Dancing, bands, bars. Whatever I do to act out my sad and petite social life these days is a damp cardboard match to the bic lighter of the Junior High Dance. There is no other time in your life that can duplicate the excitement, sexual promise, and full-throttle gamble of a DJ, mirror ball, and every kid you know rubbing together under one roof. Lives are made and broken within three chaperoned hours. But at the end of everything, all that you're left with are some unidentifiable signatures in a yearbook and a everlasting gag reflex to the smell of cloves.
or weeks I planned the perfect outfit: Izod, camouflage laces, knickers. I readied at a friend's house, where we did our hair and tried out new makeup maneuvers. It was a special night, so I drew eyeliner from one corner of my eye to the other, over my nose dot-to-dot fashion. Totally punk. Then eight of us shared the traditional thermos of curdling suicide-a shot of everything in our parents' liquor cabinet. Smoked cloves. Then trotted to the dance, held at the local grade school. There we waited in line, lots of shoving and Vice Principal power-wielding. Once in, I pounded a Cragmont and waited for the first slow song.
When the magical time arrived, I put as much distance between myself and the albino freak known since fifth grade for snacking on his boogers. Simultaneously, I tracked dream-boy and prayed that I wasn't the female equivalent of the albino. I had to jockey for a good position since there were only a few cute boys, and I always liked the same guy as all my friends. So by the time the music began, there was quite a throng around him. Like sperm to egg.
You could tell how much a guy liked you by what songs he danced with you to. He could dance with you like half the night, but if he saved his slow songs for another lass, it was over. There were a variety of slow songs and who you danced with depended on the song. Passionate crushes were expressed via short songs with fleeting popularity, like Journey's Open Arms. Just friends danced to almost-fast songs like It Must Be Love by Madness. True love was expressed during Stairway to Heaven. Unequivocally. For a full twenty minutes you rotated in the hug position, his thing pressed to yours. And if he was bold, had parents going through a rough divorce and was dealing with a lot of displaced anger and needed love, or he just kind of liked you, he rubbed and squeezed your butt.
It was super cool if you knew all the words to the songs. More cool if you could time your gyrations perfectly with the beats and riffs. But most important, you needed to jump up at the right moment during Rock Lobster. Dancing to the B-52's biggest hit required a slow crumble to the floor which coincided with the "down...down...down" portion of the song. Once on the ground, you waited until the song started rocking out again before you jumped up. Those uninterested in flirting with danger just waited until the brave jumped first and then sort of staggered up a few beats later. But the killer, awesome, righteous jumped at exactly the correct moment. Burdened with a weird haircut, clothes from the Goodwill and parents who drove the wrong car, I had few opportunities to really shine. I needed bonus points wherever I could get them. I needed a perfect jump.
Of course I jumped too early and had to spend an unbearable three seconds looking down at a sea of unforgiving, cannibal faces. I tried to recover, but my confidence had vaporized, my rhythm forsaken me. The whole dance was shot. I spend the rest of the night in the bathroom, mapping out my life as a drop-out (since there was NO fucking WAY that I was going back to school EVER AGAIN), then went outside early to wait for my mom. Monday rolled around, and the parentals made me go. Duh. At school, no one really said anything, and soon the whole event slopped back into perspective, eclipsed by someone else's mega embarrassment. Everyone found out Tammy had lice. Kirsten's period leaked through. The usual.
And I chalked the whole event up as one of those things you think of as shattering, but in reality, no one even remembers the grim moment--they're all too busy with their own tragedies. But it wasn't. Years later, I told this tale to a group of fellow 7th Grade survivors, and they all remembered it. They remembered what I was wearing, the song, the slo-mo quality of the event. Everything. They even, ohmyGOD, remembered laughing about it afterwards.
Now I can pinpoint the beginning of my life's downward spiral. That ill-timed jump robbed me of my upbeat spontaneity. Since then I've led a cursed existence, never sure of the right time to jump, the right time to lay still. Opportunities denied to me. Doors shut. I will never succeed. Never be loved.