Not long ago, Susan and I spent the night playing old records. We got up to dance. Bowie’s Five Years came on. We held each other and swayed. Bowie’s voice was close, our bodies were close. The lyrics poured out: “we’ve got five years, that’s all we got, we’ve got five years,” and I could feel Susan tremble, crying in my arms. We hadn’t been a couple for much more than five years, and it was a beautifully tragic moment and there we were, dancing together.
I fell in love with Susan at a party at her friend’s place. It was near the end of June, 2012, and the promised pleasures that summer offers were beginning to pop up everywhere. It was a warm evening in an urban backyard with trees and plants and grass. I was only just meeting many of her friends that summer. Our exclusive dating was fairly recent and I didn’t really know anyone so I just played wallflower. I sipped from a bottle and watched. There were about a dozen people in the backyard, chatting and hanging out, as music drifted from the kitchen. I don’t recall the song, but someone turned it up and a couple of people started to dance. Susan watched them. I watched Susan. She started to move her hips, and her skirt swayed, while her long hair, draped over her neck, brushed across her back. As a filmmaker, I can recognise wonder and beauty in a moving image when I see it. And like most people when they are being watched, Susan sensed my gaze and turned my way. She caught me looking, but I didn’t make shy and I wasn’t going to look away. She continued to sway to the music, then she smiled at me. Susan has a million-dollar smile, but when I recall the moment, it’s her whole face, and especially her eyes locked to mine, that is the most vivid. And that was that. By the time she turned away I wasn’t the same.
As our campuses were situated downtown Susan and I would often meet on the corner near my school and walk somewhere to eat. If I happened to be early I could always see her coming, even at a distance. In a sea of people, her hair and head bopped from side to side, she had a bounce and a swing in her steps. If she wanted to rush along a little she would chassé for a moment. Lighter than air. And always smiling. I’d like to say the smile only came after she caught sight of me but that wasn’t the case. As for myself it was difficult to be anything but cheerful with that image coming toward me! I’d seen the same thing in the hallway at her school. Sometimes I’d stop by to see her, maybe bring her a coffee or something. And I’d wait by her office and catch her walking down the hall. Same dance, purposeful, happy, with speed and grace.
As a child she had taken ballet lessons. She told me she was a dedicated pupil and had excellent form. She loved those classes. The one thing she wasn’t good at was remembering a series of steps. So in class she always made sure she had another student in front of her to follow. She recounted to me how at one recital she and her classmates had to dance across the stage to a choreographed sequence of steps. Susan, being the star student, was unexpectedly put at the front of the line. Her memory failed her, and without anyone going before her to follow she didn’t know the steps. She fumbled the recital, to the dismay of her teacher.
About two years ago, Susan informed me that she was going to take a ballet class. Okay, I said, not at all surprised. She told me she couldn’t decide between three different classes. One was a classical class, another was a floor class, and well I can’t recall what the other was. She couldn’t decide between them so she took all three. Susan went to her dance classes that winter, every evening, Monday to Thursday. Never missed a class. She’d practice pirouettes and other steps in the kitchen. I’d watch. She wore tights and a skirt most winter days so when she practiced she kind of looked like a ballerina. Sometimes I’d straighten my leg, point my toe, and try to turn. Humorous to say the least. Susan had great flexibility and strength. She could stand facing me, and lift one straightened leg off the ground and point her toes in my face. She was Bruce Lee. She would have made a hell of a prima ballerina, or kung-fu master!
Before Susan got sick, we were hanging out at her flat in NDG. I can’t recall the context of our conversation, but I think it had something to do with CBC radio theme songs. I mentioned how I always liked Bob Kerr’s radio show because he closed it off with Pachelbel’s canon. I found the version online and played it through some speakers in her kitchen. We embraced and danced a slow one. It was a simple dance, nothing much more than a junior high school embrace. As the song ended, Susan was crying a little. She was crying at how beautiful the things are that we humans are capable of creating, of giving to the world. That is one of many instances in which Susan has shown me the wonder of being here. As someone preoccupied with life to a fault, often fueled by anxiety and worry, I miss a lot of things. I’ve seen them. I’ve heard them, but not fully. Not really even at all. That is one of the many gifts that Susan has given me – she taught me how to pause, how to get out of my mind, and to be in something, like a song, a painting, a forest, a sunset, a moment. It’s not always easy for me, not having had enough practice, but I’m better than I was.
And I think in a lot of ways, that frame of mind is what creates that lift in her walk, the lightness in her step, her cheerfulness, her positivity. Even as she faces death, she seems to always find a reason to be dancing.