Sunday, September 30, 2012

An awakening in the desert

There was this moment, many years ago, when a young woman awakened me to the outside world. We must have been on the cusp of the teen age, for I remember the year. My mom or my teacher had convinced me to sign up for a Cotillion night; learn how to dance the fox trot, the samba, the cha-cha, the waltz and so on. I remember dressing up: shined shoes, pressed shirt, tie. It was spring in the desert; I remember the sage and the wildflowers that perfumed this particular area where I lived in Palm Springs.

The Cotillion was in the Las Palmas neighborhood, down the street from the synagogue many of my Jewish pals went to. Across the street from one of the Catholic churches we would go to when our local parish priest got to talking too much about money, which was often. Eventually that priest ran away with a young woman.

It was nearby the local Youth Club I would frequent which had a photographic dark room. I would refine my Rolleiflex with flash technique at the local dances. And then run to develop the pictures before the event was over.

This particular night, I had no idea what I would be getting into, about to be stung by a queen bee.

The night started off as it did in those days. I was (and am) shy. The first date I remember going on was a Sadie Hawkins dance. The girl asked me.

But this night there would be none of that. We would be assigned dance partners, based on our height.

The young lady I was paired with was blond and sleek. She seemed older to me. Probably a result of living in the city and coming to the desert for the season. Many kids I knew lived in New York or Chicago, and their parents would “winter” in Palm Springs. She seemed worldly.

We learned our dances together and danced them. She liked to lead. She had a confidence that was jarring. My little bubble was getting burst by this amalgam of energy, smiles, verve, blond hair, and a dress that showed off her budding form. She knew how to move. I was putty.

I remember the only time I ever waltzed comfortably. She led. I remember actually enjoying the cha-cha so much I wanted to dance it more. But we had to learn another dance. And so that passed.

There was one break from the dances, when we could relax and get some punch, maybe take a stroll around. I remember this young gal asking me to get us some punch and meet her outside on the patio.

The patio was on the second floor, and we were surrounded by bushes and trees, many in bloom from the warmish winter and the advancing spring. I remember the jasmine and the wisteria, and her perfume, gardenias and roses. It all swirled together and made me dizzy. She had piercing eyes and radiated youth and poise. I fell for her immediately.

One of our last dances before the night was over was the slow dance. This time I led. As I pulled her closer to me, she didn’t resist. She was a flower in bloom, and I was pulling her closer to take in her bouquet and beauty and power. Cheek to cheek was all I needed. A switch had been tripped, and the electricity she stirred in me was something I had never experienced in my short little life.
I never saw her again after that night. We didn’t go to the same school, and for all I know she might have just been in town for a few days. But I will never forget the young lady that lit the fire of passion within me. To this day, when I taste a wine with those similar bouquets of jasmine, gardenia and rose petals, I recall her and that night, many moons ago, under the desert stars, in the flower of our spring.
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