an essay from the archives….
It’s 1975, a hot spring day in my seventh grade classroom. Freddy is circulating down the rows of desks in the moments after recess, before class convenes. His name isn’t spelled with a “P-H”, but it should be. That Friday night is our school dance–a rare thing in this antiquated Catholic institution–and he’s determined to get a date. He asks every girl in class. Down the rows methodically. “Wanna go to the dance?” “Wanna go to the dance?” He says it so many times it’s like he’s chanting. At least a dozen rejections before he gets to me.
“Yes,” I say to him. He’s already started to walk toward the next girl, who happens to be my best friend. Good thing I say yes, ‘cause if he’d asked her she’d probably have slugged him. “Yes, you mean it?” he asks me. My best friend looks at me like I just killed her puppy.
I have my reasons for accepting Freddy. Actually one reason. Desperation. After years of cat-eye glasses and braces, years of the popular boys calling me “maggot,” I feel obligated to take whatever of the earth’s dregs is offered me. Freddy probably isn’t dregs, but he seems so at the time. It hasn’t occurred to me that I can do better.
For the next few days I am teased mercilessly about going to the dance with Freddy. Maria and the other popular girls snicker behind their English readers. Teresa the popular jock shouts “Desperate,” whenever she sees me. Freddy gets his share too. “Going to the dance with a maggot, poor guy.” But neither of us regrets our decision. At least this time we aren’t being teased for not having dates.
I don’t remember dancing with Freddy. All I remember of the actual dance is the smell of pubescent sweat, the dim lights, the punch bowl, the butterflies that came to my stomach at the idea of holding a boy for a slow dance.
Toward the end of the dance Freddy asks me if I’d like some fresh air. Even though I am a nerd, I know what this means. We go out to the lawn. He wipes his lips with the back of his hand, and the thought of kissing him feels completely wrong. Still I know I’ll let him. It will take me a couple more decades to learn that I have a choice with things like that. But the night of the seventh grade spring dance, I’m a homely, awkward 12 year old girl, willing to take anything anyone will give me.
Right after Freddy wipes his mouth I see a familiar face in my peripheral vision. Dad. Here to pick me up. Within ten seconds I am in the Jeep, homeward bound. My dad tells me I look beautiful. A real lady he says. But I don’t really hear him. I don’t really believe him.