Or the story behind the drawing a young man made to tell his beloved "You are my joy"...
She was dancing. My crippled grandmother was dancing.
I stood in the living room doorway absolutely stunned. I had come to visit her, knowing her habit of keeping the kitchen door open ("Oh, stop complaining. If a burglar comes through the door they´ll soon realize there's nothing of value here. And once that is clear, I´ll make a pot of good strong coffee and give them blueberry pie with whipped cream! Maybe we'll strike an interesting conversation.")
I glanced at the kitchen table and sure enough - on it, right under a small framed picture on the wall, was a freshly baked peach pie.
Grandma loved visitors - and everyone loved grandma so she had
The little picture on the wall was a
(You Are My Joy is a copyrighted story)
The picture had always been there and we all loved it because it symbolized their love that only got deeper as they grew old together.
I heard her sing when I opened the door and did not want to interrupt the beautiful song by yelling I had arrived, so I just tiptoed to the living room. I loved that tune. It was Tchaikovsky, from the ballet Sleeping Beauty. I remembered falling asleep as a child when she was humming that beautiful music. She and grandpa loved to invite us grandchildren over. And once the day´s playing was done, she tucked us in bed and stayed in the bedroom, humming this music with her beautiful clear voice until we fell asleep.
And now she was not only singing the tune but dancing to it. I looked how her still lean body bent beautifully, her arms greeting the sunlight that was pouring through the window. And her legs… Those legs that had stiffly walked, aided with a cane, in sensible shoes as long as I could remember. Now she was wearing beautiful dancing shoes and her legs obeyed her perfectly. No limping. No stiffness. Just beautiful, fluid motion.
"Joy of Dance" they had called her when she was on top of her career as a ballet dancer. Perfect nickname - her first name was Joy. "Joy of Dance dances the Dance of joy." This was a headline in a newspaper article Grandpa had showed us.
She was the pet of the dancing world. Pretty as a butterfly - and just like a butterfly her body seemed to break the rules of gravity when she floated over the stage. She was so good that when she danced it was like she created a sculpture out of thin air using her body as a tool. I had read that in an old newspaper clipping. And then she had her accident and it was all over.
She turned around in a slow pirouette and saw me standing in the doorway. Her song ended and her beautiful movement with it so abruptly it felt like being shaken awake from a beautiful dream. The sudden silence rang in my ears.
- Please, don´t stop… I managed to say, - It was so beautiful.
Grandma looked so much like a kid caught with her hand in a cookie jar. I couldn´t help it and a slightly nervous laughter escaped. Grandma sighed and turned towards the kitchen.
- All right, you might hear the whole story then, now that you caught me.
I followed her, not believing my eyes. She was walking with no difficulties in her beautiful shoes. All my life she had walked stiffly, leaning to her cane, and we had felt so sorry for her having lost her beautiful career as a ballet dancer. There was a picture of her in the upstairs hall - a sepia toned photo of breathtaking beauty - she was in her costume for Sleeping Beauty, her trim body expressing the very essence of everything that was beautiful in ballet. As a little girl I had stood there often, watching it for a long time, wanting to become a dancer myself.
I took the coffee cups and plates from the cupboard while grandma made coffee. We sat down by the table and cut ourselves big pieces of her delicious peach pie. That pie should have been sold as a cure-all. When we were younger, her pies always cured whatever small (or bigger) sorrows we might have. Everything from cut fingers to heartbreak.
- So… I blurted, - How did your leg heal?
- To tell you the truth - my legs have been well all my life, she said, - Oh, the cream! Don´t eat another bite until I bring the cream!
(You are my joy is a copyrighted story)
Grandma loved whipped cream that was spiced with real vanilla. She always seemed to have a bowl of it in her fridge. She brought the white and blue bowl, put it on the table and administered a generous portion of cream on my pie. I knew it was no use to try and say no.
- But I don´t understand! I said, - Your dancing career… I mean… You pretended all these years?
- Very much so, grandmother closed her eyes and savored the peach pie and whipped cream, - And for a very good reason.
- What reason?
- Your grandfather.
- You mean he told you not to dance?
- Oh for heavens sake, he would never had said anything of the sort! Shame on you for even thinking that! her voice was sharp, - He was the best man you could imagine! No, this was my choice. I am sure I would have lost him if I had continued dancing. I weighed fame and love against each other and love won.
She thought for a while and then continued.
- We were talking about engagement when your grandfather had to go to war. It was the most horrible day of my life when he left. I was so afraid of losing him, the only way I could stay sane was to dance. I put all my energy and time into practising. I danced until I collapsed with exhaustion in the evenings. And I became very good. I was invited to perform with the best - and one day I realized I was considered to be one of them.
