Back then, you danced. I mean you really danced.
During your 20s and 30s, you’d hear a song that would make you spring to your feet. Channeling the beat of the music through gyrating torso and limbs, you swung your hair in loop-de-loops just for laughs. Rivulets of sweat trickled down your back, and when your evening was done, you slept like a rock.
You danced often. At cousin’s weddings. At military balls. On Friday nights with good friends who came over for dinner and didn’t end up leaving until 1am. At bars or nightclubs you were still young enough to patronize without looking pathetic.
Now, in your 40s and 50s, dancing just isn’t the same.
For the most part, you sit and watch. But every once in a while, like an old dog who’s feeling frisky, you give it a go. A really good 80s song fools you into believing you’ve still got it, so you shuffle to the dance floor doing a sort of pre-dance — biting your bottom lip with one fist pumping in the air — that signals everyone else to pay attention.
Once positioned, you begin, but soon realize that your body doesn’t dance spontaneously like it used to. You must deliberately recall the moves that used to come so freely, as you awkwardly recreate The Roger Rabbit, The Van Halen Jump, and The Hair Swing from faded memory. Eventually, thirst and a twinge of humiliation prompt you to go back to your seat.
Later, in the wee hours, you bolt awake when your calf seizes up with cramps. And in the morning, you discover that you have a kink in your neck, and won’t be able to turn your head to the side for four or five more days.
Back then, in your 20s and 30s, you and your spouse were still discovering yourselves and setting standards for your life. “Perhaps we’re the kind of people who brew craft beers in our garage, using interesting ingredients like apricots and toasted malts? Maybe we surf, play the harmonica in a coworker’s band, bake gourmet biscotti, ride Harleys, or run marathons?”
“When we buy or rent a home, we will absolutely insist on stainless steel appliances. We’ll use the china from our wedding registry every Thanksgiving. Romance will not be diminished when we have kids. Our children will be born using the Bradley Method, they will only eat home-made organic baby food, and will strictly adhere to a system of marble jar behavior rewards as set forth in the June issue of Parenting Magazine.”
Now, after decades of adulthood, your days of self-discovery are behind you. Life happened, and you were too busy working, paying taxes, raising kids, coping with deployments, and keeping your marriage intact to bother with building your identity. In the process, you simply became who you are, naturally.
Today is my 49th birthday.
My husband has been in the Navy for 27 years. Our base house has mismatched appliances, and tumbleweeds of dog hair. I drive a minivan and take fiber supplements. My husband is bald and falls asleep in his recliner. I haven’t seen our wedding china since we boxed it for storage before an overseas move seven years ago. The money we dreamed we might spend on exotic travel and trendy décor ended up being used on braces for our three kids, mortgages, fan belts, plumbers’ bills and college funds. Our idea of a great Friday night is fire-pitting with the neighbors and still being in bed by 11pm.
Life isn’t as we imagined it back then, but believe it or not, we’re happier than we could have dreamed.
You see, after more than two decades of marriage, parenting, and military life, I may not dance all that much anymore. But I’ve gained the wisdom to know that it’s the love of family, the companionship of friends, the honor of military service, and the richness of life experiences that really matter.
So today, when people tell me, “Happy Birthday!” I say to myself, “Bingo.”