For those of you tuning in for the first time, I’d suggest reading Part I first. Don’t worry, this post isn’t going anywhere!
I didn’t say much to Dick on our way to my first dance competition in Palm Springs. He drove. (Have you ever noticed how the dominant personality always drives? Useless info I learned in film school.) Dick gossiped all about the various instructors, judges, and competitors. As soon as he finished, he warned me not to talk to any attendees about us/ him, because gossip is such an unpleasant thing.
We arrived, checked in, and registered as a couple for two different intermediate competitions. Then Dick registered for two advanced events where he would be assigned a random partner. He dismissively told me I could register for similar competitions, as a novice, “if I wanted,” before disappearing. I fumbled through my own registration forms before wandering the massive hotel like a lost waif. The number of people and vendors was overwhelming. Dozens of ballrooms and meeting rooms held dance lessons, partnering workshops, and even an entire class devoted to “Bedazzling Your Costume Until It Looks Like a Disco Ball.”
There was also a ton of social dancing. I found Dick on the dance floor with another woman. Dick sent her into a superfast spin that required a split-second duck at the end. His partner missed the lead, and the move was abruptly and awkwardly terminated. I had made the same mistake, more than once, when Dick and I practiced. My errors resulted in a terse reprimand from Dick, or the furious clenching of Dick’s jaw, or angry disapproval radiating from every tense limb in the man’s body. The angry energy sometimes took hours to subside.
But when this new women blew it, Dick just laughed and smiled. So did his partner. That used to be us, I thought wistfully. We used to have fun and laugh.
The song ended, and another woman pounced on Dick before he could leave the floor. More mistakes, more laughter. Dick was having a blast.
I was not. The women outnumbered the men something like 3 to 1, and I was too insecure to ask any men to dance before other women snatched them up. Dick moved from partner to partner, smiling. He never once looked at me. I figured that the reason Dick was finally happy dancing again was because he wasn’t dancing with his inept partner.
I slipped off to the hotel room. I needed my sleep, I told myself. So I would be rested and ready for our competition.
I was still awake when Dick finally returned, hours later. He said, “You should have danced with as many men as possible, so you could be familiar with their moves in case you get partnered with them in competition.”
He never asked me if I wanted to practice. I suspected he’d given up thinking we could win as a couple. His only chance at a trophy would be events where he was judged individually.
I rolled away, to the furthest corner of the king-sized bed, and failed to fall asleep.
Dick and I competed as a couple early the next morning. I followed his lead perfectly in both dances, sleep-deprivation be damned. I didn’t throw up. (Not puking was probably the bigger triumph.) As soon our dances were over, we were mobbed. Yes, “we.” Dick had his groupies, of course. One of them condescended to inform me that, “Dick could make a broomstick look good.”
Surprisingly, I had a few fans of my own. Adam, one of my instructors, hugged me, beamed, bounced up and down, and yelled, “That was great! You were fantastic! I can’t believe how well you did out there! I was blown away!”
I smiled and whispered, “Thank you. Would you tell Dick that?”
Adam looked shocked. “What? He didn’t tell how fabulous you were?!”
I shook my head. Adam turned to Dick instantly. “Dick! What is wrong with you?! Autumn was awesome, you should be thanking her! You tell her how great she was this instant!”
Dick laughed it off, grinned sheepishly, and said not a word to me.
Which was fine, because other dancers came over to congratulate me, including my future buddy KL. Men suddenly sought me out and asked me to dance. With the stress of competition over, I relaxed a little, danced, and actually had fun.
I made it to the finals in both random dance partner competitions.
Dick did not.
When the awards were given out, Dick and I took first place in one competition, second in the other. Dick was livid when he saw which couple had beaten us. “Jessie,” he hissed under his breath. “I should not be losing to JESSIE.”
I won first place in the random partner competitions. Dazed, I collected two more plaques, plus a big cash prize.
Dick’s version of congratulating me was: “You can buy dinner with all that cash.”
I took him to Del Taco.
Dick disappeared for almost a month after Palm Springs, muttering something about needing space or time to work stuff out or some other bullshit.
I refused to call him. Not because I had a shred of resolve where Dick was concerned. Had he crooked his little finger, I’d have run back to him. But he didn’t. And if he didn’t want me, well, I didn’t want him. I still pined for the heady romantic days of our early relationship, even as I finally began to recognize what an unmitigated asshole Dick had turned out to be.
I hung my plaques on the wall of my apartment, stopping to admire the plaques I had won on my own. The ones that said “First Place.” I thought of all of Dick’s insidious insinuations – spoken and unspoken – that I wasn’t good enough. Not a good enough girlfriend, not a good enough partner, not a good enough dancer.
And oh, how I wished I’d hit him over the head with a first place plaque and said, “How do you like them apples, DICK?!”
I called Adam, told him I was Dick-less, but that I still wanted to compete. He set me up with a Pro-Am coach. Another instructor asked me to join her swing dance team. I found a new competition partner. His dancing wasn’t on the same level as Dick’s, but neither was his asshatery. We had a pretty good partnership for a few years, advancing through the ranks until he got another dancer pregnant and she insisted they partner up. (Except it turns out that maybe wasn’t his kid after all, but that’s another post. Or perhaps just a trite plotline for a future dance soap opera. Your move, Hollywood!)
About the time I never expected to hear from Dick again, he finally called. He was ready to talk, he said. There was a dramatic pause, and then Dick said, “I don’t think a relationship between us would ever work.”
I snorted. “No kidding. Not unless you get some therapy.”
Dick laughed. Which was ironic. First time he’d laughed with me in months, and I WASN’T JOKING.
“I’m serious,” I told him. “I’m not going near you again until I see the receipts from your therapy bills.”
I asked, “So did you work out what you needed to work out? Like how you should apologize to me?”
Dick said he’d done some soul-searching, recommitted himself to Catholicism, and that, of course, was why our relationship would never work out. Since I didn’t believe in God. Dick did not apologize to me, nor did he ask for forgiveness. Well, not from me, anyway. Maybe God accepted his apology and forgave him.
Me, not so much. I couldn’t forgive him any more than I could forgive myself for being so weak and dependent.
We said good-bye. It hurt, but the month away from Dick had given me the space I needed to recognize a miserable relationship and let it go. I hung up, and giggled uncontrollably for a good five minutes.
Because I was an atheist, but the Catholic Church had saved me.*
*For the moment. Two years later, Dick resurfaced with the receipts to his therapy bills.