“Drop me off over there, under that tree. I’ll walk.”
“Kimberly, it’s pouring out. I’m dropping you off in front, just like everyone else. Is that Katie? Hi, Katie!”
Mom waved as I ducked my head down below the passenger side window, so no one could see that I was being dropped off by an actual parent. At 13 years old, I was obviously old enough to drive myself, or at least make it appear that I had arrived to this dance as if by magic. Perhaps I even got a ride from a creepy high school dude named Dusty or Rusty or Kurt, because that was totally possible, too. I mean, I’d just changed out the elastics on my braces to an older, more mature shade of teal. My orthodontia brought all the boys to the yard.
Because I refused to wear any sort of jacket or be seen with something as stupid as an umbrella, my hair was already frizzing around my multicolored butterfly clips and my flared jeans were soaked through by the time I arrived inside. The lobby, so boring and familiar during the school day, became a whir of high-pitched chatter, incessant hugging, and obscene amounts of cotton candy body spray. Hugs were exchanged, compliments were cooed, crushes were spotted, and plans were hatched. We bounced into the dark cafeteria, which promised many more possibilities than chop suey or cheeseburgers on a night like this.
The DJ was both a teacher at the school and the father of a girl in my class, so he knew just what we sweaty, hormonal little gremlins wanted to hear. First, we lamented those triflin‘ scrubs with TLC. Then, without any transition, we were suddenly scatting and grunting to Korn’s “Freak on a Leash.” And as the ominous first notes of DMX’s “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem” – the radio edit – began to play, we launched our favorite familiar chant: “Stop! Drop! Shut ‘em down, open up shop!” We hadn’t the slightest idea what we were stopping, why we were dropping, who we were shutting down, nor how to open up shop, but we trusted that DMX did. We also learned that snitches wanna lie. I still pity the poor teachers that got suckered into chaperoning our obnoxious asses.
In between taking unnecessary bathroom trips in packs of eight, where we gossiped about who had brought the vodka-filled water bottle that was being passed around, hush-hush slow dance arrangements were quietly taking place. “Um, Matt wants to know if you’ll dance with him,” a courier approached and whispered to me as Savage Garden’s “I Knew I Loved You” began playing. I surveyed the shy guy behind him and while I most definitely didn’t dream him into life, a dance couldn’t hurt. “Sure,” I mumbled, and with that, a figure was pushed out of the shadows and into my outstretched arms. We spent the next three minutes making small talk about how much we hated the song. Shuffling clumsily in a circle at an uncomfortable distance from each other, our friends urged us to make out from the sidelines. As soon as the song ended, we turned away, giggling to our posse. This wouldn’t be spoken of on Monday.
By this point, my face was sufficiently sweat-streaked and red from jumping around to “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and my ill-fitting purple RAVE top was clinging for dear life to my frame. This meant only one thing: it was time to go home.
If you weren’t “going out” with anyone (read: walking them to the bus and stealing kisses during movies in class) and didn’t make it out of the cafeteria before the last song… well, lord have mercy on your soul. Unless you were a middle school dance virgin in my small New Hampshire town, you knew that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” always marked the end of the evening. Like the zombies encroaching at the end of the “Thriller” video, the great unwashed miscreants came out of the shadows and ravenously searched for a gal to grope and breathe heavily on during the song that never ended. I’d learned this at the first dance and vowed never to stick around that long again.
Though, come to think of closing time at the bar these days, I guess my 13-year-old self was smarter than I give her credit for.