And We Danced

21 Jul

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Over the past 33 ½ years since our first date, Carey and I have always enjoyed our athletic activities together.  We’ve played tennis and racquetball, hiked, biked, jogged, kayaked and swam.

And we danced.

Oh how we danced.  For us, dancing was probably the purest example of the unadulterated fun we have had together since the beginning.  And we always joked that it was a win-win situation in that it gave us the added benefit of being a great workout and calorie burning opportunity.  That’s because when Carey and I danced, we left it all out there on the floor.  We jumped around relentlessly, arms flailing, as we sang into spoons pretending they were microphones.  We never sat down until the band stopped for a break.  On each dancing occasion, I’d also unleash my patented signature move–a horizontal free fall to the floor broken by my outstretched palms which, upon impact with the floor and in one motion, thrust me upward into a push-up and back into a perfectly erect standing position.

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But after November 9th, 2010, the dancing stopped.

And neither of us thought it would ever resume again.

Over the course of the past 2 ½ years, we have certainly returned to fully enjoying things again- individually, as a couple, and as a family.  There is something about dancing, though, that just didn’t seem right.  How could we jump around, laugh and sing on a dance floor when our firstborn son had ended his own life?  The answer is we couldn’t.  We had no desire to.  As it related to that one activity, the fire was out. And how terribly sad that was given how much fun we had doing it.  It was so representative of who we are as a couple.  Moving, laughing, singing.

In 2011, we consciously avoided the charity events that would have again put us within striking distance of a dance floor.  But in May 2012, a year and a half after Jeff’s death, we committed to filling a table with friends at the annual Hope’s Door gala.  Carey is a Board Member, and after skipping a year, it was time to again support this amazing organization’s big fundraising event.  During the night, the band played and guests flooded the dance floor.

And we watched.

Four months later, in August 2012, we attended the wedding of an old friend of mine from work.  After the newly married couple completed their first dance together, the guests were invited to join them on the dance floor.

And we compromised.

I looked at Carey, stood up and held out my hand.  She took it, understanding as only your soul mate can, exactly what I was thinking. Slow dancing would be the perfect way to return to some semblance of normalcy in these situations.  And really, what could be better than holding your spouse close and swaying slowly to the music while getting lost in our thoughts about Jeff, about Drew and Brett, about ourselves and about how we got to this place.  It was warm, it was tender and it was loving.  It was just what the doctor ordered.  When the rock and roll started, we sat down.

slow dancing

Just a couple of months ago at this year’s Hope’s Door gala, we slow danced again but, by choice, were merely spectators when the band turned up the energy level.  It was beginning to feel awkward now, and I felt resentment toward Jeff for taking the joy of dancing away from us.  The fact that I had that feeling was yet another tragic outgrowth of Jeff’s absurd and misguided decision.

Then on July 7th, our family attended the wedding of James Rosa, Carey’s first cousin’s son and a terrific young man.  For quick context, James’ mom, Vivian, died of cancer in July 2010 while only in her 40s.  The evening of her wake, Jeff and I met in the city after work and took a taxi out to Queens for the service.

At some point during the wake, Jeff’s blackberry started buzzing repeatedly.  The attorneys that Jeff worked for were demanding that he return to the office to work on deals that I’m sure they thought were critical to the world’s future. They knew full well that Jeff was at his Aunt’s wake and they apparently didn’t care.  I firmly believe that that night was the beginning of the end for Jeff.  As I put him in the taxi to go back into the city, I saw that he was terribly shaken by what had happened and by the heartless behavior of his bosses.  A little over two weeks later, he walked out.  Two weeks after that, he took his first anti-depressant.  You know the rest from there.

And so it was that we were there without Jeff on James’ special night three years later on this past July 7th.   But Carey and I were far from alone.  Drew and Brett were with us, as was Carey’s mom, Aunt Betty, first cousin Athene and husband Tom, and their three daughters- Allie, Nicole and Christa.  After the beautiful outdoor service overlooking the Long Island Sound, and then the cocktail hour, it was time to again face our nemesis, the band.  The first slow dance was easy.  We were old hands at that by now.

