Monday, March 24, 2014

Accidental Niceness

The nicest thing I ever did in high school was accidental.

I had a pretty great high school experience.  I was not one of those timid, uncomfortable girls in high school, instead, I was the quintessential be all, do all, not-a-cheerleader-as-that-was-beneath-me, kind of girls. I was quick with a comeback--pithy, witty, saucy, and that made me look like the smartest girl in the class.

I thought I was pretty cute but I wore coke bottle glasses and it turns out that an accurate vision of my own appearance wasn't the only part of my teen view that was distorted.
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 grocery store.
My nemesis through high school, (everybody has one, otherwise it wouldn’t be a good story)-- my arch-rival was Sandra D. 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 car with personalized license plates. I had my parent’s 20 yr old clunker, when they didn’t have it, which was always. Her family was rich—appeared to be anyway--again from my teen-altered perspective.
Anything I wanted she got, anything she got, I wanted. President of Speech and Forensics, she got it. President of Drama Club, me.  Choir, her. Valedictorian – I got it, but no, when the numbers were re-tallied, 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 Junior prom. In those days, the Senior Ball was kinda low key because the Seniors were all 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, and spent the big bucks on the plastic to encase it.  We strung colored lights, and painted murals--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 a Sandra's aunt, a school teacher and the only other dance teacher in town. The first day of promenade practice, the girls all lined up and set out to pirouette. The teacher had to know which ones 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 to 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, so they used the luck-of-the-draw-from-a-hat trick. 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 hat-picked partners.When I got back the next day and walked into the after school promenade rehearsal, I found out that Sandra lucked out with Dean and I was dancing with the reject guy—Judd.
Now, being a reject is a regional concept. In the state of Oklahoma, Judd would have been no reject—the boy was 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 pretend to 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 smack me right across the face and I will have to say, “I deserved that,” because I did. But this time, I shut my mouth and just danced. Sandra and I danced the best pirouettes, so we took the middle positions.
The Prom that year could have been titled the Year of the Loser Prom. It was this same dance when I first said yes to a pity date. I had avoided saying yes to another 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!) or that I was grounded, (and I should have been—for lying).  I just couldn’t go out as I had to babysit, (that was true, but my baby sister had doubled with me before—often, on many of my dates.)
But this other boy caught me at my lowest, two weeks before prom with 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--completely missing the irony. 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, take no photos. 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 couldn’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 what "clean" really looked like.  They humbled me and my uppity attitude 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 cleaning 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—another 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 your intended partner, Dean.”
“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 ever did in high school happened accidentally.

And that boy just might be the only guy at the reunion that I don’t have to duck.

1 comment:

Neko Carrillo said...

Such a great story. Thanks for sharing. XOXO