“We need to find you a boyfriend.”
It was the fall of 1986. Earlier that year, the space shuttle Challenger had disintegrated 73 seconds after launch, and Halley’s comet had reached its perihelion. I was 11 years old, going on 12, and had just started the seventh grade. My gangly limbs seemed to grow faster than my body. I wore braces and glasses, and my frizzy brown hair had a mind of its own. Never mind the fact that I played first violin in the orchestra, attended GATE accelerated classes, and couldn’t get enough of Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels. You guessed it: I was a nerd.
“Who, me?” I glanced at my new friend. Rose and her father had moved into a house down the street a few months earlier. She went to Hoover Middle School, just like me, but she was far more sophisticated than I. We ran in completely different social circles at school, but when we were at our houses, away from school, we got along just fine.
“Yes, you. Don’t you want one?” She held up her hand to her face, palm facing me, and began gently blowing on her newly-painted blue fingernails.
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I picked out a bubble-gum pink polish from her collection and began to paint my own fingernails. I always kept my fingernails short to play violin, and I was dismayed to notice that my stubby-fingered manicure paled in comparison to her graceful, slender digits.
“What kind of boy do you want? I can get you anyone,” she boasted.
“Uh…I don’t know.” My mind lept to Richard, my first crush, but I quickly tossed out the idea. I had come on a little strong the previous year, and now he wasn’t talking to me anymore. Okay, so I’d named my pet rabbit after him and drawn lots of pictures of him in my notebook. In hindsight, maybe that was a little creepy.
The only other boy I really knew was Gabe, a scrawny pipsqueak of a kid who was in my English class. He had a ready smile for anyone and liked to make fun of our English teacher, which made me giggle, but…well…he wasn’t exactly dreamy.
“Well, let’s see…” she paused, mulling over what must have been her extensive mental Rolodex of single boys. “Do you want a virgin or a non-virgin?”
The question took me aback. Were you supposed to pick out boyfriends as if they were bottles of olive oil at the grocery store? “I…er…”
She looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “I think you’d be better off with a virgin. That way he won’t pressure you to do anything you don’t want to do.”
This kind of conversation was a little beyond my comprehension. I had only just begun to read ‘Teen magazine, which touched on issues of sexuality, but only in an abstinence-friendly kind of way. I had not much contemplated being kissed, much less that there might be something else to do after the kiss.
But I could tell Rose was determined to set me up. “Um. Okay,” I said, as I watched her frosty glossed lips curve upwards into a smile.
“Fantastic! I know just the guy.”
At homeroom the next day, the tinny voice over the loudspeaker announced that Hoover would be holding its annual winter dance in two weeks. Rose looked over her shoulder at me and mouthed, “This is perfect.” Embarrassed, I looked down at my textbook and pretended to be studying math.
At this point in time, the entirety of my romantic world view was informed by Judy Blume books and movies like Sixteen Candles. All I knew was that a dance would mean that I might meet that special someone, and I would have to dance with him. Maybe even slow dance. How would this even work? Was Rose going to invite this boy to our school dance? Was he going to pick me up and take me there on his bike? Or would we have to take the bus? What if I didn’t like him? What was I going to wear?
Endless questions swirled in my mind for the next two weeks. Rose was swept up in her own preparations and had no time to talk to me, even after school. And then, the morning of the dance, Rose slipped me a note in homeroom. I opened it to find these three hastily-scrawled words:
“HE’S NOT COMING.”
Crestfallen, I glanced at Rose, who was studiously avoiding my gaze. I thought I should feel sadder, but somehow I was okay with not meeting this mystery boy. Truth be told, I had been a little frightened of meeting him.
I decided to go to the dance and just hang out with my friends.
The winter dance was held at the gym of the school, just as you might expect. There were some balloons and streamers decorating the walls, but it still looked and smelled like the gym. The lights were dimmed and a DJ was set up on one side of the room. Kids were mingling, but not very many were dancing. Everyone seemed a little too scared to actually get on the dance floor.
I did a little bit of bobbing up and down to the beat from where I was standing, but mostly I looked around to see what everyone else was doing. Rose was in the corner with her circle of friends, laughing loudly. Only two of my nerd friends were there, and they weren’t dancing, so I felt a little exposed.
I saw Richard on the dance floor. I waved at him, and he half-smiled and turned away.
I swallowed and felt my cheeks getting hot.
“Hey, how are you?” a voice said behind me.
I turned around. It was Gabe. Skinny Gabe with his crooked teeth. He was smiling at me.
“I’m okay, I guess.”
“I can’t tell if you are dancing. Are you dancing?”
“I don’t know.” I smiled and shrugged as I bobbed to the music. “This isn’t dancing?”
All of a sudden, the song ended, and the next song that came on was “Open Arms” by Journey. The piano/synth introduction played out as many of the kids fled the dance floor. Gabe held out his arms. “Do you want to dance with me?”
“Um. Okay.” I took his hands.
It was awkward. We didn’t know where to put our hands as we swayed to the music. Gabe kept making jokes about how silly the other kids on the dance floor looked, and I tried not to think that we looked just as silly. I didn’t really feel like leaning in to him the way they did in the movies, and he didn’t make any moves to pull me close.
After the music ended, he waved goodbye to me and went to talk to some of his other friends. I joined my nerdy friends at the side of the room, and the dance was over soon afterwards.
Gabe never stopped smiling at me in class, but he never made any attempts to go out with me either. I think neither of us was ready for that kind of commitment, but we both wanted the experience of dancing a slow dance. And I don’t know about him, but I’m glad I got to do it with someone that I trusted.
This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Runaway Sentence, who gave me this prompt:
open arms. not the journey song. unless you insist. ah, it’s up to you.
Most of what I wrote here is autobiographical. I had to change up some of the time frame to help with the storytelling, but essentially it’s all true.
You can read FlamingNyx’s response to my prompt here before the end of the week.