As our small town’s annual Fall Fest approached, my 31-year-old mind slipped back a few years and I was reminded of the insecure adolescent I used to be. Awkwardly tall and skinny, I wasn’t exactly the most sought-after girl on the dating scene. Also considering I’m related to half the population, my choices for potential suitors grew even slimmer. But still. There were boys. Boys whose hands I longed to hold. Boys whose smile would make my bony knees wobble a bit. Boys who might actually notice me if I wore the right jeans, a bra with enough padding to build several squirrel’s nests, enough Cover Girl makeup to conceal my God-forsaken acne, and a nice big glob of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers. Boys who might, just might, ask me to join them on the concrete slab in front of the band shell at the street dance.
The sounds of Savage Garden, Boyz II Men and the Backstreet Boys spread through the cool night air like teenage pheromones, wooing girls with feathered bangs and boys with bowl cuts out of the shadows at the perimeter of the dance floor. Groups of girls would gather the courage to step into the strobe lights, our skinny white booties encouraged to let our tootsie roll. And maybe, if we dipped it just right, like cotton candy sweet and low, we’d catch that boy’s eye. The one with relatively clear skin and decent breath. And after awhile, he would approach. Perhaps to show genuine interest, or perhaps because the girl he really wanted was already Truly, Madly, Deeply making out with someone else down at the old stationary caboose. I’d sling my string-like arms up around his neck, and he’d awkwardly place his sweaty hands on my hips. We’d sway back and forth, maybe say a few words, maybe not. And in three minutes or less, the magic was over. He’d rejoin his pack of comrades swigging Surge, and I’d huddle up with my girlfriends to discuss every minute detail. “Did he look into your eyes? Did he pull you closer. Did he have a boner?” This last question was inevitably followed by uproarious giggles and someone screeching, “Gross!!!,” even though maybe she thought it wasn’t and was too afraid to say so.
Sigh. If I could reach her, this young girl whose confidence waned at the slightest misconstrued sideways glance, I’d grab her by the shoulders and shake her. “Get a grip! These boys won’t matter in ten, fifteen years. Dance with your friends! Flirt with these boys if it’s fun, but don’t let them shape who you are! You’ll go on to do great things! Hold your head high!” I might also tell her that if she makes it through the tough years ahead, ditches the ones that aren’t good for her, and lets herself fall for the one who makes her heart explode, not just pitter patter, that she’ll wind up with something far better. A good marriage. A warm home. Two girls to bring her more joy than she’d ever imagined. And a boy. I still can’t believe we’re having a boy.
As I placed my hand on my swelling abdomen, I could feel him squirming and kicking inside me while the music thumped from the stage. A sensation I relished every second of, since one year ago, only death occupied that space. My two little girls giggled and twirled with their friends while the colors and lights swirled, still too young and innocent to care about who was watching. I hope they stay this way, even though I didn’t. Seventeen years after I left that insecure adolescent girl behind, I again find myself sitting at the perimeter of the concrete slab in front of the band shell as the sun sets on our annual Fall Fest. But this time, I have no concerns about who will ask me out onto the floor. I have a boy to dance with.