NW Folklife Festival
I saw that look you gave across the line. The look that says, “Why have you people come to ruin my amusements.” You, with your faded purple moon-child skirt, your salted, mousy hair, your well-earned wrinkles, mouth parentheses from frowns, not smiles. At least not smiles to earnest little boys, with hands the size of sparrows, and a heart beating just as wild and fast.
You take pride in your community of folk dancers. You welcome everyone, from the non-binary male in a tutu, to the un-deodorized scrawny boomer, to the smatterings of lesbian couples, to the teens in steam-punk garb. All these stereotypical outcasts are embraced here, and it’s a wonder, a joy, to behold. But you, you are just happy they know the steps. The casting, the pixie turns, the cross-heys. They have a firm grasp on your fingers and on their lefts and rights. So yes, you welcome them with self-satisfaction as you glide in perpetual motion down your dance, pat yourself on the back of your natural-fibered flowing tank top, lift your chin a little higher when you simply see “partner” across your aisle, with a studied liberalism that surely flies from your mouth in condescending and learned phrasing, but has never roosted in your heart.
Oh, you should have seen us earlier! He learned to Cajun dance, his bony shoulders squared to me, his quick-quick-slow sending me steadily across the dance floor, his hot head against my belly, reminding me he fit there inside me once. He never ran us into other dancers, just turning and grinning and sighing with contentment. The instructor praising the great job he did.
So he came here now, to your dance floor, proud and excited, just wanting to dance with his mommy again.
Is it that he is unabashedly a boy? Is that what set you askew? No matter. You decided your role the moment the music began, and I’ll never know from what rotting root it sprung.
And your decision was this: you shamed and embarrassed my son, you manhandled and growled at a seven-year-old child, you shoved him into the hands of strangers, then you snapped at his mother, hissing for me not to help him. And for what? Your moment to shine? Your moment to prove to the other dancers that you were one of them? That you were not some amateur mucking up the 1s and 2s? That this wasn’t just a hobby to enjoy, but a skill to be conquered and you veni vedi veci-ed like a Wagnerian Valkyrie? As if it weren’t obvious to everyone that a little boy was struggling to turn the right way, just waiting for the part he got to swing in a circle in the middle with his mom.
We were with you for less than thirty seconds of a fifteen-minute dance, but your utter scorn for my boy reverberated through his still soft and supple mind. When I ask him to dance swing with me later, he will decline. And both our hearts will find new fissures.
But not yours. No, yours is intact, swelling with satisfaction at your swirls and your twirls and your allemandes. Completely oblivious to the scoop you took, like a spilt-flavor gelato, out of my son’s sunny heart.
It isn’t kind of me to wish you ill, and kindness is the number one rule in our house. Yet somewhere in the quiet hollows of your mind, perhaps clawing all the way back to the places you do not visit, the places of your own insecurity, your own failings of courage; like the princess on her towering pile of mattresses with that incessant, insistent pea, I hope you feel a modicum of the shame you cast so blithely on my boy. So that the next time a child, with eager eyes and a snow-cone-stained smile stands next to you in the line of your precious, precise dance, you will bend to his height, look him in the eyes and say, “We are going to have a wonderful time.”
And yet, when I look into a pair of wide, olive-green eyes, a small hand slips into mine with a squeeze, and for a short, tender moment, I can breathe hope.