Dance to Silent Music

Tupelo Park, Rocklin, California 2019

Though the hunched figure of Bill Evans and his dancing fingertips often comes to my mind, Waltz For Debby has moving lyrics that would make any parent’s eyes swell. For a father with three girls, the brutality of the inevitable in Gene Lees’ lyrics pack a punch to the soul. Each daughter will become Debby at some point.

I’d sung the old jazz tune I recalled from my middle school days and the 30-minute commute to school with my sister, whose love of Kurt Elling and Manhattan Transfer often seeped into my subconscious. Even before the idea of children, the words haunted me. A porcelain pure girl who leaves her dolls and her prince and her silly old bear when adulthood corrupts her imagination. I guess the same could be said for myself except with dinosaurs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and my Sega Genesis.

Not long ago, with my youngest daughter’s legs dangling from my shoulders and her hands resting atop my scalp as we walked home, she asked me to sing her a song. In that moment, I sang Waltz For Debby to her, holding her ankles in my massive hands under a setting summer sun. When I finished, she asked me to sing it again.

“Really? You like that song?” I asked her and she emphatically replied, “Yeah!”

So we walked together and I sang this melancholy tune but, the gravitas of these lyrics and the weight of this life upon my shoulders, still enraptured in her own dolls and her own prince and her silly old bear, pressed through muscle and bone until it flicked my paternal heart. The words choked when I sang of her leaving these delights of her innocence and how her toys of her youth will miss her, I fear, but then so will I.

As we approached our home across Tupelo Park where the grass usually swept under her feet as she raced across after her older sisters, I found myself clinging to those icons of her girlhood. Could I let go of her silly old bear? When she whispers goodbye to her dolls, do I have the strength to release them as she had? I fear, as I do with all of my girls, that the moment where they cease to dance to silent music, to those songs that were spun of gold somewhere in [their] own little heads, will I keep dancing to what the past held?

The paradox of parenthood rests in the ability to smile while shedding tears as the classroom door shuts behind them. The strength to push them to rise after a hard fall on the asphalt while panic surges through every vein. The restraint to allow them to miss the shot or hit the wrong note or utter that curse word so they can battle against the downpours life will send at them. To cry for the new life they bring into the world while still holding to those visions of silly bears and dolls.

My masculine mind finds confidence in my ability to disconnect and accept change, but the waltz of my daughters is a powerful melody and I hope I never stop dancing completely. I hope I can whisper goodbye but still dance to their silent music.

 

N.T. McQueen is the author of the novel, Between Lions and Lambs, The Disciple, and the children's book, Moses Jones and the Case of the Missing Sneaker. He received his MA in Creative Writing from CSU-Sacramento and his work has appeared in issues of Fiction Southeast, The Kentucky Review, The Grief Diaries, Gold Man Review, Camas: Nature of the West, Transition Magazine, West Trade Review, and others. He lives in Northern California with his wife and three children and teaches writing at American River College.