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And Then I Danced in a Yellow Dress
By Tanya Chapman
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Tanya Chapman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI'm not really sure why this particular day, which was just like any other day, was the day I decided it was time to make a big change in my life. I'd gotten up, passed the treadmill on the way to the coffee pot, showered and changed, just like I did every other morning. Nothing memorable happened at work. The mail came at nine thirty, just like it did every day. People paid their water bills and traffic fines. The repairman fixed the copy machine, again, and I had turkey on whole-wheat for lunch; again. But, somewhere between watching 'Wheel of Fortune' and 'Jeopardy' in the evening, it hit me like a ton of bricks; 'I'm getting older everyday and I'm just letting my life pass me by.'
It wasn't that I was unhappy necessarily. It's just that I had settled into a comfortable and predictable raft afloat the river that was my life. My raft was steadily drifting towards the waterfall of old age without my even noticing. It was as if I could suddenly hear the approaching rapids for the first time and came to the realization that if I didn't get out my oars right away and start rowing in a determined direction, it would be too late to maneuver once I hit the white-water.
This wasn't a dramatically inspired realization causing panic or tears. It was just a thought I settled on as I absentmindedly munched on fat free popcorn and guessed the bonus round puzzle before Vanna White gracefully strode by and touched the letter tiles to light up the answer. The contestant lost, but I felt quite superior as I congratulated myself on the fact that I could have won the $35,000 prize.
And that's when it hit me. No, I couldn't have won, because couch potatoes eating popcorn watching Pat Sajak never won anything. They just observed winners, or even losers who had at least tried to win something. All I ever did was watch from a safe distance and wish it were me on the show. Chances were pretty good that no one had knocked on these contestants' doors and invited them to participate on a nationally televised game show. No, these people had actually made a purposeful decision to get off their duffs and try out for the show.
Some people may call this an epiphany. I wasn't sure if it was or not, but I could not remember the last time I had taken a risk at anything. I wondered what I could even do about it, now that I was aware of it. How did someone take charge of their life at forty-six years of age when they had allowed their raft to float along the current of least resistance their whole life?
As Jeopardy started, my mind drifted back over the years. I tried to think of anything that I could point to that I had purposely chosen for myself. It was disappointing to admit that I had only been a passive participant in my own life. The big events had just 'happened' it seemed. I had followed along without even asking myself why. Someone had to have made all those choices and decisions along the way, but I realized it hadn't been me. I had often seen myself as a victim of circumstances, but now I wondered if I had actually made the choice not to make choices for myself.
I pondered over this interesting question as I continued to munch on my popcorn and watch smart people respond in the form of a question to answers nobody really needed to know in real life. If anyone besides Sadie, my endearing cocker-mix, had been in the room with me, they would not have had a clue about what life altering revelations were going on in my mind. I didn't move from my position on the couch, or change my breathing or waiver in my steady grabbing into the popcorn bag.
But, when Jeopardy ended, I did something completely out of the norm. I turned off the TV, even though one of my many favorite dramas was on next, and walked into my bedroom. Sadie sat up, startled at my change in routine, and grunted as she slid her overly round, tawny body off the couch to follow me. I stopped and just looked at myself in my dresser mirror for a long time. It must have been long anyway, because Sadie was whining at me in confused concern. What my reflection revealed to me was a middle aged woman who definitely looked her age.
When had I stopped caring about how I looked, about making an impression? It wasn't that I was ugly, or frumpy, or even weird looking. It was that I had become almost non-descriptive in my appearance. I knew I weighed well over two hundred pounds now, give or take a few million. I thought I carried it pretty well because I didn't bulge all over and hang out of clothing designed for the thin crowd. But, the fact that I was overweight and out of shape was not in question. My plus size shirt hung loose over my middle with a matching print blouse open over the top, and my slacks were navy blue polyester. I suddenly realized I was dressed like my grandmother. How long had this been going on?
And then there was my hair. It wasn't up in a tight little bun like Nana's, but it may as well have been. I had taken to just pulling it back in a clip, one of those leather things from the seventies that had a couple of holes with a stick going through it. The clip actually was from the seventies. I still had three of them; black, brown, and tan, that I had worn back in junior high school. I found them years later in a drawer during my divorce move and was pretty excited because I thought they were back in style. Maybe they had been again, briefly, but I had been wearing my hair in a long pony tail with one almost every day for years. When I added in my old fashioned wire framed glasses and no-nonsense makeup, there was not much to say to myself except, 'Hello, Nana!'
