April 1, 2009 at 10:54 a.m.
Oh, my love, my darling, I've hungered for your touch, a long, lonely time.
There I am, stepping to music and sweating alongside a dozen-and-a-half other senior women in my aerobics class, when suddenly "Unchained Melody" blats out over the sound system. But instead of the ballad I remember from high school days, it's jazzed up with a pronounced beat, so that even if we forgot our hearing aids we can still keep moving to the music.
"Out-out, in-in, march in place!" calls the aerobics instructor, and we all step together, like one big stand of aspen, our feet, amazingly enough, moving in unison.
"Unchained Melody" was on the radio everyday the summer of my first kiss. I was fifteen, and my love, my darling was four-hundred miles away. If I close my eyes right now I can see his freckled face and sandy-colored hair, and feel the electrical current zinging through my body with that kiss. He was past his curfew, but how sweetly he looked back at me—standing on my front porch, moonstruck and smitten—as he sprinted down the street toward his neighborhood.
Time goes by so slowly... I release a small giggle as I change feet for front kicks. SLOWLY? Now time is the little red BMW roadster hell-bent on passing every other car on the freeway. But in 1955 when "Unchained Melody" first made it to the Hit Parade, time was a stodgy old-person driving twenty miles under the speed limit.
"Scoop to the right," bids our teacher like a square-dance caller. "Scoop to the left..."
I am glad I'm not clairvoyant. Knowing I'd be working out to "Unchained Melody" alongside fellow oldsters fifty-plus years later might have taken the fun out of the journey. Oh, I can't find fault with all of the lyrics-certainly not with and time can do so much. Take, for instance, my body. It's sagging, malfunctioning, and wearing out. Flapping where a body shouldn't flap, loose in the skin, stiff in the joints. Yes, time can do so much.
"Grapevine left," and we're all dancing sideways. "Grapevine right," and we roll the other way, a giant people-wave washing up on the wall.
Every year within a few days of school's letting out, our family departed for our lake house in Idaho. It had been my favorite place on earth until the kiss. That year it felt like prison! I couldn't bear to think about how long it would be before I saw him again. As I moped around the cabin and "Unchained Melody" became my song, especially the words Are you still mine?
"Toe, heel, toe, heel, toe, heel toe-e-e-." My classmates and I carry out perfectly choreographed movements—thumping our feet rhythmically to the jazzy sounds. "If this hurts, tone down your movement," our instructor reminds us.
Oh, it hurt all right—that separation. I never knew before what it meant to long for someone. I joke at their sentimentality-Lonely rivers flow, to the sea, to the sea-but in the context of my summer-home isolation, the lyrics were perfect. I hadn't even noticed him before the ninth-grade graduation dance, and now I wanted to tell him, I need your love, God speed your love to me.
He walked me home after the dance. It was June, mild, starry-skied. My three-inch heels were killing me so I took them off and ruined my nylons walking on pavement. We held hands the entire way. He opened the gate to our yard and instinctively headed for the arbor where fragrant wisteria, as well as romance, was blooming.
"Find your pulse," calls our instructor as she changes the tape to something more relaxing.
My heartbeat is up-the strenuous workout, no doubt-but there's a little ache in it I can't explain.
This article appeared in the April 2009 issue of Northwest Prime Time, the Puget Sound region’s monthly publication celebrating life after 50.