(Written on Valentine's day, for English class. )
When I was in eighth grade, I went to a three-day camp with our school band. The camp was fun, but nothing much happened -- that is until the last night, the night of the dance.
"What time is the dance, now?" I asked Stuart, as I stepped out of the cabin shower.
"Seven," he answered. "Let's go, it's getting dark already."
"OK, wait a minute," I replied, hurriedly drying off and dressing.
"Eh, Roderick! You gonna rock out tonight or what?"
"Maybe," I said. Although no one in the cabin knew it, this was a statement of great seriousness and significance to me. I was very shy, and up to that time, I had not danced a single step -- at least, not with a real, live girl.
As my friends and I walked over to the assembly hall, I wondered if this dance would be the one: the momentous occasion when I would finally muster the courage to go out on the floor for the first time.
We entered the assembly hall and sat down. The room was completely dark, except for a flickering hearth. There was no music; the dance had not yet started. As I sat, I thought to myself, "Well, here's another dance where nobody's going to participate."
Just then, the first record went on. It was a loud, funky number, with a heavy downbeat. All at once, everybody got onto the floor and started to boogie. Only a minority of wallflowers, like me, remained seated.
From my chair, I was able to observe the graphic motion on the dance floor. It all seemed so wild, so savage, like some ancient war dance around a bonfire. I couldn't picture myself doing it. Yet, I watched intently, hoping that I might learn a few things. I thought back to Elementary school a few years earlier. In some schools, like Niu Valley Elementary, they taught rock dancing as part of the PE curriculum. Us? We had square dancing. How useless! I think my Mom had also taught me how to waltz at one time. Again, worthless! For a full hour, I sat quietly with my thoughts, passively observing.
I was beginning to feel restless. I knew that I should be out there with the rest of the people, dancing. Though I had eaten a sizeable dinner, I still felt an emptiness in my gut -- the emptiness of anticipation. My muscles tensed. All right, this was it. I was going to walk up and ask a girl to dance as soon as the next song started.
The next song started. "F-ck! I going..." the guy next to me exclaimed, as he boldly sprung up and paced purposefully over to the girls' side of the room. One less wallflower. I wanted to follow him; my legs gave a twitch, but wouldn't move. The weight of insecurity held me fast to my seat. I took deep breaths, hoping to bolster my strength. Finally, I felt I would be able to get up. Unfortunately, by this time, two minutes of the song had already elapsed, and in my 14-year-old mind, it was certainly too late to go up for that dance. I firmly resolved to take up the next song.
As I waited, I remembered that someone had once said, "Sometimes (when I'm in trouble) I believe in God." Somehow, at that point, God seemed very real to me. In those days, I had fully interactive conversations with Him. As I gazed at the patterns of firelight dancing on the ceiling, I had a little prayer.
"What should I do now, God?"
I even got an answer: "WELL RODERICK, IT'S ALL UP TO YOU. I'M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU WHAT TO DO. YOU HAVE TO DECIDE."
"So what kind of answer is that?" I thought to myself.
I looked to my left and was surprised to see my friend Jay, still sitting in his chair.
"You goin' dance, or what?" I asked him.
"No," he told me.
"Why?" I queried.
"Coward," he admitted.
I smiled and gave a slight nod, but did not laugh at Jay, for I understood. I felt relieved that I was not the only one in that situation. In fact, if anything, Jay was more honest than me.
I scanned the dance floor, thinking about whom I should ask. Ideally, I wanted to dance with Jan, for at the time, I had a huge crush on her. SERIOUS crush. However, I also knew that there was no way I was ever going to get up the courage to just walk right up and ask her. Why, I couldn't even look her straight in the eyes for more than two seconds! It would have to be someone else. As I surveyed that floor, I noticed that some of the girls were really terrific dancers. Well, those were right out. I didn't want a terrific dancer as a partner -- she might laugh at me. Ah, yes! Vicki would be perfect. That she and Jan were both in the percussion section together was pure coincidence.
When the present song ended, I braced myself. I was ready to get up and ask Vicki as soon as the music started again. Oh, no! Slow one. 8th grade slow dancing (the "Clutch") was actually easier than fast dancing, because there was no particular technique required. All you had to do was sway with the music and hold each other close. How I longed to do that, but there was no way I would be able to! Holy cow, it looked like everyone was making out on the dance floor. Once again, I waited.
As I sat anxiously, I asked Jay whether he knew when the dance would end.
"Ten o'clock, I think," he said.
I secretly panicked. Ten o'clock was only fifteen minutes away! This was my last chance. Do or die; if I did not go up for the next dance, there would be no opportunity for a long, long time.
My heart began to accelerate. It boomed in my chest like the Timpani's that Jan played in rehearsal. I felt as if I had been given a pint of Adrenaline. My stomach was shaking. I took deep breaths, almost hyperventilating, as I readied myself for the Herculean task.