Efficient, but boring, that was me. I saw no chance of the image staring back at me from the mirror ever joining the current 'cougar' fad going on in the world of many middle aged woman. The only thing a twenty or thirty year old man would see in me was the nice court lady who took his parking ticket money. That's if he noticed me at all.
It wasn't like I had been dressing unconsciously every morning and had no idea how I looked. It was just that boring had crept in so slowly that I hadn't even noticed the completed transformation. I never was a real attention grabber, even in my younger years, but I was at least in style. What I saw in the mirror now was someone who no longer cared to make an effort, someone who had settled into a comfortable, but dull existence. No risks, no heartbreaks had been my silent motto. But, no risks also meant not having anything exciting to look forward to in my life.
I still wasn't having any strong emotional reaction to these thoughts running through my head. I just stood looking into the mirror and wondered. I had been making excuses for years every time I thought about doing something different with myself, or when well-meaning friends suggested a change in hair style or buying a new outfit. I didn't have the time, I didn't have the money, or one of my kids needed braces, tuition, books, car insurance, etc. etc. etc. But, had I actually made a choice to put my own needs on hold instead of being the victim of circumstances I had believed I was? Was I a martyr? Or, was I just afraid of taking a chance at looking good and feeling good about myself?
This particular train of thought did hit an emotional nerve. I had taken a certain amount of pride in my humbleness over the years. 'Poor Bev, she never gets to do anything for herself. She sacrifices for her family so much.' But, what was my excuse now? My last child had left for college months ago, and it was now over six years since my ex-husband had left me to shack up with our daughter's former best friend. The only one truly depending on me for survival anymore was Sadie. I looked down at her, and her expression blossomed as she realized she had my attention. She grunted and rolled onto her back, waiting for the obligatory belly rub.
What was stopping me now from planning my own future, fulfilling my own dreams? Just myself, I acknowledged. But, at this moment, 'myself' had no idea where to even begin. So, with a sigh, I reached down and scratched Sadie's fuzzy belly and smiled when her back feet wiggled in delight. She was so easy to please.
I wandered back to my couch to finish watching my TV shows. I tried hard to lose myself in the familiar characters' lives and forget about my own. But, even chocolate ice cream couldn't block out the questions and the little ideas that were beginning to form in my mind. A tiny seed of hope had appeared. I just wasn't quite sure how to plant it so that it would have even a prayer of growing into possibilities.
Just because I was now living what had become a routine, low-impact life didn't mean that I'd had an easy, uneventful existence up to this point. My life had been far from easy. In fact, there had been many times I felt I was teetering on the edge of complete breakdown, almost wishing for a padded room and mind-numbing drugs over the stress and turmoil I was going through. But, in the last few years, I had found myself a safe, almost insulated emotional cocoon to dwell in. My family still managed to hit me with the shock factor on a pretty routine basis, but it was not the daily, or even hourly basis it had been before. Financial setbacks and surprises still happened, but with only myself to get through them, I usually managed to survive without throwing in the towel. And, though I had never imagined I'd be living in a house all alone in my forties, I had adapted quite well once I realized my stress level dropped tremendously when I didn't have to mediate arguments or hide the bill money all the time. All Sadie required was food, love, and being let out to relieve herself periodically. When the cat came around he was even lower maintenance.
But, somehow, the calm and the sane had turned into the dull and the predictable without my awareness. I thought I was content, but thanks to my night's big revelation, my insulated existence was now being challenged. I was beginning to feel pressure to do something, but had no clue what that something was. I resented this intrusion. 'Leave me alone', I thought, but I already knew I had reached that proverbial point in the road. I either had to make a change of some kind soon, or rot here in stagnation. Somewhere in the back of my subconscious, a distant instruction I'd heard before came forward. 'Find what you are passionate about and go after it with all you've got.' Who had said that? I couldn't remember.
Passion was a very strong emotion. When had I last truly felt any kind of strong emotion? I had managed to rein all my deep feelings into the middle portion of the emotional scale once I moved inside this protective cocoon. I thought back to a time when I used to cry so easily, whether for grief or for joy. I used to empathize with every hurt, every disappointment and every loss of others around me, even fictional characters in books and on TV. I'd sit on the edge of anticipation, hoping and believing in miracles, and in dreams coming true, and that things always turned out right in the end.
But, unfortunately, the middle aged lady whom I had just discovered in the mirror knew that things didn't always turn out right, and though she still believed that miracles could happen, they happened to someone else, not her. The pain of disappointment and betrayal were too much to ever allow herself to be vulnerable to again. The soul-wrenching tears of grief she had shed in her youth were now locked tightly away, and she had no idea where the key was even if she wanted to find it.
