They fell in love to disco's Last Dance. It would be the last dance they have together.
| LAST DANCE
We became lovers at the height of the disco era. A time when nightclubs all across the country were overflowing with vibrant bodies writhing to the beat of Donna Summers’ “Macarthur Park” and Alycia Bridges’ “I Love The Night Life.”
I was living with Michael at the time in a small, shotgun style duplex on the fringe of the small gay community in a large southwestern city that wouldn’t even acknowledge homosexuals much less tolerate us.
I had moved in with Michael when I broke up with Nona, my second lover. I was adrift from the break up of my seven-year relationship and had never lived alone. Michael suggested that I move in with him He was my lifesaver at a time when I was at a loss as to what to do with myself.
Michael and I worked at the local phone company together as operators, and we had become hard and fast friends. We did everything together. I loved Michael in so many ways. There would only be one other relationship in my life that would equal the one I had with him.
Michael was a tall, thin easy-going guy with sandy brown hair and light gray eyes. He was soft spoken and at the time he was adrift too, so he was very understanding of my situation, and I was very grateful for his offer of refuge.
Mike and I had a friend named Stephanie, who it just so happened was down on her luck too, so she moved in with us, and the three of us would spend the late hours of the night after we got off work cruising the discos, drinking, and dancing to the hot and heavy beat of Tvares and the Village People. When we weren’t doing that, we were at home listening to those tunes on the monster stereo that I had recently bought. The music was awesome, and it would propel us up off the couch and into the middle of the living room to dance the latest disco steps. We were so dedicated to our art that Mike ordered a dance lesson package off the television that included the cardboard cut outs of feet that you placed on the floor and followed them to learn the steps to the latest hustles. It didn’t do us much good, but we loved the entertainment it gave us when two of us were watching the other one trying to hit the marks to the beat of the music. Miller Lite was available for all of us whether we hit the marks or not.
At work, I found myself falling in love with one of my supervisors. Her name was Dorothy. She was the most popular of the six supervisors we had. She had one of those gentle auras that washed over you and made you feel like at that time and moment you were the only thing that mattered to her.
One day I was sitting in her office and out of some unknown desire, I cannot to this day explain, I decided to tell her that I was in love with her. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and passed it to her across her desk because there were so many people in earshot. She took the piece of paper from me, read it, and then looked at me for what seemed like forever. Finally, she said, with a beautiful smile, “This is okay as long as it never hurts you.” Well, what does that mean I wondered and smiled back as if I fully understood while my mind went over the possible meanings? I mean there was the supervisor/employee relationship now in existence but that was my least favorite option. We could become good friends outside the office. That wouldn’t be bad but still not my desire. We could become lovers, partners now this option plugged in nicely to the electricity snapping all around me.
I left her office not sure of where the relationship was going but thrilled at the possibilities. I decided I would call her at home, have a conversation that was unlike what I could have in the office, and see what I could detect. There was one problem with this picture though. She was married. Well, that hadn’t stopped me before. I was in love and finally, after a year of personal pain and loneliness, I was feeling alive again.
It took me a few days to get up the courage to call her, and I was very secretive about it. I didn’t want Stephanie and Mike to know. Little did I know they had already detected the change in me.
One Friday evening, I found myself alone in the duplex. Mike and Stephanie were at work. I picked up the phone and dialed the number of Dorothy’s home. My heart was trying to pound its way out of my chest. Would she appreciate the call or reject me? After a few rings, she answered, and I felt that at least the gods were smiling on me and would rescue my heart at the same time. After all her husband could have answered at which point I would have been forced to abort the mission.
As we began to have conversations whenever possible, I discovered that her marriage was not as perfect as everyone at the office thought it was. Her husband was extremely controlling, and she was very lonely and unhappy but had never considered getting out until now.
We sealed our love and commitment in her Mercedes one afternoon sitting in a shopping mall parking lot, where we had met secretly. We kissed for the first time
Late one night, Mike and Stephanie and I were sitting in the living room listening to music and watching the picture tube when the doorbell rang. We all looked at each other and shrugged. “Who could that be?” Stephanie asked.
“It’s probably Mike’s white knight.” I laughed as I watched him answer the door. A funny look came over his face. He was looking at me when Dorothy stepped into the room. “Hey” I said, as I jumped up from the couch to greet her.
“I hope I’m not intruding,” Dorothy said.
“Not at all,” Stephanie answered.
“Come in,” I said, offering Dorothy a seat in one of the two chairs. “What are you doing out so late?” I knew her husband would never approve of this. I was also a bit off guard because she and I had agreed to keep our relationship a secret for now. We were planning to move in together, but she wanted to pay off some of her bills and get a divorce first. Now here she was standing in my living room at 2:30 in the morning.
