Tomorrow would have been the 82nd birthday of the father of my children. In his memory, I have decided to dedicate the day to reading all the “stuff” he kept over the years, even after we had been divorced and he was remarried: a bag full of letters and mementos collected during our relationship, both before and during our marriage. In this way, we were very different. I have done away with almost everything from the past and moved on, lighter, freer… yet perhaps less anchored also, adrift rather than safely docked in the harbor of approaching old age. He seems to have kept everything he could, I will see tomorrow. Already, I shiver with excitement, the memories, love and tears rising even now before I have begun.
My children showed it to me last Xmas asking what I wanted them to do with it. I glanced over a few items and realized I did not want to throw any of it out at that moment, so I took it, tucked it into my suitcase, brought it back to France and placed it on the bookshelf in the hallway. I have not opened it since but, suddenly I decided it would be tomorrow that I would. Memories…
The year was 1961. I had recently dropped out of Barnard College in New York after my first year there and returned home, begun studies in Social Work in a school run by Catholic nuns and taken up volunteer work in the National Hospital for the Handicapped. After not having received any religious education at home, I had just found out that my best friend at the new school was a nun and had begun taking Catechism with her in order to become a Catholic. Needless to say, it was a very confused period of my life and religion had somehow seemed like the best life-boat around.
After my return to Mexico, I had reconnected with some of my old schoolmates from the past and one of them had invited me to her sister’s 15th birthday party on Friday the 10th of November. At that time, a girl’s 15th birthday was the moment for her presentation in society and her parents usually threw an enormous party something like the then fashionable cotillion in New England. I was 19 and not very keen on going to a party for 15-year-olds, so I said that I didn’t have anyone to go with, but my friend immediately countered with the promise of arranging a blind date: the older brother of one of her sister’s escorts who was studying to be a doctor and was supposedly not bad looking. I accepted.
The day of the dance I participated in a fashion show at the Hospital where I volunteered and was on my feet all day. I arrived home around 6pm exhausted and announced to my mother that I was not going to the dance. She immediately told me that, having accepted, it would be very impolite to stand my blind date up; then she dangled in front of me the offer to wear one of her most beautiful red dresses and I was hooked. Truth be told, once I was dressed and made up I felt so beautiful I just hoped my date wasn’t a dead-beat. My parents drove me to the dance hall called ‘Salon Illusion’, a popular place for events at the time, and dropped me off saying that I should have my date drive me home.
As it turned out, he had not arrived yet so I sat at a table with my friend, her date and some other people I didn’t know. I was nervous. It was actually the first time I had been on a blind date and their reputation was not promising. I had visions of some pimply undesirable dancing through my head when my friend announced: “Here he comes,” gesturing towards the door. I looked up and immediately blushed: never had I had a date with someone so tall and good looking; he was like out of the movies. He came over and introduced himself. His name was Fernando and he was every bit a man at 25. Seeing I was flustered, he smiled; it was a magnificent smile: kind and soft, it lit up his whole face. From then on the night should have been a fairy tale but, as it turned out, it was somewhat of a disaster that we would laugh about for many years afterwards.
Once the birthday girl had come down the flowered staircase in the middle of the dance floor, accompanied by her tuxedoed escorts and billows of dry ice, and danced her first waltz with her father and then with each escort, the dancing was opened for all of us and Fernando held out his hand. I had grown up watching my parents dance in the living room forming a beautiful couple and now I had the chance to dance with a man as tall as my father and even more handsome, so it was with great expectations that I took his hand and was led to the dance floor.
We danced… or perhaps I should say: He danced… all over my feet! My future husband was not a bad dancer; he was –in fact- an excellent dancer; I was the one who had not learned ballroom dancing so, in the beginning, I had some trouble following him. But the problem that night was actually my mother’s dress which was tapered down to an unusual narrowness right about 4 inches below the knee. There was no way I could take the adequate step to get my feet out of the way of his rather large ones. He was embarrassed and I was more so, although it was clear what the problem was. Perhaps we should have given up, but we didn’t. He tried to measure his steps to the constraint of my skirt and I tried to keep my toes out of reach of his feet. My shoes took a beating and we spent most of the time apologizing to each other, but we managed to dance till 3 in the morning.
By that time, I was ready to go home and I hinted at it several times with no success. My date didn’t seem at all interested in doing what to me was obviously called for, which was to deliver me to my parents’ house. Finally, my friend –probably tired of hearing my fruitless hints– offered me her chauffer and Fernando immediately asked if he could accompany me. As we both climbed into the back of my friend’s chauffered car, I was at a loss to understand why in the world he hadn’t offered to take me himself. No explanation was offered as we drove to my house. When he walked me to the door that night, he asked for my phone number so –in spite of the fact that he didn’t even try to kiss me on the cheek- I presumed he was interested. I certainly was. I had never been out on a date with a real man before: just boys, usually my own age or slightly older and wanting nothing more than to get into my panties as fast as possible. This was different and I wondered how it would turn out.
But it did… turn out, I mean. Months later we both shared our experience of that first night. I confessed that I had not wanted to go to the dance and that my mother had bribed me into it with the fateful dress, and that I had thought very poorly of him for not offering to take me home. As it turned out, he hadn’t wanted to go to a 15-year-old’s dance party either (after all he was finishing medical school and soon would be a practicing doctor), but that morning his horoscope had said he would meet the love of his life and he had gone to the party to prove it was wrong (destiny is a tricky thing!). As for taking me home, he had heard me from the first hint, but didn’t own a car at the time and had not thought to take any money with him, so he had no idea how to solve his dilemma until my friend had offered her chauffer.
So tomorrow I am going to dedicate the day to him and memories: tomorrow –Friday again, only 56 years, 5 months and three days after that first encounter in a Dance Hall called Illusion.
 His second wife was kind enough to keep this and pass it on to my children after his death in 2012.