Let The Good Times Roll
© 2001 by Edie Windsor. All rights reserved
We have this house rule: “Nothing significant or painful after 10 PM.” It’s not so crazy. She sleeps on her back and is unable to turn herself over. Crying, or even hard laughing, means phlegm and choking on the damn stuff.
So, here we are, it’s around midnight and she’s in bed for the night. We’ve got some music going and I start dancing around the room. She’s been working like hell on range of motion and she starts waving and moving her arms in perfect rhythm.
“Keep going,” I say, and plop myself on top of her and put my arms in the correct girlie position to be led.
“Stop,” she says, “it is well past curfew.” Up, arrange her feet, fix the pillow, check the intercom, lights out.
In the morning, she says, “I was a second away from really crying- like years worth of crying.”
This whole thing - this incredible, profound, still hot, loving thing - started that way – dancing, I mean. I’m Edie Windsor, by the way. I had been at Harvard on an IBM fellowship – degree of choice, school of choice, subject of choice – at full salary. I lasted two semesters and begged off, returning to New York and moving into a great rent-controlled apartment at the Normandie on the upper West Side. So I’m ensconced in this place where nobody’s ever seen a lesbian except on visits to the village, and I’m the only woman in the building who wears blue jeans on the weekend. I live a busy work life (it’s a good thing; I’m completely out of touch with social life before Harvard and, frankly, it wasn’t too hot even then) so it’s work-home-work, mostly work.
Months go by and when it gets to be too much, I telephone my best friend. She hasn’t heard from me in two years so she probably doesn’t think I’m her best friend, but what can I do? I’ll try to explain how I’ve been so isolated, how she really is my dearest friend and how I miss her. What comes out when she answers the phone is “Oh God, if you know where the lesbians are, please take me.”
The Portofino, a restaurant on Thompson Street in the village, just across Bleeker from the Provincetown Landing, was managed then by Elaine Kaufman. And like the current uptown Elaine’s, the clientele was mostly literary and upscale Bohemian (that means sophisticated about “diversity”). Friday night there belonged to the lesbians; by no means exclusively but in sufficient numbers that we’d find each other. She takes me there. Her friend Jane comes over to our table accompanied by her former lover T.C.
All four of us go to the same party after dinner and end up at T.C.’s place, dancing. Or rather, T.C. and I are dancing as if mesmerized; Jane, peculiarly proprietary for an ex, keeps trying to cut in. But she can’t break the spell. I can’t break the spell. Among other things I‘ve never met a lesbian who could really lead and she’s hot. I kick off my shoes and dance through my stockings and keep on dancing. (I neglected to mention that she’s very beautiful and has pitch black hair that falls to her shoulder). But she’s wearing a gray wool dress, and she smells of perspiration and she already has a girlfriend, so I’m finally persuaded to leave before the girlfriend comes home.
After that night, I meet a bunch of lesbians and, for the next three or four years I bounce back and forth between my two worlds. I date some attractive guys and I date some nice women. I run into T.C. two or three times a year at lesbian parties and we always end the evening dancing with each other – our coats on, her lover-of the-year and my date waiting impatiently at the door. It’s as if in between meetings we forget, but once we get close enough, the magnets come into play.
And now comes Memorial Day weekend 1965. Rumor has it that T.C., although still in the Easthampton barn, is staying there alone that summer – for once no lover in the picture. My therapy group said “No!” but here I am, a weekend guest at the big farmhouse off Scuttle Hole Road in Southampton.
Someone had said Jane was coming and that T.C. would drop her off on the way to Easthampton. My wait begins. The household is reserving for dinner at the Lobster Inn; “Thanks but I’m not hungry,” I say, “ lunched late.” They stop at the house before proceeding to our Friday night passion, line dancing at the Millstone. Again, I pass. (If I’m skipping the Millstone, this is serious waiting). On the usual schedule, they come back when the bar closes at 4 AM. Somebody says “Has Jane arrived?” And then the crusher, “Oh, they’re not coming till tomorrow morning; T.C. had to work late.”
Up early, I dress for that Southampton morning chill before the sun breaks through. I’m wearing a cashmere sweater with a mock turtle collar, white pearls, and light-weight gray flannel slacks, tight in the ass, tapered from the thigh down. At eleven o’clock, a picnic caravan sets out for the beach; I make some lame excuse but nobody cares because I let them take my car. I’m pretty tense and annoyed as hell; it’s Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and I haven’t been dancing yet and I’m not working on my tan and I don’t even know if she’s at all interested in me, and where the hell is she?
