Greetings, readers! Glad to have you back. Today’s story is about my first experience with one of humankind’s primary rituals of romance–the slow dance.
I always imagined that my first slow dance would be with the love of my life of high school. At one of the Blackout Dances or Winter Formals, I’d be in a cute little dress, nothing like the Operation Christmas Child or Dunder Mifflin T-Shirts I wore alternately 3 days a week freshman year that appeared to be my usual garb. High School Love would see me in a new light, and take a sharp breath, and hold it in. And for a moment, it would be just us. I’d meet his gaze as the DJ called out, “alright all you little shawties and hawties–we’re gonna take it reeeal slowww now, so grab that special someone, and let’s boogie.” I would be his special someone. He would be my special someone. We’d walk towards each other, then one of us would trip, and it would be hilarious, and would make us remember why we were right for each other. As he took my hand, I’d apologize for profusely sweating, and he’d say, “it’s okay baby, I like your sweat.” And I’d say, “Oh, that makes me a little uncomfortable.” And then we’d dance.
He would shake his hair to the left like Justin Bieber, but it wouldn’t move because it was a matted helmet of chestnut. That was the trend at the time–winds up to 95 mph couldn’t so much as move a hair–but it never looked better on anyone else. Except that guy from World History. But High School Love had my heart. I would lift my arm and twirl him around–reversing gender stereotypes with a mate was always something I fancied–and he’d laugh and play along. My friends would sneak photos that I would fawn over for the next few weeks and always think about uploading to Facebook, but wouldn’t because that would be weird and yucky. As he drew me near to him, I’d rest my head on his chest, thankful to avoid the awkward eye contact that precedes falling for someone and freaks me the piss out, and I’d finally be able to let the ginormous, goofy smile I’d been suppressing all night loose, all the while praying that the acoustic version of Let’s Get it Started by The Black Eyed Peas would never end, and it would be magic.
Of course, reality was never good at keeping up with our demands, so this fantasy never came to fruition. Slow dances in high school were the same for me as they were for many of us–often only turning up one half of a couple who was so into grinding on each other that they accidentally brushed against one of my unsuspecting buttcheeks, or simply functioning as an alert to make a beeline for the bathroom.
No, this fantasy with High School Love never did make itself manifest, but my first slow dance did give me a special someone. It just happened in a way I would have never expected.
This is our story.
My friend Sarah and I were members of my high school’s Key Club–an organization centralized around community service. Most of the kids just did it because they wanted something on their college applications, but we did it with something bigger in mind–the free stuff. The only membership requirements were a good GPA and 50 hours of service. So we were always on the lookout for little things we could do together to get our hours. She told me about a volunteer opportunity at a church pretty close to our school, acting as something of chaperons for an adult special needs Halloween dance. I didn’t have any conflicts, and it sounded good to me, so we signed up.
We had seen emails for the event about going in costume, and we loved an opportunity to dress up, and, I mean, Halloween rocks, so we decided to go as cats. Our outfits were pretty minimal and really were a bit sad, but we had fun drawing noses and whiskers on ourselves.
It was an October evening during our sophomore years of high school. Sarah’s dad dropped us off at the church sometime after dark and we headed inside, ready for a night of service and in high hopes for free refreshments. We signed a few forms, got our Key Club paperwork taken care of, and then were on our merry way. They told us to just go around and make sure everyone was having a good time, and to generally help out wherever it looked like we might be needed. So we headed straight to the refreshments and started eating crackers. A blonde woman approached us. “I like your cos-tumes!” she cooed, enunciating her words almost like she thought we were little kids. And that’s when we realized…she thought we were special needs. No mal-intent here, but it was pretty funny. Anyway, we thanked her, and then, feeling that we should actually probably do some volunteer work, decided to back off of the refreshments.
“We’re the only ones dressed up,” Sarah whispered. “What? Everybody’s dressed up,” I replied, looking out upon the sea of princesses, animals, and other creatures. “No,” she said, “we’re the only volunteers dressed up.” I scanned the room again and realized she was right. The other volunteers were mostly adults, but there were a few others kids our age–one of whom was a very cute boy, maybe a year younger than me. None of them even had a pair of fuzzy ears. We understood what had happened by the refreshments table.
