Every year I make it a point to attend the Freshman Banquet – it’s nice to see my kiddos cleaned up and in ironed clothes (well, most of them). Today they used their journals to write about the banquet. The girls were excited about hair, nails, dresses, and dancing. The boys were even excited about getting dressed up – I helped a few of them with important what-to-wear questions. On the other hand, these young men weren’t so excited about the dancing part. One of the guys wrote he hoped there would be food at the banquet…which led me to believe the term “banquet” may be foreign to a handful of my minions.
In the midst of reading about their excitements, hopes, fears, and worries, I was suddenly reminded of my very first school dance experience. I can’t decide if I had forgotten about it because it was so unimportant, or if the “forgetfulness” is actually repression.
I was living in Devol, Oklahoma at the time – eleven or twelve years old. Our town was so small we went to school in the next town over, where the elementary consisted of kindergarten through sixth grade in one building, and high school was seventh through twelfth across the street. Both buildings had one hallway. There were a whopping twenty kids in my class; had I lived there long enough to gradate, the numbers would have fluctuated little. As October rolled around I started hearing about the Halloween dance…my mind was filled with fabulous costume ideas (that would never materialize), ideas of laughter and frivolity.
Looking back, I ask myself what business a twelve year-old has in the presence of an eighteen year-old, and the answer is easily “None!” While “back then” only occurred roughly fifteen years ago, it might as well have been fifty years; living in that part of the country was a true step back in time. This place proved the embodiment of every sappy country song that sings of small towns. Take a second to imagine a gathering today where teens ages twelve through eighteen co-mingle: Yikes!
As with most fantasies fashioned in the teenage mind, the night didn’t go as imagined. The children of my idle brain were begot of nothing but vain fantasy, and proved more inconstant than the wind. While I can’t remember 100%, I’m pretty sure Dad dropped me off outside – and I’m sure I nonchalantly got out of the mid-90’s Ford Explorer, acting unfazed as I walked to the entrance (which probably cost $2); all the while internally flipping out. My friend Barbara (one of the three girls in my class) told me she would be there, but her pudgy little freckled-face never materialized.
Had cell phones been part of daily life, I would have called and implored her presence – however, at that time “mobile phones” were plugged into cigarette lighters and carried around in large bags. As Dad drove away I remembered standing inside…alone…not more than five feet past the entrance. No matter how much I silently willed him back, there was no chariot to take me from my hidden misery. I planted myself against the wall, resigned to watch and remain unnoticed by the “super-cool” sixteen and seventeen year-olds. After what seemed an eternity of blending into the background, content to be ignored, someone noticed me. And then I was asked to dance.
This quintessential country boy, probably sixteen years of age, caught my eye and walked towards me. This wasn’t a fairy tale moment, nor was it the budding of a relationship – it wasn’t even the start of a friendship. His family went to our church, where my father was the pastor. No one was a stranger in this town; you not only knew the families, you knew about their predecessors, shortcoming, dark pasts, and everything in between…or at least someone’s skewed version of it. While a small part of me wanted to melt into the floor and remain invisible, a larger part of me was grateful he chose to be kind. He politely asked me to dance, then steered me though a two-step full of missteps on my behalf. After that, I returned to my wall-flower state and waited for the triumphant return of my father…or mother…it’s hazy at this point. I doubt either one of them would even remember. Slipping into the front seat, I fielded the normal barrage of post-dance questions: Did you have a good time? Did you dance? To which I eloquently answered, “No. Yes.”
I remember being thankfully embarrassed for this young man. To be sixteen and surrounded by your friends does not usually lead one to lower his social status and ask a seventh grader to dance. Even though I hadn’t thought about it in years, my heart still smiles at his compassion and ensuing effort to make me feel less awkward. This serves as a reminder that no matter how hard people try to fade into oblivion, no one truly wants to go unnoticed.