A little part of me died Monday night.
When I got home from work around 8 p.m. and checked my e-mail, my heart immediately sank as I read the subject line of a message from my friend Emily: “Patrick Swayze has died. Caitlin, I’m sorry for your loss.”
I felt like I got punched in the stomach. I knew he was battling pancreatic cancer but I guess the reality that he was going to die never really set in. I began to cry.
I was in love with Swayze. His films taught me so much about life and love. To me, he was more than a guy on a movie screen that was perpetually clad in a tucked-in wife beater and black jeans. He was majestic.
It was my dad who first introduced me to P.Swayz. I was about 10 when my dad asked me to watch a movie on TV with him.
“You’ll love it,” he said. “It’s got a great-almost Romeo and Juliet storyline and it’s about dancing.”
I was still really into my ballet class at the time, so I watched Dirty Dancing. From the moment Swayze came out shaking his hips in tandem with the mambo music, I knew I had found my leading man – a feeling that only grew with each viewing of the film.
I pointedly remember asking my dad why Jennifer Grey’s character, Baby, looked so embarrassed when she told Swayze’s character, Johnny, that she “carried a watermelon.” At 10 years old, my dad was hard-pressed to explain the sex reference to me, so I didn’t fully understand. Honestly, I still don’t but I guess a watermelon makes more sense than, say, a mango.
I was completely captivated by that whole movie. Yes, Swayze was probably one of the corniest actors of our time, but he embraced the corny and did it with class and style. He was all cheese but never sleaze. When he looked at Baby with those sparkling almond eyes and said, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” my heart melted. With that look, combined with his extended hand pointed toward Baby against her father’s wishes, Swayze showed me the reality of love.
As a 10-year-old, I saw love as Barbie and Ken, no drama, no questions – the picture of perfection. After Dirty Dancing, I learned that love is messy, isn’t easy and is harder to learn than the mambo or the pechanga. The man taught me to wait and work for what I wanted and that one day, out of the clear blue, I would end up at a summer season country club and learn how to do ballroom dance lifts in the middle of a lake in nothing but my skivvies, opposite a dashing young man with perfectly coifed hair and black Levis.
I got Swazye-d in a big way and I am completely okay with that.
After Dirty Dancing, I cinematically stalked Swayze. I saw every movie he was in, some of my favorites being Road House and Ghost. While my friends were obsessing over Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise, I stood by my Patrick, the man who was my first celebrity crush. I caught a lot of grief and mockery for loving the only man who may outdo Nicholas Cage when it comes to overacting.
When I walked into The Spectrum office on Tuesday, I was immediately met with ridicule for how hard I took the news of his passing.
One of the worst jokes?
“Patrick Swayze really is a ghost now, Caitlin.”
I’m choosing to brush that all aside. I know the impact that Swayze had on my young life and I know I will continue to have dreams that I’m Baby at the end of Dirty Dancing and Patrick catches me as I fling myself off the stage and into his beckoning arms. Swayze, for me, represents happiness, fun memories and times spent with my family laughing about some of the corny lines in his movies.
I’ve had the time of my life and I owe it all to Patrick Swayze. I’m going to miss him.