Introduction to my novel, The Last Dance
After being discharged from the hospital in May of 2017, I began writing a story that I have been unable to shake since the idea first arose three years ago. That simple story is a reflection of the inner workings of my mind. It is all that I am, all that I was, and all that I would like to be. All the characters in the novel are projections of myself, but they are also representations of the various people that will inevitably cross our paths. There are those that come and go and those that stay. There are those that teach us and those that learn from us. Then there are those that seem insignificant, that we do not learn from and that we do not teach. But without them, our stories would be entirely different. I suppose my intention in writing the novel is not simply to tell a story but to capture the essence of life itself. The Last Dance is a depiction of who I am and who you are. It is all of us, for we are inextricably bound.
The Last Dance walks the reader through the transformative journey of twenty-four-year-old Carolyn Baird, a dancer who quit performing eight years before the story begins. Immediately, the reader is introduced to charismatic poet Ares Danserford, who falls madly in love with Carolyn. There begins the affair of a lifetime between a married man and a broken woman. Carolyn, desperate to change though fearing uncertainty, seeks guidance from Opal Everton, a dance teacher with a troublesome past. They form an unusual bond that is put to the test when Opal is diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. Carolyn has to come to terms with the concept of death and determine what it is that she truly believes. As the story comes to a close, Carolyn makes peace with the fact that she does not, nor will she ever, understand the workings of the Universe. She does not know for certain what she believes, but she knows who she is. She discovers that she was never broken; she just lost herself and needed to be found.
Throughout the novel, Carolyn is exposed to timeless lessons about love and life. She looks back on the relationships she formed, and although she does not find all the answers she seeks, she knows in her heart that all is as it should be. In the final chapters of the novel, Carolyn reflects upon the difference between right and wrong, and ultimately, she determines there is none. In the end, there is just love and life. Everything else is irrelevant.
I don’t want to be loved, necessarily. I simply want to love someone else, to feel my heart pulsing beneath my skin as if it were prepared to leap into outer space and twirl among the stars. Who knows? Maybe the hearts of lovers really do congregate in some galaxy out of sight. If that’s the case, I suppose the life we are scouring the cosmos for exists within each of us. It only takes another—a lover, perhaps—to remind us of the true power of the heart, of the Universe that pulses beneath our skin. Ares may be madly in love with another, he may be torn and shattered, but he is beautiful in his own right. His heart sprinkles magic on everyone he comes across, and those who are graced with his presence stand in awe of the poet who seeks to change the world with his words. There is a reason I scarcely dream. I am not skeptical. Rather, I don’t agree with the commonly shared belief that dreaming will lead you to a brighter tomorrow. I say the world is full of dreamers and not enough doers. I will never be a dreamer, but I would like to be a doer.
Instead of immediately pulling my hand away, I let it rest in his for a while. We cover all sorts of subjects, but never once do we mention Opal. We are both concerned about her, but it does us no good to worry about her situation every hour of the day. After all, it is impossible to preserve whatever hope remains if your heart is devoid of love. You could, I guess, consider my time spent with Ares as a rejuvenation of the heart. A string of lights dangles from the ceiling of dinning room, and the reflection in the windows makes it look like the massive body of water stole all of the stars from the sky. What did I say? When you’re in love, the dynamics of the Universe shift entirely. It’s magic and danger, and there is no way I will survive it.
After we eat our meal, Ares suggests that we continue with our pattern and visit a bar, but I object. It’s all right if I love him, but I cannot have him. He is not mine, and he never will be.
“Ares,” I say, “we can’t keep doing this. We can’t keep acting like lovers. Our fate is inescapable. We are destined to see each other again and again, but there is no need to assume a role that does not belong to us.”
“You’re wrong, Carolyn,” he says. “We are capable of changing our fate, of redirecting the planets orbiting through outer space.”
“We can’t disrupt the order of the Universe, Ares.” I don’t believe my own words, but it’s the only thing I can think to say to get him to back away. We are venturing into dangerous territory. Those who enter rarely return.
“I don’t see why we can’t.”
“Of course you don’t. You don’t understand the concept of reality. People don’t just go around saying things like that, and they don’t have passionate love affairs.”
“Wrong again, my dear Carolyn. I do believe you and I have embarked on such a romantic escapade.”
“I love you from the depths of my heart. My love for you surpasses that of the sun for the moon. My love for you is something the Earth has not yet seen and is not yet ready for. I love you as you are because you are. I love you, Carolyn Baird—more than you know.”
When I open my mouth to speak, I’m not sure if the words will pour out or if I will be unable to utter a sound. I knew he loves me. Of course he does. I’ve known it since the day I met him, but I have not felt it until now. His love is unconditional, almost overwhelmingly intense. He is a poet, and poetic was the confession of his love. If ever was there a time when I wish I could reach another’s soul, capture its light in my hands, it would be now. If ever was there a moment I wish would linger into eternity, it would be this one. We are trapped in the moment. It is one charged with energy that feeds my soul and revives my heart. I never would have thought it possible to retrieve something so long gone.
“And I love you, Ares Danserford,” I say, a flame reigniting inside me. Love is passion, and passion is the essence of life. I continue, “I can’t quite express it, but do not doubt that I love you.”
Suddenly, I am overcome by love. It is a love that extends to all of humanity and makes its way back to me. I recognize that only once you have healed yourself may you begin to heal others. I love myself; therefore, I am able to love all of humanity. The path to liberation is one of restriction and confinement. To be free we must break free. Once we do, the world is ours. Freedom is the ability to love, to trust, to hope. It is being detached from the mind and living from the heart and soul. It is love, trust, and hope. I’m not quite free yet, but I’m getting there.
As for the people in my life, they came and went just as people do. Although Ares and I didn’t end up together—star crossed lovers rarely do—I am eternally grateful for what we experienced. He showed me that my heart was still capable of beating for another. There is nothing more that I could have asked for. And as for Opal, well, she taught me everything I know. She taught me by showing me that all of the knowledge I need lies within me. Heaven is no match for her. There is not a star in the sky that shines brighter and not a river on Earth that runs deeper.
More and more people gather around the aquarium, but it does not bother me. Let them gather. Let them enjoy themselves in a world that is so often filled with sorrow. Suddenly, in the midst of the large crowd, I extend my arms like the bird on the windowsill the morning when it all began. Yes, that is when it began. That was when I lost my innocence. We all did. We were oblivious to all that would unfold in the months to come, but perhaps it was for the best. Had we known, we may never have taken the risk. It was not an easy journey, but I suppose none is. I learned about love, and I learned about heartbreak. I learned about them, and I learned about myself. Above all, I learned that the line between right and wrong is easily blurred, that boundaries are easily crossed. I know now that, sometimes, there is no difference between what is right and what is wrong. It is what it is, and that is everything and nothing. So, I cannot justify the blurred lines and crossed boundaries, but I can say that I’m sure as hell glad things happened the way they did.
I close my eyes and and make a wish, one that I need not reveal to you or to anyone. It belongs to me, and I will treasure it dearly. I open my eyes and leap. When I land, I do not wobble. Just as the laurel tree, which has withstood storm after storm, I remain firm. My roots are planted. I am grounded because I know exactly who I am. I am Carolyn Baird. This is not the end of my story. This, here, is the beginning.