I scoped out the men’s room before the band cranked it up.  I was ready to bolt right for it when they did.  But before I could do that, I saw that Carey asked Drew and Brett to dance with her.  That was pretty cool, so I stayed and watched.  How could a mother not feel good about dancing fast with the sons who have propped her up in the aftermath of our tragedy?  It was all good.

Our table was right off the dance floor, so I had a great view of Carey and the boys.  Without warning, Carey looked straight at me, and with a curl of her pointer finger, she summoned me to join her on the floor. In an instant, I felt overcome with emotion, and I froze.  With that one simple signal, Carey was telling me that she was ready, after nearly 3 years, to take an enormous step in our recovery.  We were going to dance again.

After the first few anxious steps, I settled into a groove.  And it felt so good.  But one look at Carey, and I knew it wasn’t enough.  The spark in her eyes was back, and she told me with those eyes what she wanted me to do to make it all ok again–to make it official that we were over the hump.  Words were unnecessary.  She wanted my signature move.

It had been five long years since the last time we danced like this, at another wedding, and I was in another age bracket then.  I figured I could still do it, but I wasn’t totally sure.  But there was no choice.  I looked behind me to make sure the coast was clear, and it was.  On the count of three, I thrust my body forward and kicked my feet out straight behind me.  With my body in free fall, my outstretched palms prepared to absorb the blow.  When they did, I simultaneously pushed up with everything I had, and I sprung back up into a standing position.  It was perfect.  If there were judges on the side, they would have given me a “10”.  But judges weren’t necessary.  Carey’s expression told me all that I needed to know—I had nailed it.

I heard a couple of the bridesmaids shriek, and when I looked to my left, I saw that Brett, the fairest one of us all, had turned white as a ghost.  But I could tell he wasn’t embarrassed.  He was just in a state of shock.  Carey just smiled with the knowing look of someone who completely understood how big this night was for us.  And we continued to dance.

Things will never be exactly the same for Carey and me as they were prior to November 9th, 2010, nor is that a reasonable goal for us to strive for.  It’s just the nature of the situation.  But things are and can be really good, and on the night of James Rosa’s wedding, the conditions were perfect for us to take another giant step.  Surrounded by our handsome and wonderful sons, other family members who we love, including our nephew James—who told me at the start of the reception that Jeff often pops into his mind and will always be a part of him—why wouldn’t we want to dance and celebrate?

AT JAMES ROSA'S WEDDING, jULY 7TH, 2013

AT JAMES ROSA’S WEDDING, jULY 7TH, 2013

With the curl of a finger that was so symbolic of how she has led the way in our healing process since the beginning, Carey once again showed me the way.  But what will always stay with me about this night was that look in her beautiful eyes, the spark that was back in them again, and the way she used them to communicate without saying a word.  Because of her love and leadership, I will never fear the music again.

And the next day, as James and his bride Nicole flew off to Hawaii for their honeymoon, Carey and I woke up that Monday morning knowing that, on the night of their joyous wedding, we too had advanced far down the road on the way to our own better place.

–Rich Klein

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5 Responses to “And We Danced”

  1. Penny Pepe July 21, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    You both are an inspiration..

  2. Marlelne July 21, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    Love you both. xo

  3. Janine Haynes July 21, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    This is one of the most beautiful, moving pieces I’ve ever read. I am in awe of your wisdom to move through your pain and find the joy in the dance of life once again. I’m sure Jeff would not want it any other way. Wishing you and you family continued blessings and healing, and thank you for allowing others to share in your journey.

  4. Anonymous August 23, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    I am a member of kdr. Though I didn’t know jeff personally I’ve heard wonderful stories about him and have often played under the basketball hoop dedicated to his memory. This article was beautiful and it made me cry. Thank you for writing this and I continually support you and your wife’s undying effort towarda recovery and happiness despite your great losses.

  5. James Rosa January 12, 2014 at 11:58 pm #

    I broke down four times while reading this post. It is an honor to be a part of your healing process. You, Carey, Drew, and Brett projected such an amazing energy that night. Nicole and I were so blessed that you were able to share our special night with us. Thank you!

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