Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Baryshnikov Meets James Dean
Patrick Swayze is dead and I am crying.
I don't have time to cry now. I have to get to work, read papers, go to a curriculum meeting. But I am instead in my office at home destroying the makeup I just put on.
I was nineteen when Dirty Dancing came out in August, 1987. My father and I went to see it in late August, just a few weeks before he died. As far as I know, it was the last movie he saw in a theater. I've always equated the last song of the film, "The Time of My Life", with Dad's death. I like to imagine, though I have no idea, that if Dad could have, he would have gone out singing that song.
When Patrick Swayze leapt from the stage into the audience in the final dance number, I like to think I felt a little like young girls felt when they saw Elvis for the first time. Swayze's virility, his presence, his devotion to the moment of the music still makes me catch my breath. To move, not because the next dance step calls for it, but to move because your body responds in full force and without your conscious direction to the music, is one of the deepest sexual and life-affirming things to witness.
Dirty Dancing was perhaps not the most intellectual of movies. Not the most challenging of films. But if you were a young woman in 1987, I'll bet you remember watching that man move across the screen and wiggle something awake inside of you. I'll bet you remember his line, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner," and I'll bet you remember feeling something unexpected in your chest and in your spine when he looked Jennifer Grey straight on and with just a twitch of an index finger, made her shake.
Last week, I had to buy reading glasses. +1.50. The girl watching Patrick Swayze in 1987 couldn't imagine reading glasses. Couldn't imagine most of what her life has become, but most of all, couldn't imagine what it feels like to clearly no longer be the kid. Forty-one may be the new thirty-one -- whatever -- but perception and vitamins don't change the biology. I am stepping into a different space as I leave hippy clothes and peace signs and some of the openness of youth. I realize that there are things I will probably never do in this life. Some doors may open wider, but some doors do shut forever.
Friday is the 22nd anniversary of dad's death. Last night, Patrick Swayze died, and today I am crying. I am remembering that moment when it seemed, just like when Swayze leapt into the audience, that the future would always be huge, everlasting, ever expanding, and completely mine.