With Author Rodney Strange
I found the photo on an old phone I had tossed into the junk drawer in the kitchen. Just a bad picture taken in a dark bar with...well, I can't remember the girl's name. And it bothers me to no end. I remember the exact night and I remember we had lots of fun and I remember she thought she was in heaven dancing with me. When I invited her to sit at my table, she insisted some drunk cowboy who called himself 'Shorty' take the pic, which he did. I remember Shorty and I recall he was pretty short...and his hat was way too big...but I can't remember the girl's name.
She was one of hundreds, maybe a thousand or more that I spun around the dance floor on so many Saturday nights. I recall some of their names. I can almost smell the sweetness of their perfumes as images of them in my arms beneath the lights of a dance floor flash through my mind. I'd always take one last smell of my shirt as I took it off in the wee hours of the morning before crawling into bed...alone, and allow the memories of the night to flood my mind as I lay down to dream of a time that was sure to come...someday, when I'd not be alone.
But the girl whose name I can't recall, she was the last. It was after midnight on the night that photo was taken that I ventured across the parking lot toward my pickup. I picked up my phone and saw a missed call. Had I not missed that call, the photo with the girl whose name I can't remember would have never been taken, for the call I missed would have changed the course of the night. I had shirked my biggest responsibility and neglected to be there for the most important person in my life in their most dire moment of need. I hastily called the number, but there was no answer at such a late hour. I drove through the night toward my house with thoughts not of the girl I'd danced with, but of the responsibilities I had neglected. It was a sleepless night for I knew I'd never gotten the call had I not been needed.
For the next six months, I would watch from a distance as a family slowly and painfully unraveled at the seams, always ready at a moments notice for a call I knew would someday come. I no longer spent my Saturday nights in the glow of neon lights. There were no more women's names to try to remember, and my shirts smelled only of fabric softener. My phone rang occasionally or a text would come from some female friend or another, "Come dance with me?" I'd make one excuse or another, dutifully remaining at my post for the call that was sure to come. And one night, it did...and I was there.
Over three years have passed and I've not failed to be there for that one most important person in my life...not once. I am a proud single parent who takes his responsibilities very seriously. I cook and clean and do loads of laundry. Happy Hour now means half price sodas at the Sonic. Instead of ironing a shirt for a Saturday night, I iron blouses for Sunday church services. My stress is no longer from how many drinks will I have to buy for some blonde...it's how much will four years of college cost. My prayers are not 'Hope I make it home,' but 'Hope I don't fail.'
I've not failed. All is well as this change in life nears its fourth year. I've not missed the glow of neon and I don't dwell on the dances I've missed. But this adventure nears the home stretch as my child nears the time when she will assume her rightful place in a society of young adults. I find myself wondering...'What's next?' As her social circles blossom, my responsibilities become less and less. I find time on my hands that I'm not accustomed to having, and I find myself struggling to find my rightful place in a society that seemingly has passed me by. I occasionally find myself depending on memories to entertain myself, while yearning to make more...just a few more memories to fall back on in years to come. I've come to accept a fear that gnaws at my very being...a fear that my most challenging time is yet to come. A time when I am no longer needed. A time when some young man will come along and relieve me of my responsibilities. What then?
But with the time I have left, I vow to make the most of it. There are memories to be made. From the thrill of reliving prom night through the eyes of my daughter to the sure to be emotional graduation ceremony that comes in just a few short months, there are surely many, many memories to be made. I cherish the thought of every one of them! I will be there, proudly clinging to my responsibilities as a parent every step of the way!
Every so often, one group of giggly teenaged girls or another, while tromping through my living room, will pause just long enough for me to share a story or two about those Saturday nights from another life. I'll tell them about Psycho Sherry, or the school teacher who forgot to mention she was married, or the blonde who forgot to mention she was a lesbian. If I can hold their attention long enough, I'll start remembering more women I've met throughout my adventures. They usually laugh and listen intently to my every word, for they haven't yet been where I came from...and I pray they never do. Their eyes widen as I tell the tale of 'The Black Widow' or the night a girl from the western store got in a fist fight with a woman from New Mexico...all because of me. I tell those tales fondly, but there's one story I've never told them...of the night I met the girl whose name I can't recall...