Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Accidental Niceness

The nicest things I ever did in High School were accidental.

I thought I was pretty great in high school. I was the smartest girl with the highest ACT of all the other girls in my class. (I attended a rural high school, with a graduating class of about 50—and later I learned that we were not overloaded in the smarts department.)

I thought was the cutest. I wore coke bottle glasses, so I couldn’t see anyone else—at all—who was cuter.)

I was quick with a comeback--pithy, brilliant, saucy. I was not one of those timid, uncomfortable girls in high school—indeed, I was one of the obnoxious ones. I was the quintessential be all, do all, not-a-cheerleader-as-that-was-beneath-me, kind of girls.

What I was really best at was being a fraud. You know who I mean, that girl who managed to get through school with all the same insecurities as everyone else, but whose greatest talent was acting confident. Yup, that was me.

But I could pirouette. My momma was one of the only dance teachers in my little town. She would clear out the kitchen in the mornings all summer long and teach us ballet. First position, second position, third position, plie. She taught me as long as she could stand me and I took it from there. I practiced all the time and could perform a tight pirouette down in the aisles of our crowded little supermarket.

My nemesis through high school, everybody has one, (otherwise it wouldn’t be a good story) could have been the good girl, my opposite, but she wasn’t. My arch-rival was Sandra J. She and I had an unspoken competition going—one I didn’t learn all the details of until later. (The coke bottles distorted most things that were right in front of my face.)

What I perceived from my altered perspective was that she was spoiled rotten. She had her own red Camero with personalized license plates, Sandra J. I had my parent’s 20 yr old clunker, when they didn’t have it, which was always. She had a mother who was a teacher and their family was rich—appeared to be anyway.

Anything I wanted, she got, anything she got, I wanted. President of Speech and Forensics, she got it. President of FHA, her. Choir, her. Valedictorian – I got it, but no, when the numbers were re-tallied later, she won by 1/100th of a point. But I was the best dancer. I could pirouette!

It was Spring Prom time and it was my prom. In those days, the Senior Ball was kinda low key because they were focused on graduating. So the Junior Prom was the big thing. Juniors got to date (usually for the first time) since everybody was turning 16 about then. We got days off to decorate the gymnasium, spent the big bucks on the plastic to encase it, colored lights, the whole thing. The Juniors got dates, got group pictures, and most important, the Juniors got to promenade. That means to parade down the middle of the gym be presented, in their first formals/tuxedo’s and then the whole Junior class danced during intermission.

This dance, was choreographed every year by Sandra J’s aunt—the only other dance teacher in town. The first day of promenade practice, the girls were all lined up and set to pirouette. The teacher had to know which of us could pirouette the furthest because in her plan, at least two of us had to do it without barfing or slamming into anyone else. The best ones would dance in the center with their assigned partners.

Partners… that was a problem. Picking partners is like picking teams in P.E. You just know it’s going to get really ugly for some people. My dream dance partner was Dean—as in James Dean! He was handsome in that famous, unassuming yet brooding way. I would have died to dance with Dean. Thank goodness I was sick the day everyone selected partners. When I got back the next day and walked in to the afterschool promenade rehearsal, I found out that Sandra picked Dean and I was dancing with the left-over guy—Jud.

Now, being a reject is a regional concept. In our state, Jud would have been no reject—the boy was a giant! I’m not joking, a giant! He would have been the star fullback, and loved by everyone, coach and cheerleaders alike, but in my home state, he was just big, and… no dancer.

How my Momma got through my stuck-up, thick skull that I should be a nice person I don’t know. I was not naturally a nice person, I have this ongoing fear that I’ll go to a high school reunion and someone will walk up to me and smak me right across the face. I will have to say, “I deserved that,” because I did. But this time, I shut my mouth and just danced. Sandra J. and I danced the best pirouettes, so we got the middle.

My Prom could have been named the Year of the Loser Prom. It was this same dance that I first said yes to a pity date. I had avoided saying yes to this other certain boy in town, but he was determined. He suffered the ignominy of being told over and over that I could not go out, that I had to spend that evening washing my hair, (Yes, that excuse really works!) that I was grounded, (and I should have been—for lying) and that I just couldn’t go out as I had to babysit (True, but my baby sister had doubled with me before—often, on many of my dates.)

Finally this other boy caught me at my lowest, two weeks before prom and no date! In my little town, that was not done. In fact, at the Prom two years before, the boys had arranged for all the girls to have dates. They even pooled money and paid out cold hard cash for dates—just to make sure no one was humiliated--totally missing the point that paying for a date was humiliating. I tell you, dates were important.

So this boy caught me at a low point and I said I would go, but I told my Mom, no pictures. I will never date this person ever again and off I went to prom.

I pirouetted beautifully and I’m sure I wowed the audience. I really don’t know how it looked, because at that time I spurned wearing my coke bottles glasses to important functions like that so I really didn’t see how it went, because of course I couldn’t see anything. But I was certain, I was beautiful.

Skip ahead three years, I was now married to my “never date again prom date”. And I was working full time, team-cleaning condominiums for the ski season in the tourist town next door.

I loved my cleaning team. Those women ranged in age from 15 to 50 and they taught me so much. They taught me to work and they helped me discover that age was only a number—that hilarity is ageless and that girls will be girls no matter how old.

I benefited so much from their training and on my last day, I mentioned how much the friendships meant to me and my partner that day responded, “You’ve always meant a lot to me, too… ever since you danced with my son.”

I didn’t want to say, “I had to.” So I wisely shut up. That was one of best things these women tried to teach me—to shut up!

She went on as if reading my mind, “I know you didn’t have to.” “He told me that that day at the gym when everyone was picking partners—a girl pulled his name out of the hat, and she threw such a fit, that they let her put his name back and she took Dean, your intended partner.”

“You danced with my son. And you will never know until you have children of your own what that means to a mom.”

And she’s right. I never really understood until I had boys of my own.

So really, at that loser prom, two of the nicest things I did in High School happened--totally by accident? Who knows.

But guess what? That boy might be one of the guys at the reunion that I don’t have to duck.

1 comment:

Sister Babcock said...

Beautiful story. Your warm funny memories have influenced how I write about and think about my own life. Thanks for sharing it.