Last week I showed how I sometimes questioned my teenage friendships, and in “Soap Operas” I called Scott, the most popular boy in “The Group,” shallow. That’s the background for this week’s two excerpts from my Darien High School memoir.
The first involves Priscilla, who has appeared numerous times before, last week as the girl who held a birthday party for a Group member who was feeling neglected. In an earlier episode, Priscilla was caught up in the soap operas around Scott.
The second excerpt features Scott himself. Also here is Doug, most recently choreographer of the date from hell.
One evening, when it somehow came about that Priscilla and I were on our own in her home’s furnished basement, where she hosted Group parties, she stood before me and announced, “I’m going to teach you to dance.”
From the couch, I stared up at her in horror.
“It’s easy,” she said. “I’ve seen you tapping to the beat, so I know you have rhythm. Come on.”
Considering how miserable I felt when left out of Group activities, I couldn’t refuse. Rising, I became aware of her before me in a stance of amiable challenge.
“Now,” she said, “loosen up your shoulders.”
I made like a statue with rotating shoulders.
“A little more enthusiasm.” She laid her hand on my right shoulder and urged it to move more emphatically. When she let go, I tried to put conviction into it.
“Okay, keep rotating your shoulders, and now loosen up your arms, backwards and forwards, side to side. Don’t let them dangle like that. Show me you’re the puppet master.”
She took my hands in hers and communicated the motion through her arms. “That’s more like it.” She let go. Without her guidance, I felt sure I had the rhythm all wrong.
“Now move your hips. Go on, rotate, and side to side.”
This dance thing was getting lurid.
“I can’t see any movement,” she said. “Loosen up there. Keep your shoulders and arms moving.” She took my hands again and placed them at her hips. “Like this.”
Contact with her body sent a thrill through me. Even to a glancing touch, a girl’s waist and hips were different from a guy’s, and it wasn’t just the shape. It was in the muscle tone, a stretched softness.
Priscilla continued the downward descent. “Move your feet, one foot forward, then follow with the other. That’s it. Now, back in the same sequence.”
All this bobbing around made me anxious about toppling over. My hips stayed stiff, while my ankles seemed so far away that they were impervious to neural commands.
Priscilla saw my distress. “Here, give me your hands.” I held them out, and she turned them palm-down before placing hers under them. “I’ll help you keep your balance. Now, put your right foot forward, then your left. Don’t stop rotating.”
Steadied by her hands, I stepped forward with my left foot, then with my right, then backwards in the same sequence.
Come to think of it, walking with the cane was a kind of dance step, the way I had to tap to the right as I stepped forward with my left foot and then arc my cane to the left as my right foot stepped to the place my cane had found safe. It had taken months of practice, but by now the habit was ingrained. As with cane technique, dancing would take practice, though more so considering I had simultaneously to gyrate my shoulders and arms, but it might be possible.
“Keep moving,” she said.
Soon, careening around like a two-legged mass of Jell-O, I was dragging her through the basement. Had I been able to see and was doing this in front of a mirror, I’d want to shoot myself.
“Stop,” she instructed, “take a breath.”
But after a brief respite, she said, “Wait while I put a record on. Okay, now, let’s try again.”
* * *
One Wednesday evening in February, harem-guy Scott held a party at his house. A lot of snow had fallen on the weekend, and more was falling that night. Loaded down with coats, scarves, hats and gloves, we stayed out in his yard.
At my side, Scott handed me a snowball. “There’s a tree right ahead of you. See if you can hit it.”
I pulled my arm back and hurled. The snowball made a satisfying thwack.
“That’s great,” he said. “Here’s another.” He paused as he fashioned a snowball. “Now, turn a little to your right. That’s it. See if you can get our mailbox.”
I threw with all my might. No thwack. “Missed,” I said.
“Almost. Try again? This time just a little bit more to the right.”
Scott’s enthusiasm overcame my dislike of being guided in such an overt way. Childhood memories of snowball fights kicking in, I reached down to pick up some snow and molded it into a ball. Then I hurled and scored a hit. Ragged cheers from the Group.
Scott came closer and whispered, “Don’t turn yet and don’t look in that direction, but if you aim maybe fifteen degrees to your left, you’ll get Doug. He’s overdue.”
He handed me a snowball and I hurled.
“Ha ha,” Doug yelled. “Missed me, you cocksucker.”
I reached down hurriedly and made a new missile. While Doug was still laughing at me, I hurled in the direction of his voice. Got him. The next I knew, he’d got me back with a snowball at my shoulder. The shock of it surprised me. It had been so long since I’d played this game. He hit me two more times, while two of my next three missed him. The one that struck home produced a series of gleeful complaints.
Afterwards, I wrote in my journal: “It was the first party I could honestly say I participated in.” To say these people weren’t truly friends, as I’d already realized, wasn’t about them at all. It was about me and frustration.
The strenuous activity, abetted by the cold, left me aching all over. I went to bed, tired but with peace of mind.
Equality. It might be relative, but it felt good.
To read all my memoir excerpts to date, along with other recent posts, please go to the blog page of my website here.