The School Dance…

My kid went to the first school dance tonight. I decided to go do some writing while I wait the hour and a half. Or course, the coffee shops are all closed, so I settled for Denny’s. The coffee isn’t great, it’s brown flavored hot water at this point, but I’m kind of loving it. It reminds me of college when I’d cram into a booth with several friends and we’d split stacks of fries and ranch and shakes at midnight and laugh and think we were so wide open with our philosophizing and debates on the arts. (Can you tell I ran with a wild bunch?)

I’m in a nostalgic mood tonight because after I dropped the kid off, of course, memories of my own first dances came washing over me. I know we had a few dances in seventh and eight grade, but there is one that sticks out so prevalent in my mind’s eye.

Now, at this point in my life, this dance has two segments of memory. And it’s either the same dance or two separate dances. I would have to  check with my friend Shannon, who is my memory keeper (seriously, the woman remembers EVERYTHING from our childhood: teachers names, assignments, dates and she even remembers my old phone number…)

Okay, so the pre-dance memory: My mom volunteered to decorate, because of course she did. If you’re curious why I slather a bit of loving sarcasm on this fact, it’s because my mom was “Pinterest cool” before Pinterest even existed. I was in awe of how she turned our old, worn out school hall into something magical using just table clothes, flowers, balloons and twinkle lights. She and the other mom helping decorate, even went so far as to find funds to rent a popcorn machine for the night! I ask you, could it GET any more eighth grade magical than that?!

As I’m writing this, the song “With or Without You” by U2 begins to hum in my mind. There’s a reason for that. It’s the second part of this memory.

That school hall where the talent shows took place, where the second Sunday of each month held Taco Sundays, where we took class pictures on picture day was transformed into a blur of dim lighting and loud music and hormonal adolescent dreams.

Did we have a DJ? I don’t remember who played the music, but we must have, because there was music and in my memory it was loud as the popular songs of the day echoed off the high ceilings.

We were girls with bangs teased high and held into place with Aqua Net, adorned in fancy dresses from JC Penny’s and unrealistic romantic ideas. We stood across from the boys with short sleeve shirts and ties making fun of each other for showing up to the school dance.

“Jay”, my middle school crush was in attendance. That’s not his name, and it isn’t the letter his name started with, but for this story we gotta call him something.

I danced with him that night.

But I didn’t intend to.

Sure, there were daydreams that he’d ask my awkward self to dance, but word on the playground was that he didn’t like anyone in our class. 

Half way through the night, the girls bathroom had become a revolving door of drama as tears and secrets were spilled out along with the smell of Baby Soft Perfume and bubblegum lip gloss.

Someone came rushing across the dancefloor and pulled me aside to let me know that a certain girl, “Pam”, was going to tell Jay that I liked him. Why they hell would she do this malicious act? Who knows, I think I remember that she either liked him or she was mad at me or just wanted to stir the pot. Hell, maybe it was a mixture of all three. But don’t quote me on this. So, I marched right into that bathroom, declared, “Pam, you will NOT tell Jay that I like him.”

And she headed out with a secretive smirk on her face and lingered in the shadows, waiting to pounce.

Well, for some strange reason, I decided there was no way in hell MY secret was going to be handled by someone else. I wasn’t going to let Pam ruin my words or my truth, so I marched right up to Jay and did it my damn self.

Ready or not.

I told him I liked him and then somehow asked if he would dance with me.

Are you feeling as cringey as I did? Hell writing about it and reading about it, there is a level of cringe, but here we are, a life time or two away from this moment, and I see the courage and sense of self it took to make that declaration.

The song “With or Without You” was into the first verse, the high wine of the notes and drum echoed in the hall and accompanied my heartbeat, the blood of embarrassment screamed in my head as I was led to the dancefloor. Once we were in the dim lighting that created the dancefloor, we turned toward each other, him giving a gracious half smile before he gazed over my shoulder and put his hands reluctantly rested on my hips. My hands shook as I rested them palms down on his awkward bony preteen shoulders. We tried not to made eye contact as we began to sway back and forth. My friends stood on the fringes of the dancefloor, all smiles and giving encouraging nods of their heads. I was torn between finding my decision appalling or courageous. But I didn’t care, because when I caught a glimpse of Pam fuming at being thwarted, the moment played out triumphantly to the steady beat of a drum as my youth and my fears were laid bare on a dancefloor.

She got me with nothing to win and nothing left to loose

And you give yourself away…

And I gave myself away…

And I was twelve and awkward…

and only tonight, looking back, am I thrown at how apropos the lyrics of that song.

I’m in the car now, waiting to pick the kid up. I put on “With or Without You” and turn it up.

I see that past moment, scarring itself into the makeup of my life. 

You won’t be surprised to know that Jay pretty much ran away, made sure to never make eye contact with me or engage me in conversation ever again. But that moment had more to do than telling a crush he was my crush, didn’t it?

Eventually I would realize what it took to make that declaration, even though I wasn’t ready or prepared. That was one of those defining moments where I was made stronger, bolder, more courageous….

You know, the beat of this song still makes me smile. I never shied from the song, the way we do sometimes with embarrassing memories, where we try to dilute them, keeping all the senses out of them.

Having never thought about it this way, having never written about this dance and moment, I realize that throughout my whole life when this song comes on, I turn it up and smile. I never realized that the song had become tied with a memory of resilience and taking charge.

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