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How to Tell If Your Parents Are in Love

Once we were near enough to the speakers that we could feel the bass in our chests, my mother lifted her dramatic Natalie Wood eyes, raised her arms, and let the funk rhythm take her. The trumpet theme repeated. My dad grooved too, his stiff hips loosening as the music drove on. My mother momentarily left her reverie to point out that, in the spot where we stood, on a night I’d stayed in to work, “the craziest thing happened.” Two “old men” had tapped my father on the shoulder and asked if they could dance with her. “Dad told them off,” Mom shouted over the music, her eyes popping. “He said, ‘My wife wouldn’t give you a second look,’ and then the men slithered away.”

“Nobody dances with my wife but me,” Dad said to us, joking. Or was he serious? Just then, the band’s bluesy version of “At Last” swelled, and like a spell, it dissolved the crowd in twos. My father clasped his arms behind my mother’s back; she wove hers around his shoulders. I had no one to dance with, and that was just fine. This was my chance to record a video.

“Dance with us,” my father said into the lens of my phone.

It took no time for him to forget he had invited me to join them, for him and my mother to see each other as the only ones there. I know their worried looks; I’d seen them more than I would like. But here, my father smiled, his lips hardly apart, the way he does in moments I’ve seen him truly happy. Like the morning his first grandson was born and the day I got a call back on Broadway. Like the August afternoon at the shore when the power went out and we stared at the periwinkle clouds with bright pink cores, a sundown undeterred by artificial light.

My mother was relaxed and happy too, which isn’t the easiest state for her to reach. But dancing with my dad took her there. Her impossibly large eyes were soft. I’d picked up on that same softness earlier that evening on the pier, when we saw the sun fall beneath the sea, surrounded by other sunset chasers. “There it is,” she’d said. “There it is.”

As I faded into the dim warmth of the dance floor and witnessed my parents dancing, I felt a weightless understanding between them that I never knew before. I’ve seen my parents at the height of distress and at the fathoms of despair — when they lost their own parents, when my father lost his younger brother. I’ve heard them yell and blame and slam their doors. And I’ve seen them release it all for that soft, familiar look they find mid-slow dance, never looking away.

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