Dirty Dancer

The summers of my childhood all mesh into one big blob of unadulterated time spent playing video games, cutting the grass, riding my bike and swimming. In that order.

All but one. The summer of 1987.

Those who are Kids of Divorce all remember that first summer they spent as Kids of Divorce because it was different in so many ways. Time off from school challenges parents pretty tremendously – childcare, camp, activities, etc. – and for those divorced parents, the challenges shift around everything in such an obvious way that, when you’re the kid, it ends up being the first time you really feel like your family is Divorced with a capital D.

My parents split up that May, and it’s fair to say that despite how Divorced we all felt, it was the best summer of my life. The divorce is important to mention because it was the first time my stepmother, Lynette, was taking part in parenting me and my sister. And had it not been for her, Dirty Dancing might not ever have been tied in so intensely with my memories of that summer. Lynette was the most crisp, hip, breath of fresh air to come into my life, and she knew why the movie was all the rage, why the soundtrack was so awesome and why JP was being a bit too strict when it came to keeping our young eyes from seeing it.

Without a doubt, Dirty Dancing was one of the best movies I could have watched that summer as it was the first summer a boy liked meĀ  – really liked me! – and befriended me for real and spent time with me and teased me and then kissed me by summer’s end, because when you’re 11 and 12 it truly takes weeks and weeks before you work up to kissing each other as it should be.

I still remember riding my bike home, after that kiss, and how possible everything in my life seemed because oh my God it was going to start, finally, jeez. We were watching Gilmore Girls last night and Lane is talking with Rory about finally having a boyfriend and someone to love and all I kept thinking was how I was the same way once and there I was, now, sitting on my couch, with my husband, free to lean over and plant one on him if I wished with no nervousness or hesitation.

And so I did.

But I digress. For as much as John Hughes movies shaped me, so did Dirty Dancing. For three straight months I was mooney and lovesick and because Bobby Klancher finally kissed me I felt like I was in on it. I knew what Baby was feeling, in or out of the corner. My father had no opinion on Bobby as Jerry Orbach did on Johnny but none of it really mattered. That clandestine feeling is just as prevailing in early pubescent love as it is with those couplings from opposite side of the tracks. You’re almost there, you’re almost feeling the real thing, but being young, clueless and not even remotely self aware keeps you apart. Plus, while all parents know their kids are going to get their first kiss one of these days, none of them ever want to walk in on it. It’s not like you’re going to be kissing out in the open for God’s sake.

I never learned to dance dirty, though I tried. My virginity stayed in tact years and years and years after that summer when the movie came out. Bobby and I made it for a month or two after that summer, but we ended rather abruptly. Ghost came out a few years later, and replaced Dirty Dancing as the romantic film starring Patrick Swayze we obsessed over. Until we got older, and realized the superiority of Dirty Dancing over Ghost, Oscar nomination or not. And that soundtrack. Oh that soundtrack has stayed with me to this day.

We were talking about Patrick Swayze at work yesterday, and so it was sad to learn late last night that he’d had passed away that day, even if it wasn’t unexpected. I hope he’s giving dance lessons upstairs somewhere.