It was a moment teenage boys dream about… mesmerizing. Tall, coltish, slender with long honey-blonde hair, and though only 17 (near to turn 18), the budding curves of the woman she was becoming were there. She turned as she danced, raising her hands over her head to lower and slowly trace—without touching—the line of her shape from ribs to thighs. They lifted to follow the same line and further to clear the veil of hair that covered her face, piling it up and letting it fall. Through mussed hair, I saw her gray-green eyes close and a slight smile, just showing the edges of her teeth, form on her lips. The pulse of the music washed over me to sink into my bones. The song ended; she swept the hair from her face again and stepped down. She returned to a nearby table where she had been sitting with a friend. Not one boy approached her.
I was usually a quiet guy, a private person (notwithstanding my writing of personal vignettes like this one). Not that I was shy but because I was, and still am, not a chatty person or everyone’s buddy, life-of-the-party type of person. But I liked what Teresa had done. We lived in a relatively small town of about 36,000. I knew her only slightly—she went to a different high school—but she’d also impressed me as the quiet type. She was pretty but not Barbie-doll perfect or carefully crafted and maintained to seem so. Not the girl every boy was after…, not the rah-rah-school-spirit, in the school’s most popular clique, kind of girl. And I wondered what made her do something extraordinarily intended to draw attention. So, I went and asked her. “What was that?” and gestured at the table she’d danced on.
“I love the song, and no one asked me to dance. So, I danced anyway,” she said.
The deeper meaning behind that feeling and how important that basic philosophy would become to me… flew right by. But I knew she’d done something brave. At that moment, I sensed she had felt at odds. Different from her peers… wanting to do… instead of wait… and decided on something entirely unexpected to celebrate how she felt about herself. That I understood completely. When the next song played, I asked her to dance. Afterward, she left for work, and I returned to my friends. A few days later, I asked her out, and she went to prom with me, and we dated a bit.
Soon it was graduation. A couple of months later, I was off to boot camp and saw significant changes in my life, new worlds, and new experiences. Teresa and I did not stay in close touch. Many months later, I came home on leave, and she still worked at the Burger Shef on Central Ave. I went to see her and saw she had taped a recent picture of me to her cash register. [The photo Teresa had was taken after a workout on my ship. My mother had given it to her.] So, I guess we connected, each giving the other something extraordinary, even briefly.
I’ve found in my life—more times than not—that what ‘feels right’ for me is the best way to go. I’ve done so many spur-of-the-moment things most people might never do. Because some norms of convention bound them or by their innate reservation or reluctance. Maybe even fear of being that ‘free.’ Being spontaneous and making it work out, especially on important matters, takes contextual judgment based on experience. So young people need to tread carefully. But at the moment… little things like dancing when you want to dance, singing when you want to sing… the ‘rightness’ of it fills you, and you just have to do it. Not for others, but for yourself. Not caring what others think. I think such innocuous things to be ‘no harm, no foul.’ Do it.
Teresa remained in our hometown, and when I left the Navy, I did not return to stay. I hadn’t thought about her since 1982. Then one day, I heard the song Brickhouse again for the first time in decades. It spurred that memory of Teresa dancing at Tiffany’s. So, I wrote this vignette. After finishing, I shared with my readers (receiving some immediate comments back):
“Best story to a song I’ve ever read. Damn, Dennis. You make girls fall in love writing this way!” –Nina A.
“What a beautiful story, thank you.” –Lisa Marie
“I loved this story!!! I’m often the quiet lone dancer.” –Michelle C.
Then I went online to see what news I could find of Teresa. The juxtaposition of my memory of her, so alive in that moment, with what I found… jarred me. And I took this vignette down and kept it so until thinking again about it and her and deciding to add this tragic epilogue.
Teresa’s obituary told me she had died on December 13, 1998. She was only 37 years old and left behind a husband, two sons, and two daughters.
I stared at it and closed my eyes—feeling tears pool behind closed lids—as I sorted through my feelings. Ours—Teresa’s and mine—was a mere passing moment of mutual attraction… of closeness. One that many people experience, especially early in their near-adult lives. And I’ve had friends and loved ones die, several shockingly sudden and too soon (as with Teresa). Death is an experience everyone is touched by at some point. It visits more often the older we get, and soon… it’s there for us. Still, discovering the news of Teresa’s death moved me. I sat there for a few minutes considering the ‘mortal coil’ articulated by Shakespeare in Hamlet. I thought more about Teresa and decided to append this ending and re-post this vignette. Though a painful and sad element has been added, I think its message is worthwhile. Forty-five years later, I remember Teresa and why she danced that day in 1978. And I hoped that for the twenty years she lived beyond our brief time together, she had a good life that brought her happiness. Because there was a time when she brought it to me. And because… “She was mighty… mighty….”