Wanna dance?


She was sitting at a table by herself, watching couples on the dance floor. As techno music blared and dancers swirled, she sat contentedly, quietly watching.

I also was sitting by myself, but with considerably less poise. I kept scanning the roomful of women, looking for someone I might have met at a previous event organized by PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). I saw a few familiar faces but no one I knew well enough to approach. 

Still, I really wanted to dance, and I kept returning to the handsome woman in the red turtleneck. But I couldn’t walk across the room and ask a total stranger to boogie, could I? 

I poured myself a Dixie cup of white wine. If I was going to do this thing, I would need some serious fortifying. A few sips later I stood up and headed across the room. As I arrived at her table, the DJ was turning up the volume and I had to shout to be heard: “Wanna dance?”

She nodded yes and off we went. For the next 15 minutes we rocked out, busting radical moves from the 1960s. We sang all the choruses, knew when all the doo-wops were coming. 

Then, suddenly, it was over. The DJ switched to slow tunes and I stood there stupidly, “not going left, not going right” as I hummed Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind.” 

While I tried to think of something to say, she started dancing with someone else. Next thing I knew, the friend who’d brought me to the event was tugging on my sleeve, pointing toward the exit door. 

But I couldn’t just leave, not without saying something to my dance partner. I grabbed a napkin, wrote down my email and handed it to her on my way out. Like I’d ever see her again.

Imagine my surprise the following morning when I logged on to my computer and found a new email. “Dear Annie,” it began, and my surprise turned to alarm. We hadn’t said a word about names, so how did she know mine? Had she talked to someone about me? Was she a stalker? 

I called my son, who was my dating coach: How did she know my name? How did she know?

“Well, I’m guessing you were wearing a name tag.”

Okay, so maybe she wasn’t a serial killer. In fact, as we introduced ourselves and exchanged more emails, it turned out that she was funny and kind and entirely without guile. Her name was Bonnie Jean, after a character in the Lerner and Loewe musical “Brigadoon.” 

We made plans to meet at a local pizza place for our first date. I was the first to arrive and I spotted Bonnie across the parking lot, decked out in a head-turning black leather jacket she’d bought for the occasion. My heart did a triple back somersault. I was officially smitten. 

Over pepperoni and mushroom pies we talked and talked. And talked. By the time we finished the last slice we had talked so much that I was starting to look for the exit. 

It turns out that’s what Bonnie did when she was really nervous: she babbled. We would laugh about it in the years that followed, and it was an endearing quality in many ways. But on that first date I thought I would slit my wrists if she said another word.

Today? Today I would saw off my arm, cut off both my arms if I could hear her say one single word. Bonnie’s been gone six years now, and not a day has passed that I haven’t thought about her and missed her. I miss the sound of her voice, and I miss her constant cheer. 

I have two videos of Bonnie on my cell phone and I replay them over and over. In one she is dancing with her two daughters, Diane and Wendy, at our 2008 wedding. In the second video she is laughing as she squirts canned whipped cream into her three-year-old granddaughter’s mouth. 

That’s my girl. Danced like a fool and loved her kiddos to bits. They, in turn, adored her. 

Several months after Bonnie’s death I was in Kansas, visiting Diane and her family. We all had adopted the cardinal as our “spirit” bird, a reminder of Bonnie’s eternal presence. One morning we went for a walk in nearby woods and grandson Connor spotted a bright red cardinal singing from the top of an oak tree. 

“See?” he said. “She’s always with us.”


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