Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Scenes from a High School Dance, Part III

Butterfly Thing - Tanya Donelly (mp3)


Scene Three: An Ante-Chamber
Three hours into the dance

I exit the ballroom area and walk into a side area. During adult parties, this is where they set up the bars and where people escape the music to chat. At this point in the evening, it has become the resting place of the rejected and dejected. The sad sophomore boys who came solo in the vain hopes of catching romantic lightning in a bottle now realize how stacked against them the odds were. They have found solace in the comfort of shared misery. Their faces aren’t some doomed cloud of depressed angst, but rather the look you often see on a 1-15 basketball team. They aren’t in despair so much as resigned to their fates.

I walk up to them and ask how it’s been. They shrug and smile and say Fine and Good. What’s the point in giving me, the clueless adult, more information than that? “No luck, huh?” I say. They shrug and shake their heads and keep drinking their glasses of water. In my mind I travel back 20 years and think, This is where I’d be sitting, having a conversation about Rush or ping-pong or the X-Men...

Sitting on a window ledge, the window open and looking out to the expansive town of Chattanooga below, is a young girl, probably a sophomore. Her dark purple dress keeps catching a little of the cold breeze, and she’s mouthing the words to the only slow song Paramore has ever recorded (that I know of), the one song all night the DJ played for a “slow dance.” It’s called “The Only Exception.” Can’t say I saw that one coming as The Slow Song of the Night.

Looking perhaps a little too long, I realize she’s crying. The storyline possibilities flood my head. Did she get dumped? Did she come alone? Is she wondering just how far she would fall if she just leaned a little further out the window? Can I get a what what?

Calmly I walk over, not wanting to scare or annoy her and hating to break into her private melodrama but feeling somehow obligated. “Hey sweetheart... everything OK?” I say. (Yeah, I know it was sexist, and I wish I could have found a better way to refer to her, but I wasn’t saying it like Dabney friggin’ Coleman. I was saying it like someone who has daughters and who could see his own daughter, years down the line, sitting in that damn windowsill and mouthing words out into the cold air in the hopes that some Romeo was down below, within earshot, and capable of reading the heart and feelings of a lost girl, capable of swooping into that miserable dance, taking her hand, leading her to the dance floor, and watching as the mass parted in awe of his charm and beauty, as they danced some immortal Beauty & the Beast waltz so stunning the crowd was reduced to tears.)

She dries up so quickly you could almost be convinced she was never actually crying. “Oh yeah, yeah,” she says, nodding insistently. “I just love this song soooo much.”

“Really?” I ask. I want to reach out and put a hand on her shoulder, but... well, there’s about 20 legal reasons why I don’t.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Thanks!” She says it with an exclamation point attached. As in, please leave, thanks! As I nod, conceding the fight, and back away, she looks back out the window into the darkness. She will wait until I’m farther away before mouthing more lyrics.

Meanwhile, I’m reminded that girls -- all teenagers, for that matter -- don’t need a break-up or a specific moment of rejection to want to sit on a windowsill, stare into the wide open pitch, see their breath cloud up and move out, and feel miserable. Every day in a teenager’s life offers dozens of moments where intense and extreme joy or sorrow or fear can grip every fiber in their being.

And there we are, semi-helpless witnesses to their dramas, offering a feeble and uncertain hand or ear, but mostly just hoping the power of our sideline sympathizing keeps them afloat for another day, another month, another year, until things get better. We hope.



Bob said...

That is a beautiful piece of writing. You should send it, no kidding, to the administrators of both schools. There are insights in there that they/we are completely unaware of.

troutking said...

Agree. Nice job, Billy.

John said...

What they said. I especially like the reminder that teenagers "'don't need a break up or specific moment of rejection" to have a melt down. Sometimes that even applies to pre-teens. And adults.

Billy said...

Gee guys. Thanks.

@John - I couldn't figure out how to make the observation about adults without me feeling like I was having a "woe is me" moment or a "you think you got it bad... wait 'til you hit your 30s, kid!" moment.

Each year my children age, I find myself offering them more and more advice that I tend to ignore or marginalize in my own life (get plenty of sleep! do your work ahead of time! don't talk badly about others behind their backs! read more!!).

Sara C said...

I loved this series, Billy. And was terrified by it. It is such a desperate cliche, but thinking about my daughter being crotched all night is enough to make me consider building that tall tower with only one window at the very top.

John said...

@Sara--That's why they invented Russian convents. My daughters are heading there in just a few years and then coming out at 25 to arranged marriages.

Sara C said...

Can I get a web address on that convent, John? Maybe your girls could be penpals with mine? You know, just to warm her up to Russia and all.