January 17, 2007

The Dancing Queen

2007 1502 page31 caphen I first met her at a friend’s tiny apartment, jaded green eyes lit upon my face, a haunted look spearing out of their pooled depths. The siren red lips curved in a polite enough smile; thin fingers limply shook my outstretched hand.
After our introductions, the woman turned on a barefoot heel and slipped back into the sofa, lost again in the babble from the television. I blinked a few times, turned to my friend, and motioned for us to sit together at her small kitchen table so we could go through some paperwork.
The woman’s pager began to buzz across the stained coffee table. Long red nails scraped it up. Noting the page, the woman vaulted out of her cocoon and sauntered down the short hall to the bedroom. Less than 10 minutes later she emerged transformed. Her shorts and T-shirt had been replaced by a gauzy halter top and tight white jeans. Six-inch high heels clicked on the floor while dangling earrings clanked about her head. Leaning down to pick up a ratty black satchel, the woman spoke for the first time.
“I gotta go in early tonight,” she said to my friend. “Thanks for letting me crash here. I’ll see you, well, when I see you.” As she jangled out the door, she called out an afterthought: “It was nice meeting you.”
2007 1502 page31Before I could ask, my friend filled me in. “She’s a friend of mine. I’m kind of helping her out. She’s not in a very good situation.” As dusk approached, the story unfolded. The young woman was an exotic dancer. And a drug addict.
She had grown up middle class, rebelled, and found herself dancing for drug money. Of course it didn’t start out that way. At 17, the woman began performing as a way to pay for college. She discovered that dancing could earn her a lot; extracurricular partying could earn her a lot more. She didn’t think that the sampling she did would turn into anything but recreational drug use. She was wrong.
“She was mellow today,” my friend concluded. “Coming down, she was probably buzzing from a blunt. That’s what she’s trying to do, use marijuana to wean herself off the coke.”
I had met my friend in college. She was not an Adventist, and while she never joined the church, her lifestyle changed in the four years we were together—she traded in her partying for other pursuits. Post college, she worked with autistic adults for the county government. Obviously, the people in her circles were not as temperate as she.
The Dancing Queen (my name for her) drifted in and out of our lives. There were times when friends had to pick her battered body up from a “job” that went bad; there were times when she laughed and cooked for an apartment full of people. There were other times when an overdose would send her to the hospital; and still other times when she’d glow with good health after a jog.
I was drawn to her—high or sober, she exuded a charisma that was utterly compelling. But I wasn’t really engaged in her struggle. She wasn’t in my regular circles. I offered a prayer or two for her when I’d hear about another fall from grace. I told her once that Jesus loved her; I handed my friend a sharing book to give to her.
At a particularly bright time in her life The Dancing Queen went to a picnic. She had been clean for two months. Still dancing—and only dancing—she assured her friends, she had finally contacted her estranged family. She was deciding which class to take at community college. She glowed with beauty. With life. With a jaunty laugh and wave she dived into the dark lake water. Hitting her head on a hidden post beneath the water, The Dancing Queen never laughed again.
The last time I saw The Dancing Queen she was in a large black box. People were laying brilliant red roses upon her chest. Muffled sobs echoed in the parlor as the door was closed against her pale countenance and pallbearers put her into the hearse. At the grave, I placed one last flower on the shiny box. My Dancing Queen, I thought as the lyrics to ABBA’s song flitted through my mind, I’m sorry I didn’t do more. As a child of God, you deserved it.

Kimberly Luste-Maran is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.