Sarah and I were clueless and awkward, so we decided to consult another volunteer as to what we should be doing. She introduced us to a girl dressed as a princess (I think), and told us to just hang out with her and help her mingle. So, we did. We took to the floor like a storm, the three of us, and started dancing with some of the other costumed folks there. Sarah and I took the lead making up dance moves for everyone to imitate. Our moves were like our costumes–very sad, really–but they didn’t seem to mind, so we danced the night away.
I still had my eye on the cute volunteer boy whenever he was nearby, but he mostly hung out by the refreshments and was difficult to get the attention of. I was pretty sure he had smiled at me earlier though, so I was willing to take my chances. I knew that the first thing I said to him had to be witty enough to compensate for my slowly deteriorating pipe cleaner cat ears and likely smeared nose makeup. But even as I plotted for our meeting, I found my mind always drifting back to High School Love. Oh, but if he could just walk in that door…it would buckle my knees if he walked in that door…
And then…he did.
My heart stopped. Sarah gasped and looked my way. “He must be here for Key Club too!” she exclaimed. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even want to pinch myself as he drew nearer, slightly slouched, just the right amount of unconfident, hazel eyes so irresistible. The lights steadied and the music slowed. He jogged toward me to close the rest of the distance, drinking in my expression, and chuckled, “I always wished I’d asked before, but you were always in the bathroom…so, do you wanna–?”
Jk. It’s called “Accidentally Tragic,” remember? (Did I trick (-or-treat) (hah!) (Halloween theme) (someone stop me) anyone?)
But anyway, poorly executed siblings of red herrings/boldface lies aside: High School Love was never to show, and Cute Volunteer Boy remained by the refreshments. But I was not to dance alone that night. A slow song came on, and various costumed folk paired off to dance with one another in whatever way they saw fit. I got a tap on the shoulder and turned around to see who it was. It was an older man, probably in his twenties, with his hair slicked back, dressed like Dracula. And he was wearing a cape. And there was a giant booger in his nose. And folks, please don’t take it for more than face value, but I was scared. I remember, though, he looked so shy, holding his hand out to me, so as I looked back, I knew what I had to do.
And thus, I had my first slow dance with a special needs man dressed as a vampire.
He didn’t make eye contact, so I mostly found myself looking at the booger. Although looking might not be the best word, it was more…monitoring. I know this is going to sound horrible, and it has nothing to do with him being special needs, but I just remember being so scared that it was going to fly out and land on me. However, that Dracula (cause Dracula is sometimes a bat) stayed in the cave. We swayed side to side very quickly, rotating almost just as fast. Keeping tempo with the music wasn’t important, nor was execution. That was something I’ll always appreciate. He and most everyone there were similar in the fact that they were fearless of their peers’ judgement. And regardless of how you speculate that may have come to be, I thought it very admirable. When the song came to a close, we parted, and I waited to see that big smile on his face that I knew would make me feel just as good and…oh…well, yep. He wasn’t smiling. One of the happiest dudes in the world and I managed to make him miserable in 2 minutes. I still don’t know if it was my dance moves or the fact that I probably smelled like sweaty ham and cheese crackers from the refreshment table. Jokes aside though, I think that he had a good time.
While for a long time I had a tendency to compare this reality to my original fantasy and feel sorry for myself (it just wasn’t what I had in mind), I really think that my first slow dance was a lot closer to what everyone wants than most people ever get. I was with someone who (I think) thought I was pretty, and nice, and fun, and wanted to dance with just me; and who totally didn’t judge me even one bit (to my knowledge). And hey, that’s pretty awesome.
Dancing with Dracula taught me an important life lesson about not always trying to make everything in my life pop out of the movie I’d scripted for it in my head. Not everybody lives a Disney storyline. Not everybody gets High School Love, or even Cute Volunteer Boy. Maybe you were just made for a different movie. And that movie may be weird, and unconventional, and even a little politically incorrect, but it might be just the one for you. It also reminded me that people who get looked down on a lot or underestimated often have the biggest, purest, most worthwhile hearts. And though having disabilities can suck, they produce better souls. (Ass sufficiently covered? Hope so.) (I really do mean it, though.)
I never did talk to Cute Volunteer Boy, nor did I ever get the dance I always dreamed of having with High School Love. But I did have a good night. And the whole “let’s boogie” part of my fantasy was fulfilled after all, albeit in a different way than I imagined. So, today’s moral: Don’t fight the weird things. They’re just a part of your destiny.
Thanks Dracula, for helping to shape mine.
See you all next Thursday for a less morally-fulfilling post,