Songs As Inspiration

A group of Sand dollars in Monterey Bay Aquarium.
A group of Sand dollars in Monterey Bay Aquarium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dancing in a Deep Assumption

By Elizabeth Cutright

The chill of a fall breeze – the kind that twists and turns through the dusk, dragging in its wake dead leaves of all colors and shapes –  curls its fingers around Rebecca’s wrist.  Snaking up her the arm of her jacket, it beats on her breast like a hungry child.  She wraps the thin cotton coat tightly around her, damming once again the cosmetic buttons and thin layer of nylon that had seduced her in the department store last March.  The coat was more a hinderance than a help – stifling in the summer but transforming into a worthless sieve when temperatures traveled below 70 degrees.  Nevertheless, she’d packed it with visions of crisp walks in the fall evenings – it’s red drape picturesque on tree lined streets.  Her vanity always seemed to win these little wars.

To think she’d gone swimming in this weather when she was young.  As a child she’d plunged into the cold Pacific, riding the waves like a star.  Living for the barely there warmth of the twilight sand.  Breathing in the October air scented wit the smoke of a dozen chimneys.  At home she knew scoldings and retributions awaited her.  But the inevitable end of the evening – hot bath an warm cup of hot chocolate – was just enough of a reward to compel her stay out past curfew.

On this evening, two decades later, the air still smelled like fire, but held no promises and incited no mischief.  Instead, it welcomed her home to a history she’d abandoned and a town she’d tried to forget.

For as long as she could remember, she’d dreamt about escaping her home town. No, actually, that wasn’t quite true.  She’d really only started to fantasize about it in junior high – when she hit puberty and became crystal clear that she wasn’t going to be one of “those girls.”  You know the ones…with their perfect hair and their perfect clothes, and the boys lining up for a turn dancing slowly with them under the low lights in the high school gym.

She’d only had one “slow dance” during her entire jr. high experience with a fellow bookworm nerd. It was tough to admit now, but the whole experience had left her feeling frustrated and insulted – is this who she was supposed to end up with?

He was probably now a multi millionaire now.  Some fantastic husband/lover/father to a woman who didn’t know – or didn’t care – about the outcast he’d been.  They’d grown up side by side and she knew his whole history.  So shy, so awkward and – the worst sin of all – so very, very poor.  She remembered now the story – so scandalous at the time, so tragic in retrospect – of how he’d almost died when his appendix burst.  His inattentive parents (drugs, drink, abuse, whispered the town)failing to notice the symptoms until it was almost too late.

She had not wanted to be associated with poverty or the lives that played out amidst food stamps and bounced checks.  So when he’d asked her to dance it had felt like an assault on her reputation – her parents weren’t poor or high or inattentive, her clothing was respectable (if not fashionable) her friends acceptable.  He held out his hand as Prince’s Purple Rain played in the background and she’d said no disdainfully.  There was no way she was going to let herself get relegated to the “nerd pile” with all the other undesirables.

So, she was a snob.   She’d never realized it at the time, but looking back at her attitudes and actions, it was hard to dodge that assessment.  She’d put on airs – without much rep to back it up – and in the end her ruse had been successful.  She’d played the snob card all the way through high school, and although she was never, ever one of “those girls,” she laughed and danced her way through parties and football games and bonfire make-out sessions.

But the urge to escape had never really vanished.

Which is funny, because when she’d first arrived in the tiny little beach community – seven years old and still dazzled by childhood dreams of unicorns and  idyllic sojourns through magical forests – it had seemed perfect.  Relieved to have escaped an increasingly claustrophobic and dangerous city life, her parents had given her free reign to play and explore and dream to her heart’s content.  For that first, perfect summer, she caught lizards and learned to body surf.  She wandered down to the shoreline daily to build teetering sand castles and collect sand dollars.  She skinned her knees and elbows on slippery tidal rocks, and made pets out of the tiny crabs hid in crevices.  She spoke to the wispy mermaids she imagined peeking out from the cliffs, and she dodged the sea monster tails that sometimes swished at her while she floated along past the wave break.

She loved it back then.  Loved the entire thing.  The creek that leaked out into the ocean waves. The shiny black heads of the bobbing seals, and the shy little sandpipers scurrying through the whitewash.  What she remembered most from that time was the overwhelming sense of living in the world.  Living and breathing in the the nature that surrounded her.  Nature in the wetlands. Nature in the hills behind town.  Nature in the tall wheat grass and the pastured horses she’d suddenly happen upon during her lazy walks along dusty roads leading east, away from the sea.

She knows now that she’s never felt that alive since. She no longer traipses that close to the edge, knowing any fall will be embraced by tender earth.  As a child, that was her only perspective.  But with age, she can see the other side.  She can see the town as it must have appeared to her parents when they first arrived.  Secretive and suspicious – tough on outsiders and even tougher on anyone with a tinge of bohemia.  And that is ultimately what this story is about – about moving in and moving on.  About the things that could have happened but didn’t, and about the things that no one can forget.

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