Firsts

Of all the memories people recall, childhood “firsts” have to rank near the top: first day of school, first time riding a bike, first crush, first kiss, first dance.

More on that in a second.

Back when I was a child, before life removed all the innocence, there was something that I both loved and dreaded: house parties.

While I eventually learned to enjoy them, my first one — at about the age of eleven — was a “first” for more reasons than one. My best friend in elementary school hosted what would become a party that I wanted to last — into the night, just as much as I wanted it to end — from the moment I arrived. The reason: pressure.

I knew that some of the coolest kids would be there, but I also knew that cool kids meant “girls,” including the prettiest and most popular ones at school. Before I left my house, I took one last — and long — look at my hair and outfit, then I walked about three short blocks to my buddy’s house. As I got closer, I could already hear the music, which meant only one thing: Tonight, for the first time in my life, I would slow dance with a girl!

Each of my friends and I knew with whom we would dance. In fact, we made a pact so that no one inadvertently asked the same girl. My dance partner at that party, Dinia, is the one pictured here with her husband Chuck. Although she and I were friends and classmates, asking her to slow-dance at a party was something that made me a nervous wreck!

After bantering and enjoying snacks and punch, the time had come. Someone put on Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’” and my buddies and I collectively moved across the living room toward the girls (we agreed to this strategy during the party). At that moment I felt exactly like Rabbit would years later in the movie 8-Mile: palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. Moreover, I felt like cruisin’ right out the front door.

I didn‘t know where to put my hands; I didn’t know how to move my feet; and I didn’t know if I was supposed to talk during the song. For five long minutes — 5:53, in fact — I swayed from side to side and nervously held on. In the end, I was polite and courteous; and – like a little gentleman — kept my hands at Dinia’s waist.

We never danced again.

Today, she and I are friends on social media, and we’ve chatted and laughed about our “first slow-dance.” And like so many others, we’ve learned — through the windows of social media — a little more about each other’s lives. About marriage, love, and unfortunately, loss.

On September 17, 2016 Dinia’s father passed away — one day before she was to marry the love of her life. With a heavy heart, she decided to do what her father would have wanted.

Chuck and Dinia were married one day later on September 18, 2016.

After days of grieving and some attempts at celebrating, the newlyweds were home — together. Dinia pampered Chuck with a Lush bath bomb, wine, lasagna (his favorite), and intimacy.

By the end of the night, just 12 days after the wedding, Chuck would be gone, too. Passing unexpectedly. Wife by his side.

She says that the pain is unbearable, earth-shaking, and heartbreaking to the core. To move forward she relies on the support from her children (one of whom slept next to her in bed for a period of time) and her faith.

Chuck, in her words, was one of the greatest men on this earth (next to her father). She also says that he was a great example to her son, and always talked about putting the kids first. She never wanted to change one thing about him.

On June 19, 2016, about three months before Chuck’s passing, this was her message to him on a card: Happy Father’s Day to my Big Hulk. I love you so very much, babe! I thank God every day of my life. I can hardly wait to make you my husband forever and ever, until death do us part.

About her own father, she says, “To know him is to love him,” – which she’s had tattooed on her arm in his memory. (Chuck has his place, too.)

If it were possible to gift a memory in exchange for someone to relive a moment, I would borrow words from the late Luther Vandross, play a song that would never ever end, and give back my first dance with Dinia…because I know how much she would love, love, love to dance with Chuck and her father again.

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