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Distant Promise

Kathleen Kohler

After over thirty years of marriage, I thought our days of romantic secrets had retired. That is, until Loren announced, "Don't plan anything for your birthday. I have a special surprise."

On the evening of my birthday, we dressed up and drove into town. We pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall and I scanned the storefronts. Hmm … a costume store, Harbor Freight Tools, the driver license place, and then I saw it. The sign on the corner building read, Arthur Murray Dance Studio.

Loren wasn't kidding when he said he had a surprise. We had never danced, not even in high school, and I had always wanted to learn. Though he didn't think dancing was manly, early in our marriage he promised, "Someday I'll take you dancing."

Instead, life's well-worn routine seized our days and we never found the time. What followed were years of raising kids and long hours of hard work building a career. Middle age found us changing jobs, helping our aging parents, and busy with seven grandchildren.

Now here we were, more than a few pounds heavier and our hair a little grayer. My girlish fantasy of whirling across a dance floor had faded, long since tucked away in the place of surrendered dreams.

Heather, our instructor, a tall slender blonde wearing a short tight skirt and stilettos, welcomed us at the door of the studio. She showed us to a desk where we had a short interview. Her eyes glistened with tears when she learned Loren was making good on a thirty-two-year old promise.

"Why now?" she asked him. "What took you so long?"

"I guess I had to grow up," he said, giving my hand a squeeze. "And it's important to me to make her dreams come true," he added, as he looked at me with a love far deeper than the young man who had made the promise decades earlier. I giggled when our eyes met and he blushed with a grin he couldn't contain. No doubt, we seemed like a pair of infatuated teenagers to our twenty-something instructor.

Heather described the various dances taught at the studio. We decided to focus on the waltz for our two introductory lessons. Between Loren's hearing loss, two knee surgeries and a back surgery, and my arthritis, we felt like stiff old broomsticks.

We stumbled through our first awkward steps with enthusiasm while he tried to lead and I attempted to follow. Loren looked forward to our lessons as much as I did. When the trial period ended, we agreed to continue.

We signed up for eight more lessons and chose to learn rumba, swing, and the hustle. Each week became a new adventure. When we walked to the car after our seventh lesson, we turned to each other and said simultaneously, "I don't want it to end." Our laughter rang out across the dark parking lot. We determined then to keep dancing.

Six months later, we dance two or three nights a week. The mambo and cha cha have brought new energy into our relationship. But the best is when Loren turns to me and says, "May I have this dance?" He takes my hand, slips his arm around my shoulder as we waltz across the floor doing an under-arm turn, and I know even forgotten dreams can come true.

"Distant Promise" appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for the Young at Heart, along with 100 other stories packed with wisdom and humor for those of us who have reached a certain age. Released August 2011, order your copy today from Barnes & Noble, or

© 2011 Kathleen Kohler