There was no writing class last week, because of Hurricane Sandy, so I had two weeks to work on my “character” assignment. I started it and restarted it and walked away from it and got generally very grumpy at it over those two weeks. This is an important story for me. This is the first time I met Michelle, who would go on to be a very dear friend for – holy crap, almost two decades now. I can’t swear that this is exactly how it happened. In fact, I’m probably wrong about much of it. But my hope is that the essence of that evening comes through anyway. I feel like I had to wrestle this one onto the page!
Michelle gave me her blessing to post this.
The beat faded. Movement in the room slowed. Costumed dancers glanced around for a cue, shuffling their feet, ready for the next song. The first notes of a Bon Jovi power ballad began over the last of the pumping bass, and the crowd diffused. Boys gathered by the long tables folded against the wall, and girls huddled near the foggy windows. The school’s few established couples moved to the center of the cafeteria to rock back and forth, hands an arm’s length away on each others hips or shoulders.I sighed. The glass of the window was cold on my back.
“God, will they stop playing these slows?” Melissa huffed. “Nobodydances to these stupid things and they keep playing them.” She watched the boys’ side as she said it, her eyes dancing around as she tried to avoid staring directly at Mike. He was oblivious to her gaze, as usual.
I rolled my eyes at her.
“Whatever, Mel, if you’re not going to ask him, it’s your own stupid fault you’re stuck over here.”
She glared at me.
“I’m not stuck anywhere. I’m going to buy a drink.”
Obscured by the dark haze of the dance floor, we played our assumed characters with a measure of confidence, but under the fluorescent lights of the canteen area, our careful makeup and our homemade costumes seemed amateurish. I adjusted my pink poodle skirt, moving the fluffy white poodle appliqué back to the right side. Mel twisted her hairsprayed curls and straightened the headband holding up her devil horns.
The price list was fixed to the canteen kiosk with wide blue strips of painter’s tape. Brightly-markered bubble letters announced the going rates for drinks, chips, and chocolate bars.
“I’ll get us some Cokes,” I said, reaching into my purse for some money. “You can owe me.”The girl running the canteen wasn’t wearing a costume. She stood expectantly in the little kiosk, waiting for my order. I recognized her as the new girl, who had appeared in the halls at the start of the school year, but couldn’t remember her name. She didn’t share any classes with me, so we’d never spoken.“Two Cokes, please,” I asked, putting three loonies on the counter.Mel poked me in the ribs. I glared at her and sighed loudly.“Aaaand a bag of Doritos.” I added a another dollar.The canteen girl had our Cokes out of the cooler and the chips on the counter in a flash, and handed me back my change – two quarters.“Nice costume,” she offered. “Where did you get that skirt?”“Thanks,” I replied, “my Mom threw it together.”In fact, Mom had put so much effort into my costume that she’d even used a gold-tone chain from her own jewelry box as the poodle’s sparkling leash.Mel popped open her Coke and took a sip, and we all stood there for a second, unsure who was supposed to say what next. At that moment, the volume of the music in the next room jumped up a little, and canteen girl turned her head towards it excitedly.“Aw man, it’s the Twist! Somebody’s gotta come and dance with me!” She looked at Mel and me, hopeful.Mel shrugged and popped a chip into her mouth, crunching. I looked at canteen girl and raised my eyebrows, gesturing to my white sweater, wide, tulle-puffed skirt, and crisp white socks and sneakers.“Ummm…” I offered, “Duh!”We were probably the only ones on the dance floor – I don’t recall. All I remember is the way my sides ached from my vigorous Twisting, and how my arm almost jerked out of its socket when canteen girl and I tried to get fancy with a twirl. We went up and down and round and round until the DJ moved on to something else, leaving us to pant our way back to the canteen.“That was so much fun!” Canteen girl smiled at me. She held out her hand. “I’m Michelle.”