My first boy/girl dance was in the 7th grade. At least, it was the first boy/girl dance I remember attending. It was in the spring, but it was practically after school let out, so it’s not as though it was this grand affair with tuxes and limos. We just slapped on a tie and went back to the gym where we had waited for the bus not more than a couple of hours before.
My self-esteem in the 7th grade, on a scale of 1 to Awesome, hovered somewhere near three. This didn’t stop me from being enamored with girls. I had a crush on a lot of girls. Silent crushes, of course, because of the aforementioned self-esteem. But, in my head, they were dream states. Y’know that scene in ‘Wayne’s World’ where Garth hears Dreamweaver? Yeah…that was me. Still, in the 7th grade, I was halfway to manhood Aside: *snort* and this was my opportunity to ask out my current crush. Her name was Myrna* and she was tall (which for a seventh grader really wasn’t that tall) and brunette and I thought she hung the moon even though I didn’t know squat about her other than her name and where she went to school, and this only because she sat behind me in math.
I went through the effort of calling her to ask her to the dance. Back in my day, we had to look this number up in a large book and go to the kitchen where the phone was attached to a line in the wall and talk to our desired party in front of any and every one who wandered by, including parents or younger siblings. My self-esteem level was boosted to 4 just to make this phone call. Yet, by most accounts, it could be said that this phone call was a harbinger of things to come. After I asked Myrna to the dance, she stated that she was going to be attending the dance with several of her friends and that she would see me there. In my 7th grade consciousness, this meant that we would meet at the dance, glide across the gym floor for an hour, and then, possibly, a kiss. On her end, I’m guessing that she was pretty clearly stating that most, if not all, of this was never going to happen. She was simply being polite. Looking back, this should’ve been much clearer to me, but when your vision is clouded with Dreamweaver sparkles it’s hard to notice these things.
So, I got spiffed up and headed for the dance. Dance is a loose term for this sort of event. A large gym with a stage at one end that had the lights out and a few tables here and there. I don’t even remember there being refreshments. Just loud music and moderately dim lighting since there were unshaded windows near the ceiling. I should also mention that I don’t actually dance. I mean, I can shuffle back and forth. I’m aware of the notion of rhythm. But, in no uncertain terms could any movement I’ve ever done be misconstrued as “dancing.” My goal was simply to get to Myrna, hold tight at 8 and 4, and sway back and forth until the chaperones made us leave the gym. But, she had other plans.
She arrived with her friends, and they stood in a gaggle, talking. For a 4 on the ‘EsteeMeter’ I didn’t have many options for breaking into the group. At some point, I must have gained an extra ½ point or so and I asked her to dance. And my world fell apart.
No? NO!? Okay…um, yeah, alright…I’ll, um, I’m just…ugh! And as I walked slowly away the tears rolled out. Not heaving sobs or anything, because y’know, halfway to manhood and all…but hot burning shame droplets that my friends could see. Well, they would’ve seen if they’d been there, but my friends didn’t dance. They were smart enough to realize back in the seventh grade that dances were a waste of valuable effort and the return on investment was simply not worth the risk. To make all this worse, there was nowhere for me to go. It wasn’t long before the dance would end. I couldn’t drive away because it was the 7th grade for cryin’ out loud. I could’ve walked home, but in my emotional state that didn’t occur to me, plus my parents were supposed to pick me up.
There was one friend, Albert**, who was a mutual friend of both of us. I had spent several minutes sitting at one of the lonely, undecorated tables in a middle school gym, listening to Richard Marx sing about love, when he came over. He told me that Myrna had said I should get up and dance. I fumed, and I was angry at Albert, at Myrna, at Richard Marx, at whatever fool had dreamed up dancing in the first place. What right did she have to dictate to me how I should react to being shot down at my first dance? Why the hell did she send an emissary on a peace mission that was bound to fail among 7th grade egos? Whatever possessed me to want to go to a dance in the first place? I waited it out. I sat there sulking, stealthily wiping away tears, until the music ended and the bright halogen lights came on. I walked out into the fading early evening sunlight and slumped into the backseat of my parents’ car.
No, I didn’t want to talk about it. No, I did not have a good time. I was fine. I just wanted to go home.
*Not her real name
**Not his real name