She looked at me and asked if she could talk to me alone for a minute. I said sure and followed her outside to a porch swing. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
She took my hand. “I can’t listen to him one more minute,” She said, speaking of her husband. She went on. “He knows something has changed, and his way of handling it is a nonstop tirade at me. Talk, talk, talk. I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to take it anymore.”
As I said, her husband had ruled her life for 27 years. He had long since ceased to see her as a life partner. She was a paycheck, housewife, and cook.
“I’ll kill him,” I said.
She smiled, “That won’t be necessary.”
“You are welcome to stay here. It’s not much, but we have a lot of fun.”
“I’m sorry about this,” she said “I know we said we would keep it secret.”
I was delighted. “It’s no problem. We just have to change our plans.”
The strains of Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” began floating through the open screen of the storm door. We sat quietly just listening for a minute then I took her by the hand and said, “Come on, let’s go dance and forget about this for now.” A big smile crossed her face, and she followed me into the bright lights of what would become our world.
We danced all night, periodically collapsing from exhaustion and laughter. She danced with all of us, and it seemed as though she wanted to dance forever.
Dorothy stayed with us for about a week until the lawyer we chose advised her to go home for divorce reasons. He said she needed to throw Harold out of the house, or it would look like she had abandoned him. Reluctantly, she went back to the modest, three bedroom house in the suburbs. Then, to Harold’s surprise, she divorced him.
We set about building a life together. We were always perfectly happy being with each other, but we built a universe of family and friends. Although Dorothy had been married for 27 years, she took her newly found lesbianism very seriously. She came out of her closet and never looked back. She had no regrets and never cared what other people thought.
At first we partied everywhere. --Discos, private parties, Miss Gay Extravaganzas, we went to them all. We gave parties of our own and didn’t have to have much of a reason to do so.
She would cook breakfast, and I would cook the dinner. On our days off we would get in the car and just drive as far as we wanted to, having deep conversations. Then we would turn around and talk all the way home. On some of these trips we stopped at museums, historical places, mansions, and Indian villages. We took lots of pictures of each other and the places we visited. She with the little compact 35mm that I had bought her when I was away at the company school and me with my more complicated single lens reflex.
We shared the same music, books, and art. We got a big kick out of throwing out the awful furniture that Harold had chosen and bringing in the new that we had so carefully shopped for. The waterbed was especially a favorite for it provided us with something we came to call free form sex.
I dressed her in elegant dresses and suits, bought her more jewelry than she had ever had in her life. I got to know not just what I liked to see her in but what she loved to dress in. I bought perfume by the ounce rather than by the spray bottle, and just for kicks I sent miniature roses and daisies to her on the job signing the card with only one word--love.
Our first Christmas together she gave me a simple serpentine necklace, and when she put it on me, she gleefully declared that if I even looked at another woman it would give me a gentle shock and then when we got home she would give me a bigger shock. She indulged my passion for electronics and cars and shared my joy when I got my first pair of Reeboks. When swatch watches hit the scene, I began to collect them, and she gave me most of the ones I have. Clothes never meant much to me until she came into my life. Then I felt a desire to look as good as she always did.
In 1982, I took a higher paying job with the company. We no longer worked in the same building together, but that was okay because being in another location allowed me to send her flowers for no reason at all other than because I loved her dearly. It tickled me that all of those disapproving people I left behind knew it was me who had sent them. She took it all in stride and couldn’t have cared less what those people thought.
In 1984, Judge Harold Green was successful in breaking apart the last and greatest of all US monopolies, AT&T. My job went with AT&T, and Dorothy’s remained with the local bell company. We were outraged, but there was nothing we could do. We felt the same way, in 1991, when AT&T phased out my job in Oklahoma and offered me a job in Georgia. I was stressed by it, but to Dorothy it was an instant adventure.
The idea of living in another state was scary to me. I had never lived anywhere but in Oklahoma, but to her it was a instant adventure. We had endless conversations that hashed over all of our options. We fretted over some of them, agonized over others, and leapt for joy still yet over others. Then one day the local bell company gave us the answer we were looking for.
Bell decided to downsize their management staff and to do that they offered to pay a lump sum of money as a bonus to go with the manager’s retirement benefit. That was all we needed to make our own life decision. Dorothy accepted that offer.
While we were waiting for paper work and all to go through, we set about the business of selling our house. Once that happened, we rented a small house for Dorothy not far from her office, and I set off for Atlanta, Georgia on a sunny, spring day in late April.
