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The Dance

I was not very confident as an eighteen-year-old teenager – most of my low self-esteem was because of my appearance.  At fifteen, I had been in an automobile accident that resulted in me having over 100 stitches to repair the cuts on my face.  The scars were still clearly visible and I often would hear the term “scarface” spoken behind my back.  I laughed it off and acted like I was on top of the world but inside, it really hurt.

But that was about to change – in one moment – and my life would be changed forever.

Suddenly, I knew it was going to be a good Saturday night.  It was a warm spring day and graduation was just weeks away.  I had finished cleaning the presses at my part-time job at the local newspaper and my boss had nothing else for me to do.  That meant I was free for the night.  I had called Libby.  (We started dating shortly after she had broken up with her boyfriend and the scars on my face never seemed to bother her.)  She was not scheduled to work at her part-time job either so we were going to be able to get together. I was grateful because our relationship was showing signs of strain since the whirlwind of our senior year activities and work schedules had kept us from seeing each other.  So, I rushed home, got cleaned up, and was about to walk out the door when the phone rang.

“Len, I am glad I caught you,” my mom said, “Can you pick me up from work when I get off at five and take me to the Cabin to have dinner with Judy?  Her husband has to work tonight and she doesn’t want to eat alone.  She has some short errands to run and will meet us there.  I will buy your dinner and then you can go on your way because I will ride back home with Judy.  Okay?”

I explained that I had already planned on picking up Libby and going out so she suggested I bring her along and we would all have dinner together.  Sounded like a good plan so I told her I would be there shortly to pick her up.  I called Libby and explained what was going on.  She liked the idea since she and my mom had always gotten along well.  I told her I would pick up Mom and then head to her house to get her since it was on the way to the Cabin.

The Cabin was a little out of the way place that had a bar on one side of the building that was separated from the dining area by a wall that had openings on the sides so that a jukebox fit nicely between the passages.  On one end of the dining area was a small raised platform where a local band would play on Friday and Saturday nights and locals would come to dance and have a few drinks.  The booths to eat were along the walls and the middle was open creating a dance floor.

It was just one of those places where the drinks were cold, the food was homemade, the band played country music, and the people were friendly.

We arrived at the Cabin before Judy did so we sat in the car talking.  Libby had mentioned that she had never met Judy and was looking forward to meeting one of Mom’s friends. Shortly, Judy pulled up next to my car and stepped out of her car.  Libby looked at me wide-eyed and exclaimed, “That’s Judy!?”

Judy and Mom had been working together for quite a long time.  Their schedules were very similar so they often went to lunch together and to dinner when the store was open late.  They had become close friends despite their age difference and it was not surprising to have Judy visit our house after work if her husband was working the late shift at the steel mill.  It was during these times that I would sit at the kitchen table with them and just talk about everyday life.  So, I considered Judy to not only be a friend of my mom but also my friend.

Judy was just 28 years old. Her long blond hair, brown eyes, and infectious smile made you just want to get to know her.  The dress she was wearing that night was hemmed about an inch above her knees and was cut in such a way that it accented every curve of her body. The high heels she had on almost forced you to look at her shapely, tanned legs.  She was absolutely beautiful and both men and women would stop and take notice when she walked by.  Added to all her physical beauty was just the sweetest personality.  So, Libby’s reaction when she saw her for the first time did not surprise me.

After some quick introductions, we headed through the door that would take us right into the dining area.  I was really glad to see that there were no other patrons in the dining room.  That meant we would be served quickly so that Libby and I could be on our way. We took a booth across the dance floor next to the opening to the bar.  The waitress brought us our menus and took our drink orders.  When our drinks arrived, we placed our orders and settled in to talk while waiting on our food to come.  The conversation was pleasant and we continued to talk when our food was served.  It was toward the end of the meal when suddenly, my mood would be changed.

Libby began, “Oh, guess who stopped by the house today?  Kevin.  His parents got him a new Cougar as a graduation gift and he wanted to show me his new car.”

I was shocked, “What?!  Your old boyfriend shows up with a new car!  You told me you were going to talk to him about making these surprise visits.  You and I both know he is trying to get back with you.”

“Stop being silly,” she said tapping my arm, “He just wanted to show me the car.  And man does it handle well.”

“Handle well?” I said trying now to raise my voice.  “So, you went for a ride with him and got to drive the car?”

“It was totally innocent.”  And Libby then looked at Judy and my mom and began telling them all about Kevin, his college plans, how great his parents were, and on and on and on. I sat there in silence – each word coming from her felt like a punch to my dignity and self-esteem.

At some point, Judy invited my mom to go to the lady’s room with her.  As they were walking away, Libby began berating me for acting like she had done something wrong.  My perfect Saturday night was turning into a miserable time.

When Judy and Mom returned, Mom got some coins out of her purse and they went to the jukebox.  As the music started, Mom walked up to the booth at which we were seated. “Come on, Len.  Get up and dance with me.”  Libby almost pushed me out of the booth as she laughed and urged me to dance with my mom.  So, there we were, jitterbugging to a song from Mom’s past and having a good time.  When the song ended, we walked back to the booth.

Judy stood up and took my hand.  “Now, it’s my turn.”  As we talked to the center of the dance floor, a slow song began to play.  Judy faced me and draped her arms around my neck and pressed her body next to mine.  She laid her head on my shoulder in such a way that every time she exhaled, I could feel her warm breath on my neck.  I slowly wrapped my arms around her waist – swaying in one place in the center of the dance floor.  I remember that it felt like we were the last two people on earth.  I could see several men from the bar area standing in the openings watching – their eyes told me that I was the luckiest man alive.

As the song got closer to its end, Judy lifted her head and looked into my eyes, “The way Libby treated you was wrong.  So, I asked your mom to get you to dance with her on the first song so I could dance with you now and let her know just how special you are.  And I am not just saying that.  Because if I weren’t married, you would be here dancing with your girlfriend and Libby would not be here.”

The last note of the song sounded but I just keep swaying and looking into Judy’s eyes trying to see if she was serious.  Our eyes were locked and every part of me told me that she was being honest with me.  I could have stayed like this forever but then reality set in.

“The music stopped a long time ago,” yelled Libby.

Judy smiled and giggled, “You know you are in trouble now, right?”

Libby wanted to go home immediately after dinner – she said she wasn’t feeling well.  She also informed me that I could never go anywhere with my mom and Judy again.

A few weeks later I would head to Parris Island for boot camp and Libby would send a very expected ‘Dear John’ letter.  But it was okay because I had the one thing that reminded me that I really was special.  I knew that someday I would find the right person who would accept me for who I am and we would be together forever.  I was sure of this fact because of one very special moment in time when a friend had given me the gift of confidence.  A gift presented through a simple act – the dance.

Len Bernat
LEN is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. Upon his retirement, Len worked in several positions before finally starting a second career in governmental procurement. His experience and leadership skills enabled him to be recognized as the 2011 Governmental Procurement Officer of the Year for the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and opened doors for him to teach at many of the association’s conferences. Len was also called to the ministry and was ordained at Ashford Memorial Methodist Church in November of 1999. Today, Len is the Pastor of Maxeys Christian Church in Maxeys, Georgia. Len has been married to his wife, Hazel, for 36 years and they have three daughters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Grab your copy of Len's new Book – Leadership Matters | Advice From A Career USMC Officer. Using his life experiences as examples, Len takes the eleven principles of leadership and the fourteen traits every leader should possess—which he learned during twenty years in the Marine Corps—and teaches the reader how he was molded and shaped by some of the best leaders the Corps had to offer.

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