"Come on, Roderick, this is easy," I kept telling myself. "All you have to do is get up, walk over there, and ask Vicki to dance. It'll all be over in five minutes."
Then, the next song started. "I just want to celebrate, another day of living..."
That was the moment of truth. I was ready. I stood up and started walking directly towards Vicki. When I was about halfway across the room, I began to have second thoughts. I realized that I was making a complete fool of myself, but it was too late to turn back.
I walked up to Vicki, trying to hide my nervousness (and not doing a very good job, either), and asked, "Do you wanna dance?"
She did not say yes. She paused for about half a second before responding, but it seemed like half an hour. In 500 milliseconds, I generated about six different scenarios in my mind. Some of them involved slaps or kicks in the genitals. In the worst, I could just picture her loudly shouting, "Get lost!" Amazingly, she did no such thing. She stood up. I took that as an OK, and she followed me out onto the floor.
Once we had staked out a spot on the crowded floor, we started to dance. For myself, I use the term, "dance," loosely. Vicki's style was simple, yet graceful and well-defined. My style? The words "awkward" and "clumsy" come to mind. I repeatedly stepped on other people's feet, and was continuously apologizing. Feeling like such an ass, I prayed for the song to end quickly. After what seemed an eternity, it finally did. I thanked Vicki, and then, ducked outside. I was too embarrassed to remain in the same room with her.
Outside, I paused and looked up. Framed by the silhouettes of Ironwood branches, the full moon soared high and free in the cool night breeze. Never before had I seen a moon so blue. I was ethereally giddy, for I knew that although I had made a fool of myself -- no, because I had made a fool of myself -- this was to be one of the milestone events of my life. Someday, dances would be fun.
Epilogue(not part of the original paper)
At every social event, there are a thousand stories. Here are two more from that night.
It was twilight when my friends and I were walking over to the dance. We passed another cabin, and saw Arthur inside, sitting on the bunk, with a schoolbook out. Now, Arthur was the last person who needed to work. He was no genius (at least I didn't think he was), but achieved his phenomenal grades through plain, hard work. I always felt he was pushed by someone, rather than pulled by his own fascination with learning. Arthur was a generally nice guy, but painfully shy.
"You goin' to the dance, or what?" we asked.
"No," Arthur mumbled.
"I have work to do."
"Do it later, come on, let's go."
"No, I have to work."
At that point, Wanda and her friends walked up. Wanda was able to take advantage of her petite stature to look really cute. Her friends, though somewhat taller, were also pretty high on the looks scale. Wanda was rather wild and flirtatious, by Hawaiian standards, though underneath it all, she really did have a kind heart.
"Aren't you going to the dance?" Wanda asked.
"No," Arthur repeated.
"You can come with us," she suggested.
"No, thanks." Having someone to go with was clearly not the issue with him.
"You're just going to stay here and do homework?" Wanda asked quizzically. It was breaking her heart.
"You want us to stay and keep you company?" she offered.
"We could play cards…"
"How about if we just play and you watch?"
"No, that's okay!" Arthur had crossed the embarrassment county line miles ago.
Now before anyone thinks poorly of Wanda for teasing a shy boy like that, let me say that I think that she was truly motivated by kindness. In the unimaginable event that Arthur accepted, she probably would have gone through with it, at least to a point. And it would have been mercy, not sex.
And before anyone feels sorry for Arthur, who probably declined the stag-show-to-end-all-stag-shows, let me say that somehow, I think he's doing just great, now. The kind of guy who's like that in Intermediate and High School usually becomes the most dedicated, sensitive, desirable boyfriend in college. And usually makes megabucks later in life. I believe he's a doctor, now.
Back in the cabin, as we boys were lying in our bunks in the dark, we discussed the dance.
Steven related the gossip: "Did you hear that Vicki (flute player, not Vicky, the percussion) was crying after the dance?"
"Because nobody asked her to dance."
"What??!!" said Stuart in disbelief, "I could see maybe X* not getting asked to dance, but not a nice girl like Vicki!"
We were all flabbergasted. Vicki was a nice girl. Average to above-average pretty. Absolutely nothing wrong with her! It must have been pure random chance that she didn't get asked. How crushing that must have been to a young girl's spirit! How devastating to sit there for the whole 3 hours and not be able to do anything about it! I thought boys had it bad, but at least if we didn't dance, we had control. If I had only had a clue about Vicki, one dance could have been salvation for both of us.
* A very overweight girl. In elementary school, we had square dancing in 5th grade, and when Michael was assigned to her, he cried. What a terrible blow to her self-esteem. I had to take his place. I was known for associating with the strange, unpopular, or otherwise different.