We were so excited about our new life in a vast and mysterious city that it didn’t bother Dorothy to do all the driving between Oklahoma and Georgia until Thanksgiving holiday when she and my cousin moved the last of our belongings to Georgia and she became an official resident.
Oddly enough one month later we drove back to Oklahoma City for the Christmas holidays rather than stay and share an intimate one in our new lair. We wanted to show the relatives how happy we were. We returned to Georgia a few days after the New Year’s revelry and with exuberance set about our new life. Dorothy had decided that she wanted to continue to work and so she read the job ads religiously. If something interesting came along she was going to take it immediately. In the meantime she was a wonderful housewife. Something she had never been in all of her adult years, and I enjoyed it selfishly.
The winter was mild compared to what we were used to, and many days with a jacket and camera in hand we went out to explore everything from the concrete jungles of Atlanta to the towering pines of the north Georgia mountains. It was all beautiful and fun to us. In early March you could see the little heads of tulips and jonquils pushing up from manicured gardens. Buds on trees and bushes were bursting out of stout, sap-filled tree limbs. A wintry sun rose each morning to encourage nature into a slow revival.
It was a day like this when Dorothy and I sat together in Dr. Manning’s office and listened to him tell us that she had cancer. We were stunned and instantly afraid. It was not what we had expected after all she was just having trouble swallowing her food from time to time. “A rare stomach cancer,” he went on, “that will require aggressive treatment and even at that the prognosis was not good. Chemotherapy would be the first line of defense.” The words stomach cancer rang in our ears as we made our way out of his office and into our car. As we drove away, tears began sliding slowly down our cheeks betraying our worst fears. “I don’t want you to die.” I whispered. She began a regimen of chemotherapy the next week, and I changed my hours at work to the midnight shift so I could be with her. It went on until July when the doctors decided that they would have to operate. They said that the operation was one of two of the most invasive chest cavity operations that could be performed and it would be dangerous.
Dangerous was about all they told me. I came to have the feeling that these medical personnel did not respect my partnership with Dorothy and thus did not feel they needed to share their knowledge of her case. I found myself learning hard and painful lessons when she passed out in the shower because the chemotherapy had destroyed vital blood cells. Panic ceased me at first but I managed to phone the doctor and he advised that she should be rushed to the hospital. I got angry with them when they broke her ribs during the surgery and didn’t tell us they would metastasize and cause her the worst pain of all. She could no longer lay down to rest and I could not find a way to ease her pain in any way. Over many months there came a time when she settled into a recliner next to the fireplace, watched television, and dozed when she could. Our long conversations turned into questions and answers. The doctors knew the time of death was drawing near, but they did not feel the need to tell me. Consequently, on Nov 11, 1993, when she was rushed to the hospital after having collapsed on the garage floor when returning from the doctor, it came as a tragic and painful surprise to me when she died that evening. I had followed the ambulance to the hospital and stayed in the emergency room until she was stabilized and moved to a room. Then I kissed her for what was to be the last time and promised I would return after I had slept for a while. I left the hospital believing this was one more of those many times, but it wasn’t.
The ringing of the phone jarred me out of a restless sleep. I wrestled it out of its cradle and said hello.
“I’m sorry, Skipp,” the duty nurse said, “She passed away a few minutes ago.” Then she hung up.
I sat on the edge of the bed feeling a rush of emotions flood my chest, choking off my air and making me dizzy. I struggled to get grounded willing the sanity I needed to get to the hospital.
This hall has gotten longer, I thought as I made my way along it holding on to the wooden banister. I hesitated at the room for a minute then slowly pushed open the door. A crushing silence drew me inside making me a part of the scene. I became aware of my soul bumping around inside of me at the same time I realized Dorothy’s soul was no longer in the room just an empty shell laid out neatly on the bed. The control that I had so carefully exercised over my emotions for the past two years failed me. Tears clouded my vision and something closed off my throat. I thought I would disintegrate before I got the door open again. Finally, I managed and I fled as quickly as I could back down that long hallway and out into the crisp, blue night where I searched frantically for my car. Once I found it I threw myself in, slammed the door and slapped the lock then I dropped my head to the steering wheel and sobbed out all the misery that I had carried through this tragedy.
Dorothy had requested that she be cremated. She wanted her ashes returned to her birthplace. Port Arthur, Texas. So I went there and I found a young seaman who was willing to take me a short ways out into the Gulf of Mexico. His boat was small but he was kind and gave me as much privacy as he possibly could. I began to trail the ashes slowly into the small, white-capped waves and spoke softly the words from Donna Summer that had bound us together on that hot, sweaty night so many years ago—“Last dance…Last chance for love.”