Critics praised me, the public loved me - and all I could feel was the ache in my heart, not knowing would the love of my life ever return. Gentlemen sent me flowers and jewels, suggesting dinner and meetings. I returned the jewels and gave the flowers to hospitals. Then I went home and read and re-read his letters until I fell asleep. He always ended his letters with "You are my Joy. I love you with my life" and after that he wrote his name.
I remembered the shoebox I had found in the attic. Filled with praising newspaper articles and old photos of grandma, dancing like a flame. But never any love letters. Well - of course they were so private grandma had hidden them from curious children.
- And then one day the letter came. He wrote to me from a military hospital. There were only three sentences. Here, let me show you.
Grandma got up and opened the kitchen cupboard. On the upmost shelf was an old wooden jewelry box with a ballet dancer painted on the lid. She opened it and took out a letter, one of many. This she handed to me. It was written with a pencil on a paper torn from a hospital notepad. The paper had been torn carelessly - the logo was only partially visible on the upper corner.
"I have lost my leg. I am no longer a whole man, and now give you back your freedom. It is best you forget about me." There was no "You are my Joy - I love you with my life" before the signature. Actually there was no signature at all.
- I made my decision there and then. I loved him so much I was not going to lose him to depression. I took my leave, and traveled away from the city. When I returned I had bought myself a cane and wrapped my leg tightly with bandages. I told everyone I had been in a car crash and that my leg would never completely heal again. My dancing days were over. No one suspected the story - I had learned to limp convincingly before I returned home. And I made sure the first person to hear of my accident was a reporter I knew well.
I remembered the clippings in the shoebox. "Fairytale comes to an end" one reporter had written. "Tragic loss for ballet" another had said. As a child I found it no wonder she did not want to see those old articles anymore and had abandoned them in a box in the attic.
(You Are My Joy is a copyrighted story)
- I traveled to his hospital. They had pushed him outside in his wheelchair. I was told he was deeply depressed and did not want to talk to anyone. They had found a stash of pain medication he had collected - obviously planning to end his life with them.
My heart almost broke when I saw him sitting there, with his head bent, staring into nothingness with no expression on his face. His left leg was nothing but a short stump. There was a cane on the ground by his wheelchair. I took a deep breath, leaned on my cane and limped to him.
I had forgotten about the pie now and listened to grandma, mesmerized.
- What happened then? I hurried her when she took her time eating some pie.
- "So there you are! Feeling all sorry for yourself?" That´s what I asked - in no friendly tone. You have no idea how hard it was to speak in an angry tone to him.
He almost fell off his wheelchair, he had certainly not expected me to come. He stared at me and my cane, not saying anything.
Grandmother sipped her coffee and smiled. It was the kind of smile someone has when they are deep in good memories.
- I told him he was not the only one who had lost a leg, even if mine was still attached to me. I showed him newspaper clippings of my accident. I had brought them to convince him I was now a cripple too.
"So if you think I´m going to let you feel sorry for yourself for the rest of your life, think again. There is a whole life waiting for us out there! I don´t intend to be sorry for myself for this. But I have enough on my plate as it is, so you´d better snap out of it too. And I am not going to carry you - you are going to walk yourself."
Grandma giggled. A surprisingly girlish sound coming from an old lady with white hair and a spot of whipped cream on her chin.
- He tried to say something but I did not let him. I limped a few steps away and showed him what I took out of my pocket. "Now show me you are still a man. I won´t ask again."
He bent to take his cane from the ground and struggled out of that wheelchair. I could see he had not done it before, because he almost fell to his face, having only one leg. But I was not going to help. And so he managed it on his own and walked to me and never sat in a wheelchair again in his life.
I only danced at home when no one was around - and never regretted my decision. He got his will to live back without feeling he was pitied. Your grandfather was a proud man and hated being pitied more than anything. I figured I could change a few years of fame to a lifetime of love. And I was right. It was worth it.
(You Are My Joy is a copyrighted story)
- What did you show him? I had to know.
Grandma looked at me and grinned. I could still see why her smile had made men fall in love with her when she was young.
- Two engagement rings, of course. I had bought them the day after he left for war and I was not going to waste them on any other man.
I looked at the picture on the kitchen wall. The picture became distorted when tears filled my eyes.
"You are my Joy. I love you with my life." I spelled quietly. And the young woman in the picture sat on her park bench and with twinkling eyes smiled broadly at me, an engagement ring carefully drawn on her finger.
I wrote the story You Are My Joy one evening when I was thinking about how much joy we can bring to each others' lives. I know people who have chosen to sacrifice a lot and done it gladly to achieve something they considered worth it. Just like the grandma in You Are My Joy.
And when you think of it, giving joy to other people's lives is one of the best gifts we can ever give. So tell them those words in one form or another. When you tell someone "you are my joy", they will in all likelihood be delighted - and tell you the same thing.
You Are My Joy is copyrighted by me, so copying is not permitted.