Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dancing in the Dining Room ~ An Essay on Sisterhood & Sadness

If you didn't read my last post - go ahead and read that before you read below. It'll make a lot more sense if you do. I promise. Really.


Dancing in the Dining Room
By: K.M. Walton
Written Summer 2006

Sometimes I cry at television commercials. You know the one where the little girl runs in the screen door to her daddy and runs out a bride, it’s about financial planning but it is still jerks a tear from my eyes. I’m sitting at my dining room table having lunch, television on in the background, when the Southwest Airlines tag line “You are now free to move about the country,” brings me to tears.

Lately airline commercials get to me. Any commercial with an airplane will do… straight to waterworks. They remind me that I’m about to lose my sister Christina and her husband Iain to an airplane. Airplanes usually make people excited because an adventure waits. This time I’m not going on the adventure. I’m staying at home, waiting for things to go back to normal and yet

I know deep down that they never will.

Normal. I’m not sure if that word works here - even “regular” falls short. Was it normal to dance in your dining room? Who dances in their dining room? Aren’t dining rooms for china and linen and being proper? My dining room was typical in appearance. Six chairs, dining table, china cabinet and chandelier helped to make it an ordinary American dining room. Thanksgiving dinner had been passed across my table many times. Birthday cakes cut and wishes made, all normal. It had windows and walls, artwork and curtains, normal, normal, normal.

Don’t let its typical appearance fool you though, this room has a soul. My dining room’s transformation was slow and subtle. It always started with an invitation; it helped move things along and got things going. We called Christina and Iain, the catalysts for fun. They arrived with bags and hellos and so began the changes.

Music was always part of the room’s transformation. The band Coldplay’s song “Trouble,” a main component. It could be Damien Rice or Badly Drawn Boy it really didn’t matter as long as there was music. Music acted like water to a seed and the room thirsted for it to make its transformation. Slow and easy quickly progressed to Madonna or the Chili Peppers. A chair got moved out of the way, then another was moved, space was needed. Usually I’d turn down the lights adding to the metamorphosis. The darkness helped the dining room fall asleep; the dance floor was about to open.

“How can you sit down?” I’d say, actually forcing, the last final touch, the dancing. My husband Todd would then join me and the night would really begin. Judgment never happened, allowing new dance moves to make appearances, adding to the power of the room, each new move fed the magic. There has been a soundtrack to the past three years of dancing in my dining room. Certain songs needed to be played or the night wasn’t right or satisfying. Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” joined the soundtrack this past year.

“I’m just beginning, the pen in my hand, ending unplanned…” she’d sing. That song would be played at least once during the dancing sessions. I used to love that song for the music, Natasha’s voice, when the church choir joins her at the end – all great reasons.

Now the song has changed for me, evolved into something more personal. When she sings, “Reaching for something in the distance, so close you can almost taste it, release your inner visions, feel the rain on your skin, no one else can feel it for you, only you can let it in,” I can’t help but think of my sister and how much I’m going to miss her.

I usually love change; in fact I embrace it at every opportunity. Moving, new jobs, having children, none of it unwelcome. Change excites me and keeps me moving forward. But those are changes I have invited into my life. When Christina and Iain delivered the news of their move to Australia it was like being rear ended while you patiently wait your turn at the stop sign.

It stole my breath and left me with damages, my “ending unplanned.”

I am not without sympathy; I mean Iain is from Australia. His family is there awaiting his return. It was always the plan to go live there for a few years. A few years here however is all it took for Iain to become my husband’s best friend. My youngest sister Christina and I on the other hand have been best friends since she was born. Even though she is eight years my junior, our sisterhood began with immediate love. I loved being her older sister.

I proudly pushed her around in the Acme shopping cart believing people would think she was my baby. My arms were the ones outstretched when she took her first steps in our front yard. Our lives and milestones continued and we shared them together.

She is a very easy person to love, always smiling, so approachable and funny. One night in the dining room her curly hair bounced as she imitated me doing the 90’s dance phenomenon – the Running Man. She included every exaggerated body motion possible as MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” blared from the speakers: the pursed lips, the flailing arms, her head jerking backwards and of course the legs running. We laughed hard, at her and with her. Her sense of humor is goofy and easy to appreciate.

I can’t remember ever arguing with her, no need, we see eye to eye on the big things. Christina doesn’t like to argue, she’s too emotional, too kind. Her big brown eyes fill easily with tears if someone else is upset or crying. I can always count on Christina for real empathy like the feel of your mom’s gentle hand as she took yours before crossing the street; you could count on it, it felt right and natural. Empathy comes naturally for her, which is a gift when you need someone who really understands you.

She is a gift, one I don’t want to let go of just yet. My letting go started this past November at her wedding. The pride I felt at the Acme all those years ago resurfaced as I proudly watched her walk up the aisle to marry Iain. Now my arms outstretch to hug her each time she comes over for a weekend of fun in the dining room. Those moments, those discussions, those slices of magic are precious to me. Moments when I can’t catch my breath from laughing as tears roll down my cheeks are moments of family, but they are memories now.

I know a lot of dining rooms provide families with a place to come together and make memories. But my dining room just might be the most fun dining room ever. My dining room goes further, providing the space for happiness. Breathing life into those moments is a gift I’ll treasure from my dining room. I love what’s been created there. Those dining room weekends are the most fun I’ve had in my whole life.

Without Christina and Iain my dining room will feel empty. They are two of the main ingredients; the cake won’t rise without them. We have new webcams, special phones and promises. We have promises of them coming home in a few years. We have promises of trips to visit down under. I’m not sure I believe any of it.

I know that an era is coming to a close. My dining room is going to be quiet for a while. It needs to sleep. I need to sleep. I can’t wake it up because it’s too sad, no fun anymore.

I don’t want to dance in my dining room without Christina and Iain, it won’t be right and the dining room would know it.