As a child, I was always more of an adult than I was supposed to be. After my parents’ divorce, I made lunches, did laundry, looked to create some kind of rhythm to hold our days together.

But I’ve always been a little hesitant, a worrywart, a homebody. On an elementary school report card, a teacher wrote that I was “nine going on forty.” I measured my breakfasts by the food pyramid; I spent playtime doing homework.

By circumstance and by preference, I have lived my life acting too old for my age, sober, determined, and it has gotten me far. It has kept me sane.

And it has also kept me alone—I have spent countless hours away from my friends, working on papers and projects. I have said no to parties, coffee dates, anything that might unhinge the fragile energy that drives me through my tasks, my solitary marks of success.

But what terrifies me about love is that, while it leaves me grinning, it also melts the quiet unease that has kept me running my whole life. My anxieties, when tested on Jeremy, are revealed for what they are.

And Jeremy is a good man, patient and kind. “I’m yours,” he tells me on car rides to the bank, one hand on the wheel, the other pressed against my fingers.

But I have to make choices about what I will be honest about, how transparent I will let myself become.

And what I’m finding, each and every day, is that the transparency is coming against my will; I’m truly being made new.

A few weekends ago, Jeremy and I took a trip to his parents’ home in eastern Michigan, where they participate in a town festival that Garrison Keillor would love: hundreds of people recreate Michigan’s early colonial history, pitching tents and wearing bonnets, bartering bone knives for deerskin pants.

Jeremy’s parents camp out every year, and invited us to come eat dinner in their tent. His mother baked an applesauce pie right over the campfire, and when it started to rain, offered me a long, Legolas-like blue cape.

“Let’s walk over to the square dancing!” she said, her bonnet bobbing excitedly ahead of us as she led the way through the maze of tents.

Dancing is something that makes me cringe, and freeze; I once had to be pushed down a square dance line because the caller got embarrassed for me.

So I was content to watch a group of children, decked out in tri-corner hats and hoop skirts, make their way through the dancing. They bowed and curtsied, clumsily linked arms, and stared at the caller, a wide woman with silver curls and a green corset, who was jolly and exasperated the whole time.

“Down the line, down the line!” she yelled, her face rosy under the warm white light of the tent, the children’s feet slipping on the wet grass.

Jeremy, at his mother’s request, was dancing, too, his tall frame bowing to her, stately and goofy and adorable. But after the first dance, she came running to me, her face flushed.

“I am just so dizzy,” she said, smirking as she played her part, “and Jeremy needs a partner—would you take my place?”

Jeremy grinned over the costumed children, and I had no choice.

That love would upturn me completely; that it would root out the insecurities and ways of being that my self-help-speak hasn’t subdued; that I would be led to cry, and pray, and pray some more, is not what I expected.

But I also didn’t expect the wet grass, and the jolly caller, and the warm hands of strangers’ children pulling me through a dance that I could only listen for, and follow, one step at a time.

I didn’t expect the joy on Jeremy’s face as I made a fake curtsy, shrieking and laughing at myself, his arms pulling me in for a kiss between measures.

It was, and will be, more than I expected. Much, much more.

Note: This post was originally published on the Image Journal blog Good Letters.