T.C. and Jane finally arrive, and my tension escalates to a new level. T.C. is wearing a white button down shirt, white pants with a rope for a belt, sneakers; this is more like it. Jane is making coffee behind the counter. T.C. leans across the counter facing Jane, her back toward me. I approach, extending my hand, almost touching her – and then I feel like a fool and withdraw it. I hover like this, my hand an inch from her back. And I finally blurt out “Is your dance card filled?”
“Now it is,” she says. But she doesn’t look at me, and she doesn’t touch me. She moves toward the record player on the floor in the corner of the room. I follow. She squats to put on a record. Then, on her way up, I grab her head and pull her to my breasts. My stomach flip-flops and then drops out completely.
We leave in her car; she’s driving with one hand on my thigh, and I don’t breathe all the way to Easthampton. We fall into each others arms and keep at it all day until it’s time to change and go to the Millstone and the Beachboys “I wish they all could be California…,” the Hully Gully, the Madison.
Starting that summer, there were months of dating and on-again off-again splits and reunions and, finally, T.C. wavering in her commitment to freedom, says “What do you want from me?”
“Not much. I’d like to date for a year. And if that goes the way it is now when it’s good, I think I’d like to be engaged, say for a year. And if it still feels this goofy joyous, I’d like us to spend the rest of our lives together.”
And we do.
We moved into an old ten-room apartment on lower Fifth Avenue. A decade went by and we were growing each separately and the two of us together. And we stayed wildly in love, and the dancing never stopped. Line dances and Tea Dances, the Hully Gully, Mambo, Meringue, Lindy, the disco stuff of the 70’s (I wanted lyrics; she gave me lyrics – “oh, my coffee, my coffee,” and, one for the Trini Lopez numbers, “How did Edie Windsor get ahold of you; how’d she tie you up and say, my dear, you’re through” and another “I love Edie Windsor, I love Edie Windsor”. Why do you do-hoo that. I love Edie Windsor.” Well-oiled, at a dinner party we attended, T.C. sang her Lopez lyrics. Our host reported that his entire household awoke the next morning singing “I love Edie Windsor.” Late in the sixties we bought a house in Southampton on the wrong side of the tracks, just big enough for showering off the sand and changing to go dancing. The Hamptons gay scene was changing along with the law. Guys could dance together, and, suddenly, the highway dancing bars flourished, and the Millstone (safe, off the highway) was dying.
In the late seventies, T.C. couldn’t complete her golf swing – that last turn of the right foot; she wore an Ace bandage on her knee when we danced. People expressed concern. “Don’t worry,” I’d say, “it’s okay. Jo-Jo of the Dance Factory worked out a way for her to lead keeping the weight on the good leg.” And on we went -–the plain hustle, the Continental Hustle, the Latin Hustle. She balanced on two canes to approach the dance floor at the Swamp, then dropped them and bogeyed to the new disco stuff – Donna Summers “Someone left the cake out in the rain; I don’t know if I can take it cause it took so long to bake it and I’ll never have that recipe again” and Alice Bridges’ “I love the night life, I love to boogey on the disco highway.”
But no more slow dance.
At a SAGE dance in the eighties, she led from the wheelchair – onto the crowded dance floor, flip off the footrests, and go. She controlled the rhythm and movement; I let her twirl me far out, trusting that she’d catch me on the return. Jitterbug, Lindy, the disco version of “If My Friends Could See Me Now”,…
But, sadly, and forevermore, no slow dance.
We were going to a “50’s prom party” late in the 80’s. I planned to wear a formal dress that I had worn 20 years before and new spike heeled silver-sequined shoes. T.C. had a white dinner jacket made, and ordered a maroon carnation for herself and gardenias for me. The night before the party, watching her maneuver the chair, I said “Who said you need legs to slow dance”? I turned on the radio, sat myself on T.C.’s lap, and the music poured out “There’s a place for us, a time and place for us, hold my hand and we’re halfway there. Hold my hand and I’ll take you there.” I tried on the dress; it caught in the wheelchair spokes; I switched to tapered silk pants.
We did slow dance at the party. T.C. pulled me onto and across her lap and swirled onto the dance floor, circled and curved through the other couples, swooped across the floor, the silver shoes sparkling and spinning through the air. Everyone stopped and formed a circle, applauding and laughing and crying.
I don’t know where to go with this. A lot of physical stuff happened - her disease progressed, I had a massive heart attack and by-pass surgery – but we just went on, with this talent we have for wrestling joy from the shit.
My cardiologist said “you can make love as soon as you can walk up a flight of stairs without becoming breathless.”
“What about dancing,” I ask.
“Not the same day.”
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