I now realized that by shielding myself from pain, I had ultimately shielded myself from experiencing deep, positive emotions in life as well. I had learned over the years that the mountain highs never lasted forever, and that falling to the valley floor of despair had taken too much toll on my ability to keep myself going. So, at some point, I had settled on a safe little ledge somewhere in the middle. From where I was, any sudden fall would not be near as painful. Since the momentum could never build up near as much as it would if I were starting from the top, I would be able to stop myself just short of the valley floor. Planting myself here on my ledge had kept me sane and able to survive for many years. Now I could feel the ground beginning to crumble beneath my feet. Either I was going to have to start climbing back up the mountain or plummet down with the rubble. It was time to look up and see what was waiting for me.
'You can't stay in one spot forever', I reminded myself bravely. 'You don't have to climb the whole mountain, you just have to make it to the next secure level and hold on tight!'
Was the key to change really passion? If so, what was I passionate about? I honestly did not know. I loved my family, and I adored my grandchildren, but they were much of the reason I had settled where I was. Climbing up the mountain and falling down with them so many times, and sometimes even being pushed down by them, had left me broken and bruised.
I liked my job okay. I was good at it and comfortable in it, but I definitely wasn't passionate about it. It was never a dream of mine to work in the City Clerk's Office, that's for sure. The opportunity had just dropped into my lap, so to speak, and I had taken it.
My mind continued to flip through the likes and interests I thought I had, but nothing fit the definition of passion. I began to search farther back into my life. As I dared myself to go all the way back to the time when I remembered experiencing deep and true feelings, I realized that I was holding my breath. But, still, I pressed on, until finally, not counting the births of my first two children, I was able to come up with three things I had been passionate about in my life; God, Music, and Byron Brown.
* * *
When I was growing up in Rockman, you could either be a Methodist or a Baptist. Both churches were built sometime in the 1920's, and both were right there on Main Street. The Methodist Church was the largest in stature, a steeple-topped monstrosity with twenty-four steps leading up to the main entrance. Most everything inside was still original, right down to the hard wooden pews. Carpeting was the only thing that seemed to change, about every twenty years, though it was always replaced with the same burgundy blend as the carpeting before it.
The Baptist Church was smaller, though much larger in membership. It was made of brick, and though it didn't have a tall, competing steeple, it did have a much larger church bell than the Methodist Church. On Sunday mornings the Methodist bell would ring at 9:30 sharp for Sunday School, and then again at 10:45 for the main service. Before the third chime, the Baptist bell would begin to chime, signaling services beginning at their church on the exact same schedule. Sometimes the Methodists would try to hold out longer, or ring a little earlier, to keep from getting trumped by the Baptists, but no matter what time the Methodist bell rang, there was someone ready with the Baptist bell.
My family went to the Baptist Church where we sat in the eighth pew on the left side. We were told of the errors in doctrine being taught just across the street and down one block. Those in the Methodist Church were taught the errors in doctrine being taught to us. However, many plans to meet up together later were made right there on Main Street, when both the Methodists and the Baptists were getting into their cars after services ended at 12:00 sharp. Members of both congregations bonded together at the Moose Lodge during the week, and stood proud and united at all of the local high school sporting events.
A couple of times that I could remember, an independent Pentecostal group would try to start up a new church in town. Once it was in the high school cafeteria, and the other time it was at the grange. Both the Methodists and the Baptists were in complete agreement that the people who attended those churches were obviously in rebellion to God's ordained methods of religious teachings and conduct. Both congregations were warned about the consequences of even walking near their doorsteps on Sunday mornings. No one used words like cult, or heathen, or really questioned the Pentecostals' true salvation. But, how could anyone believe God would hear them over all that dancing and clapping, and, Heaven forbid, rock and roll music they called worship? As if to prove this point, both of their movements fizzled within a few months, and the rebellious members quietly showed back up in the Methodist or Baptist pews, or they went off to join other rebellious 'outsiders' in churches at the County Seat. That was what the locals called the city of Piermont, which was about twenty-five miles west of Rockman.
Sometimes families would leave the Methodist church and start attending the Baptist church, and vice versa. These people were not considered to be in rebellion when they left their respective congregations due to a dispute or difference of interpretation. They would usually explain that God had 'led them' to start attending down the street. But, if they left to attend a new Pentecostal fellowship, they were, of course, rebellious.
Excerpted from And Then I Danced in a Yellow Dress by Tanya Chapman Copyright © 2012 by Tanya Chapman. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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